The End of Time Is Probably Not What You Think

I grew up near the end of the world. It was a generally accepted notion that we were living in the “end times,” meaning that Christ would soon return. We were taught that believers would be “raptured” out of the terrible things that would unfold and be with Christ in heaven. We were also taught that the end of the world would come about in a terrible world-wide conflagration. We hid under desks in our schoolrooms, practicing for a nuclear war (desks are known to protect you from hydrogen bombs). The end of the world was soon, and only a push of the button away.

In my teen years, there was a small publishing boom in evangelical circles as Hal Lindsey launched his Late, Great, Planet Earth , complete with maps of the troop movements for the Battle of Armegeddon. It seemed so real. An end-time cottage industry, particularly strong in America, continues to feed off such false interpretations of Scripture and, more seriously, a complete absence of true Christian eschatology. Virtually nothing in Christian theology is more essential than the End. But the End is not at all what modern popularists think or say.

In the Scriptures, time is not rightly seen as a linear reality. Modern popular Christianity essentially secularizes the world, positing a naturalist view of cause and effect and historical flow. The occasional disruptions that are matters of Divine intervention do not change the nature of this secularized view. In conversations with non-believers, such modern views of Scripture present no challenge or suggestion that the world is other than a modern person imagines, with the sole exception of a God who exists somewhere and has rules.

This naturalist/secularized view of time and creation has no place for sacraments. Actions such as Baptism and Eucharist are minimized and marginalized. A Baptism that does something, or a Eucharist in which bread and wine actually change, disturbs the fixed order of the secularized world. Sacraments become needless complications that make the evangelical project more difficult. It is far easier to say to converts, “We simply do this because Jesus told us to,” or “We only do this in order to remember Him,” than to suggest that an entire worldview is false. If the world is sacrament and symbol (in the strong sense), then the secular/naturalist view of things is profoundly wrong and the task of Christian evangelism includes the radical re-education of the world.

The place of the End in classical Christianity can only be understood from a fully sacramental viewpoint. The End is not a conclusion of the historical process, a product of things that have come before. It is not what history has been adding up to. As such, the “End” is not a description of a point in time. Its full revelation at some point is almost its least important aspect.

So. What is the End? In Christian terms, the End is Christ Himself. We can also say that the End is another word for the manifestation of the Kingdom of God. Christ Himself is described in the Revelation as the “Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.” This is an eternal description, not an appellation for certain points in time. Christ describes the End as “the Kingdom of God coming in power” (Mark 9:1). As Christ goes about His ministry, proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom, the End is present in His every word and action.

The clearest proclamation of this reality is recorded in Luke’s gospel:

So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk. 4:16-21)

The passage from Isaiah is a prophecy of a cosmic Jubilee Year, the coming of the Kingdom of God. In OT Law, after seven cycles of Sabbath Years, the fiftieth year comes as the crown. All debts are canceled, all land reverts to its original owner. It is a liberation that is a shadow of a greater liberation to come. It is that greater liberation, the actual coming of the Kingdom of God, that Christ references in His statement that “this Scripture is fulfilled.”

What we see in the course of Christ’s ministry is summed up in his message to John the Baptist:

Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them.”

All that Christ does happens because He Himself is the content of the sacrament of the Kingdom. Wherever He goes, the End is fulfilled.

This is the very same reality that the Church proclaims in its sacramental and mystical life. The Divine Liturgy is not an act of remembrance, but the coming of the Kingdom of God into our midst. There we eat the true supper at the End of all things. (St. John Chrysostom’s liturgy actually refers to the Second Coming in the past tense!)

This is at the very heart and nature of the gospel. We do not proclaim something that will happen. We proclaim something that has happened and that is now among us. When the Church lives rightly, according to Christ’s commandments, it lives in the eschaton, the End of all things. It is in that light that we forgive our enemies, give to those who ask of us, and return good for evil done to us. We can do this because we have been Baptized into the End of all things. We are already dead, “and our life is hid with Christ in God.” (Col. 3:3)

The great and abiding temptation for Christianity is to temporize the gospel. When the world sinks into the mundane, the normal, and the ordinary, the gospel becomes a banality, a religious teaching that does little more than moralize or threaten. The wonder that is the Kingdom of God breaking forth in the midst of things is dismissed and exchanged for that which will be, sometime later in the chronos. The subtle message is, “Not now, not here.”

But the Kingdom of God is here and now. If we do not stand at the End of all things now, we never will. St. John the Baptist asked, “Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another.” Jesus says, “Tell John what you have seen and heard.”

There are three words worth noting regarding the End: parousia, epiphany, apocalypse. The first literally means “presence,” and is the word most commonly translated as “coming” when speaking of the Second Coming of Christ. It is a technical term in Roman usage, referring to the state visit of a dignitary, such as the Emperor. As such, it is fittingly translated as “advent,” or some such rendering. Epiphany (epiphaneia) is used to describe the manifestation or showing forth (2Thess. 2:8). Apokalypse (apokalypsis) refers to something being revealed that was otherwise hidden.

A theme, particularly carried in epiphany and apocalypse, is that what is being shown forth and revealed is already present. The Kingdom of God is among us as a mystery, but the mystery is “at work.” The mysteries of the Church (such as the sacraments) are manifestations – epiphanies and apocalypse – of the reality of the Kingdom. They are of a piece with the work of Christ Himself.

Just as the truth of creation is revealed in the work of Christ (disease and death are undone, wind and seas obey Him, etc.), so the fullness of that truth will be revealed in His Parousia. This includes the mystery of time itself. Time, like matter itself, is relative to the Kingdom of God. Its truth lies beneath it, hidden, waiting to be made manifest. As such, the Scripture speaks of the “fullness of time,” etc. In the Church’s liturgical life, time is often transformed through the revelation of its reality. Thus, the feast of Pascha is not a date on a linear calendar in which we remember something in the past. Rather, it is the event itself, made present within time. This time is now that time. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.

The contemporary ignorance of Christian theology has made the Christian life subject to the tyranny of secular life and time. The Kingdom of God is partitioned from the world of the “ordinary” and “normal,” and turned into just one more thing in the future that has to wait its turn. However, this is utterly false and a denial of the work of Christ. In Christ, the Kingdom of God has shattered both time and matter. The bondage and debt of the created order are being overturned. What is hidden is being revealed. That which will be is present even now. Blessed are all who have loved His appearing.

203 comments:

  1. Thank you Fr. Stephen,
    Yes, the Weekly Reader and hiding under desks for atom bomb drills…and being scared stiff at church by the fiery retribution sermons, did not make for a very tranquil childhood!
    Fortunately, I stopped believing in the rapture in my early 20’s. I just did not see it in Scripture. And yes, the mysteries (sacraments) make Christ present in ways I never knew as an evangelical. “Blessed is the kingdom…” at the commencement of the liturgy ushers us into it, in an “already, not quite yet” sense. We are united now to Christ in baptism. We partake of the marriage supper of the Lamb now in the Eucharist. We are surrounded by the “great cloud of witnesses” now as the icons make present the saints in a real way. Because the Kingdom of God is also present within us, we are also able to enter into prayer of the heart, communing with Christ in the quiet of our souls. The Jesus prayer invites us to ceaseless prayer, of which St. Paul writes, making His presence real to us throughout the day. So, yes, thank you Fr. Stephen for this reminder of the riches of the Kingdom now available to us in Orthodoxy, not having to wait for an end in “chronos.” At my age the 2nd coming of Christ will no doubt be fairly soon, this time not living in the anxiety I had as a child. I pray daily for a Christian ending of my life, in peace, without pain or shame, at the “dread” archaic…”awe-inspiring”, 2nd coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

  2. Thank you Father. For the more dense of us, could you briefly expound on how this leads to an Orthodox understanding of the second coming that is distinct from the stream of popular christian thinking described above? I dimly comprehend the reality of the “mystery at work”, but are we to surmise that the second coming is also ultimately veiled for us as humans experiencing kronos? Forgive me if I failed to “catch your drift” 😉

  3. Thank you Father. For the more dense of us, could you briefly expound on how this leads to an Orthodox understanding of the second coming that is distinct from the stream of popular christian thinking described above? I dimly comprehend the reality of the “mystery at work”, but are we to surmise that the second coming is also ultimately veiled for us as humans who most frequently experience kronos while periodically encountering kairos? Forgive me if I failed to “catch your drift” 😉

  4. Father Stephen,
    This is wondrously profound, thank you for giving us much to reflect upon. I am hoping that you can expand on a particular phrase, or point me to another post in which it is discussed further: “The bondage and debt of the created order are being overturned.”
    Thank you!
    Pax Christi

  5. Aidan,
    Popular Christian thought makes no particular distinction between the Kingdom of God and the present time, with the exception that the Kingdom is mightier and nicer. Some literalist accounts speak of a thousand year reign of Christ on the earth (Millennialism) which was opposed by a number of the Fathers, though admittedly not at all unknown in the early Church. The failure to recognize the distinction, however, particularly in a world dominated by a secularist (naturalist) account of reality, is a distortion of the Kingdom itself.

    The Second Coming represents the veil being removed – utterly. But, that being the case, what is veiled is also already present.

  6. Father,
    What a wonderful article! Thank you!
    I love so many parts of it.
    “The contemporary ignorance of Christian theology has made the Christian life subject to the tyranny of secular life and time. ”
    Your teaching has helped me so much to let go of things I thought I should care about (everybody else seemed to think we should care about), but, really, we don’t. Fr. Zacharias says the same thing by pointing out that we “should not be fascinated by the models and systems of this world”, “that life in God is incompatible with life in this world”…. I find all that very freeing.

    Thank you also for mentioning the seven cycles of Sabbath Year. I remembered from your past posts that this 50th year was special. I turned 50 this year and this 50th year feels special, a liberation (on many levels in my personal life) 🙂

    Could you please say when in the Liturgy St. John refers to Second Coming in past tense? I would like to pay more attention to it.

    Finally, I would like to share this sermon of Fr. Meletios, on the exactly this topic. It’s one of my favorite sermons of his.
    http://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/oca15aac/vespers_sermon

  7. Agata,
    I occurs just after the words, “Take eat….drink this..” It goes: Priest:Do this in remembrance of Me! Remembering this saving commandment and all those things which have come to pass for us: the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven, the Sitting at the right hand, and the Second and glorious Coming. Your own, of Your own, we offer to You, on behalf of all and for all.

    I should add that some priests say this quietly so that you only hear the “Your own of your own” (“Thine own of Thine own…”)

  8. This post reminds me of a book I read in college awhile back called The Sacred and The Profane by Mircea Eliade. Have you read this book, Father?

  9. Thank you Father, now I remember and recognize it.
    I know I have heard some lectures where this was pointed out, the past tense of the Second Coming (maybe you mentioned it in the talks I heard).
    I also heard somewhere (probably Fr. Zacharias again) that the outer “conditions” of the Lord’s Second Coming were present during His Crucifixion, and only the Mother of God and St. John were strong enough and had Love enough to be present fully. May God grant us be ready and worthy of rightful participation.

  10. With respect, this explanation of the end times is tiring and depressing. It almost seems gnostic, with no mention of the Second Coming as having any kind of *material* reality. Everything is always “spiritualized” and invisible. It’s just odd to me that Orthodox emphasize the importance of matter and the material body so much yet when it comes to things like salvation, the kingdom of God, the Second Coming, etc. it’s always airy-fairy, handwavey, and spiritualized. Why can’t Orthodox theologians just say outright that Jesus will *physically* return to the earth? Why shy away from that? Will that *actually* happen or that as well merely a symbolic, spiritualized event? It’s like the Lord’s return is being downplayed here.

    Anyway just wanted to toss that out there. 🙂

  11. Jordan,
    His appearing will indeed be “actual.” However, what you are suggesting seems to be exalting what moderns call “ordinary” and diminishing any deeper reality (“airy fairy,” etc.). One problem with “just saying” Jesus will return physically, is that people will think or assume that they know what that means, and will actually be wrong. For example, He “physically” returns on the Mount of Olives, but you live in Hoboken, NJ. So, do you watch tv or something and wait to get the news about the event? No. His coming is such that all will see Him. That is somehow different than what most assume “physically” to mean. In the resurrection, Christ has “physical” properties (touch me), but also things that are not physical – they don’t recognize Him necessarily, He appears behind locked doors, etc. So, it would seem that saying “physically” is simply inadequate.

    But, another reason not to say it in the way you suggest, is that some Protestants actually use such a term to create nonsense heresies. I’ve been told by some Calvinists that Christ is physically on the throne in heaven and cannot therefore be truly present in the Eucharist. Such complete nonsense.

    If Orthodox thought seems “airy fairy” (actually an insulting term), perhaps it’s because we’re trying to say something that you don’t understand. Why not ask probing questions in order to learn rather than suggest that we shy away from something or that we are gnostics.

    To say “merely a symbolic” by the way, is a gross misunderstanding of the patristic understanding of symbol. You also seem to contrast “spiritual” with “real”. It seems a bit confused theologically.

    In the Second Coming – I’m not sure “the earth” will even be an issue. The Scriptures make clear that creation itself will participate in the resurrection. What does that look like? Probably not like anything we think or imagine. Why pretend that we know what we don’t know and invent some Sunday School version that is a caricature of the Scriptures?

    Anyway, I tossed it back to you. 🙂

  12. Father Stephen,
    Since we are speaking of the 2nd coming of Christ, what does, “Behold, I come quickly,” mean? I remember a Bible professor saying it means not so in an actual meaning of a fast return, but that His in- breaking will be immediate when it does come. Also, could you set His return in the sense of the one storey universe? Thank you Father.

  13. In the classic film, Young Frankenstein, Marty Feldman as Igor has the wonderful sight gag in which, as he limps off, he says “Walk this way” to which Gene Wilder responds by attempting to imitate his limp.

    I was exploring the Internet looking for ancient language definitions of “righteousness” when I stumbled on a site dealing with ancient Hebrew words and the thought that was behind them. According to the author, the thought behind “righteousness” is that of walking a straight line (or path). Deviations from the line were met with gentle correction, re-instruction and a return to the path. Outright rebellion met with more severe correction, but the aim was still the same; keep on the path.

    It is, I think, too easy to focus on rules as though there is nothing more. The ancient (and modern) Pharisees typified following rules. By this standard, no one was more righteous. Somehow they had followed the rules and missed the path. At the Last Supper as Jesus was telling the disciples of His departure He told them that they knew the way to the place He was going. Thomas (I find great solace in Thomas) asked, “Lord we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” The incredible answer is, of course, “I am the way.”

    I’m reminded of the events of Narnia where the children are following Lucy, the youngest through a wilderness. She alone has had an encounter with Aslan. Her siblings, however aren’t convinced and try to rationalize her experience. In the end they begin grudgingly to follow her, but as they do, they too all begin to see him. And this, I guess is the point I was making and the connection I thought I saw. The way is the path and the line and doesn’t consist solely in precepts but is also and more fully a person Who is also the End.

  14. Dean,
    It can be rendered “speedily,” in the sense your professor suggested. If we take it in a temporal sense, then it’s problematic some 2000 years down the road. One of the great problems of literalism is that it works so well until it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, it really falls apart.

  15. I have 44 years of church attendance under my belt after our conversion to the Orthodox church in 1973. You have put in words what I know but cannot express. The kingdom of God IS at hand. This is His world and everything I am must confirm that. And thank you for clarifying “the second and glorious coming” at the anaphora. My understanding of remembering a future event is now much clearer.

  16. It might be helpful to note that time is a dimension of the physical universe and is variable based on speed. The faster one goes the slower time moves. God being transcendent is outside time and space and is unaffected by it. Consequently time only effects us when present in the physical world and understanding the spiritual world outside the universe is beyond me. Perhaps, just perhaps all things are already culminated in the Lord and we are just waiting to get there in our time affected world.

  17. So, how does one address the problem of complete misunderstanding of the modern world? To many it is so obviously the only way of looking at things. Especially with folks who have grown up in the Church.

    Seems as if many are innoculted to reality and prefer the fantasy. They seem to cover control even though they are choking on it.

  18. So, how does one address the problem of complete misunderstanding of the modern world? To many it is so obviously the only way of looking at things. Especially with folks who have grown up in the Church.

    This is very much an issue even in the Church. There are many who seem to ache to recast Orthodoxy in the image of modernity.

  19. One of the great false emotions that I felt as a protestant was that of abandonment by God. We are here with a few rules and a lot of pain waiting on this transcendent God to arrive at some point in the future. Your explanation of the Kingdom changes everything. “Christ is risen” and “Christ is in our midst” are more than memorial greetings. They are the proclamation of our current state. This is another switch that needed to be thrown in my ever converting mind. Now, how shall I live with this?

  20. Michael,
    There is no plan, I think, other than living the reality of the Kingdom. God in His providence has allowed modernity to come about – it is – I think – the greatest challenge the Church has ever faced. But the Kingdom itself is greater and is our refuge.

  21. Thank you for this thoughtful piece. It’s taken me years to turn loose of my evangelical world view since becoming Orthodox, but words like yours help.

  22. Fr,
    It’s taking more than a while to truly shed my evangelical world view since becoming Orthodox in 2001. Hey, the first book in the Left Behind series was pretty exciting, you have to admit! But words like these make the alternative very winsome and have much more substance for the long haul. Thank you.

  23. It’s not much effort to recognise that modernity, especially in its capacity to pervert that inner voice that calls man to repentance and to the Kingdom, is the spirit of the Antichrist in its most subtle yet most corrosive guise.

  24. Dino
    There is no doubt in my mind that modernity is the ultimate expression of rebellion against God with its focus on Self as the source of wisdom and guidance. To me it is the full flower of Adamic sin.

  25. I would hesitate to characterize anything as the “ultimate expression of rebellion against God”. It wasn’t that long ago for me that I remember thinking to myself “IF there is a God, then he has abandoned us by the side of the road a long time ago. We are on our own. We have to do the best we can with what we have got because no one is here to save us from ourselves.” It isn’t that people are against God. That cannot possibly be true. People are confused, lost, sheep without a shepherd…but they aren’t rebels. People need compassion and sympathy, not blame, for not knowing what to do with themselves.

  26. David,
    “We all like sheep have gone astray everyone to his own way.”
    You and Nicholas are both correct.
    Human beings rebellion against God is initially rarely malicious or even done with intent. It is habit born out of ignorance, fear and shame. But it is largely willful ignorance. As Romans 1 testifies.

    Mercy is the healing balm, but some will reject mercy for the law, power and control.
    Modernity is a demonically woven delusion that is like a Chinese finger trap.

  27. David,
    You are correct inasmuch as few, if any, would refuse God is they had some sort of blatant, objective things in front of them. Or so we would think. But the heart is always the lens through which we see. As such, we see (or don’t see) pretty much as a revelation of the state of the heart. It’s not so much the choices we make as it is that our choices are merely reflections of the heart. Healing and curing the heart is the loving task of the Church in the world. Sometimes it doesn’t go so well. I would take Nicholas’ statement to mean that modernity presents the single most difficult condition of the heart that the Church has ever faced. I agree with that completely.

  28. Michael,

    People can be vicious. Worse than animals. But, they cannot rebel against that which they have no experience or awareness of. God has subjected all things to futility, God imprisoned all things under the power of sin, and God imprisoned all in disobedience. God did that on the basis of hope and for the mercy of all. I am afraid, however, that one one of the consequences of that is that the world appears as if God has abandoned to its own means. When I hear someone say that humans are in rebellion against God, I think to myself, “IF God was making himself unmistakably known as God and IF there was a ready distinction between the righteous and the unrighteous, then “Yes” there would be a case to be made for the rebellion of humankind.” But, none of that is true. This is what I hear Christians saying, “Cthulhu is angry with humankind because they willfully refuse to surrender themselves to his will even though his creation declares his glory.” I’m sorry, but it doesn’t add up.

  29. Fr,

    It looks like we posted at the same time. I think we are making very similar points.
    The only thing I would add is that we need to assume responsibility for the condition of the world and not blame people for their apathy. Maybe they didn’t want to be apathetic, but life was more than they could take.
    If the Church is God’s means of salvation, revealing the kingdom as already present, and the means of the kingdom coming then we are best to repent for the state of things in the world and do what we can to bring healing and wholeness to people who have become disappointed with talk about God and religion.

  30. David,
    I think this is too flat-footed as an analysis. God is indeed making Himself known and people are responding. Their response can be as mysterious and hidden as is His self-revelation. Life is rarely lived on the level of the obvious. The math of the obvious doesn’t add up because it’s not really what’s going on.

    The heart is always perceiving and responding. Sometimes that response takes a rather obvious form (life in the Church). Although that obvious form should never be mistaken for the literal truth. The heart of Church members can be as far removed from God as the darkest “unbeliever.” And vice versa…

  31. Fr,

    “Their response can be as mysterious and hidden as is His self-revelation. Life is rarely lived on the level of the obvious. The math of the obvious doesn’t add up because it’s not really what’s going on.” I agree with this entirely and for this reason if the world is in a rebellion-like state…who is to blame?? Who imprisoned everyone in sin and disobedience?? Who is it that works so subtly that he goes unperceived?? The desire, or tendency, to cast the world and the people in it as rebels is does not help.

    I have been certain about many things over the course of my life. And it would seem that the more certain I am of anything with respect to God the more probable it is that my pride has got the better of me. I cannot say that God has made himself known to me. And if God is out there in the world making himself known then I wish that he would shed a little light my direction. As for the mysterious interactions between the heart and God, these are very subtle, and depending on how you have been raised these may be interpreted in many different ways. God’s presence may go completely unnoticed and in the mean time the compounding sins of one lost generation after another makes the present generation appear godless. It isn’t that they are godless–they are LOST.

  32. David
    I am talking about a system of thought, not individual people. We, the people are trapped in it, seduced by it and misled by it. Very few people I have ever met in my nearly 69 years of life are willfully malicious and God hating. Having said that, I know many, even in the faith community and in academia, that buy into modernity. I do not think they do so willingly or in rebellion to God but as a consequence of their education and up bringing.

  33. Thank you Father Stephen. …”the heart is always receiving and responding….Their response can be mysterious and hidden” (to us, not God). The heart is very mysterious, who can know it? My wife’s nephew was recently placed in prison for sins against a family member. His heart in one sense was hard. And yet when his 87 year old mother visited him behind bars, the first thing he did was weep like a small child…I’m sure for the shame he feels. The heart of the little innocent ones shows how they are even more attuned to God than most adults. I was once holding my granddaughter in my lap. We were the only ones home. Our conversation came around to Christ. I had told her that if we close our eyes and are very quiet, that we can, at times, hear God speak to our heart. She closed her eyes. After about 10 seconds, I asked her to open them…must have seemed an eternity to her! I asked if she had heard anything. She said she had. I asked what. She replied. “Jesus told me he loves me.” God’s work is so often hidden. But His grace continues softening hearts, molding and fashioning them in ways unseen, amongst Orthodox and non Orthodox…even among those who do not call themselves Christian. Glory to God for all things!

  34. “Modernity…is the spirit of the Antichrist.”
    “Modernity is the ultimate expression of rebellion against God.”

    Those are strong statements. Right? Why is modernity the spirit of the Antichrist and the ultimate expression of rebellion against God rather than a reflection of the despair of a world that feels abandoned and without hope??

    …I feel like that’s all I can say about that.

  35. Excellent article Fr. Stephen! This reminds me during liturgy when our Priest turns from the altar and to the people and says, “Christ is in our midst!” And we respond, “He is and ever shall be!” It took me awhile to realize this is not just a pious greeting, but an invitation or entering into the spiritual world.

  36. Why, because modernity is a system that exalts man to the place of the supreme position and dismisses God. Its basic premise is that God is unnecessary as man can solve all the problems and man knows all the answers. What greater rejection can a system of thought direct towards God?

  37. Nicholas…99.99% of the world has had useless, baseless, violent, ignorant to the point of stupid ideas about God. It isn’t really God that people are rejecting, it is every other dumb idea about God that people have been coming up with for the last 6,000 years…and you do to.

    It is a mercy on God’s part that he places himself in a position not to come into conflict with our ignorance.

  38. David
    Again, I am talking about a system of thought, not people. People do as they do but modernity is a system of thought that is not a person. The system was invented by people, mostly philosophers, but that does not make them utterly evil either. Modernity replaces God with Man and makes him (Mankind) the supreme authority in the Universe. One cannot reject God more thoroughly than this system of thought does which is why I described it as ultimate

  39. The two most telling statements that define the modern mind are DeCartes’s blasphemy “I think therefore I am” and Nietzche’s Will to Power. If the description Nietzche gives in The Three Metamorphosis of the Sprit is not a description of the modern mind and it’s end, I don’t know what is.

    All sin is rebellion against God. Modernity seduces, disenheartens, creates rage and makes death and destruction attractive. Not one person escapes it entirely. Thus the saying to St. Silouan and it’s logical corollary: Glory to God for All Things.

    God is perfectly evident once thanksgiving begins.

  40. God has subjected all things to futility, God imprisoned all things under the power of sin, and God imprisoned all in disobedience. God did that on the basis of hope and for the mercy of all.

    David, my understanding is that these things are rooted in Man’s action, not God’s. Your statement seems to set God up as the angry, wrathful protestant god who punishes his creation. Perhaps I have misunderstood you though. Forgive me if that is so.

    What greater rejection can a system of thought direct towards God?

    Give us another generation, Nicholas. We’ll undoubtedly come up with worse (somehow)….

  41. David,
    Why not write your comment but then wait 15 minutes before sending it. Might help. I do this at times. And I sometimes rewrite things. This way you can self edit.

  42. Byron,
    Perhaps but it would be hard to top removing God and placing Him with Man as the supreme being in the Universe. Thankfully, our God is not desirous of our destruction and is Hesed itself, long suffering, patient loving kindness and concern or in more current words, mercy.

  43. Let me tell an anecdotal story. I was raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was a JW for 33 years of my life. I will never forget the pain I experienced at the onset of my doubts. Finally, after all else about my loyalty to the religion had unravelled and I was being accused as a heretic, apostate and antichrist by three different congregations I had finally come to question whether or not everything I had ever believed about God was wrong. So, my apostasy was complete when I doubted the existence and truth of Jehovah as God. I’ll never forget the cold and lonely feeling of standing in this sacrosanct place in my mind after having deposed my God. I remember thinking “How am I going to live? What is going to guide me?” The elders in my congregation accused me of being selfish and self-willed. They accused me of putting myself above everything and everyone including God. But, there I was with no guidance in my life trying to figure out everything on my own. I didn’t want to be in that position but that was a necessary transitional phase. It opened me up to the possibilities that brought me into contact with Orthodoxy.

    That is what I see in the people of modernity, going through the same transitions that I did. I give glory to God for modernity. Perhaps it’s aridity will open people up to possibilities that they would have ignored otherwise.

  44. Jordan,

    “Why can’t Orthodox theologians just say outright that Jesus will *physically* return to the earth? ”

    Actually, we say that in every single Divine Liturgy when we recite the Creed.

  45. Byron,

    The only thing I mean by reference to those verses is that God has constrained humanity for our own protection. But, one of the results of that is that we inevitably end up misusing and misdirecting our freedom and our attention.

  46. Alan, Jordan:
    In saying that, as I’ve noted, it can be quite misleading and miss most of the point of His parousia. Contemporary Protestantism has invented a whole industry on the rock of false teaching (Dispensationalism, Darbyites, etc.). A Protestant critique of Orthodoxy in this matter is so misplaced as to be comical. As I noted, to say “physically” return can mean something absurd – and is actually treated that way by many. TV coverage of the Second Coming, for example. Absurd. If you say “physically” then you most qualify what you mean. The Creed does not say “physically.” It says “come again.” I daresay that Coming will be the resurrected, glorified Christ. To say resurrected and glorified is more accurate than “physical.” It subsumes physicality and carries into something much greater.

  47. Father,
    Thank you for your replies to Jordan and Alan, they are very helpful.
    I did not realize that people have such specific “objections and expectations”…

    I really like what Clark Carlton says in one of his talks, he says when Christ returns, He will not be like Jesus of Nazareth, walking around in Galilee as He did before.

    He will be All in All.

    (how can we possibly begin to imagine what that will look like?!!), “there will be no place to run, no place to hide”. What will condemn us on that day will not be Him, but our own sinfulness, our inability to love Him and be in His Presence. To those who love Him, it will be total joy and blessedness, to those who don’t, it will be hell… (Clark goes into what our Orthodox understanding of hell is).

    I guess to some, this is pious nonsense…. 😉

  48. Oh my, so much modern thinking in my life to uproot – or better yet, to stand and stand again, gratefully, silently in healing His presence… thank you Father Stephen. I grew up have nightmares about the second coming of Christ and being left behind…I’ve lived much of my life in a two story universe/world and being separated from myself, others and God. My heart is so grateful to be coming home, now.

  49. A really good exposition of the Spirit of modernity and how it effects us can be found in Archbishop Averky’s book: The Struggle for Virtue.

  50. Fr. Stephen,

    I understand the spirit of Jordan’s comment and appreciate the candidness. It’s like being told all the benefits of eating your meat and vegetables when you’ve long been used to a diet of junk food. Your “airy fairy” descriptions don’t initially have any of the ear and eye candy of the gripping Protestant stories of some being taken, some left behind, and all the people who will bend the knee when the Master returns.

    It’s hard. It’s like going to detox. Seeing the truth is very difficult until you come down off the high and start being open to reality. We suffer blindness and deafness to the truth, some of which will only be cured at the time of the Revelation.

  51. Agata,
    The Gospel has always seemed foolish nonsense to the unbelieving. 🙂 I can’t remember who said this but I believe it to be true…perhaps Pascal. If I live as if there is no God and there is a God, then at my death I’ve lost everything, and that for all eternity. If I live as if there is a God, and live the best I can with others who love me in return, and at my death there is no God, then I’ve lost nothing but lived a good life. But if there is a God then I’ve gained everything and that for all eternity. My apologies for remembering this poorly.

  52. Agata,
    I noticed that you saw the brief appearance of the comment by “Leigh.” I choose to remove it – I thought it too distracting from the conversation. But, I would note if the only choice I had was unbelief or fundamentalism (complete with its flat, two-storey world and literalism) I would easily choose unbelief – I would certainly be forced to. It simply fails in so many ways.

    I have written before (in my book no less) than the two-storey universe is a breeding ground for atheism. My point was proven yet again.

  53. The anthropomorphization of spiritual concepts always makes for difficulties when trying to discuss spiritual matters. One of my favorite passages is Paul speaking to the Romans where he is trying to justify the priesthood of Melchisedek as higher than that of the Levites, and he does so by saying that “you could say that Levi was present in Abraham’s loins when he paid a tithe to Melchisedek.” That one speaks to your version of time, and I agree with you. We also forget that linear time is a created dimension, “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” I don’t believe God is “outside” time and distance.” To me, it’s more that time and space are within God, just as we live “in God” and, thanks to redemption, are also able to abide in the Kingdom of Heaven as well as time and space. To me, the quest is to be a better human, not be “more spiritual,” for I’m not sure that’s even possible. Thank you for your work.

  54. I guess to some, this is pious nonsense….

    Sadly, to many within the Church, this is considered “pious nonsense”. I recently spoke with two women online who considered science to be the test for the validity of Church dogma, much of which they considered “archaic”.

  55. Byron,

    I feel like I have thoroughly internalized the modern or post-modern world view and ethics. In fact, I work from and through them on a daily basis. I’m not threatened by them.

    Pretty much I’m more than ready to begin at the assumption that there is no god, religion is superstitious nonsense, and humans are in charge of it all. It doesn’t spook me.

  56. Didn’t spook me either. I had the same assumptions when I was 22, imbued with the secular world view. But then I got on a train traveling in the opposite direction. Have never looked back.

  57. Thank you Father.
    I agree with you wholeheartedly, and often wonder how people believe in God that is presented to them in those other supposedly Christian denominations. I remember Fr. Tom Hopko saying that too, that it’s more honest to be unbelieving, but then he worked all his life tirelessly to “speak the Truth in Love” (which I believe you are now continuing, thank you!)…
    That comment really upset me, I took it too personally, as she called something in my earlier comment “pious nonsense” (and the best part of it, straight from my beloved source!!)…. and then topped it with a rude remark towards you…
    Once I get over being upset, I feel sad for such people. They obviously are not happy with their beliefs since they come here and read what you offer, and what others have to say. Deep inside they know there must be more to it all, and they search for “truth and wisdom”… Clark says that this is what “living philosophically” means and always meant.

    Thank you Dean for those thoughts from Pascal. Very beautiful and true. Something like this always reminds me of the final scenes of the Harry Potter movie, when Harry is battling Voldemort and is almost loosing, since Voldemort forces memories of death, destruction, pain, cruelty and loss. Harry summons his strenght and tells him: “I feel sorry for you, you will never know love and friendship” (and then he remembers the beautiful moments, and defeats Voldemort). I think people who don’t believe should be pitied like that. They have no idea what believers are talking about and they lash out…

    Please delete if this does not belong here. Just wanted to say thank you one more time…

  58. David, upon reflection I think it is important to understand the spirit of the age and discern it’s working in ourselves. The spirit of our age whether it is called modernity or nihilism is deeply corrosive and evil. It is warfare against humanity itself disguised and marketed as progress. It is actually death.

    That said the mercy of the Cross is the only way to be victorious and in fact we just have to enter into it. Learning to be thankful for the particular way in which the Cross manifests in my life is not easy however. It is not about feeling glad or happy or feelings at all. It is even less about control. “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”

    As Father Stephen points out, salvation is particular. The more I practice giving thanks for the particulr gifts in my life, the more God becomes evident and the easier it becomes to give thanks.

  59. Michael Bauman,

    There are thee things that I am teaching myself to eschew in my spiritual disciplines: Concerns for bookends, concerns for general cases, and concerns for whys.

    There are a few issues that I can’t seem to pry myself away from in terms of beginnings and ends (bookends). However, as a rule, I don’t want to feel compelled to make strong statements about things I CANNOT have knowledge of. For example, do I have to be concerned with HOW life got here or HOW the world has come to be such a mess? Why can’t I just accept it as it is (as brute facts) without judgment or concern regarding how it came to be this way? Why can’t I say “I don’t have any knowledge about the endpoints in either direction of time. I have been dropped somewhere in the middle of this mess and now I have to act right here, right now.” Why isn’t that acceptable?

    I also am in favor of eschewing abstractions and broad generalizations in favor of the highly particular. In modelling and mathematics abstractions are fine but, in regard to spirituality, not fine. We worship an incarnate God that became an individual person in a particular sociocultural history. I weight the radical particularity over the statistical vagary of the normally distributed average person.

    Connected to the previous two is my desire to easchew chasing the rabbit of causality down a hole of infinitely regressing antecedent conditions.

    Now all of that means this: I don’t need to know how it got started, I don’t need to know how it ends, I don’t need to know why it got to be this way, or how to abstract it to a general case. I just want to accept the world as it is and as it comes to me without judging it. Because to me, where I am at right now in my spiritual walk…that is what forgiveness looks like.

    Everyday I pray: “Strike me and heal me. Cast me down and raise me up.” If anything I have said is wrong, please, correct me.

    Based on Scripture and the writings of the Fathers I understand that there is a “spirit of the world” that is at best indifferent or at worst in opposition to the Spirit of God. I am aware of that. But, I have no need to classify the prevailing zeitgeist as “the spirit of the Antichrist” or “the ultimate expression of rebellion against God.” To me, it isn’t helpful and worse yet may actually get in the way of actually listening to someone and hearing what they have to say without bias.

  60. Michael Bauman,

    If I haven’t explained myself clearly yet. Then maybe I don’t make as much sense as I think I do and I should just stop.

  61. Just some simple thoughts of mine in reading through the comments:
    (David, if you should stop commenting, I’ll never figure out what you’re trying to say! 😉 And if you want another example not explaining clearly, just continue to read my post! What I want to say I find very hard to state concisely.)
    Isn’t “the spirit” of the “spirit of this age” the workings of satan? The spirit of every age is satan, the prince of this world. These are the very words of scripture. Yet Christ has conquered him, the Kingdom has come, “is” come, and yes, we enter into it. I do not see it as a dual existence, entering with the spirit of the age on our back, even though it may “feel” like that. Rather it is leaving behind the attachments, throwing them off, as you would with something repulsive touching you, and entering into another existence, in Christ. Who can explain such a thing? You can’t. After all our reasoning, it is done by faith. I don’t know much, but one thing I know…Christ, and all He has done for mankind is real, a reality beyond our earthly existence… God, Creator of the universe taking on flesh, dying to the death of our sins, risen and conquering that very death, and risen to His throne that He never actually left, only to send The Spirit, all powerful, our Enabler…all this is done because of His love for us, because He desires our communion. I have to trust in that. Either that, or I perish. And I didn’t have to be told “you will perish!”…I knew it by the very emptiness of my soul. I have known that death. Once you know, and then are granted the taste of Life…no…there’s no going back. That’s how I know it’s real. And somewhere in there I made a choice. If there was any coercion, it was God’s great mercy of pulling the rug from under my feet. But I still had to choose. Don’t ask me for proof of any or all these things. Those who demand more proof are asking the impossible. But if they ask with a “mustard seed” of faith, with a desire to believe, God will in no way refuse that. He knows that person…He knows what it will take for them to believe, always beckoning.
    So don’t we have to choose? To trust…to have faith that Christ has done all. What more can He have done? How one comes to making the choice is ultimately between him and God. To say all unbelievers are “lost” is undoubtedly true…but why they are lost (the reasons are countless) and whether they will find their way is not for me to know. If He has given us a will, and a reasoning mind, and an inherent knowledge of His existence, as we are made in His image, then we have all that is needed to make the right choice. Not to mention His body, the Church, the Divine Liturgy, the sacraments, especially His body and blood, His word (scripture), and the witness of the Saints triumphant. Again, what more is needed?

  62. David I can relate but I will give you some background. Part of my journey to the Church involved an intense study of Nietzche in an historical context. You are right that the beginning of anything in history is quite arbitrary. But, after Neitzche I spent some time in a syncretistic group.

    My experience has led me to the position that being able to discern is quite important. It has certainly shown me many things that Christ is not and many things that I am not.

  63. So don’t we have to choose? To trust…to have faith that Christ has done all.

    I have recently considered that maybe “choice” is not as much a determinant as I once thought. I considered this example: a man or woman standing at the edge of a great canyon, dwarfed by its breadth and depth and beauty. They do not “choose” to be overcome with awe; it is a natural reaction. I think it may be this way in the face of God’s revelation; we do not “choose” so much as naturally react. I think trust may come naturally in this scenario….

    (Of course, we could still choose to turn away from the awe and splendor and move away from the canyon. I suppose that is an aspect of choice in this scenario, but I am not trying to completely remove choice from it anyway; only lessen its primacy in my thoughts). Just thinking out loud.

  64. Byron,

    I like it. I have never “chosen” to experience awe, or compassion, or faith or any number of other subjective states I’ve had. I have also thought that my response to pray, to give thanks, to believe, to hope wasn’t a choice…but more of a reflexive reaction. I don’t think that diminishes the value of it in any way at all. We are not as free as we think.

    I have been fond of the idea that it isn’t that we have “free will” so much as we have a “free won’t”. As you say in your example, the experience of awe is elicited naturally, it isn’t willed. The only decision that you really are making, or that is willed, is in NOT leaving…which is logically equivalent to just staying…its a simple example.

  65. Byron, your example reminds me of the judgement of Narnia in The Last Battle. Aslan standing where everyone would see him. Those that looked up went to his right into the light. Those that looked away went to his left into darkness.

    The dwarfs choose to see nothing but their immediate surroundings but they still did not go into darkness.

  66. Pardon my question (I know there’s a riveting discussion already happening), but I’m trying better understand the Kingdom of Heaven as it is present in our ordinary time. I don’t know if I’ve experienced the Kingdom, but I have had moments of utter peace and tranquility; it was as if a still small voice was whispering “everything will be ok.” Some people would describe this as an experience of the transcendent; others would offer a biological explanation for it. How do we discern what is truly the Kingdom of God from what is mere euphoria? As a related question, what is the response to religious movements that seek “spiritual experiences” by means of drugs or heightened emotional states?

  67. How do we discern what is truly the Kingdom of God from what is mere euphoria?

    Welcome Chris. Father will be much better at answering your questions and I would only note that the Kingdom is not necessarily euphoric but peaceful. It is, in many ways, a return to our natural state within the revealed Grace of God. Just my thoughts.

  68. Chris, the Kingdom of God is within all things–absolutely all things. With time, patience, and thanksgiving you will SEE that it is no ordinary world that we live in, but it is a world suffuse with divine energy. Forget experiences. HOW you experience the world, even mundane things, will change. Use the crucifixion to interpret and understand EVERYTHING. Then give it more time.

  69. Thank you Father. I apologize as I realize my comment was not helpful.
    I fully realize that The Creed does not say “Physically.” Thank you Father for your comments on this matter, they were most helpful. Again, my apologies.

  70. Byron
    You make a very good point in that “responding” would be a more accurate word than “choosing”. I would add *especially in light of our first conscious encounter with the presence of God*. That for me was indeed more of a “response”. Similar to how Father describes a “movement”… a dance…and God takes the lead. The problem with the word “choice/ to choose”, IMO, is its association with “making a decision for Jesus…to let Him into your heart”…a too cut and dry approach to salvation, as opposed to an ongoing movement/response. Still, the Church (and scripture) speaks of a synergistic relationship with God…and somewhere in there the word ‘choice’, as well as submission, obedience, follow are very relevant, even if only to recognize the possibility that one can very well turn away. So Byron, I appreciate the point you made, and the opportunity to think this through.

  71. Dean, I don’t know about Pascal regarding the gospel, but I do know what Saint Paul said.

    1 Cor 1:18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

  72. Adam,

    Nothing is created by our thoughts, our mind, our will; we are subject to reality; we do not control it. As Father has mentioned many times, we are not self-created nor self-sustaining. Descartes’ quote places humanity in the place of God by claiming that we are, in fact, self-existing, based on our own faculties.

  73. Byron, a 20th century framing of Descartes’ classic thought experiment (which is really Plato’s allegory of the Cave redux) is that if you were trapped in the Matrix where your entire universe was controlled by a malevolent machine, how would you know anything is true? What truths, if any at all could you know for certain in a world where all sense perception was being lied to ALL the time? Well, a deception requires a deceiver (the Machine) and the deceived (Neo). Therefore, in the Matrix even if everything is suspect and might possibly be a machine constrict there is one thing that is real: The mind, you the thinker. So, Descartes’ I think;therefore I am is really intended to say affirm that whereas I may doubt the existence of all else in my universe as if all else is an elaborate ruse but I cannot doubt the existence of the doubter otherwise who is it that is doing the doubting? I think therefore I at the very least know that I exist.

  74. Byron,

    Thanks for your points, and I understand your apprehension; however, I think the quote is being taken out of context. Descartes wasn’t trying to claim that our existence is created by our thoughts, but rather that our existence can be known by our thoughts. It was a response to radical doubt to the point of questioning one’s own existence, saying that we can at least be solipsists; the mind must exist in some sense because something has to be thinking.

    Of course, that’s not to say I’m a big fan of Descartes or his methods, as he’s basically the founder of modern Western rationalism. But I don’t think that this quote necessarily implies that we are self-existing or self-creating.

  75. Lots of thinkers end up being called the father of ideologies they would have rejected out of hand.

  76. David,

    Descartes, being a Roman Catholic, I’m sure would reject the more recent atheistic incarnations of rationalism, but it’s hard to understate his influence on it, or modern philosophy in general.

  77. Adam, good question. Read Psalm 103/104 then consider.

    Descartes’ statement denies God as creator, denies our creature hood, makes us autonomous; God unnecessary. It inverts the natural order of our being and leaves us wretched and without hope.

    The reality is “God loves, therefore I am”. Descartes codifies Adam’s sin and officially makes each of us God. The Holy Spirit is the “giver of life”, not me.

    Our thoughts bring nothing into being, form or substance. We are creative only by the fact that we are made in His image. Our creativity reaches it’s highest point when we live Euchristic lives offering ourself, each other and all our lives to Christ our God. At best we are icons of Christ. Even Jesus says that by Himself, He does nothing.

    Descartes turns us in narrcissistic idolators of ourselves and leads to destruction, insanity and death. The rampant nihilism of today’s culture in which men animated by the Will to Power stalk humanity and ravage the land takes its impetus from Descartes’ arrogant pride.

    “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:21.

  78. David, we are powerless in the deteministic world of the Matix and in the darkness of the Cave. Only God Himself, if He exists, can save us. We cannot save ourselves least of all through our minds. There is God, the real cave, the Cross, the grave and the Glorious third day Ressurection or there is nothing.

  79. There is an apparent reality to our limited senses that, as David expressed, “God has left us to the side of the road.” I have had that sense so many times that I have come to ignore it and instead whisper to myself, “I AM with you always.”

    “Let me admit right away that the universe into which that mystery thrust us is not the place you or I would have chosen as our cup of tea. All kinds of questions come up about it. If the Word has tidied up the mess of history from the beginning, why hasn’t he exempted the world from having to slog through it? Why does he insist on time, space, and history at all? Why doesn’t he just settle for an unwritten novel in his own head where no real beings will have to scream their way through the torture chamber of creation?

    There are, of course, no satisfactory answers to such questions. There is only the paradox of the Word’s final response: by his Incarnation, he assures us that he’s as much in the chamber of horrors as we are. He brings his Divinity down into the misery of our humanity, and he lifts that very misery up into himself. He doesn’t simply contemplate the brokenness of the world from on high. On the cross, he breathes his last in the midst of brokenness he’s freely taken on for our sakes: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ He who is the Answer dies as lost as anyone who never found answers. But even then, it’s he himself, in the mystery of his lostness, who remains the only Finder of us all.”

    — Robert Farrar Capon, The Fingerprints of God

  80. Fr. Freeman wrote;

    “I have written before (in my book no less) than the two-storey universe is a breeding ground for atheism. My point was proven yet again.”
    _______________________________

    I was raised Church of Christ, which is perhaps the ultimate Fundamentalism but certainly not “Evangelical” or Premillenial-Dispensationalist–so I was saved from at least one folly. At age 45 I officially departed from my tradition of birth and began an exploration of what I thought at the time a more vital way of experiencing Christ. In the ensuring space of the next 12-15 years I saw happen exactly what Fr. Freeman expressed–especially so among people in their 20’s and 30’s. The Evangelical Circus offers much by way of entertainment and distraction, but very little–nay, I’ll say nothing–of substance. When young people begin to experience the abandonment of God, the “dark night of the soul” they have nothing of guidance except trite admonitions to “pray and read your Bible more”. “Experiencing Jesus” is always depicted as cataphatic and if it isn’t it must be your fault–likely because of “hidden sin”. When people who have lived and breathed Modernism–and modern day Evangelicalism is nothing but Modernism with Jesus syrup — encounter their darkness the only answer they have in their toolkit is “I must be an atheist”.

  81. Michael Bauman: I can tell you are not familiar with Descartes’ argument. Descartes does NOT deny God. Descartes is doing what many philosophers were doing before and after him: Investigating the nature of the mind and the implications of that investigation on epistemology and theology. One of the principle aims of his thought experiment was to provide a rational means for showing the existence of God. Descartes does NOT deny God as creator AT ALL. He was trying to show that even if all the objective facts of our existence were untrue, there is still a means of knowing truth and God. He anchors his “res cogitans” (rational being) as an attribute of the soul and then moves from the existence of the soul to a knowledge of the existence of God. Which implies that ANY truth we discover is directly facilitated by a God given ability to KNOW truth AND this is also how Descartes reasons that God then MUST be Good.

  82. Tom, did you drop the mic when you were done? You should have dropped the mic. I love that quote from Capon. It sums up beautifully the question that grinds in the back of my mind. However, learning to see the beginning the middle and the end of human experience in the cross…it gives me a compass. I know which way to look. But, I still get lost from time to time.

    Also “modern day Evangelicalism is nothing but Modernism with Jesus syrup” that’s a good.

  83. Michael,

    I can’t go into the lab and say “We don’t need to do any more work in genomics because God does it all. From one moment to the next he sustains all things by the word of his power.” I’m a paid junior professional and if my boss wants me to tackle a problem that needs both a rational and mechanistic understanding, then that is the product that I will attempt to deliver. Descartes was a professional philosopher that was facing a rising tide of atheism. It would not suffice to appeal to the authority of the church or tradition or scripture to quell their skepticism. Descartes was attempting to construct an air tight entirely rational argument that one could follow axiomatically to the inevitable conclusion that God exists. And yet you are trying to tell me that Descartes denies God as creator…

  84. Tom, yes, a great quote. Thank you. I think it was in the late 70’s that I saw on TV Malcolm Muggeridge interview Mother Teresa. It was wonderfull to hear especially noting Muggeridge’s spiritual journey. I felt elated after the interview. Then I made the mistake of keeping the tele on. The image of a well known tele-evangelist appeared. After one minute of listening I felt nauseated. I think I would have thrown a brick through the T V had I had one!
    So yes, Tom, I know how you feel. But I’m not so glum about all evangelicals. When I came to Christ at 22, that’s all I knew. It took another 27 years before God led me into the fullness of Orthodoxy. But in those 27 years I served Christ the best I could, with the light I had. I agree with Frederica Matthews Green and John Mark Reynolds. There are millions of evangelicals in the U.S. who love Christ dearly. I pray daily for many in my own family. So, true, there is much in Protestantism that is syrupy and downright heretical. But if Hank Hanagraaff, the Bible Answer Man, became Orthodox recently, then there is hope for millions more.

  85. David, of course Descartes did not personally deny God. I am sure it was not even a consideration but his thesis is only possible in a two storey approach. Even what you state as his goal shares the same difficulty. His premisis is wrong.

    The difficulty is related to the Palamite debates. There is a great divide between the understanding of the Church as articlated by St. Gregory Palamas and what became the defacto approach of Western Christianity. Rationalismwhen it comes to God does not suffice. Descartes’ goal was unattainable. Rationality within the context of communion that allows God to reveal Himself does work.

    Descartes’ thinking is a foundational though subtle denial of the Incarnation and those who do deny God have used Descartes as their touchstone and still are. Perhaps I should say his thesis is used blasphemously.

    His philosophy is much more nuanced and his intent noble but that does not mean a great deal. Ask Origen and Nestorius. Thoughts and their propagation have consequences regardless of the original intent.

    Science too is deformed if it operates solely in an environment of philosophical naturalism just as it would be in a context of the deterministic irrationalism you alluded to.

    Rational thought, procedure and investigation are absolutely essential to whom we are as human beings but they are by no means the fullness of who we are.

  86. Michael,

    I really don’t care how those who deny God (whatever that actually means) use Descartes’ work. I COULD NOT CARE LESS how people misrepresent his work including those who think that he denies the creator and the incarnation, which he clearly DOES NOT do. He was a Western philosopher working within a Western context and using the tools available to him.

    I guess he’s not Orthodox so he’s automatically an atheist tool of Satan.

  87. Michael,

    It is a logical fallacy to take a person’s work to task for how it has been misused by others, right? The Bible is the single misquoted and misused book of all time and yet…you and I would both agree that SHOULD NOT reflect on the Bible, right? So, it isn’t fair or reasonable to lay so much of modernity at Descartes’ feet. Kierkegaard is called the Father of Existentialism, but I’m sure Kierkegaard would be in fits if he knew he was regarded as the father of thinkers such as Heidegger, Sartre, and Camus. It just doesn’t follow.

  88. Tom, and Dean (especially after reading your last post…I need to come to the point where you are with the evangelicals…),
    Tom, I agree with what you say. There have been times when I have been in conversation with those who identify as atheists and have themselves broached the subject of religion. They are the ones who initiate the conversation, which I find quite interesting. The very subject they reject they speak much about. My question to you is how do you respond? I ask because I do not want to enter a debate with them, which it always seems to come down to. I am not a good “debater”, lacking the finesse and patience “to speak the truth in love” ( sadly much a of cliche). It may start that way, only to take a downward turn. I do not want to argue. Yet at the same time I’d like them to have some kind of understanding of why we believe. It is difficult not to get into the defensive mode. It seems like the wall that has been created is impassable.
    Another nagging thought that goes through my mind is “darn…those Evangelicals…I wish they’d keep quiet!” In view of this “new (?) atheism”, I have convinced myself that much of their rejection of Christianity is heightened by the imposing speech and behavior of evangelicals when they “witness” out in public… more so than from news, TV evangelists, and written material, though it is part and parcel. It is personal contact that leaves the biggest impression. Very little, if any, time is taken to truly understand and appreciate the person who they are “witnessing” to. Like many of you, I as well have been there…12 years…and I’m trying hard to find a clear perspective. Because deep down, I know it is wrong to blame the Evangelicals for the plight of Christian witness. We all so very much fall short.
    One last thing I’d like to share..an experience just 2 weeks ago that in the end left me feeling quite empty. This time I was in a conversation with a person I met years ago in church… a sincere, Christ loving, born again Christian who I ignorantly thought would share in the delight of my experience in and love of the Orthodox faith. Instead, the sharing led to arguments. I decided to avoid the subject, which in the future resulted in one sided conversations. Not infrequently I would hear comments about “meaningless rituals”, “Mary just a ‘vehicle’ “, comments about praying to the saints and for the dead. I tried to delicately explain, only to meet much resistance. Fighting against my own weaknesses, I kept on thinking ‘don’t take offense’, ‘be kind’, ‘forgive’ …but Lord have mercy, I couldn’t do it! All fell apart when it was implied that those who practice the “rituals” etc. are in a false religion. After all was said and done and the smoke pouring from my ears subsided, I was left with the thought that *this* attitude, as well as our incessant arguing, contributes to the idea that all Christians are rigid, unbending and narrow-minded. And isn’t it a fact that the devil is so very pleased when we argue amongst each other.
    So yes, I see how this is part of the picture of modernity and the two-storey universe. I do realize also, as Dean said, that many Evangelicals love Christ dearly. In their own way, they certainly do. Yet it pains me at times to be in the midst of the fighting and arguing, among us, against us, and out in “the world”. Tom, I know…”I am with you always..” Yes, there is much comfort in that.
    Anyway, I best end this now, as I am tempted to veer onto other issues, and I’ve already said enough. I hope in time I can better accept these things, as I very much realize my many (many!) shortcomings.

  89. Paula,
    Thank you for your response. Yes, depending on our own personality, background, that of the person we are speaking with, etc., the outcome will be different…speaking of their response to our Orthodoxy or ours to their evangelicalism, atheism, etc. I had what I considered a good Christian friend. Shortly after becoming Orthodox, he came over to visit. He saw an icon I had up. When he discovered I was Orthodox he stormed out of our house and didn’t speak to me for several years. Among most though, including relatives, there was silence or indifference. Perhaps the silence from my Christian relatives was mostly from fear. Strangely those not Christian would sometimes exhibit more interest. For the last 14 years we’ve attended a Greek monastery going there on Sundays and feast days. I’d like to think I’ve learned some things from being around the nuns, in worship, work, conversations. Especially those nuns who are cradle Orthodox, they simply will not argue, about anything! If asked a question about a service or an icon, or something in Greek, they will answer. But they certainly will not try and argue the truth of Orthodoxy with someone. Their response is more, “come and see.” So, if someone knows I’m Orthodox and shows interest, of course I will speak with her. But only if interest is shown. Or I may give her a book to read or invite them to a liturgy. I hope my approach/ response is much more mellow than in my evangelical days when I felt that I “had” to witness to everyone I possibly could. My feelings toward evangelicals is also tempered by the fact that our 2 daughters and their families are Protestant. I tend to see much of this through the love I feel for them
    Father Stephen, forgive that this is so far from your original article.

  90. Dean,
    Thank you. I appreciate the advice and examples you’ve given.
    It is interesting the varied response between friends, relatives and non-believers. Considering all these things, it is no wonder we encounter those responses, as most people are unfamiliar with the Orthodox faith. Even with some kind of explanation, words can not describe all the faith encompasses. I can see why the nuns will in no way argue (about anything! I like that), but say “come and see”. People with that type of spirit are a joy to be around. I must make it my business to visit the monastery closest to me…about an hour or so away.
    Also considering my temperament, it would be wise to do as you say and speak only when interest is shown. I have told myself that very thing in the past, but found myself “sharing” which led to needless debate.
    I like what you said about your two daughters. That is just plain sweet!
    Thank you again, Dean.
    And Father Stephen, forgive me too for the diversion.
    Thank you for all your time and effort. God bless you…a lot.

  91. Dean,

    Thank you very much for your comments. They were very helpful and much appreciated. I so love what you wrote regarding the nuns and how they simply won’t argue about anything. Beautiful. Reminds me of Fr. Stephen’s excellent post from 03/27/2014 entitled, “there are no opinions in this article.” In that classic post, he concludes with this advice from a hermit:

    A hermit advised, “If someone speaks to you about a controversy, do not argue with him. If what he says makes sense, say, ‘Yes,’ If his comments are misguided, say, ‘I don’t know anything about that.’ If you refuse to dispute with his ideas, your mind will be at peace.”

  92. Alan,

    The story about the hermit is a great reminder. Thanks. That has always stuck with me, too, since I read it a number of years ago on this blog–mostly because it is such a difficult thing to do, especially in the face of what seems like insinuation or accusation. (I can be so hypersensitive that I read those in to a comment where they aren’t really intended.) I find it a real struggle against my insecurities and ego to be prepared to make such a response. My fears intensify when I feel misunderstood. I’m getting better, but I still have plenty of those moments where defensiveness takes over. Prayer and humility are key. I have far too little of both! Lord, have mercy!

    I am blessed in that my Evangelical husband and children are very accepting of my Orthodoxy, and can appreciate in large part how rooted in the Scriptures its Liturgy is. (I have Icons on every level of my split level house.) My husband’s Evangelical church is much more focused on taking the gospel in practical ways to our neighbors and applying it (such as it is understood) to our own lives than on End Times scenarios (thankfully).

  93. I hope that this is not off-topic…this post has touched on something that has challenged me repeatedly in my reading of this blog – namely Fr. Stephen’s unbudging critique of modernity. Whilst I’m coming to learn precisely what it is that’s being criticised (namely, the ideology that places humans, not God, at the pinnacle of reality), I still find it somewhat troubling that modernity, and other products of the Enlightenment, should be considered so categorically incompatible with Orthodox Christianity. I work as a biomedical scientist (PhD) in the field of cancer cell biology – understanding how cancer operates in order to design new treatments. I note that there are many other scientists in this blog community, and indeed one of my close colleagues is Coptic Orthodox. One of the things I’ve appreciated about Orthodox Christianity (in my very humble and meagre reading thus far; I’m Protestant, inasmuch as one must use those labels) is that its non-literalist approach to scripture, and a one-story, sacramental view of the created world, seem to make it quite receptive to what the natural world can tell us about itself and how it works (my understanding is that the issue of evolution, for example, is less contentious in the Orthodox church than much of the Protestant world; but let’s please not get derailed on that topic if I’m not correct!). Understanding the self-contained, predictable, cause-and-effect patterns of nature – and using this understanding to assert control over our conditions – has been instrumental to alleviating enormous amounts of human suffering, particularly when it comes to human health. I’m aware Fr. Stephen certainly has respect for medicine and certainly would advise people to take medical advice where indicated rather than to rely on prayer alone (without omitting to pray as well, of course). So I’m still a bit confused as to whether the mechanistic view of the world which allows us to cure diseases and alleviate suffering is inherently un-Christian (at least in Fr. Stephen’s view); or whether it is at all possible to do science sacramentally, if I may suggest that. I’m certain I’m just missing a distinction somewhere (science certainly didn’t begin with the Enlightenment, I know), but I would really appreciate hearing from other people around this. My thanks if you have read this, and please forgive me if in my relative ignorance about Orthodoxy I have said anything wrong. Peace to you all.

  94. Paula,
    I find it atrocious though not surprising that your practice of the Tradition would be viewed by some Evangelicals as “vain ritual” or idolatry. Just simply stupid ignorance. In my old CofC tradition I’m sure I would have said much the same–or at least until I discovered CS Lewis in my college years. Wisdom tells me that it’s probably best not to respond, but not being always swayed by wisdom I’d probably respond by saying something like, “You can trace your liturgy–yes, you engage a liturgy every time you do church–back less than 500 years, however I can identify mine back at least 1400 years before yours. Now, stop being an ignorant Protestant buffoon you wanker.” Well, might leave off the last sentence, but I can’t help but think it ;o)

    Most of the Evangelical Circus would see Marion adoration and praying to the Saints (they don’t have problems asking all their church and FB “friends” to pray for them about something but find it “weird” to entreat the “Great Cloud of Witnesses” — go figure) as a mad, funhouse of mirrors. Again, it’s ignorance and their two storied cosmos illusion of Modernity. If it’s mentioned that Marion theology is in reality about the nature/being of the Trias you’ll likely get a blank stare–they usually have little to no understanding of Nicaean/Cappadocian Trinitarian theology. Most Evangelicals are Subordinationst–and don’t even know it. Christ have mercy.

    Argue with atheist? I don’t do it–unless I’m feeling really mean–irrationally mean in the sense that it’s better to kick the dog than punch the wife. Most “atheist” I’ve encountered are expressing a polar reaction to the Evangelicalism they have experienced, seen through, and have rejected. That reaction is binary in substance. I don’t argue, but I do listen and often ask what path brought them to their present position. I have very little regard for apologetics, especially in dealing with the New Atheist. However, if I know the person and their background — especially so if they’ve been embroiled in the E. Circus I will listen as they explain how they’ve come to see through the charade of the religion they usually have inherited from their parents. Once they’ve unloaded–and their desire is often that someone will simply listen and not condemn–I will ask if I can make some observations and if I get a positive response I’ll unpack the sum of their disappointment with the E Circus and how that native Biblio-idolatry and literalism has totally missed the boat. I will push them to see that much of their reaction/rejection is actually a rejection of a particular systematic theology and how that system only gives it’s minions two options; if you don’t believe THIS, then you must be an atheist. I will also admit to the person that at best I’m probably an atheist about 50% of the time. It’s really hard to not question the existence of Someone/something that I’ve never seen, heard, felt. I posit that every Believer needs to also be an Atheist in the sense that we need our idolatrous God ideas dispelled in which we’ve projected onto God OUR self-shaped image and imbued it with the worst of our fears and god wishes. IOW, our “god” needs deconstruction before we are able to “see” the True God–and this is one area where the Liturgy is very helpful. “God” is an intellectual abstraction in which we often find ignorant comfort.

    I think it was Oscar Wilde who said, “God created mankind in His image–and we returned the compliment.”

    Hang in there Paula. Engage the Liturgy. Love everyone. Look for your “healing” and the healing of the entire cosmos.

  95. Malcolm Muggeridge was also one of my influencers. Wonderful man. I loved to watch when William Buckley and Malcolm got together and jammed.

    I’m not so much dismayed by individual Evangelicals–though there have been more than a few that have set me off–as what I am by the system that holds people captive. It’s pernicious and even poisons our politics.

    I am “hopeful but negative”. Thankfully, redemption is more Christ’s work than ours.

  96. Father, in your response to Agata you mention “two-storey world”. Is that a reference to the unfortunate dichotomy by Thomas Aquinas between “nature/grace”, “faith/reason”?

  97. Rae,
    Good questions – which I’m very glad you asked. There is a confusion, I think, between science, technology and modernity. Science and technology predate modernity. Medicine did not begin after the Enlightenment, nor did physics, etc. What happens around the time of the Enlightenment is the development of a worldview in which science/technology, etc., are developed into a narrative for the meaning of the world, etc. It is, ultimately, an abuse of science and technology, and leads to the absence of meaning rather than its fullness.

    I would separate them and make a distinction between them. Your instinct that it is possible to do “sacramental” science is spot on. It is rooted in giving thanks for all things to God. There is nothing “modern” about science or technology.

    What is “modern” is the narrative that gets applied. The notion of progress as the meaning of history. History as a closed system (no God). My caution about cause-and-effect is not to deny it, but to recognize that there is something Larger at work. If you will, it would be to say that we should rightly recognize cause-and-effect as itself a sacrament of the work of God. If we were thinking about this on the sub-atomic or quantum level – sacrament is about the only way to think about the mechanics of “possibility.” As Christians we should say that “God is at work in all things, everywhere at all times.” There is nothing that takes place without Him. The world is not an independent existence.

    On the ground level of doing science, that knowledge may make little difference. But as soon as we step back, it makes all of the difference. There is no ethic that can be derived from modernity other than a false utilitarianism. We see the increasing results of this with the use of technology for things such as abortion and euthanasia and more and more bizarre applications. For example, the use of surgery to make a person look like an animal, etc.

    Modernity is a false narrative. Among its greatest lies is to presume and assert that science and technology are modern and are the sole property of modernity itself. It uses this argument both to control them and to further its own ends, but also to attack and destroy the classical world (its predecessor and only competitor). It has hijacked science and technology and distorts them with a false narrative.

    Think of the Hippocratic oath. It is utterly premodern (classical), predating Christ Himself. It is now “out of date” because it included a pledge not to cause an abortion. “Do no harm,” it says. But modernity cannot say why. The reasoning of modernity has no defense against the work of Nazi doctors in the Camps. When such things happen, it always has to take recourse in the thoughts and teachings of the classical world (traditional Christianity). Nazis were thoroughly modern – Nietzschean practitioners of the will to power. Only the left-over moral sensibilities of the classical world stands between us and such madmen – and those sensibilities are increasingly being dismissed one after another.

    My opposition to modernity, if anything, includes a concern that we protect science and technology, as well as religion and culture, from the false assumptions and narrative of modernity.

    There is nothing wrong about science. It is a gift from God. Consider this passage from Sirach (in the Orthodox OT). It is written centuries before Christ – It has nothing to do with modernity.

    RSV Sirach 38:1 Honor the physician with the honor due him, according to your need of him, for the Lord created him;
    2 for healing comes from the Most High, and he will receive a gift from the king.
    3 The skill of the physician lifts up his head, and in the presence of great men he is admired.
    4 The Lord created medicines from the earth, and a sensible man will not despise them.
    5 Was not water made sweet with a tree in order that his power might be known?
    6 And he gave skill to men that he might be glorified in his marvelous works.
    7 By them he heals and takes away pain;
    8 the pharmacist makes of them a compound. His works will never be finished; and from him health is upon the face of the earth.
    9 My son, when you are sick do not be negligent, but pray to the Lord, and he will heal you.
    10 Give up your faults and direct your hands aright, and cleanse your heart from all sin.
    11 Offer a sweet-smelling sacrifice, and a memorial portion of fine flour, and pour oil on your offering, as much as you can afford.
    12 And give the physician his place, for the Lord created him; let him not leave you, for there is need of him.
    13 There is a time when success lies in the hands of physicians,
    14 for they too will pray to the Lord that he should grant them success in diagnosis and in healing, for the sake of preserving life.

  98. Tom,
    It’s a reference to a term I’ve coined to describe the dichotomy of the modern world and its religious faith. My book, Everywhere Present, focuses on this. A short intro can be found here.

  99. Thankyou, Fr. Stephen! I’m honoured by the length and depth of your response. I was fairly sure I was simply missing a distinction, and this spurs me to read more into the history and philosophy of my own discipline. If I’d already done that I might not have needed to ask the question, but I’m glad I did regardless – I hope other people benefit from it as well. Peace be with you.

  100. Father Stephen,
    What a marvelous quote from Sirach. I need to give my doctor a copy. It helps me again to see how modernity has hijacked both science and technology.
    Tom, I agree with most of what you are saying. We just need to guard against an incipient triumphalism with its accompanying spiritual pride. I get caught in that trap at times. 🙂 Yes, redemption is only found, as you say, in Christ, his liturgy and loving hearts.

  101. Re: the previous posts
    Tom, thank you for addressing my questions. I am glad you clarified in the following post that it is “the system that holds them captive”. It is important for me to keep this in mind. Yet, regarding accountability, each of us are responsible to determine what is true. This is why God gave us a rational mind. The system doesn’t hold us captive so much as our minds. There is ample opportunity to learn, both from study and learned individuals. The key is to study both sides of an issue and decide for yourself “the truth”. This process is not so cut and dry as I make it sound…for most of us it takes a lifetime. So when I encounter hostile opposition to Orthodoxy, I hold that person responsible for stubbornly, fearfully, ignorantly refusing to peer outside their box. It is very threatening for them to do so because it means the foundations they built must crumble. No matter how you look at it though, it boils down to making a choice. Tom, do not take my words here as “talking at you” but rather a clarification of my thoughts. I appreciate your advice and take it to heart. I would love to comment on all your points, but here is not the appropriate place to do so!
    Rae…thank you so much for commenting here. I learn much from the science crowd, as my mind is simply not wired to have such a focus. Your contribution is much appreciated. (Dee comes to mind as one that may respond as a fellow scientist. )
    Last but not least, Father…without your answers, your clarification and teaching, the comments would be left hanging in the air. Your answer to Rae was most helpful in putting the pieces together of this concept of modernity. And that quote from Sirach…I second Dean’s comment! Thank you!

  102. Since you posted this topic, Father, I’ve been pondering what I sense is an unconscious desire, probably born from the Modern Project, for “our” generation to be the Pinnacle of time and Creation. So, what could prove this time and “us” more special than being witnesses to the Second Coming? IOW, our Egos almost demand it. If not, then what’s the meaning of life…could we just be another passing generation…just like all those who came before? Perhaps this longing, almost, to be the Pinnacle drives some of the related political pressures…and also the lack of interest in who and what came before. We are the final generation…who cares about stewardship of Creation or the Wisdom of the Fathers, or ascetic struggle? My team is going to be on top…now.

  103. Yes Dean, triumphalism is also part of the Evangelical problem. It’s a natural problem that each of us must guard our hearts against.

  104. Rae Fansworth,

    I sympathize with your reservations. Don’t let the disdain for modernity or protestants discourage you. I am a PhD student in the Genome Science and Technology program. I have worked for three years in bioinformatics and transcriptomics. I have also worked in comparative genomics. I presently am working in a theoretical immunology lab which will constitute my dissertation research. I also grow weary of hearing about the heretical protestants. I could say more but I won’t. Most people have no clue how science works and you can tell by the comments they make in their posts. I have been exploring Orthodoxy for six months and the life of prayer that I learned under my director beats anything I learned in exploring Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism, and others. And certainly if the protestants are doing arithmetic then by analogy the Orthodox are doing multivariate stochastic differential equations. Truthfully, Rae, from one scientist to another…any stripe of Protestantism pales in comparison to Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy isn’t perfect. The tradition is not inerrant. But, if you investigate and PRAY…I am more than confident that you will see it for yourself.

    Life is complex and messy. And that complexity should be reflected in our view of others and the world. It is possible to have a spirit of discernment without slipping pridefully into ridicule.

  105. Tom,

    “I will also admit to the person that at best I’m probably an atheist about 50% of the time. It’s really hard to not question the existence of Someone/something that I’ve never seen, heard, felt. I posit that every Believer needs to also be an Atheist in the sense that we need our idolatrous God ideas dispelled in which we’ve projected onto God OUR self-shaped image and imbued it with the worst of our fears and god wishes. IOW, our “god” needs deconstruction before we are able to “see” the True God–and this is one area where the Liturgy is very helpful. “God” is an intellectual abstraction in which we often find ignorant comfort.”

    I agree completely.

    From a certain point of view I am an atheist.
    From another point of view I am only living my life AS IF there is a God.
    From another point of view God is closer to me than I am to myself.
    That sounds entirely incoherent. It would be nice to live without the contradictions that being human entails. I certainly understand the desire for a reduction in complexity of the answers posed to difficult questions about the human condition. We want simplistic anecdotes. We want simple answers. We want bullet points. We want check lists. We want a 10 step how-to action plan. But, that will not help.

  106. I’ve always liked how the Bible shows the disciples, fears, warts and all. Here they are on the Mt. of Olives. Jesus is about to ascend before them. When they see him, they worship him. But it goes on to say “that some (of the eleven) DOUBTED.” Mt.28:17 However, all went out in spite of their doubts and did as Jesus directed. I think that a walk of faith, in all life’s vicissitudes, always engenders some doubts. But one goes forward anyway, because when we do Christ will in some way make his presence known to us. At least this is what I’ve found in the almost 50 years I have attempted to keep his commandments. Certainty, perhaps not. His presence when we need it, yes.
    I thank God for you scientists out there. I think it was Rae who mentioned cancer research and David laboring in genome science. And Dee. My mind is hardly scientific. Yet I realize how much honest and dedicated scientists do for us all. Thank you.

  107. David,
    Orthodoxy IS perfect, because it is the Body of Christ in this world. It’s only our imperfection and brokenness that distorts our perception of it. We only get to see and understand “what we can bear”…. May God grant you and all of us to see that fullnes.

    Blessed Feast of Transfiguration.

  108. Agata,

    Let me be specific:
    I have read in Orthodox fathers a fear of hell that rivals the kind of fear that I see in Protestant religions. When I was first introduced to Orthodoxy I was given the impression that such views of an angry, penal God were contrary to the Orthodox faith. Yet every day in my prayer discipline I pray “Arising from sleep I thank You, O Most Holy Trinity, because of Your great kindness and long-suffering you are not angry with me, for I am slothful and sinful; neither have YOU destroyed me in my transgressions: but in Your compassion raised me up, as I lay in despair; that at dawn I might sing the glories of Your Majesty.” Every morning I pray “neither have YOU destroyed me in my transgressions: but in Your compassion raised me up” this makes me feel like on some level I’m thanking God for not having in his anger killed me in my sleep but in his compassion has raised me up to live another day. To me this is slightly disturbing.

    I have read Athanasius’ views of creation in which he dismisses the Epicurean view of creation–which is evidently a primitive evolutionary formulation–as nonsense. He argues that the differentiation of forms would be impossible apart from a guiding purpose. He takes Genesis literally. Later, Athanasius defends a geocentric view of the universe. To me this slights my understanding of the universe and truth.

    So, Orthodoxy IS NOT perfect. If believing that Orthodoxy is perfect is required to be Orthodox, then I’m afraid that Orthodoxy isn’t what I thought it was, which is fine.

    But, as it stands, my understanding is that Orthodoxy doesn’t have to be perfect in the ideal fundamentalist sense of “perfection” in order to be perfect. To me perfection is another useless word I would like to get rid of. Why isn’t it sufficient or even more accurate to say that Orthodoxy as the fullness of the faith implies a condition of spiritual maturity?

  109. David,
    The kind of “false fundamentalist” notion of perfection would indeed be impossible and is true of nothing. The morning prayers, though, are written from the heart of a saint – and uses poetic language that, taken in a literal manner, would indeed say something that is not true. It is difficult for people within our cultural – which is the least poetic culture that I’ve ever encountered – to understand such prayers without easily distorting their meaning.

    The same is even true of Athanasius…

  110. Thank you for another thought-provoking post, Father. I spent most of my adult life in a branch of the church that was staunchly premillennial, pre-tribulationist in its eschatology. (I guess the fact that I was outspokenly post-trib made me quite the radical; I found the notion that true Christians would not experience tribulation to be a real insult to our brethren in much of the world who live with real persecution.)
    While attending seminary, I wrote a research paper where I analyzed the structure of the Book of Revelation. Whereas many of the “prophecy experts” treat it as though it is a linear story line, the more I dug into it, I found that it seemed to progress more in a circle. Instead of a “time line,” it was more like a “time spiral”: a pattern of human rebellion, an opportunity to repent, rejection by much of mankind, followed by judgment; repeating itself and becoming more intense until it culminated in the New Jerusalem.
    Many of the prophecy experts assume Revelation is linear, and as a result, they miss the mark. Since embracing a more sacramental Christianity (or, shall I say, being embraced by Christ through a sacramental life?), I have found that there is an even bigger problem: many view the last book of the Bible as “the Revelation of Satan and God’s wrath” when it is really “the Revelation of Jesus Christ.”

  111. Fr,

    I know what poetry is. I wouldn’t be quick to attribute anything to poetic license. Is a literal understanding of that prayer consistent with a literal reading of other things that father has written? Or is a literal reading consistent with contemporary writings on God’s punishment of sin? My readings of the fathers have revealed many surprising things to me about their understanding of hell and sin.

    As far as Athanasius goes his view of the universe is completely grounded in a literal reading of Genesis.

  112. David,
    I won’t argue the point, but it is very easy to think you’re reading one thing in the fathers (literalism) when you’re not. For one, human consciousness on that topic is quite, even radically different, between the 4th century and the present. It is extremely easy to read them in an anachronistic manner, assuming that a statement on the lips of Athanasius is the same thing as something on the lips of William Jennings Bryan. It’s not the case. I don’t mean to play the academic card – but many people who read the Fathers know very little about classical culture, the history of literary interpretation of the period. The very fathers who treat the Genesis text in a manner that seems or sounds “literal” by our standards, will, a short time later, turn around and make a perfectly allegorical treatment of the same thing without batting an eye.

    I would even argue that what we think when we say “literal” did not exist at the time – or would be quite difficult to find. The text is utterly and completely authoritative for Athanasius (as for other Fathers). But they are able to do many things with the same text that would be impossible if they were literalists in the modern sense. The better question to ask is what kind of understanding do they have that makes that sort of shifting use completely acceptable to them and completely unsurprising.

    For that matter, it is probably incorrect to even speak about Athanasius’ “view of the universe.” It’s an anachronism.

    I have not used the term “poetic license.” The term “poetic license” presumes that literal is normal and poetry is cheating – not saying what you mean. The language of the Church’s prayers are indeed the language of the heart of a saint – and if read in the wrong manner – can be quite misleading. You can disagree if you want. But, I know what I’m talking about.

  113. Fr.

    So, would you be willing to take a look at a passage from Athanasius where he considers four different ways of understanding creation and then dismisses three of them while then spending the rest of the chapter arguing why the remaining one is right?

    In all sincerity, if you can explain to me how I’m not supposed to believe that he dismisses three different views, but endorses the literal one…I promise you I will believe you.

  114. Michael, you said: “Whereas many of the “prophecy experts” treat it as though it is a linear story line, the more I dug into it, I found that it seemed to progress more in a circle. Instead of a “time line,” it was more like a “time spiral”: a pattern of human rebellion, an opportunity to repent, rejection by much of mankind, followed by judgment; repeating itself and becoming more intense until it culminated in the New Jerusalem.”

    You should read the Revelations series from Zoe Press; your spiral concept fits right in with the teachings of the +Holy Elder Athanasios Mitilinaios. He teaches the same few books and this series is the translation of his lectures on Revelations over about a two year period in Greece. You can find them at: http://www.zoepress.us/home.html

  115. I should have said the elder teaches the same (spiral) concept in the books. In the series there are four volumes published with the fifth and final one is in the works right now. Constantine Zalalas does the translation and I am the first reader before it goes to the final editor. The fourth volume really got to me as I could see so much of what is happening today in our culture right there in the lectures of a modern saint.

    I should read my published replies before pushing the post button; guess I need to read this one, be right back, lol.

  116. It is possible to have a spirit of discernment without slipping pridefully into ridicule.

    An excellent quote. I’m not sure I’m up to the challenge though! Too prideful, I expect, to actually be loving in my discernment…. Lord have mercy!

  117. David,
    From Alan’s comment:
    “A hermit advised, “If someone speaks to you about a controversy, do not argue with him. If what he says makes sense, say, ‘Yes,’ If his comments are misguided, say, ‘I don’t know anything about that.’ If you refuse to dispute with his ideas, your mind will be at peace.”

    My answer is to yours is “I don’t know anything about that” 🙂 🙂 🙂

    May God bless and guide you to Himself. Love and Peace to you.

  118. Michael Lynch and Jacksson,

    I was starting to get that impression from my reading of John 15:26,27 ““When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.” After I read that verse I got a weird sense that Jesus meant the beginning…as in John 1:1 “In the beginning.”

  119. Thankyou for your reply, David Foutch, and your encouragement – my thanks also to others for their encouragement on the hard road of research. I do frequently wonder whether God would sooner have me spending more time saving my own soul (and perhaps other people’s) rather than on maybe-possibly-if-I’m-lucky-and-effective-enough-and-the-funding-holds-out contributing in small part to the discovery of a drug that might add months to someone’s life…it does seem futile at times and the effort-to-output ratio is extremely poor. Perhaps research is as much a walk of faith as is following a God of whom we’ve only had glimpses, at best, and even then we might fail to be absolutely certain – I know I do. Both seem an exercise in desperate hope a lot of the time. I don’t think I’m game to try and estimate the proportion of time that I’m effectively an atheist….

    It encourages me to know there are others for whom the path is often darkened, but who stumble onwards nonetheless. If only there were a diagnostic test for the presence of God! Unfortunately for my left-brained, self-doubting and rather unimaginative self, discernment turns out to be more of an art than a science…

    ” It is possible to have a spirit of discernment without slipping pridefully into ridicule.” – David, I completely agree. Hearing disdain for Protestants on these boards hurts – not really for my sake, as I’d rather consider myself ecumenical (if I can be permitted such a thing) but for the sake of the people who were the light of Christ to me; who I know love Christ dearly and worship Him with their whole lives. These were the people who have been Christ’s love to me and have held me through joys, doubts and times of great pain. Admittedly, some of them have been known to cast shade on Catholics; they may or may not have known that the Orthodox Church was even a thing in Australia, but it possibly would have fallen under the same umbrella of criticism. This always felt ungracious and unnecessary, and I’m sure I spoke out as much. Commenters here have made it clear that they are critical of the ideology, less so the people, but still…I don’t know if I could have come anywhere near Orthodoxy without hearing Christianity expressed in the modern-esque terms in which I first encountered it; that at least is a language I understand much better than poetry.

    Please forgive me if this is too self-indulgent; I am very grateful for any space to discuss these things so they don’t rattle around my head and distract me from research or sleep.

  120. Rae,

    I find the distinction between ridiculing an ideology and a person fallacious. After all, ideas don’t have an independent existence apart from human minds. There is an Orthodox prayer I pray everyday and part of it says “strike me and heal me, cast me down and raise me up.” In that I am praying for correction–even harsh correction–but I’m not praying for ridicule.

    There is a verse that says that ‘God dwells in thick clouds and darkness.’ The apophatic tradition instructs us to enter the darkness. But, to do that we have to still the mind and it’s usual efforts to parse the world into discrete chunks. God cannot be discretized and parsed out. Ergo faith follows from the fact that God cannot be “known” to a mind that functions on such a coarse grained level. In a certain, qualified sense–no one “knows” God. The soul, however, is made to know God.

    Keep up the good work in science! Today’s failures are the foundation on which tomorrow’s success is built. Science is a great discipline in humility when it is done correctly…it too can be a means of grace!

  121. David,
    Food for thought. If ideas do not have an existence independent of a person, then all knowledge is relative and it dies with the person. Theology is a collection of ideas that is passed on through generations and has an existence independent of the minds that contemplated it in any form.
    Critiquing a system of thought is not the same as attacking a person. I corrected the errors in thought and behavior of my children as they grew up. I was not attacking them but correcting them. For us to not critique the errors in theology would be like a scientist not critiquing incorrect conclusions in another’s work. We are not attacking the person of Galileo when we correct his view of the universe and discard his heliocentric explanation as inaccurate.
    To address Anselm’s use of Platonic thought to establish the foundation of the Penal Substitutionary Atonement is not to attack him personally. He is long dead, but his ideas live on and they are based on pagan concepts of the Divine he borrowed from Platonism. He used God’s offended honor to establish the need for His Son to die in our place. Honor appears in English in the Old Testament, but never in the context that he made of it. “God is clothed in honor and majesty” is a far cry from honor that is offended by us.

  122. Thank you Father for linking your article. I’m reading slowly. Ready to begin part 5.

    At this point I understand exactly what you’re saying and concur. The ground was prepared for the Modern experiment by Thomas Aquinas when he articulated a dividing line between Faith and Reason, Grace and Nature. I also note that during the Middle Ages Western Catholicism’s default perspective was the 3 story universe you describe at the onset of your article. Protestantism thoughtlessly carried that over.

    This statement strikes me as a summation;

    Father Alexander Schmemann is quoted as saying that when we bless something, we do not make it into something other than what it is, but reveal it to be what it has always been.

    Thank you for your loving labor.

  123. Rea, I understand what you mean about ridiculing Evangelicals/Protestants. I identify with the E/P positions because I’ve been a part of that camp(s) all of my life. I don’t self-identify as Orthodox, but my current understandings certainly lean that direction, and that initially didn’t happen because I decided to make a move into Orthodoxy. It was good Protestants and their nurturing who were initially most helpful. However, at the same time, I was propelled negatively away from the Evangelical Circus because of the systematic ignorance combined with hucksterism compounded by various abuses. I found solace and health in the Anglican-Episcopal tradition–not a “perfect” tradition, but liturgical and sacramental–a step in the right direction for the beginning of my own healing.

    When it’s all said and done I trust that God forgives, even our bad theology.

  124. David,
    Glad to look at them. I’ve got a book rattling around the office somewhere on Genesis in the early fathers. I am not saying that Athanasius’ argument on creation ex nihilo and the fall are allegorical readings. Like anyone else of his time he would have no particular reason to object to a seven-day creation story. He would, however, be far more aware of the “story” aspect of Genesis than a modern literalist would admit. When we think of literalism we include scientific rationalism, naturalism, etc., that simply are not part of his worldview. Athanasius is, after all, an Alexandrian, a locality imminently associated with classical allegory and its associated world-view.

  125. David Foutch,
    May God be with you too in your PhD. I hope you have a good church behind you to pray you through it…I’ve no doubt it was by the grace of God that I passed mine.

  126. Tom (aka Volkmar),
    I sincerely hope as well that God will forgive our bad theology and poor understanding…although as Paula has said above, at a certain point we will be without excuse. As I understand Jesus in Matt 12:32, it is a dangerous thing indeed to presume to say what is and isn’t the work of the Holy Spirit. I hope and pray that in His great mercy God will only give each of us as much truth as we can bear, and the strength to accept it.

  127. Tom and Rae,

    In a world where we starve children alive in camps, kill one another over idiotic ideologies, oppress one another in every conceivable fashion possible…there is no excuse for doubt. Nope, none whatsoever. Everything is absolutely clear and obvious. I’m just glad the righteous are here to pray for the sinners.

  128. Well, if we are saved it’s in spite of us all being sinners and because of God saving us through his grace. On this feast of transfiguration, may we all let our light shine before men, no matter how feeble it may be. I’ve always liked this saying…”It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” To curse the darkness is easy. To keep a candle lit in the wind of adversity and doubt takes perseverance and faith. Blessed feast day!

  129. David,
    Forgive me – I’m not always great at reading tone, even less so on the internet. Given your previous confessions of sometimes sort-of atheism, and that many would give the reasons above as justification for their lack of belief in God (at least a good *and* powerful God)…can I correctly infer a degree of sarcasm? I promise I’m not trying to mock you; I appreciate your insights and would like to understand them clearly. Also I’m not sure if I’ve said something unreasonable or insensitive that’s provoked you – my apologies if I have.

  130. Rae,

    Yes, that’s sarcasm, but it’s not. When someone says that we have no excuse for not believing, I chafe. There seem to be plenty of good reasons not to believe.

    For me faith is a bit of a miracle. It’s a fruit of the Spirit. It isn’t obvious to me at all that faith follows evidence of any kind. Everyday I pray “enlighten the eyes of my heart” because I feel like I’m blind and groping. By the grace of God, I’m groping.

  131. David,
    Thankyou for the clarification, and thankyou for that prayer; I may use it myself.
    With regard to my comment about being without excuse, I had two specific things in mind rather than theodicy in general: one being that assumed point at which we do meet God face to face, and the other relating to the Orthodox/Protestant fullness of the faith issue. That and general anxiety about to what degree I’m on the right path in the eyes of God.

  132. God cannot be discretized and parsed out. Ergo faith follows from the fact that God cannot be “known” to a mind that functions on such a coarse grained level. In a certain, qualified sense–no one “knows” God. The soul, however, is made to know God.

    I’m not sure God cannot be “known” to a mind that “functions on…a course grained level”. After all, the truest knowing of God we encounter is in the Eucharist. And even the simplest, most materialistic mind can know Him there. However, I realize that your comment is “qualified” and do not mean to be argumentative. The soul, after all, is part and parcel with the body; they exist as a single whole. Just thinking out loud.

  133. David, there is a way to look at “geocenteic” that does not contradict. The fact that Christ Incarnated here makes it pretty centric.

    You are corect that most people don’t know much about how science works. What most of us have to deal with is the scientistic ideologs who don’t much care for Christians. While I have never thought that they represent science any more than Fred Phelps represents Christianity. They do poison the well.

  134. Michael,

    “David, there is a way to look at “geocenteic” that does not contradict. The fact that Christ Incarnated here makes it pretty centric.”

    And you’re totally confident that God doesn’t have work that he is doing else where? You are absolutely certain that the body of Christ is absolutely composed of only human beings? There is no other way salvation could be getting worked out away from the Earthly stage?

    But, you are probably correct. How could it possibly be any other way than how you have described it?

  135. Rea, I can only walk in the light which I have. “Judgement” is primarily descernment, not condemnation. I choose to rest in God’s Goodness, not in fear.

  136. David, yes, the only thing that I’m absolutely sure of is that certainly may be the greatest of sins.

  137. Well put David.

    “All that glitters is not gold.”
    And…
    “All that is gold does not glitter.”

    I think it was Gandalf who said both. ;o)

  138. Don’t know about any other place. Just raising a hypothesis.

    It could be an infinite number of ways.
    What I do know is that Jesus Christ Incarnated here. I also know that there is an inter-connectedness in creation that is incredible.

    I would like to know what you think of the anthropic principle.

  139. YES. My comments are intended to exaggerate what cannot be known…from a particular point of view.

  140. Tom and David,
    There is a kind of knowledge that carries a certainty within it – but it does not belong to the kind of knowledge that is being described in the conversation.

    I know that intuitively to be true. I “know” for certain that if I jump off the peak of my house roof I will come to a jarring stop about 3 seconds later.

    Are you speaking of certainty in another way perhaps?

  141. Thank you Fr. Stephen,
    That is why I wrote above about God’s presence with us, which can be known
    noetically deep within one’s soul. It certainly is not a rational knowledge, such as knowledge we hold about the universe or math. That is why I like the distinction Spanish makes with 2 different words for knowing. One a factual knowing, the other a personal knowing. This is the knowledge of a St. Siluoan or of St. Symeon the New Theologian. John in his first epistle writes time and again of knowing God and how we can know that he knows and loves us. It is a noetic knowing of God that the martyrs had. Few will die for a fact. Perhaps millions have died because of this knowledge of God, borne deep in their hearts. I’ve seen this love for God in the unlettered and those whom the world may call ignorant. I know Father that you experienced folks in the shanties of East Tennessee, on their deathbeds, with the name of Jesus on their lips with their dying breath. It is a knowing of God through the Holy Spirit that your father in law knew and lived. It is a knowing of God at night that one may experience, a knowing that makes no difference whether one lives or dies at that moment. Yes, Father, a different kind of knowing.

  142. Dean,

    ”It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” To curse the darkness is easy. To keep a candle lit in the wind of adversity and doubt takes perseverance and faith.

    YES!

  143. Jacksson: I am relieved to hear that I am not alone with an idea that was outside the norm within my denomination. I would be curious if there have been any other theologians or Bible scholars (in Orthodoxy or another Christian tradition) who shared that view. Unfortunately, being exposed so heavily to evangelical writers on Revelation, you are almost brainwashed into believing that anybody who does not treat it like a linear story line is a heretic.

  144. Fr Stephen,
    I’ve been reading this post and comments but not able to take time for my own participation for various reasons. I just wish to express deep gratitude for this essay and to your response to Rae’s questions. There is much to say on this subject.

    One thought that came me is that a problem in science, that appears to point back to modernity as its source, is the over-bearing trend toward reductionism. There is a lot already said on reductionism in various literary, philosophical and science circles but I bring this up because there seems to be a link between reductionism and literalism (perhaps this possible link has a wider recorded history and/or analysis than I what I have been exposed to thus far). Further, when I taught chemistry and was trying to help students who had a particular difficulty with the material, (they had the required preparation) they frequently had a Protestant (I believe I need to say more specifically Evangelical/fundamentalist) background and for whatever reason, they actually volunteered this information. When I noticed this, I went further and attempted to find out whether, when a science professor had some sort of difficulty with science literacy (it seemed) I noticed a similarity to the ‘road-block’ pattern that my self-professed Protestant students had. (For now I need to be brief and will leave off specific examples of how the ‘road-blocks’ appeared, however, I had been employed to ‘help’ both faculty and students with science literacy issues.) Because I had not been exposed in my own upbringing and adult life to that way of life and thinking, I wasn’t able to sort out what the issues and the connections were specifically. (for readers’ sake I’ll mention that at the time I didn’t consider myself a believer in Christianity but didn’t consider myself an atheist either). I had assumed that the road-blocks were potentially related to some sort of religious general ideology that inhibited their perceptual and analytical skills. For this reason, when I first became enrolled into an Orthodox parish, I resisted considering myself becoming ‘religious’. I refused to let ‘religion’ cloud my perception and analytical skills in the way I had observed it in my academic career. Since reading and learning more about modernity in this blog over this past year or so, the potential relationships of this way of thinking to its inhibitory and deleterious effects in science theory and applications, which I have come to associate with ‘modernity’, come into sharper focus.

    And now I’ve written far more than I intended! My hope is that I have shared some thoughts to raise more questions about the link of modernity to science regarding how it is framed and practiced. Time is my ‘issue’ at this moment. I’ve written very quickly without time to edit. Not a good thing to do. Please forgive my bluntness and faux pas.

  145. Father Stephen,
    Forgive me if it’s time this comment thread wound up, but if you have time I wonder if you would provide some feedback on an idea that was buried in a previous comment.
    You have said that it is easier to express Christianity in modernistic terms than to completely re-educate people’s understanding of reality (along those lines). I wonder, though, whether on some level the former is unavoidable, or even necessary in the present time. For people to understand the Gospel, it must be spoken to them in their own language – and in this age most people’s minds are so thoroughly inculcated in modernism that other modes of thought are often incomprehensible. Meeting seminary students who were examining Biblical texts using the historical critical method – which I think I’ve seen you describe elsewhere in the strongest of negative terms – was actually part of what made Christianity start to seem intellectually credible to my scientifically trained modern mind. It’s only now that I’m already committed, as it were, that I can start to see the insufficiencies of that model. The depth of Orthodox Christianity, and how deeply foreign it seems to how I understand things now, bewilders me, and will likely continue to do so for some time. With God all things are possible, but I can’t imagine myself being able to leap from rational materialism to an Orthodox Christian worldview without an intermediate of sorts. So is there some value in modernist “translations” of Christianity that could act as the thin end of the wedge for some, or are the dangers of terrible distortion too great? You’ve certainly given very good examples of how dangerous some of those distortions have already been. But perhaps it could be more like teaching atomic theory to school students…the simplest models are in fact pretty inaccurate, but the best and most sophisticated knowledge just can’t be taught to minds below a certain level of understanding.
    Once again, God bless you for your time and wisdom here.

  146. Michael Lynch,
    In +Elder Athanasios’s lectures (His original lectures are available in Greek on YouTube.), he supports his statements with either the works/commentary of some of the Holy Fathers on the Apocalypse – St. Andrew of Caesarea, St. Eusebius of Caesarea and St. Oikoumenios – or actual verses from both the Old and New Testaments. The wonderful thing about his lectures is that he addresses every little thing, verse by verse, and in some cases, word by word.

  147. Rae,

    Sympathize with your question about their being value to the Protestants’ presence and role in Christianity, but I think it may be the wrong question.

    On the one hand you and I value the people practicing Protestantism – and so does God. That is not a question. One the other hand what the rational materialist needs in order to find God is not really our job to discern and make happen. On earth He spent more of His time with the harlots and tax collectors. I don’t know how He related to them but He was able to do it without turning Himself into something else.

    Instead of taking the 30,000ft view and deciding whether or not Protestants should exist, it’s better to meet them one at a time in our lives and simply work on loving them as Christ said. That is refiner’s fire to be sure.

  148. “One thought that came me is that a problem in science, that appears to point back to modernity as its source, is the over-bearing trend toward reductionism.”

    This statement is just incorrect. Science works because it is a mechanistic methodology that turns on reproducibility and falsification. This has nothing whatsoever to do with modernity. It is a control against inflating bias and filtering out charlatans. Is it sufficient for all things? No. But, it does not claim to be.

  149. Rae,
    Good questions, I think. A large part of it is, for me, a matter of Providence. God uses and will use everything for our salvation – and it’s impossible to predict. As such, we can’t really judge, in some final sense, whether the potential harm outweighs a divine benefit.

    For myself, the task that has been mine over these past 10 years (of the blog), has been to use what I’ve been given to increasingly develop ways of speaking about Christianity/modernity/Orthodoxy, etc. in a manner that nurtures the understanding of the Tradition as it has been received. I can’t judge the efficacy of that beyond our conversations here and elsewhere. Whatever it is, is a small thing.

    I personally see the literalist approach (at least as I use the term) to be a breeding ground for unbelief and for a false spirituality. It is alive and well within the ranks of Orthodoxy itself. There is also the dance between the historical/critical/revisionist models and the literalist (they are two sides of the same coin). They exist because within modernity, they are the only two choices.

    If you look across the Christian landscape, that dance is not bearing good fruit – or so it seems to me.

    I was schooled in the historical-critical method (I can methodically doubt anything). It can even be of use. But it is based on false premises, I think. It imagines that the truth lies in “what happened.” It then imagines that using the “method” (which is a pseudo-science) we can actually find our way back to that core history. What ensues is the repeated failure to reach that core, and then the announcement that “we don’t know.”

    What we actually have is a text. No doubt, the text has a relationship with “what happened.” But for reasons that are thoroughly un-modern, God has given us a text. We read the text. We sing the text. We liturgically live the text. We paint the text. Within the life of the Church, in the many ways that the text lives within us, we are given a mystical (and utterly real) participation in not only “what happened,” but in the fullness of “what happened” actually means and remains. That is a very different set of questions.

    This is only possible within a sacramental understanding – and only if the sacramental understanding is actually a description of the truth. The modern “methods” (both literal and historical/critical), even when they arrive at what is thought to be “what happened,” have no true possibility of a mystical and real participation in the event itself. They are non-sacramental.

    I don’t really think about the larger picture – “what would work best” – because I don’t think we can know the answer to that question. I just press forward doing what I do. It is the essential work of a priest – “making known the mystery” (Col. 1:27)

  150. Rae,

    The hard work of developing an Orthodox frame of mind is indispensable. I do not think Orthodoxy is perfect. I am not a drum beater for Orthodoxy simply because I think that mind set is dangerous. However, I’m a pragmatic person. If something produces results that to me is conclusive. I can tell you Rae that if you put forth the effort to read the Bible as the Orthodox do, if you pray the way the Orthodox do, if you worship the way the Orthodox do you will see a difference. I would recommend the book The Orthodox Way by Kallistos Ware. I think that book will help you to see the real significance of the Orthodox frame of mind (Romans 12:2). I think you should keep posting because I am curios how things will turn out for you.

  151. Father,
    I am confused about the idea that the second coming isn’t an actual event in our earthly future. Can help me understand how this thought relates to scriptures such as: 1Thes. 4:13-17 and 2 Thes. 2:1-12?
    Marina

  152. David,
    Forgive me it seems I might have touched a nerve. You don’t seem to understand what I’m saying. I’m far from trying to dispense with science. Perhaps reading “More is Different” as a beginning place to understand the problems (limitations) of reductionist thinking in science.

  153. David, I don’t either. That is why I asked. I have an odd an annoying way of conversing. I make statements that are often times questions in the hope of getting responses. You are the first person to give me responses in a long time. I like that. Thank you. You have an insight and experience and way of thinking that is quite different than mine. I like that too. Not always easy to communicate but worth it. So, please bear with me.

    I do not mean to cause offense. I am trying to learn how to ask. Difficult.

    Contention is not always dissension.

    I really like what you said to Rae about the pragmatic reality of the faith. So true. I always find it funny that many people who shout about “evidence” and are presented with the pragmatic reality, reject it on purely ideological grounds.

  154. Dee,

    No nerves have been touched. The main force of my exception, which I failed to communicate, was that the present assumptions have two driving motivations: Reduction of bias and filtering charlatans. This results in a methodology that focuses on falsifiability and reproducibility. Here’s the point, how can you achieve those goals apart from reductionist and mechanistic approaches?

  155. Michael Batman,

    Please, forgive me. I really enjoy your participation and would miss it immensely. Later when I have time will give it a look. It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything on the anthropic principle. But, I haven’t thought about it in this context so let me come back to it!

  156. David,
    Rather than go back and forth on the topic of how reductionism can be ( often is) detrimental to science I would like to encourage a reading of the short paper I mention above. At least it might (hopefully) reveal more about what I’m referring to here. Science is not so simplistic nor as mechanistic as your words convey your n your comment.

  157. David, as a non-scientist reductionism is a problem not in method but in simply excluding the range of possible answers. For instance when icons are mentioned to a certain type of Christian the reaction is one that simply refuses to look at the evidence and the theolgy of icon. To them, any evidence is is simply disregarded. Part of that is their inability to appreciate the reality of God revealing Himself in matter. They reduce God to a book.

    God also reveals Himself in our rationally as we are “reason endowed sheep”.

    All knowledge is revealed. It should be tested because the evil one deceives. In history, It is frequently necessary to reduce the scope of inquiry to understand any results. Nevertheless one cannot exclude the possibility of other connections that may not be readily apparent.

    Saints, to my way of thinking, prove the efficacy of the Truth revealed in the Church. If a person does these things (pray, fast, give alms, repent, worship and forgive) as prescribed by the Tradition, sanctity results. The level of sanctity can be related to the intensity of one’s consistency in obedience but that is not causitive as there is much that is hidden. Much is related to the purity of heart and how one asks.
    Too simplistic but descriptive of what happens.

    There are a number of technical treatises available on the details but they usually take basic training to begin to comprehend and use appropriately.

    To me it is clearly evident that science suffers under a pure philisophical naturalism. It seems to me better results, more human results, could be obtained by not reducing science to that AND not sacrificing any of the necessary rigor of data collection, verification and replicability. But that is just my hypothesis.

    I really don’t know. When I was studying history I always began with a hypothesis to help organize my thought and then looked to see if the data supported the hypothesis or not. Often I had to change or at least modify the original hypothesis.

  158. Dee,

    I’m not talking about every kind of science. I’m talking about experimental science. Some science is more akin to engineering, like computer science or chemistry. Physics is another kind of animal altogether. I am specifically addressing the experimental sciences. In order to do work that can be evaluated by others as legitimate it has to be reproducible and falsifiable. What other way can you do that than how it is done now? I’m asking you to answer that question.

    That article looks really good. I will share it with my adviser. The idea that we cannot predict the emergence of life from first principles is well-accepted. And if that is the case we certainly we cannot predict the emergence of more complex phenomena such as consciousness. In the biological sciences we call that emergent properties, or phenomena. It is understood or at least anticipated that we cannot predict emergent phenomena let alone explain it. This is where new scientific approaches are being developed. For example, systems biology is an attempt to look at interactions at the level of the system. At ORNL they are working on whole cell simulations. These are far from sufficient. But we have to begin somewhere. The assumption is that for all emergent phenomena there are biological (system) correlates or at least antecedent correlates. Can we identify those correlates such that the manipulation of the correlates results in a concomitant effect in the emergent properties?

    I’m excited to dig into that paper!

  159. David,
    My area is physical chemistry and involved applications to the biological systems. This cros-disciplinary background was one reason why my employer (university admin) thought I might be useful in my ability to speak to scientists across disciplines. Please forgive my brievity and possible broken sentences because I’m pressured in time. Exploration is an important process in all sciences, which is not (or ought not if one is serious about learning something new from ‘nature’) reduced to a mechanism or systematic structure. Sometimes we have a phenomenon in the process of conducting an experiment which cannot be ignored but doesn’t fit our current paradigm. When this happens we can certainly go about confirming the presentation of that phenomenon but may not have any mechanistic way to define it further. The phenomenon is acknowledged and then we seek creative ways to explore. That creativity is more like art rather than a mechanistic approach. And it isn’t ‘the poor sister’ of the validation process. If this tone sounds terse please forgive me I’m rushing.

  160. Dee,

    Exploratory research is strictly prohibited in my lab–“No more bricks in the brick yard.”

  161. David, I understand. Been there too. Graduate work in your area is tough and very competitive.

  162. Dee,

    My adviser is Russian and he is Russian trained. He has made quite the pariah of himself by his exacting criticism of the research presented at colloquium. And he is a very critical, but non-punishing, adviser.

  163. Drewster2000,
    Thanks for your reply. In case it wasn’t clear, Protestants are actually my people, the people who welcomed me into Christianity. My previous comment was mostly about my own conversion. For me, the refiner’s fire of loving them is being put to shame by the depth of their love for God and one another.

  164. Dear Fr. Stephen: I’ve never read or heard the “End Times ” put more succulently . Thank you. I’ve seen bumper stickers saying, “In case of Rapture, this car will be unmanned .” As you stated, it’s in the present..those riding in that car are missing it!

  165. Rae,

    I’m sorry if I mis-spoke. I did remember your origins. As I said I wrestle with the same issue. The important point isn’t to get the institution confused with the people. Calling particular Protestants good and loving and full of value isn’t the same as calling “the Protestants” good and loving and full of value. We are all in error and none of us have any badges or associations we can hold onto as He continually draws us closer to Himself in order to love us – just us – not our group.

    I’m stating it crudely but hopefully it communicates. There is a certain mentality (very prevalent in many places) which says if you don’t believe the right things, then you won’t get a “thumbs up” at the Last Judgment. It’s much more accurate to say that if you don’t have a relationship with Life Himself, you will die. To put it another way, it’s not about getting all the answers right on the test, but about showing up and wanting to learn and grow.

    hope this helps, drewster

  166. Drewster,
    Thanks, that is helpful, and I fervently hope alongside you that continuing to show up with an open heart is what counts.
    Peace,
    Rae

  167. Fr. Stephen,
    Thankyou again for your patience with me and my inquiries. I genuinely thank God for you and this blog.
    I’m certainly no fan of flat literalism when it comes to Scripture, and I agree with your observations about its fruit. That said, both literalists and historical critics still seek spiritual meaning from all of scripture. I guess my fear is knowing when the literal/historical meaning is critically important and when it isn’t. The west seems to treat Scripture (+/- Tradition) as the primary data, which we must interpret in order to draw correct conclusions about God and God’s relationship with us. I can very much see how that method of reading Scripture could yield the furious, exacting, sovereign judge of Calvinism (as I meagrely understand it), arbitrarily electing some and damning others. The East, as you’ve described, takes a very different approach. Occasionally when I’ve read an Eastern interpretation of a particular passage, I confess (please forgive me) that a part of my brain wanted to put its hands on its hips and declare (with a caricatured Cowboy accent, for some absurd reason) “Where *I* come from, they’d call that eisegesis!”. All of which is to say, I often like the conclusions Orthodoxy draws much better than the West’s, but I have my doubts about their methods. In science, how much you like the results is irrelevant, and if the methods aren’t sound then you can’t trust the conclusions.
    I think it’s obvious I need to learn (and trust) the sacramental way of reading scripture. And now it’s time for me to say less and pray more. God bless you all for engaging with me in this.

  168. Rae,
    Scholasticism developed in the west, which is, in part, the methodology you’re familiar with. (You may already know this– if so I apologize for being redundant.) There is a cultural element embedded in it which often is invisible to western eyes. I come from a Seminole background and for various reasons that helps me to see it (though not always). Perhaps also because of your training you have been ‘enculturated’ into a ‘science’ outlook that maintains a kind of normalcy of that cultural element as well. I believe, in other words, that there might be multiple layers, in your own approach to understand Orthodoxy. My only advice is patience and openness to the unfolding in your heart. I’m still very ‘young’ in Orthodoxy. And I frequently get impatient with myself in these matters. I’ve been assured that it does take time. David mentioned Metropolitan Kalistos Ware’s book, and I agree that both of his books might be helpful. Also Fr Stephens book too– I highly recommend that as well to help you to begin to understand the theology and the Orthodox Way. May God bless you with peace and joy in your exploration.

  169. Rae,

    Adding to what Dee said, in this part of the world (North America) we have a tendency to think we can understand anything as long as someone will explain it to us in a certain way. This is of course false. We know that consciously. In theory we know that there are limits to our comprehension, but in practice we don’t really believe that’s true. This is a trait of scholasticism.

    In the same vein we want to know historically what happened. No really – what REALLY happened!?! The presumption made is that if we know something for sure happened just like we think it did, then we can capture that fact. And as we go along capturing facts we’ll soon have enough to sit down and draw up our own conclusions – conclusion we put a lot of stock in because they’re ours, built from our own logic and understanding. And let’s be honest: that’s what we trust most.

    But the truth is that there is so much more than just what we consider to be the cold, hard facts. We want to judge things based on words on a page or a picture from a book, when in fact reality is living and moving right in front of us. We understand so much more about human beings by relating to them rather than studying them. We learn so much more about sin by wrestling with it than by reading about the Fall. We understand so much more about the Cross by bearing one ourselves than by thinking about what Jesus did 2000 years ago.

    This approach isn’t comfortable. In fact it’s messy. It makes us feel vulnerable. But it is the way it works.

  170. Drewster2000, thank you!! I found your words very helpful. I will admit also there is a little (and sometimes a lot, depending on the individual) vanity mixed in, a kind of ‘can-do’ attitude in learning in general and learning the mystery of life, specifically, in the sciences. Turning to God with an open heart helps to open our eyes and is different from this vanity. This vanity is likely common in American in cultural traits I think. But seen elsewhere as well.

  171. Thank you for this post! This expresses an idea that I’ve never exactly heard explained, but sort of sums up my understanding of “time” from God’s point of view! But I could never quite put it together in a way that made sense to others! Glory to God!

  172. Michael, I just found your response to an August post on Father Stephens blog:

    “Jacksson: I am relieved to hear that I am not alone with an idea that was outside the norm within my denomination. I would be curious if there have been any other theologians or Bible scholars (in Orthodoxy or another Christian tradition) who shared that view. Unfortunately, being exposed so heavily to evangelical writers on Revelation, you are almost brainwashed into believing that anybody who does not treat it like a linear story line is a heretic.”

    The problem is that there is very little Orthodox literature on the Revelation. This elder quotes primarily from only two Orthodox fathers who wrote on the subject: St. Andrew of Caesarea and P. Bratsiotis more recently. He does mention that other Orthodox scholars relate to the spiral concept of time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *