The Meekness of God

“Brood of vipers!” with those words John the Baptist is often introduced in the movies and the minds of believers as a loud, nearly violent prophet of the desert. That Charlton Heston played him in one of those movies was almost type-casting, at least with regard to the popular imagination. And yet, St. John is an example of meekness.

When confronted by the religious leaders of Israel he has little to say for himself. He is far more clear about who and what he is not than about who and what he is. When he encounters Christ he declares himself unworthy to untie his sandals, much less Baptize the one whom he calls, “The Lamb of God.” When confronted by the growing success of Christ’s disciples (to the dismay of his own) he says, “He must increase and I must decrease.”

St. John’s role is to prepare and to point out. The attention of his life and ministry are not towards himself, but towards Christ.

We can see the same thing in the Mother of God. Her response to Gabriel’s word is simply, “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord. Be it unto me according to your word.” Even at the Wedding in Cana, where we imagine her to be importuning Christ, her only words to her Son are, “They have no wine.” The outcome of her simple observation is merely, “Do whatever he asks.”

This self-emptying deprecation is, oddly, the very character of God Himself, as revealed in the pages of the gospels:

  • “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. (Jn. 3:35)
  • Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.” (Jn. 5:19)
  • “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” (Jn. 16:13)

This mutual self-emptying reveals God at His very depths. Christ reveals God most completely in His suffering, death and resurrection. This is not merely something that “happens” to Him. It is the fullness of the revelation of God. St. Paul highlights this when he speaks of Christ “emptying himself” (kenosis) on the Cross and becoming “obedient unto death.”

In these statements, we see that God’s mutual self-emptying is more than an occasional action: it is a way of being. And, it is the very manner of existence that St. Paul urges on us as well. When he describes Christ’s self-emptying on the Cross it is in order to say to us, “Have this mind within you…” (Phil. 2:5).

This “kenotic” mode of existence runs completely contrary to our most common patterns. Our modern life is thought to be a collection of autonomous wills, each vying with others to gain and hold a position of power. Our lives are emotional and psychological negotiations in which the presence of others serve as threats, signaling the possibility that we may need to accept less than what we want. This is a formula for anxiety and depression. We are anxious in that our power over others is limited and ineffective. It becomes depressing in that we are constantly frustrated and unable to have what we want.

It is ironic that we imagine the life of a god as a life of power in which every desire is fulfilled. It is, in fact, the life of a demon, though a demon’s torment lies in the fact that its desires remain unfulfilled. Lucifer’s desire to be “like God” made him into a near opposite.

American Christians have become increasingly politicized over the past few decades (both on the Left and the Right). They have fallen prey to the lure of a better world through the exercise of power. Regardless of who is “up” at any given election cycle, there are no winners and there can be no peace. For with every “victory,” the opposition remains. Continual warfare becomes a necessity. We are anxious, depressed and angry. The path of theosis has been traded for the life of demons.

Christ’s aphorism, “He who seeks to save his life will lose it, while he who loses his life will save it,” becomes quite clear in its meaning when all of this is considered. God Himself lives a life of self-emptying love. He “lost” creation in His love for it. He “lost” Himself in His love for creation that He might gain it again. We frequently want God to join us in our demonic path of anxiety and control. We see the things that trouble us and say, “Why doesn’t God do something?” We have Jesus but we want Zeus.

That the notion of mutual self-emptying is so difficult for us to fathom is difficult for us, in part, for the fact that we have been exalted to positions of relative power within the cultures of the world. Even the least voter can imagine themselves to be the shaper of history. Christians in the First World have become “managers.” The least among us often practice a form of self-emptying because they have no options. Aspects of the gospel are easier for them. Those who find themselves with power (or imagine that they do) discover that self-emptying is an “eye of the needle,” and that salvation is nearly impossible. That such statements seem odd is a testament to how deeply Christianity has been perverted in our time and become but one more position of power among the many.

John the Baptist ended his days in Herod’s prison, his head delivered to the tyrant on a platter, at the whim of a dancing girl. The Theotokos stood by the Cross in silence as a sword of sorrow pierced her soul. Their examples have been mirrored countless times through the centuries by God-loving martyrs and the yet more obscure men and women who have faithfully repeated, “He must increase and I must decrease; be it unto me according to His word.”

In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace. For though in the sight of men they were punished, their hope is full of immortality. Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself; like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them. In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble. They will govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them forever. Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his elect, and he watches over his holy ones. (Wis. 3:2-9)



  1. I was reading one of the psalms where David says I walk in innocence in my uprightness. It paints the picture of a holy person having been led to holiness innocently as a child. I think when we see all human activity whether bad or good as a product of innocence it helps us to navigate forgiveness much easier. A study in childhood development and the fragility of the human psyche and heart illustrate that in the final analysis all of us are ultimately innocent and we know not what we do.

  2. Amen Father. The Faith has been greatly warped in the modern Western World. I listened to a man this morning going on and on about how we had to vote and get the right people in office to have social justice and bring about the Kingdom. He simply could not accept that we cannot “correct” others without abusing them nor can we bring social justice into this world. Self emptying does not include fixing others.

  3. My sister recently posted a protestant declaration (she is Episcopalian) on her social media page that included the phrase, “The church’s role is to change the world through the life and love of Jesus Christ.” While generic in statement, this jumped off the page at me. It is so easy to take vanilla statements of this sort and build a worldly empire. I know the Church is not about “changing the world” but rather changing our hearts and helping us into communion with God. There is nothing meek or humble about “changing the world”. May God grant mercy.

  4. Recently I visited my son’s family and the nighttime ritual with me and his six year old son is to make the sign of the cross on each other’s forehead and say “God bless you” before we drift off to sleep. This time, he added his own words where his thinking seem to see the sign of the cross as a plus sign. After the sign of the cross, he then turned to me and made the “minus sign” on my forehead, saying “God minus you.” Then he make the equal sign, saying “God equal you.” Returning home, my prayer now continues, “God minus me, take away my demonic anxiety, my pride, my propensity to judge others and lead me on the path to righteousness.” I will never be equal, but maybe with God’s help and little Brian’s prayers, I will be more like God.

  5. ZING! TWANNGGGG! This is the sound of a razor sharp arrow hitting it’s target, just as you have done so again in this article, Father.

    The timing of this is all the more powerful to me in that in my community there is right now a situation requiring public effort (a business looking like a possible front for human trafficking having established itself in a new location right on my back doorstop here in one of those “Evangelical meccas” of N. America), requiring me to navigate that razor sharp edge of “in the world, but not of it” once again in a real, rubber-meets-the-road way. I’m so thankful it is not up to me to change the world, but only Christ. It is only mine to continue to struggle to empty myself in abandonment to Him and His ways. May He grant me grace to do so.

  6. I cried also when I read this. Thank you so much for this reflection Fr Stephen.

  7. But of course it is not just a modern delusion. It has been the temptation of the Church since Constantine made it the religion of the Empire. I wonder sometimes from whom “In this sign conquer” came?

    We see the temptation at work in the woefully misguided idea of “synergy” between the government and the Church which even at it’s best reduces the Church’s reality and binds her to this world in a manner never intended I think.
    We see it in the practice of buying the Patriarchal Throne of Constantinople under the Turkish Yoke and Sergianism in Soviet Russia. The corruption of good people trying to save the Church from her external enemies at the price of the souls of many I fear.
    We see it in the insane ethnocentric divisions here in the US and abroad. Our hierarchs bowing to those with money and power. Insane to the point that Orthodox Arabs, Greeks, Russians and Americans grapple in combat with each other because we are not the “right kind” of Orthodox.

    The Church as institution is at the lowest she has ever been in the West and for that I must be thankful for maybe it means we will be required to embrace the Cross if we want to live.

  8. “The path of theosis has been traded for the life of demons.” Please explain this further. Do you just mean modern man seeking a place of power instead of self-emptying

  9. Kathy,
    Yes. The place of power and control rather than self-emptying. Now, many people may indeed have power given to them as part of their job. As such, they have a very difficult task. What they want to do is to use power justly. That requires a great deal of wisdom. “Fair to all concerned” is as close as I can get to the meaning of “justly.”

  10. I think for most of my friends and family, the issue is: “When I was hungry, you gave me food, when I was thirsty, . . ” along with the good Samaritan story. They see the institution of the church as being included in the word “you” and in the image of the Samaritan. They also believe that they should influence the government to become more like the “you” as well. It is very hard for me to discuss this with them because for them any other interpretation (e.g., “you” being just one person at a time, individuals trying respond to the literal meaning– to help whoever is near– as being truly Christian but also idealistic and somewhat irresponsible since they feel blessed with more resources than most, and through their resources they have a wider reach– thus greater opportunities to feed, etc.,, which bring greater responsibility.

    I have trouble arguing with that, and am not sure that arguing is the right word. I look for opportunities to add my view but my words seem to stir a surprising anger, so I support and encourage their efforts– even participate when I can–and at the same time pray that their version of “self emptying” is growing towards an understanding of the one you describe, God’s version– which is so hard for many of us to connect with the image that we are also taught to believe in: “God the father, the almighty, creator of heaven and earth . . .” (Not Zeus exactly, but one to be in awe of, revere, obey). I am tempted to revert to the “It’s complicated” position, but when I visit here, or participate in the Divine Liturgy, it seems very simple.

    But you know all this, Father Stephen, and most readers do too, I suppose I’m still sorting things out for myself, living day by day in what feels almost like two worlds. I mean two seemingly different understandings of Christianity. I trust they are compatible in the long view. But so far, silence and working together for good is what makes them so for me, us, my family and friends.

    My larger concern, however, is how a self-emptying understanding of God and our response to that can be shared, even promoted. Or is it the wrong kind of question, one that arises from the influence-improve-control model? You see, I am a bit puzzled that it took me almost a lifetime to realize how limited my view of Christianity was, when possibly someone could have opened my mind. Or perhaps it’s a matter of the heart and God’s timing.

  11. Recently, my pastor (Mennonite) wrote a blog post in which he referred to the President as being basically in a state of wish fulfillment in which he is changing reality in order to protect his own psychological defenses. How true, I thought. To have that kind of power probably seemed like it would be heaven, but it is really hell. Thank God I do not have that power over my circumstances. Instead I am forced (slowly and not very willingly) to face reality.

  12. I am a bit puzzled that it took me almost a lifetime to realize how limited my view of Christianity was, when possibly someone could have opened my mind.

    Albert, it took me roughly 30+ years to come to Orthodoxy. I very much doubt anyone could have “opened my eyes” prior to that time. Their arguments/entreaties/reasoning would have, to some extent at least, fallen upon deaf ears.

    God in His Providence has brought me here now, in whatever “right” time one may envision. What I do in this moment is far more important than whatever I may have possibly done in the previous ones. I pray God have mercy. Just my thoughts.

  13. Albert,
    Thanks for your comment. I like the way you express yourself. You have a gentleness about you that is endearing.
    If I may reply to your question about how to promote to others God’s self-emptying…I truly believe that ‘being’ self-emptying yourself would get their attention so much so that they’d begin to ask you questions or make comments that leave the door open for conversation. That way, they are the ones who inquire rather than you offering information they never asked for. That is not to say you should always be silent! You’ll know when to speak and when not…pray always for guidance. And allow for some “flubs” along the way!
    As for your concern that you may have come to this knowledge of God sooner if someone would have told you, I have thought that many times myself! But really, the “what if’s” can not be answered. God saw to it that you would be in the right place at the right time, no sooner or no later. You can’t answer what would have happened if someone told you, simply because it didn’t happen! You’ll be OK, Albert…continue on with your heart toward God, as you are doing!

  14. “Our modern life is thought to be a collection of autonomous wills, each vying with others to gain and hold a position of power. Our lives are emotional and psychological negotiations in which the presence of others serve as threats, signaling the possibility that we may need to accept less than what we want. This is a formula for anxiety and depression. We are anxious in that our power over others is limited and ineffective. It becomes depressing in that we are constantly frustrated and unable to have what we want.”

    If everything is either allowed by God or willed by God, then no person or situation can threaten me because all that I have or don’t have is from God. The person or the situation are just the cooperative components in God’s plan for me (whether I like it or not). Once I understood this, I stopped feeling threatened by others and the circumstances that presented themselves to me. When we truly get this at a very deep level, we are freed from negative emotions like anxiety and depression.

    “Self-emptying does not include fixing others.”

    Thank you, Stephen Griswold, for this simple and well-stated truth.

  15. Father,
    Thank you for this thoughtful post.
    I am struck by two seemingly opposing images when I contemplate the life of St. John the Baptist, and especially when I observe his icons. We see in him mighty strength and resolve to fulfill his calling. He was known as the greatest of those “born of women”, chosen to prepare the way of the Lord. His appearance in icons has an intensity that is different that our warrior Saints or even the archangels…his expression doubtlessly serious, somber, powerful. His call to repentance was forthright and resolute…”And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force”.
    Yet he is also meek. He willingly defers to the One greater. To baptize his Lord, the Lamb he made way for, had to be most humbling. With a character such as his he willingly gave deference to Christ and the coming Kingdom…no stiff neck, no reluctance, no concern over his honor and esteem. Thought it blessed to be the friend of the Bridegroom. And a short life for one who is the greatest of Saints, who’s end was beheading.
    I do not think that our world out there understands what meekness is. We’ve heard it before, that it is mistaken for weakness. We are given an example in St. John the Baptist of the strength it takes to be meek.
    “…we see that God’s mutual self-emptying is more than an occasional action: it is a way of being. And, it is the very manner of existence that St. Paul urges on us as well.”
    This is a high calling, Father! May God give more grace!

  16. Paula AZ
    When I was writing this piece, I thought of Moses, as well (also played by Charlton Heston). The Scriptures say that Moses was “the meekest man on the face of the earth.” Rather strange that we never picture him in that manner.

  17. Indeed Father, Moses too. If Moses had been anything but meek I do not think he could have served the Lord in such a mighty way. God called him, “My servant Moses”! Yes, meekness is strength, a holy strength…this is impossible to depict in a Hollywood film because Hollywood is a representative of another kingdom.
    It takes great strength to be selfless, to deny yourself. To me, that is the epitome of strength.

  18. For some reason this passage comes to mind: the 70 going out two by two share the good news—an invitation to faith only with simple demonstration for those who believe, no coercion, no army, no backpack full of supplies, no elaborate programs, no advance scouts….

    After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road. But whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whatever city you enter, and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, ‘The very dust of your city which clings to us we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you.’ …

    “Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” And He said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

    “In that hour Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”
    (Luke 10:1-11,17-22)

  19. As a side note, Father’s audio book, Everywhere Present is now available on Audible (along with some other good selections such as Laurus and At the Corner of East and Now)!

  20. Father Stephen, your thoughts ring true, and I have increasingly been thinking about opting out of the voting process altogether. It seems like a constant choices between the lesser of two evils, and I’m tired of voting for evil and enmeshing myself in a corrupt system. We really have far less power than we think we do, and even if we did have power in our votes, it seems the increasing violence of politics and the struggle for power is increasingly un-Christian (if it ever were to begin with). It is exactly the opposite of the divine kenosis of which you speak. Yet, I have heard some say that refusing to vote is an immoral an abdication of our Christian responsibility to honor legitimate government. On the other hand, voting isn’t a requirement for citizenship. Do you have any thoughts on this?

  21. Melba,

    Thanks for your story about the sign of the cross. Children possess great wisdom before it is taught out of them. There is surely some important significance to the use of mathematical signs in our relationship to God.

  22. Samuel,
    For what it’s worth, I have stopped voting for the very reasons you cite. Others may do as their conscience directs. However, the argument that refusing to vote is an immoral act, an abdication of our Christian responsibility is false.

    If someone presents you with two abhorrent alternatives, say, “pick which of your children you want us to kill and will let the other one go,” there is no “moral” choice. There is only the evil that is inviting you to share in its actions.

    There were free elections in the Soviet Union, with only one candidate. But voting for that candidate was used to proclaim that everything was “democratic.” I personally believe that the powers that be are primarily enthralled to corporate interests of one sort or another and that issues such as abortion, etc., are only being used to motivate the electorate between one of two enthralled political groups. I have come to the personal conclusion that I no longer want to participate in their madness and deception, or to agree to the pretense that what we have is a democracy. We do not. One American thinker once opined, “If democracy actually worked, we wouldn’t be allowed to vote.”

    The Congress is not functional, the executive is largely out of control (and not just at the moment). We are a corporate empire with the largest army in the world. I am choosing to say, “No, thank you.” I offer no suggestion that this is right. It’s simply the only thing that I have found that gives my conscience peace. I am not in charge of this country, nor do I bear a responsibility to participate in a system that has become so utterly corrupt.

  23. If anyone would like to see some corroboration for Fr. Stephen’s convictions about the subversion of the democratic processes of “free” nations, including ours, I invite you to examine the material being presented in hearings here:

    I just finished listening to the testimony of Commissioner, Justin Walker, which directly touches on the things Fr. Stephen mentions here.

    I caution that the material being presented is not for the faint of heart. Do not watch or listen within earshot of the vulnerable—minors and those weak in faith.

  24. Fr. Stephen, Thank you for your comments. I appreciate your perspective on this issue.

  25. Thank you for this most insightful article. It reminded of the words of George MacDonald: “Nothing is required of man that is not first in God.”

  26. [Karen…before I went to post this, in response to your verses in Luke, I checked to see if other comments were posted. Sure enough, there was…and there was your link to ITNJ. Well, I guess I wasn’t too far off base! I have to muster up the fortitude to listen to the videos though, because this stuff just hurts…but I thank you.
    Also, thank you Father for answering Samuel’s question. I agree wholeheartedly.]

    As I re-read the verses in Luke, it is, of coarse, with an eye to the flow of conversation…self-emptying, meekness/strength. But actually, the first thing that came to mind when I read your comment was your present situation “at your backdoor” (in your very own town) regarding human trafficking. I think both lines of thought are congruent.,,i.e. if the commands of Christ to the 70 were followed without their self-emptying, it may have looked like the responses we see today in being compelled to “fix”, or change, or make a difference, in the world. In other words, it would be their own said agenda “for the sake of Christ”.

  27. We are being gamed. There are issues that polarize our society and galvanize left and right leaning people into identifying as “liberal” or “conservative”. These prepackaged, preprocessed ready-to-serve plotical identities are the equivalent of a Happy Meal: “Welcome to McAmerica may I take your order, please?” “Yes, I’ll have the McOutrage with a medium order of McIndignation and a large order of Complacency.” “Would you like to super-size that?” Its like the Pink Floyd song “What did you dream? Its alright we told you what to dream.”

  28. Regarding a “meek” movie portrayal of Moses, I seem to recall Ben Kingsley as such in a TV movie in the 1990s.

  29. So, what do I do with the things in my life I’m attached to, but can’t control? I like storms. We’ve had several find various ways to miss our yard in the last week and it made me angry. Someplace 30 miles away could get five and we get table scraps. I can’t participate in making rain happen, so it’s pretty dumb to get that agitated about it. What about things in which we do have some input? I’ve given 15 years of mental and emotional energy to investing for retirement. All that effort, up, down, sideways, whatever, and I’m worse off than had I just stuffed cash under a mattress. It’s all still affected by stuff I can’t control. The Fed, foreign central banks, corporate earnings announcements, whatever Twitterthumbs happens to be on about on any given day. But I can’t do nothing, right? I have to invest for the end of our working life. I can’t bank on anyone to take care of us and Social Security will be laughable. Thing is, I can’t do nothing right, at least not consistently enough over time. If I had started out with a very different strategy, we would be okay, but that strategy is now not an option this far behind the eight ball.

    I have become extremely negative and am completely unsurprised when something goes wrong. My wife says I am the leader and should set a positive tone, but I have proven utterly unworthy of the position and see little to be positive about. I don’t want us thinking about what the market is doing when we wake up in the morning. That hardly seems compatible with a good spiritual condition. However, I have no alternative to offer. Giving up gets us nowhere. It just makes the loss permanent. I don’t know how to live a “self-emptying” example when the problems I’ve made for us are my own responsibility. “Going spiritual” here would look like escapism–some kind of midlife crisis. I feel obligated to fix it, or at least to ask God to fix it, but what can I really do, assuming it is even God’s will?

  30. Kevin,
    That’s a heck of a testimony. It seems to me that ‘giving up’ would be an excellent start. I have no idea what kind of lifestyle you live, or what your wife is accustomed to, or even how old you are. But if you think you are going to game the financial system, well, good luck with that.

    Seriously, if I were you (and I feel your pain – I lost everything to medical expenses 10 years ago in my early 50’s, along with my ability to make a living), I would seriously consider some heavy-duty downsizing. Get out of debt for a start, even if it’s a long, slow process – get going. Seriously, do some hard budgeting. Which of your ‘needs’ are really ‘wants’? Or keeping up with the Joneses. And maybe you need to hang out with new Joneses. Don’t tie up your sense of self worth with your net worth.

    You and your wife need to very openly and honestly confront and discuss the situation, and make some command decisions. Oh boy can that be crazy hard. But there is NO alternative. Having lived a certain lifestyle does not entitle you to live that lifestyle. But you CAN downsize, you can simplify, you can find real joy and delight in things that don’t cost a penny. The sooner you start, the easier it will be in the long run.

    There is so much more I could share with you, but given the venue here, I will close with this:

    Read the Gospels. Much of what Jesus says is for you. It becomes about priorities…

  31. Kevin – I’m sorry you are feeling so much angst about your financial situation. I have been very ill most of my life which has left me living on the edge financially for decades. I have been homeless twice in my life for 2 years each time. I have made stupid decisions to live with unhealthy men more than once just to have a roof over my head. Those decisions always ended in disaster. After the last one, I said I would live under a bridge before I made that mistake again. All of my choices were made from a place of fear, and my fear was the result of not being able to give my life to God and trust Him utterly and completely to take care of me in whatever way He saw best. I can honestly say that all of the experiences I have had as a result of my stupid decisions have brought me closer to God. Once I had nothing else to lose, I was able to truly “let go and let God” so-to-speak. It has not been easy, but all of my needs have been met along the way, both from my church community and other friends I have made through Facebook. Everything that comes to us or does not come to us is entirely at the discretion of God. Blaming yourself for where you are is completely unhelpful. We are all fallen people living in a fallen world. You made the best decisions you could have from where you stood at the time you made them and everything has worked out the way it has according to God’s will or God’s permission. Ask God to help guide you as you move forward, and He will.

  32. Kevin,

    We are all ultimately in the hands of the “good God who loves mankind.” No matter how careful we are in our financial planning—one medical catastrophe, act of war, or global market crash later, we could all be destitute. We would still have the Gospel of Christ in His Church. Do the best you can with what you’ve got. (My husband and I are of modest means, but we do use the services of a good financial planner. When I asked about the various predictions of immanent financial collapse I was seeing in some places last year, and whether we should be doing something different in light of that, he said he views that as “fear porn” and that these predictions are always around. Of course the markets will go up and down, but principles of sound financial planning/stewardship do not change.) Seek first His Kingdom. Obey the commandments of Christ. He has promised to provide, and ultimately our security has to be in Him. I’m preaching to myself as much as anyone here. Thinking of the markets first thing in the morning? Ouch! Speaking from experience, what an anxiety-provoking gut twister! You need a change of orientation, as do we all. Start your morning and end your day focused on Christ. Use whatever prayers or means you have at your disposal that will help you do this. If you have one, seek the spiritual direction of your Confessor. God give you grace!

  33. Kevin,
    I said ‘much of what Jesus says is for you’. Obviously everything that Jesus says is for you, and me, and everybody. I just meant for you in this predicament.
    Time to really stop and deeply contemplate your options. You do have options, and you do have blessings, and you have things to be thankful for. Pray. Don’t forget to breathe – I was in a real panic financially for a while, and I know how crazy it can get… it will work out.
    How is your wife?

  34. Kevin,
    If I may, I would like to share some things with you. First, when you find yourself feeling persistently negative or susceptible to negativity thats a sign of a chronic stress. It will help you immensely to have a short list of simple stress management exercises. Stress is chemical and your body has natural ways of scrubbing out of your system. Sleep is number one. You have to find a way to get good sleep on a regular basis. Also try simple low impact exercises like 30-45 walks will turn on homeostatic mechanics that will scrub the cortisol out of your system. And LAUGH. You have to find a way to preserve your sense of humor. Laughing is very good for you. Take the time to sit down and take notice of the small things. For example, find some ants and watch them work. Watch what they do down to the tiniest detail that your attention and vision can resolve. Half of any battle is your state of mind. These are a few that help me regain my internal composure. Second, living a self-emptying life means that whatever it is youre doing…do it sacramentally. Some people are very aggressive and others arent. But regardless of who we are or how we are we can live sacramental lives. Third, I dont know anything about Gods will. I would love to say that I do, but I dont. I wish I did…but I dont. But you can accept it as Gods will because that is the only way your faith can turn any tragedy into triumph. Im saying what Gods will is because who could ever say? But I can say unequivocally that the depth of your darness has within it the potential for an even greater light. Now that is something I know as a matter of fact. You still have air in your lungs, so have faith and courage.

  35. Everything that comes to us or does not come to us is entirely at the discretion of God.

    This. I confessed before our Priest tonight and, as usual, it was the same thing yet again. But he surprised me by saying, “You have confessed this before” and then saying “Learn to ignore it. God will take these temptations away when He wills so expect it to be here for now but learn to ignore it.” I had not considered simply ignoring my temptations; I have always been about trying to deny or destroy them in some fanciful, spiritual manner. Like a child who sits and screams for attention; sometimes the right parenting practice is simply to deny them that attention.

    In the case of finances, perhaps the best thing to do is practice contentment. Get up in the morning, pray in thankfulness for the day, kiss your wife (if you are married), hug your children and encourage them for the day (if you have children at home), get dressed and go to work. Be content and ignore the temptations that say “you should have done better”. As Father constantly reminds us all, give thanks in all things. I pray all of our encouragement (for that is really what it is) is of help to you.

  36. Simon,
    Of course, even a WWIII would. would it not? Even the eternal damnation of His brightest angel can only ever occur with ‘permission’; even ‘philosophically’, how could anything occur without it if He is God?
    If I want to go out and sin, (whether this is a small sin such as not ignoring the bad thoughts that come to me, or a massive one such as torturing innocents with pleasure), if I persist despite the hindrances in my path God sets, He will eventually allow that demand of my freedom-to-be-enslaved-to-sin to pass: it’s the tragedy of not being an automaton in a sense.
    [Of course, how God also makes things work out for my victims (including myself if I want to accept this) is another story –it’s the discussion on His unsearchable Providence…]

    The answer He provides to this tragedy has been -from before all ages- His Cross.
    He doesn’t even say a word to the prodigal prior to his sinful wonderings -He accepts His own ‘crucifixion’ from his prodigal sons from the very start by creating them with respect for their freedom of self-determination towards Him.

  37. Dino, God’s parenting is exactly the problem for us. Are we not a bit like two year old’s throwing tantrums if we do not get what we want and then blaming the parent for the consequences when we do?

    He allows us to live with the consequences of our rebellion. We do not like that. Sin as evidence of no God is only a way to avoid looking at one’s own sins. Long ago, even before I encountered Him, I had come to the conclusion that the Christian paradigm (what I knew of it) gave the only satisfactory explanation of evil. Not until Fr. Stephan switched the question:. Why is there goodness? did I see a more complete picture.

    Each of us experiences God’s mercy and provision all the time. I am usually too self-absorbed to notice and too arrogant to really give thanks when I do. I cannot even begin to imagine what life would be like if I lived it in tottal submission to His love giving thanks for His providential care. Every once in awhile I allow my heart to soften just enough….

    It is not magic though as God suddenly making everything conform to my will.

  38. Dino and Michael,
    Beautiful comments, thank you!
    I especially love Michael’s:
    Sin as evidence of no God is only a way to avoid looking at one’s own sins.

    I am usually too self-absorbed to notice or too arrogant to really give thanks when I do

    How very true!

  39. Are we not a bit like two year old’s throwing tantrums if we do not get what we want and then blaming the parent for the consequences when we do?

    No, Michael, we’re not like children throwing a tantrum for blaming God for the holocaust. We’re putting the blame exactly where it belongs. If I let one of my children rape and kill my other children, then I am by my permission participating in that evil of that child. And if my other children resented me for allowing that to happen, wouldn’t their resentment be justified? In Fr’s comments above he says:

    I have come to the personal conclusion that I no longer want to participate in their madness and deception, or to agree to the pretense that what we have is a democracy…I am not in charge of this country, nor do I bear a responsibility to participate in a system that has become so utterly corrupt.

    This comment will in all likelihood be deleted, but it makes my point. If merely voting for a candidate is participation in whatever evil the system is committing, then God’s “Yes” to the existence of evil is participation in that evil. God’s ability to prevent evil entails a responsibility to do so. His decision to allow evil is equivalent to a vote for the existence of evil.

  40. Simon,
    Those parallels might sound logical but I don’t think they do upon closer inspection, especially since we humans judge what is ‘good’ and what is ‘evil’ from the confines of a tiny spot in time…

    Just think of the harm we were allowed to inflict upon Christ Himself upon the Cross. What good came from that evil?

    So it would be more correct I think if you altered your example by saying that: If I let one of my children rape and kill my other children, knowing that, this way, the eternal salvation of all my children (who desire it) will result without taking away their freedom of self-determination, then I am by my permission participating in a ‘blessing in disguise’ of that child. And if my other children temporarily resented me for allowing that to happen, their resentment would be short-sited?

    Also, democracy as a smokescreen of freedom and power, (a concealment for the covert dominance of some deep state) is not the same as God creating creatures with true self-determination towards Him. The fact that creatures can cause temporary harm to other creatures cannot be interpreted as eternal harm.

  41. Sin as evidence of no God is only a way to avoid looking at one’s own sins.
    I disagree completely. Sin is evidence to the contrary or against the argument for the existence of a particular kind of God. Evil is evidence against the existence of a particular kind of God. I’m so sorry, but this Orthodox mindset that ‘all things are sent down from God’ and ‘subject to to his holy will’ but God isnt responsible for any of it is irrational.

  42. I have learned, Dino, that I would rather accept the hopeless absurdity of a world without God than believe in a God that uses rape and execution as the means of salvation. What kind of god would create a world where suffering evil is the medium through which salvation is attained??

  43. Simon my dear brother please remember we are speaking of a crucified God who bore al evil and not a Zeus.

  44. Simon,
    It’s a good and fair question regarding God’s participation in evil by permitting it. It is, as you and I have discussed, the point of Ivan Karamazov in his famous diatribe.

    That God’s goodwill is at work despite evil is important. That He permits evil is obviously inherent in permitting our freedom, and even the freedom of a universe that is “subject to futility.” What kind of God is He is certainly made known in what He does. He is a God who permits freedom, on the one hand, and He is a God who interjects Himself into the consequences of that freedom. He is crucified in every moment of suffering by every and any human being. His suffering in every moment by every human being is also, like the Cross, the transformation of every suffering moment into the salvation of the Cross. The mystery of Pascha is present in everything.

    It does not make any of the suffering good. But it makes the evil deeds of our freedom of no effect, ultimately. It is a redemption that preserves our freedom. That, I think, is the path of love.

  45. One difficulty that comes with thinking about this comes from within our own experience of suffering and trauma. The pain of that, particularly when it is very deep and serious, burns within us. It produces its own sort of rage. It is not so much a question as it is an agony. Agony is not something that responds well to reason or discussion. It belongs to a very different part of who we are.

    I heard in your first question, “So God permits a child to die of cancer?” Not a question but an agony. It is full of pain. When the pain is active (as it seems to have been over the course of the comments) it’s good to pull back. Pushing it only drives the agony. It is not a good time to press the questions. Those questions are better placed – and placed with God – at a time when the agony is at bay.

    In a certain manner, our own experience and suffering can be a “beam” in our eye. We cannot get past it. Everything rhymes with it. There are those, and I know you know them, who personally experienced the holocaust and yet, have peace and believe in God. The question becomes, “How did they get there? and How can I get there?”

    To say “I don’t get all this Orthodox stuff about ‘all things are sent down from God’ – is, in fact, saying, “When I hear that it reawakens very deep and painful wounds.” That is a very accurate and useful way to approach the matter.

  46. Forgive me, Simon for my harshness toward you.
    “One difficulty that comes with thinking about this comes from within our own experience of suffering and trauma. The pain of that, particularly when it is very deep and serious, burns within us. It produces its own sort of rage. It is not so much a question as it is an agony. Agony is not something that responds well to reason or discussion.”
    Yes Father. I was incensed. My heart was beating l00mph. I should have known. Thank you for deleting my comment.
    Forgive me, Simon.

  47. Paula, there is nothing to forgive. I wish Fr wouldnt delete comments directed at me even if they do seem harsh. I like the idea of putting it all out on the table.

    Pain or not. I stand by my comments. The reason behind them is solid. You cant argue against the validity. You might not agree and you may be offended, but you cant challenge the soundness of the argument. It is precisely the conclusion Job came to and God said of Job to his three false comforters “You have not spoken rightly about as has my servant Job.”

    Sarah Moses is a living miracle. Sheis the miracle. And, as I understand it, her faith is the “mechinism” that mediates her triumph over tragedy. But that doesnt change the fact of God’s participation in the evil she suffered. Her imprisonment and persecution was ordered by the Nazi regime and God said “Let it be.”

  48. Simon,
    There is a mystery in that “let it be.” Christ said, “Let it be” to his own crucifixion as well, and to the whole dirty history of the world. I do not think we solve that mystery from the outside – only from the inside. Dino noted earlier, that we say “God permits” because it is obvious that He permits. These things have taken place and have been permitted to take place.

    For myself, the mystery of His “let it be” is resolved in His Pascha. I can imagine a world in which bad things are never allowed to happen. If I allow myself to really think about it – it’s a version of hell. There would simply be no freedom – a sort of Stepford Wife existence for us all. Freedom is apparently truly necessary to the fullness of our existence – an inherent part of our salvation and the life of grace. And it comes at a frightful price – up to an including the suffering and death of God Himself.

    It is, I believe, the path towards the fullness of our existence in His image. We must honor all of those who suffer, as though they had died for our sins (they did). Christ gathers all of our permitted freedom into Himself and His Cross. What was meant to us for evil (ultimately of our own devising) He has meant to us for good.

    That is the mystery of the Cross. I think the only way around such a mystery would be to say that it would have been better if God never created the world – that the price of human existence in His image is too great. That ultimately is Ivan’s conclusion. Apparently, God disagrees. I think that the only way to fathom God’s understanding in this – why He does not see the price as too high – is to enter into the mystery and go deeper and deeper. I think that an approach to that can be found in the practice of thanksgiving for everything and always – it is not a confession that says “I like everything, it please me.” It is a confession of the paradox and contradiction and, by grace, allows us to enter into the hell of human suffering and not despair. The Elder Sophrony once said that Christ has entered into the very depths of hell and is waiting for His friends to meet Him there.

    To glibly look at the suffering of the world and find a syllogism that allows us to walk away would be tragic and wrong. To say, “God permits,” as though that removes the agony is a mistake. We can say, “God permits,” and then walk into the contradiction and meet Him there. Jonah sings from the belly of the whale. The Three Young Men sing in the fires of the furnace. We have to enter into the same place to find the song that is the mystery of God’s providence – the salvation of all things.

  49. Simon,
    I found your comment to Kevin about what helps with stress very helpful to me as well. A lot of wisdom in that comment. Thanks!

  50. BTW,
    Concerning my personal choice not to participate in the political madness. I do not think that decision relieves me of responsibility in and for the madness. I am fully a part of it and have to pray and repent from inside it and not as though I’m free and stand outside it. My choice not to engage in politics (including by voting) is a decision not to participate in one aspect of it. But it does not place me above it or out of it.

    Also, my decisions on deleting comments are varied. Sometimes it’s not about the people or conversation involved. We have this conversation in front of thousands. Not everything is helpful in that context. We sometimes comment as though we were in a private conversation. I have to always remember and act responsibly with what is a very public stage – on behalf of all and for all.

  51. The evil we see “out there” is in us as well. It is part of our Cross. We also suffer, like God suffers through being incarnated as Christ.

    But in our case we suffer without fully knowing why, as to the deeper causes of the “evil” that we experience in ourselves. Does it come from our past wounds, our weakness, our ingrained rebellion and disobedience? Does it come from “deamons”?

    Yes, there is something irrational about these inner influences because they are not subject to the control of the conscious ego – even as events in the world at large appear irrational and absurd. But that does not make them less real or powerful.

    Trying to make sense of this intellectually alone will never bring a satisfactory result.

  52. Fr, I didnt see your first response. So, what I am struggling to see is how to reconcile myself to the fact or the possibility of God’s–for the lack of better word–complicity in the permission of evil. Hear is what I hear you saying “Yes, God has permitted every evil committed. But, he has his reasons and every insult and injury he bears in himself.” To me this is like the parent who says of an unruly child “Yes, I know her hurts the other children in the family, but he hurts me too.” That doesnt justify the parent’s permission of the suffering of the other children.

    I know that any rationalizing about human suffering is to trivialize it, to treat it as mundane. It should never be fodder for an argument. So in some sense this kind of approach seems asinine. Im compelled to have those thoughts, but they seem superficial. Im aware of that.

    I cant help but feel like the ultimate explanation for human suffering is that on the cross we see a kenotic and dying God. Death and entropy are woven into the fabric of creation: Systems go cold and highly ordered, stars die, galaxies collide, black holes gobble up all the surrounding matter, etc. On a biological scale, telomeres shorten, mutations in our DNA accumulate, differential potentials reach equilibrium. Death and disorder seem fundamental.

    I want to believe that the Cross is an icon not just an icon of the human condition but it is also a revelation regarding the universe as a whole, that the death and resurrection of God are the forces of creation. The universe is cruciform and creation is ongoing. Perhaps the space in which we live and move and have our being is continuously created by the kenotic action of Christ and the potential it has for life derives from the power of the resurrection. And in such a universe Zeus like gods are precluded. That doesnt make the holocaust easier to accept. We should never be at ease with suffering. But if there is no Zeus sitting on the throne with a stick, then what do we have? Perhaps we have a God whose very “life” and “death” becomes the engine which drives the creation, expansion, and fulfillment of the universe. So, in a sense God is dead and does not exist, but is also the one in whom we live and move and have our being. And in such a universe perhaps it is the death case that is the evil we suffer that becomes the means to a new creation.

  53. Thank you for your words here in the comments section, Fr. Stephen! I usually do not read the comments of others, only your comments and that is because of what you describe here above: “One difficulty that comes with thinking about this comes from within our own experience of suffering and trauma. The pain of that, particularly when it is very deep and serious, burns within us. It produces its own sort of rage. It is not so much a question as it is an agony. Agony is not something that responds well to reason or discussion. It belongs to a very different part of who we are.

    I heard in your first question, “So God permits a child to die of cancer?” Not a question but an agony. It is full of pain. When the pain is active (as it seems to have been over the course of the comments) it’s good to pull back. Pushing it only drives the agony. It is not a good time to press the questions. Those questions are better placed – and placed with God – at a time when the agony is at bay.

    In a certain manner, our own experience and suffering can be a “beam” in our eye. We cannot get past it. Everything rhymes with it. There are those, and I know you know them, who personally experienced the holocaust and yet, have peace and believe in God. The question becomes, “How did they get there? and How can I get there?”

    To say “I don’t get all this Orthodox stuff about ‘all things are sent down from God’ – is, in fact, saying, “When I hear that it reawakens very deep and painful wounds.” That is a very accurate and useful way to approach the matter.”

    God bless you, Fr. Stephen, for taking time to write these words.

  54. Simon,
    I think your description of the kenotic action of Christ and its relation to the universe are spot on. My own heart in the matter says that this relationship is the very depth of love itself and it is that mystery of love that I have yet to fully enter much less comprehend.

    St. Paul uses the term “mystery” not to obfuscate things – but to describe their hidden character. That itself, I think, is intentional – and means to draw us deeper into who and what we are to become.

  55. Simon,

    The Ancient Greeks -mainly the stoics- often returned to the idea that it is not so much suffering that man has a problem with, but the lack of meaning in suffering.

    Meaninglessness of its own is a taste of hell. In fact, a lack of meaning (a lack of the “logos” of being, if you like) is the deepest quintessence of hell.
    But a world without freedom (and therefore without suffering, but also without truly kenotic love) would also be a world lacking meaning/logos. As Father stated, the price of human existence in God’s image, is terribly great, and yet God sees that it is worth having freedom of self determination, in His image, rather than not. Furthermore, He arranges everything in His providence, so that meaning can eventually even come out of our absurdity.

    Ivan Karamazov’s famous diatribe also speaks of the senselessness of suffering. It is a very human voice, that, even God incarnate uttered in His concession when crying: “why hast Thou forsaken me”.

    But Christ the divine Logos, “meaning Himself”, lived and died according to “Thy will be done”. He has offered us the paschal path of transformation of death, suffering and evil and it is there for the taking.

    The human interpretation of these might be an angst-filled tragedy, but –as we clearly see in the martyrs (the quintessence of Christianity)– it is precisely through these (death, suffering and evil) that they are perfected to finally sing forever the paschal hymn ‘For Christ God has brought us from death unto life and from earth unto heaven!’

    That we have a crucified God, (and He offers us this path of His, of savific agony that can be eucharistically joyous), on the level of abstract syllogism does little to aid us in the times of our unbearable agony. Abstract syllogisms of agony, on the other hand, are often felt as experiences of hell….
    On another level however, that we have a crucified God (when we decide to surrender to His path of savific agony that can be eucharistically joyous) transforms all suffering and then by encountering such a Lord along that path we utter with Job:

    “My ears had heard of You earlier, but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore I retract my words, and I repent” (Job 42:5-6)

    This great mystery of faith is explained beautifully by St Isaac the Syrian in his ‘On Faith and Humility’. He makes the point that without faith and based upon human syllogisms and refined rationalisations we doubt every good and find every evil, whereas when we struggle to retain faith (in God’s hidden paschal providence) -despite challenges to the contrary – we behold secretly that there is Someone taking perfect care of us and (as many have done before) we can even jump right into the fire without fear.

  56. Fr, Dino, thank you for your feedback. Thank you, Fr., for your patience and understanding.

  57. Simon,
    Sometimes I imagine God as a stooped over old man with a broom and a dustpan, constantly and lovingly sweeping up our messes, crying alongside us as he works to make something good out of the destruction we have wrought and the destruction we have inherited in our own bodies, psyches, families and environment.
    It’s a metaphor that breaks down at points, but is the one I’ve found helpful to inform my understanding of providence, where God is almighty, but because of our free will, we collectively as human beings create such a toxic environment that it’s a mercy that God is there to clean up after us as the healer of the broken and the sick.

  58. Fr Stephen,
    I appreciate your elaboration at 9:28am. Your words I wish to highlight:

    I do not think that decision relieves me of responsibility in and for the madness. I am fully a part of it and have to pray and repent from inside it and not as though I’m free and stand outside it. My choice not to engage in politics (including by voting) is a decision not to participate in one aspect of it. But it does not place me above it or out of it.

    There is an ongoing written and oral stance that appears to be taken among Orthodox clergy and laity to position ourselves outside of our political situation, as if these circumstances have no relation to ourselves or our actions in it. So called ‘warnings’, expressions often used to influence and color the thoughts of others, appear more like passions.

    These are the stimuli typically used by the media. Unfortunately the objectives of the media are usually to obfuscate the conditions and circumstances to make any ‘individual’ action to be seen as ineffective. Our goal, as you have said many times is to follow Christ’s commandments to our best ability. And to those among us who do have power, to wield it justly, according to Christ’s commandments. Let us remember God’s meekness, and the meekness of St John and Moses. God has acted powerfully through the meek in the past. So He can again, God willing.

  59. Dee,
    I think we cannot and should not wash our hands of anything. That said, refusing to participate is not refusing responsibility. My refusal to participate has largely come from thinking about Solzhenitsyn’s essay, “Live Not By Lies.” I by no means think that it is immoral to vote or that democracies are wrong, or any such thing. I think ours is deeply broken and that the nation has been taken over by corporate interests.

    It is interesting today as I write, the Right to Life movement stands poised for a victory that has taken decades to create. I’m expecting the public noise to reach a pitch of insanity before its done. It is likely that this same moment will be repeated before the President’s term is over – putting in place a conservative majority on the court that has not existed since before FDR.

    It will make some changes in the present legal apparatus. It will not change people. The Right to Life movement had to mature, to go through the near violence of the protests that marked Operation Rescue. The Left does not have that maturity – and has a preponderance of the youth – a very volatile group. All of that analysis is just to say that things are going to get nastier than we’ve ever seen them.

    But, when I offer the Eucharist on Sundays, I remember that the Lamb on the Discos is surrounded by the saints as well as the living and the departed (in the arrangement of the bread crumbs). When that Eucharist is offered, it is on behalf of all and for all – and everyone on the plate is offered – and, for me, all suffering, all joy, everything is offered. The world and everything in it was created to be an offering. That is my participation for now, until I see something that I should participate in as well.

  60. Yes, Father, I understand what you’re saying, and agree. I’ll admit, I too have a tendency to see the situation to be like a powder keg– an old fashioned term–these societal divisions are not new sorrows, we have seen them in the past, as you allude. But the fallout, that is, the resulting impact of these divisions ‘taking up force’, looks like it’s heading toward something nastier than anything we have known in the past. God help us.

    I’m trying to learn as much as I can, to understand ‘the truth’ as best as I can without the polemic–a difficult path indeed. God help us in our clarity and charity. And like you, I will ‘step up to the plate’ should the occasion arise, where God’s will is clear for my own participation. I ask for your prayers for my discernment of God’s will.

    And I’m grateful for your offering for all.

  61. Another Anna,
    The “God of the Dustpan” analogy is interesting, but it now makes me wonder…why did God simply flush the first batch of humans down the cosmic toilet a thousand years or so after Adam and then switch to another approach? Did the pre-Noahic people really make that much more of a wreck of things than those who came after? If Christ died for them, too, why did God’s forbearance have a limit at that point? How evil could they have been? Just looking at the 20th Century, I can’t imagine how much worse they could’ve been.

  62. Hi Kevin,
    That’s a good question. A thought that comes to mind is that the God of the Old Testament is revealed most clearly in Christ crucified, but I don’t have the theological understanding to take it too much further… It’s also confusing for me to see what was going on there. The flood does seem like less of a dustpan, and more like a… bulldozer?

  63. Kevin,
    Not to upset anyone, but the Noah material should be examined theologically rather than historically in my opinion. It is a story of judgment and of mercy – but not the story of a starting over. Noah lived before the flood as well.

  64. Father,
    I’m glad you said that about the “Noah material”. Apparently this is upsetting to some people, but that’s a whole other ‘megillah’…

  65. Oh Father….again…glad you said that too….I read the book! It was very helpful for me and I must say, all the creation ‘stories’ fell right into place. Big, big difference from what I was originally taught.

  66. Kevin, you have good questions. They’re valid. Taken at face value the God of the OT isnt a God at all. But the Orthodox do not begin in Genesis. We begin at the Cross and we move out from there. I think that is an important transition to make. It essentially means that nothing is understood as it should be until it is understood in the light of the Cross. There are plenty of things to object to in the OT. I will object to all of them with you. But if we’re going to do that, then what do we do next? Do we toss the Bible? What’s the next step? For what little it’s worth I would suggest that we begin at the Cross and once we’ve understood what’s happened there, then many other things will fall into place. The Cross is the foundation. Its the key.

  67. Simon,

    The statement, “Taken at face value, the God of the OT isn’t a God at all,” cuts close to Marcionism. Marcion really objected to much of the OT and essentially reconstructed theology to make Yahweh into a demigod and to separate Christ from Yahweh and the OT. We “read Christ back into” the OT–the Rock that Israel drank from in the wilderness, the fourth man in the fiery furnace, the pillar of cloud and fire, the Angel of the Lord, etc. We must take what’s there, pleasant or unpleasant, without sugar-coating it or disavowing it.

    If I handed someone a Bible and they asked, “Well, where do I start,” I wouldn’t say Genesis because it’s kind of tough to believe right off the bat and they’ll be floundering in Leviticus pretty soon. I wouldn’t say the gospels because they kind of assume that you already have some knowledge of the OT, otherwise Jesus’ sayings are hard to put into context. Maybe I’d say Romans, or if they happen to be Jewish, Hebrews. The Gentile converts mostly didn’t have any knowledge of the OT and may never have heard it read. Jews had no issue with Genesis because it was integral to their national story. For the rest of us, it’s kind of alien territory and its relevance doesn’t become clear until after we’ve heard Paul “preach” the gospel to us. I watched The Fellowship of the Ring before I read The Hobbit and the whole trilogy. Those left me questions that led me to The Silmarillion and so on. So, you’re right. The Bible is probably the only book best read “backwards.”

  68. The statement, “Taken at face value, the God of the OT isn’t a God at all,” cuts close to Marcionism.
    I agree and I’m not concerned by that at all.

    I clearly misunderstood what you wrote by The “God of the Dustpan” analogy is interesting, but it now makes me wonder…why did God simply flush the first batch of humans down the cosmic toilet a thousand years or so after Adam and then switch to another approach? Did the pre-Noahic people really make that much more of a wreck of things than those who came after? If Christ died for them, too, why did God’s forbearance have a limit at that point? How evil could they have been? Just looking at the 20th Century, I can’t imagine how much worse they could’ve been?

    What I heard was a conscience that was struck by the actions of God as reported in the OT. I merely desired to sympathize and then offer something that was of help to me. But, your reference to Marcion makes me think that I completely misunderstood the direction and import of your questions. Forgive me. It seems that I have assumed too much.

  69. I was just struck by the contrast between the very patient, longsuffering “cosmic janitor” cleaning our messes and the God who got so fed up with whatever humanity was doing that He was ready to wipe us all out. The only reason He didn’t was Noah was righteous in His sight. Had Noah been just another demon-worshiping pagan, God would have really started over and had to create a new humanity. That’s how I read it, at least. I just wasn’t sure what made pre-Flood humanity so much more irretrievably evil that God was willing to go that far. If God intended to redeem Adam and Eve through the Cross from the beginning, this episode is a bit strange. He was considering short-circuiting the entire plan.

  70. We have to enter into the same place to find the song that is the mystery of God’s providence – the salvation of all things.
    The Elder Sophrony once said that Christ has entered into the very depths of hell and is waiting for His friends to meet Him there.
    I agree to these terms for myself. Its the children who arent given a choice and who dont have the experience and wisdom to understand whats happening to them that grips the mind. We’re so corrupt as a species that we wont even spare the children. There are dark places that know no mercy.

  71. Kevin,
    Simon said, “taken at face value.” Many of the Fathers would agree. Both Maximus the Confessor and St. Ambrose of Milan used the trilogy, the OT is shadow, the NT is icon, and the reality is the age to come. Christianity rightly reinterprets the OT. We do not read it as the Jews of old did. St. Irenaeus described the Jewish reading of his day (2nd century) as “myths” and didn’t mean it in some sort of nuanced sense.

    We begin with Christ. There is a veil over the OT (Moses) according to St. Paul that can only be lifted by Christ. We say that Christ rose on the 3rd day “according to the Scriptures.” We could add that the OT is read “according to Christ’s Pascha.”

    The preaching of Christ, however, is not done to establish the historical character of the OT. There’s plenty of history there, but not always so. I recommend the article by Fr. Lawrence Farley referenced above.

  72. Kevin,
    As to giving the Bible to someone to read – I would never do that. The Scriptures have to be taught before they can be read. How to read them requires training, understanding, grounding in doctrine, etc. The Protestants assume that it’s a book that can be read, understood and is self-interpreting. That is not at all the case. The disciples did not understand the Scriptures until Christ opened their eyes. That eye-opening is required for anyone who wants to read the Scriptures as a Christian.

    But because so many who are not trained in the Tradition have decided that they know how to read – our Christian world is filled with opinions, wrong ideas, constant bickering, with everybody and his brother thinking they know what they’re talking about. Even within our Orthodox world, there is a lot of confusion.

    If an Orthodox Christian wants to learn how to read Scripture, they should probably sing in the choir for 3 or 4 years, or at least read and study (and listen) to those texts. They are understanding-in-sung-form. If the principles of that understanding are to be grasped, then someone should go slowly, with a teacher, and ask how it is possible for the hymns of the Church to read the Scriptures in the manner that they do.

    There are many Orthodox, in my experience, who read the Scriptures in the exact same way as Protestants, only assuming that the Tradition will help them do it better. This is a mistake, I think. The work of St. Andrew of Crete in his Great Canon is probably a primer for how we should read. Figuring out history, etc., is just beside the point. I daresay that the disciples and Jesus never had a conversation even remotely approaching the topic. It’s a modern problem.

  73. Father Stephen,
    Goodness…more nuggets here! Thank you for your comment above. I regret to say that I would have never known the best way to approach Scripture would begin by attention to our hymns. Aside from attending to them at church, following the printout/pamphlet we receive, and the occasional reference to them in readings, that’s about the extent I have paid attention to them.
    No doubt I am one of those who learned Scripture as a Protestant, and look to Tradition to correct the misguidance. Really, the entire Bible needs to be re-interpreted through the eyes of the Church. The way I approach this now is hit and miss, that is, ‘a little here, a little there’; it would take much longer than the 3-4 years you refer to. As for singing in the choir, I don’t think they’d be too thrilled to have me (!), but I will take your advice to start with St. Andrew’s Canon. I just happen to have the booklet on my shelf!
    If anyone is interested, here is a link that has the entire cannon:
    Thank you Father Stephen so very much.

  74. Fr. Stephen,
    Glad you pointed out this potential blind spot I wasn’t aware of regarding reading Scripture. I would’ve just continued on as an “enlightened Protestant” reading Orthodoxy back into it. Something occurred to me yesterday about your view of voting. My understanding is that chrismation is really an ordination into the laity and that being a layman is not just a passive role. I think we could extend that analogy to citizenship and say that we are ordained, in a way, into government. The top of our governmental structure is pretty messed up, but history and circumstance has messed up the Orthodox Church at the Patriarchal level, too. Despite the dysfunction, we still carry out our roles leaving God to work out the problems that are too big for individuals. We have the civic freedom to vote or not vote, but is backing away a kind of schism? Do we risk becoming the civil equivalent of Old Believers? Orthodoxy in America needs to get its act together, become one unified jurisdiction, and be a prophetic voice. All the other prophets are false, but they are loud.

  75. Kevin,
    Your thoughts viz. citizenship are quite apt. I suppose my non-vote could be seen as a form of protest, nothing more. Were all of Orthodoxy in the US united in a single jurisdiction, we would still be a tiny minority. The government does not care about “voices” other than those that write big, fat checks. The bishops of the Orthodox Church speak with a single, united voice through the “Episcopal Assembly,” that annual gathering of all canonical Orthodox bishops. They have spoken on a number of things. If Pope John Paul II could come to America and describe us as nurturing a “culture of death,” and it had no effect whatsoever, we should not fancy that we will have an impact.

    The political world works by power – we have little or no power. I do not care to use what “power” I have. Rather, I believe that God has a “power” that we do not see, and I am trusting in Him that He will work His will. The Soviet Union came to an end. It was not caused by the US, or by the Pope (popular theories). It really came because Gorbachev surprisingly let it happen. It was the hand of God and caught everybody by surprise.

    My theories of citizenship would probably be troubling to most.

  76. God had an interesting follow-up plan for Russia, I guess. An inept, alcoholic who accomplished little while the remnants of the KGB and GRU reorganized into crime syndicates–well, I guess one could argue that they were already doing that before the collapse–and then congealing their influence around Vladimir Putin, another ex-KGB with an authoritarian streak. It’s hard not to wonder if all the positive things that seem to be happening for the Church in Russia don’t come with strings attached. Call me skeptical on the idea of the rebirth of “Holy Rus.” Even if it’s the real deal, we might find ourselves in an awkward situation as a more visibly Orthodox nation becomes a greater adversary of our own. I don’t think it was good for ROCOR to wait all those decades to reunite with Moscow. They should have focused on America and becoming a completely American jurisdiction. Now, they may be reunited to something that puts them in a bind.

  77. Fr. Stephen,

    You recommended an article by Fr. Lawrence Farley above. I read it and noticed he has written a number of commentaries on books of the Bible. I was wondering if you could recommend a good series of biblical commentaries – by this man or anyone else.

    I think this question plays into your comment that we really need to be taught how to read the Bible. Commentaries would seem like a good way to learn. Mind you, they need to be something more readable and more blue-collar than DB Hart. No more than 3-syllable words, if you get my meaning. (grin)

  78. Kevin,
    I have a cousin who married a Russian and is living there and raising a family. You might be surprised by how positive his take is on things. The Russian Church is in far better health than you would ever guess by reading anything in the American press. The abortion rate has dropped by 8x since the fall of the Soviet Union. There are many positive social signs.

    About 1,000 monasteries have opened. You can’t populate monasteries where people give up sex and families, etc., just because they like Putin. There is a legitimate revival of the Church taking place.

  79. Kevin
    that’s quite a can of worms you are opening there 🙂
    and this is not the place for that conversation I am sure, all I can say is that I cannot agree with that interpretation of what is going on in Russia [and of Putin] (I find it’s a distinctively western interpretation based on ‘evidence’ which, if looked into is quite unfounded);
    I take issue especially because what I have heard first-hand -e.g. from the athonite confessor of his– is remarkably the opposite.

  80. Drewster,
    (Pardon…not Father Stephen here!)
    I have read Fr. Farley’s ‘bookends’, on Genesis and Revelation and found them quite helpful. He is not a three syllable writer yet I think his style and content are fulfilling. Here’s a link to the Matthew commentary with a “Look Inside” option, so you can get the flavor.

    Wow…long link! Hope it works.

  81. There is a legitimate revival of the Church taking place.

    I went to Russian in 2015 as part of a pilgrimage. To a person, everyone in our group was amazed at the fact that whenever we went into a church (any church), at any time of day or night, there were people taking part in venerating icons, confession, and worship. It was an amazing thing to walk into a church Tuesday morning at 9am and find people actively worshiping!

    I still remember how surprised I was to see hundreds of people standing outside of the churches (one of two celebrating the Divine Liturgy at the time) at 5:30am in one of the monasteries–because there was no room to stand inside. While I was only there for two weeks, I do believe the “revival” of Orthodoxy in Russia is very real.

  82. Well, I would like to go to Russia and see for myself, now. Unfortunately, due to the nature of a relative’s career, I may have a teeny problem actually getting a visa to go there.

  83. Thanks Paula AZ, the link works. I scanned it briefly and it looks pretty good and readable. I’ve reviewed more than a few commentaries and this one looks promising.

  84. Since Western msm has been going to the most ridiculously far-fetched lengths for well over a year to set up Putin’s Russia in the minds of the mind-controlled masses as the enemy of freedom and dignity and the USA, you can pretty much count on the fact the reality is the very opposite. I have long known our media is highly biased and spewing lies and actively hostile to traditional Christian faith and practice, but the last election cycle was the nail in the coffin that what is presented there is in any way, shape or form serving a truthful narrative and the interests of the voting public. There is a much darker and more nefarious agenda at work. I like listening to RT, but it’s rare that I listen to any news. I skim msm headlines occasionally to see what they are furiously trying to pass off as reality or distract us with. Then I try to find and read or listen to Christian historians, cultural analysts, and theologians as well as the people on the ground in the eye of the various storms around the planet who see first hand what is going on. More and more the Church is going to have to form or firm up and rely on her own networks for resources and sound information.

    My Priest this morning said our Metropolitan has written a 16-page document detailing the “four pillars” of the Church’s mission in the world in anticipation of the OCA’s upcoming “All American Council” at the end of this month that he would be working on uploading to the OCA website today. I look forward to reading what Met. Tikhon has to say.

  85. Fr. Freeman ,
    Thank you for what you continue to remind us of, i.e., reading of the OT through Christ’s Pascha. And the importance of our hymns to seat and settle us firmly in the Church’s tradition. Scales literally have to fall from our eyes to lose our Protestant reading of Scripture.
    Karen, yes, our secular news “services” are horribly biased and as my Arkansas mother-in-law would say, “womp-a-jawed.” Many Russian believers visit the Greek monastery. Our first 3 years were in a Serbian congregation. They were so welcoming to us converts! I have a soft spot in my heart for our troparia sung in church slavonic.

  86. Forgot to add…we’re on vacation. Have had no news for one week…very refreshing!

  87. Sorry my above comments are so disjointed. Written on the fly. Yes, the OT can be a bitter pill to swallow, and as Father has noted, the veil to read it correctly can only be lifted by Christ. Having said that, may I suggest that one read a portion of the Psalms daily. The deprecatory Psalms can be understood as our own internal enemies, our own “demons,” struggles with the inner man. And they contain some of the greatest praise and gratitude passes in the Bible. A marvelous antiphony. And the major prophets can be read to great benefit. Perhaps one can start with the Suffering Servant passages of Isaiah 42, as they point directly to the Lamb of God slain before the foundation of the world. At one time I too grieved over some of what I read in the early “history” of Israel. Over the years what Father has written has greatly softened for me these narratives. I truly hope my heart has also been softened through years of liturgy and the Church’s hymnography and prayers. Glory to God for all things!

  88. “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!”

  89. Simon, if I may: there will come a time when it will not be as necessary to take things apart to see how they fit. Just stick with it.

  90. I took apart my wife’s hair dryer trying to clean out the intake screen in the hope of making it run more quietly. Runs real quiet now that I had no idea how to get all the guts back into it. The new one is much better, anyway. Orthodoxy has a lot more parts than a hair dryer. Let the Dispensationalists pick apart every phrase and verse of the Bible and end up with a pile of words and verse numbers on their workbenches.

  91. Fr Stephen,
    Similar to Drewster’s question – In addition to the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, are there some books about the hymns of the Church that refer to the Scriptures, enabling us to better bring the Scriptures into the life of the Church, with that life being the focus (not just accumulating Scriptural knowledge)? Some at our Orthodox church are wanting to have a monthly Bible study. One is from a protestant background that did not teach much Scripture and the others of us come from protestant backgrounds that did teach a lot of Scripture. So, one of us wants to learn Scripture and the others of us want to re-learn it. We’ve been discussing the lectionary readings some, with the OSB notes and other Orthodox sources but have talked about studying a book of the Bible. Our priest has blessed our lectionary discussion and has answered questions as they’ve arisen and we plan to talk with him more about a book of the Bible study, but would also appreciate your recommendations, too. Paula AZ mentioned Fr Lawrence Farley’s commentaries and I’ve wondered about using one of them, perhaps on a gospel or the book of Hebrews (with a view to prepare for Great Lent next year). Thank you.

  92. There will come a time when it will not be as necessary to take things apart to see how they fit. Just stick with it.

    Michael Bauman, I don’t know what you mean by that, but I’ll hang in there.

  93. Many thanks for this topic, Father, and to you and all who have commented. I particularly loved the following:

    “We must honor all of those who suffer as though they had died for our sins (they did).”

    Then also might I suggest the Easter Canon as a radiant hymn in the reverse perspective mode that draws elements of the Old Testament into the joy of the Resurrection:

    “…Let Habbakuk, the God-inspired
    Stand with us on the Divine watchtower…”

    “…David, the ancestor of Christ
    Danced for joy before the Ark,
    Which was but a symbol…”

    And it’s on Easter night that we declare Saint John’s first verses – he didn’t hesitate to go right back to Genesis and reinterpret that sacred text, just as you have been saying – theologically! (No wonder, as a dear friend once said, “On Easter night, the roof comes off the church!”)

  94. Simon, that is all you need to do. Hang in there with hope. God supplies the rest.

  95. SW,
    One of the interesting thing about the Patristic use of the OT is how rarely systematic it is. You don’t tend to find a writing on Isaiah, for example, or other single books. Frankly, there’s very little historical approach at all – thinking or asking about what the author had in mind, etc. You get much more the impression that the OT is like a “source book,” of odd passages that have their own allegorical meaning referring to Christ or to aspects of the spiritual life, without a great deal of concern about that passage’s connection to what comes before it or goes after it.

    The know the Scriptures backwards and forwards, and yet tend to use them in this strange way (strange to us).

    A good, and interesting source worth studying would be the Festal Menaion or the Lenten Triodion. The references to Scripture are not noted (so you have to know the Scripture to see what is being quoted). An interesting question is, “What did the Fathers think about the nature of Scripture such that their most common method would actually be valid?”

  96. At one time I too grieved over some of what I read in the early “history” of Israel. Over the years what Father has written has greatly softened for me these narratives.

    I recall reading an article in a Biblical Journal some years back that pointed out the archeological work done in the Holy Land does not support the “conqueror” narrative of the OT. According to the article, there was a migration of sorts that happened and, as I recall, that was (mostly) peaceful. Of course, as a good Southern Baptist, I considered the article heretical. It never occurred to me that the Cross defines the OT. But the consistency of God’s revelation, when one understands this, is amazing.

    One of the interesting thing about the Patristic use of the OT is how rarely systematic it is. You don’t tend to find a writing on Isaiah, for example, or other single books.

    I had noticed this. But there are a few commentaries by St. Chyrsostom and others out there. I have considered picking them up. And I very much want to get the Lenten Triodion. The only thing keeping me from buying that is the stack of books I already have to read!

  97. Byron,
    The “commentaries” are primarily sermon-like material. The notion of a systematic study is pretty much not there at all. I was reading some stuff on Dionysius the Areopagite (5th century) last night. His most consistent term in referring to the Scriptures was “symbol” and “symbolic,” meaning that there was something else present. Of course Dionysius thought that was pretty much true of everything. But his work was exceedingly popular among the later Fathers.

    The Fathers did not read the Scriptures for historical purposes – though they did not have particular historical doubts in the way of a modern. They read for what was “beneath” the letter. Now there was a reaction to this kind of reading that became popular in Antioch. But those champions were also heavily marked with Nestorianism. I think it influenced their theory of reading.

    Chrysostom is interesting. He is not primarily a theologian. He is a preacher. Most of his Scriptural commentary is moral in nature. Even his NT stuff tends to be moral in character. He does not do what the Cappadocians do, for example.

  98. Father, the scriptural commentaries and theology ‘of the Fathers’ don’t have a systemic approach because of not having western scholastic influences— is this correct?

    I’ve been reading Theophylact’s commentary alongside scripture reading. When I pause to understand more deeply, these reflections seem to help. Also I note that it seems ‘true reading’ — for lack of better words— might be a dying art.

    Reading words in today’s vernacular is more like what I might call scanning.

  99. Dee of St. Herman – yes, I agree, deep reading has largely become a lost art. I find mine own abilitity to focus to have declined as I have spent more and more time on the Internet. A wonderful book which discusses the fundamental importance of deep reading of Scripture is Orthodox Prayer Life by Matthew the Poor. He explain how central was the practice of meditating on Scripture was to the holy Fathers.

  100. Dee,
    I think the treatment of Scripture study that has become dominant is not so much a product of Scholasticism as it is of the later development of the historical consciousness that is part of modernity. Part of the dismantling of Roman Catholicism during the Reformation, was an attack on the historical claims of Rome. History and its reading became a battleground.

    To a degree, the locus of authority, in moving from the Church to the Scriptures, is a move from the ecclesiastical consciousness to a historical consciousness. History gradually becomes a “science,” trying to offer an unquestionable and objective source of authority and truth. Of course, it failed. The historical approach gradually undermined the authority of Scripture, because Scripture is not written in a manner that seeks to satisfy the demands of scientific history. It is “Scripture,” a very different thing indeed.

    The battles between Protestant conservatives and Protestant liberals created arguments about the reliability of the history within the Scriptures – many of the conservatives saying that if it is not perfectly accurate, then all bets are off – setting modern Christianity up for a massive failure. The liberals hold to the historical approach, but basically say that since the history is unreliable and culturally tainted, we can make up our own truth. So, all bets are off again.

    There are Orthodox who get tangled up in this fight – on both sides.

    I think they are both wrong. What we see when we are looking at the larger picture of how the Fathers use Scripture – that they do not engage in historical, systematic studies and commentaries – is the sort of thing that should allow us to ask basic questions. If they are not doing it, then what are they doing and why?

    I’ve been attacked in a few places for not being a literalist regarding certain things (like early Genesis). But the kind of literalism that is defended is a late, modern literalism that could only exist after the Reformation. Even when the Fathers cite something in a manner that, today, reads like modern, historical literalism, it is being misread. They belong in the matrix of a very different worldview. Learning that worldview is part of acquiring an Orthodox mind, I think. They are not literalists, they are Realists. Reality “tabernacles” in history, but is not actually synonymous with history. When the Fathers say that the Ark of the Covenant is the Theotokos, they mean something real and not just a literary convention. It is part of a sacramental worldview. They read the Scriptures like they see the Eucharist.

    Literalism, as we’ve seen in most Protestant Churches, is anti-sacramental and ultimately destroys the sacramental order (or dispenses with it). It invents secularism and the like.

  101. Dee & Esmée,

    The problem of “scanning”, instead of reading is certainly exacerbated lately. Technology has almost destroyed some of us on this matter….!
    Some think that scanning can be handy at times, but we cannot fail to recognize that it is deep reading that is invaluable.
    True (contemplative) reading is something that is actually meant to take place within one’s ‘rule of prayer’. So, we can extrapolate that real stillness is required for such a thing to be able to even occur: the sort of stillness that precludes not just distraction, but even the potential of distraction. [for example, turning the phone off is one thing, but not even having a phone that I can turn on in emergency, provides a far greater sense of solemn hesychastic exclusivity with God…)
    This sort of (ideally, night-time) stillness, that allows us to hear God’s voice and is so hard to achieve ‘in the world’, is almost effortlessly easy in the desert/wilderness. This is why the ‘desert/wilderness’ is such an important term in our Tradition – it even has a certain connection to the ‘commitment to consecration’ (e.g. Christ in Matthew 4:1, 1 Elijah in Kings 19:4, The Baptist in Mark 1:4, Moses in Exodus 3:1, Paul in Galatians 1:17, The Church/Woman in Revelations 12:6 etc etc). We 21st century westerners can only do what is available to each and what we are prepared to commit to, in our respective contexts – but always with that ‘pole star orientation’ in mind though.

  102. Dear Father,
    In regard to your comment to SW. I think we are so prone to think systematically that we assume it is ‘natural’. Yet I still find it difficult to approach scripture in the way you describe. Even when I read liturgical books and such, in an attempt to understand, I still end up assimilating my thoughts systematically!
    In effort to find some clarity, this morning I googled “systematic theology in Orthodox Christianity”….and the very first (!) listing beneath the Wiki definition was your post “The Systematic Theology of the Cross” (Now that didn’t take long! Google knows my web habits!)
    The article well explains “Cappadocian” thought. I do recall learning about the difference with the Antiochians; also, after time the two in some way combined as to be not mutually exclusive. Am I correct here? I have a particular interest with this because our church is in the Antiochian diocese.
    Another question….what is the difference between dogmatic theology and systematic theology? They seem to be similar; and it seems that dogmatic theology began in the western churches, if I understand this correctly.

    Sorry, on another note… Eventually I will read Met. Tikhon’s 60 page report Karen referenced, as I want to know what all of our Orthodox Bishops/Met.’s have to say. I wonder though, has there ever been a council (gathering) of all American Orthodox Bishops/Met.’s (from every EO diocese) to discuss the issues of Orthodoxy in America? I think my question stems from discussions about the unity (lack of?) in the diversity of the Church in America. From what I see, the local church may be, in name, a certain ethnicity, but within there are people of every ‘tribe, nation and tongue’. I can not put my finger on it, but I sense a disconnect between the dioceses that I wish was not there.
    Again I apologize for diverging into different topics. Your thoughts would be
    appreciated, even if brief. Thank you, Father.

  103. Paula AZ,
    At the request of the Orthodox Patriarchs across the world, areas like America formed “Episcopal Assemblies” (Bishop Assemblies) consisting of all canonical Orthodox bishops in our land. It meets at least annually, and has subgroups to work on common things. All of this with a goal towards a single jurisdiction. But they speak with a common voice. Here is the website.

  104. Father thank you so much for your helpful clarification regarding the problems with the historical treatment of the scriptures. Given your description, I believe before I became an Orthodox Christian, I likely fell into the ‘conservative’ camp. Once I was exposed to the icon of Christ in nature, I was willing to drop the conservative outlook, but unwilling to adopt the liberal, thanks be to God.

    The context describing the etiology of the historical stance is very helpful.

    Thank you also to Esmee and Dino. Studying chemistry kind of forced me into habit of ‘deeper reading’ before I was Christian. But admittedly, reading the scripture in this manner is quite new for me. Dino thank you for describing it as part of a prayer rule and situating it as part of a hesychist approach. This is important and I appreciate your elaboration. Obviously I’m a newbie, and appreciate those (like yourself) who have more experience and willingness to share their wisdom.

  105. Thank you Father. That’s just wonderful! I’ll look at and keep the website.

  106. The NT writers quoted from sources other than the OT although I don’t think they were held with the same authority as the OT. For example, in Romans 17:28 he quotes from Cretica by Epimenides and from the Hymn to Zeus by the Latin poet Aratus. In 1 Corinthians 15:33 Paul quotes Menander. 2 Timothy 2:8 he refers to Jannes and Jambres that’s a reference from Pliny the Elder. There’s one reference to Tartarus, a Greek underworld for punishing gods, in 2 Peter 2:4. And the last reference I know of is in Jude 1:9 Michael and Satan are arguing over Moses body which is a reference to the apocryphal book the Assumption of Moses.

    The impression I get from the early fathers use of Latin and Greek literature and the way Scriptural sources were used is that the idea of scripture was secondary to the idea interpreting what was available in terms of the Cross. Christ could have been born in India, he probably would have been called Krishna, and we would be quoting the Bhagavad Gita and talking about how Christ takes our karma and the karma of the whole world upon himself. Rather than wrestling with the passions it would be the rajas.

  107. Simon,
    I do not doubt that if India had been part of the cultural sphere of the NT and early Church, Indian texts would be somehow touched upon. In Chinese, for example, it’s rather hard not to translate “Logos” as “Tao.” I’m not able to see anything but the utter uniqueness of Jesus the Jew (I’m not a Perennialist for example). But the unique Jesus the Jew is also the eternal Logos, through whom all things were created, and thus, all things bear some kind of relation to Him. Not one-to-one, but some kind.

    The use of Scripture in the early Church, and even the Orthodox attitude towards the so-called “canon” are of interest. It was once treated in a bit more fluid manner. Ultimately, the “canon” means those books that are read in the Church, although Revelation is included by the Orthodox even though it’s not read in any service (this is primarily recognizing the place it held in Western Churches). But the use of the Book of Jubilees and the Book of Enoch are also noteworthy. I’m curious about any possible influence they might have had on St. Paul’s use of Adam. I want to ask Archbishop Alexander when he is here (it’s an area of his scholarly expertise). It is the rock solid place of the “Apostolic Hypothesis” (to use St. Irenaeus’ phrase), that is the canonical and Apostolic understanding of Pascha as the central point of all things, that makes it possible to look in places that might otherwise be avoided. It is interesting that the Orthodox, with a bit more fluidity than others, are the ones who have maintained a faithful standard of teaching through the centuries. It’s such a different kettle of fish.

  108. I guess this way of interpretation manifests itself in the very different experience indigenous populations could have if they encountered Orthodox missionaries versus Jesuits. Orthodoxy doesn’t seem to want to remake everything for Christ. It takes what exists and reveals Christ in it, leaving the Spirit to reveal to people what must be set aside and what can be redeemed.

  109. Kevin,
    The history of Orthodox missions has, on the whole, been amazingly peaceful and culturally sensitive in a way unknown among Catholics or Protestants in the past.

  110. For me it is an amazing thing to think that the second person of the trinity could have just spun the globe, closed his eyes, and put his finger on a spot and said, “Thats where the incarnation is happening.” And it just so happened that it was Israel in the first century.

  111. That sounds complicated. Why was it necessary for Jesus to be a first century Jewish man??

  112. Simon,
    I would assume (as is normatively thought) that the specifics of what was required for the gospel to be preached, etc., were precisely available then. The “time was ripe” someone would say. But also, that this specific time was always the specific time intended. Useful to put God as seeing all moments together. He doesn’t wait to see what might happen. All things are “now” to Him. But only that “now,” was rightly suited. Also, it’s not just Jesus as Jewish man, it’s Jesus as Son of Mary. It’s not God just randomly picking a woman’s womb to use. She is the New Eve, the Second Eve, uniquely prepared to be the Mother of God.

    I think our modern tendency to “globalize” everything, with everything being interchangeable, ignoring the utter uniqueness of particularity, that makes it easy to imagine the Incarnation happening just anywhere. It could have happened only there – for that was its moment and always had been.

  113. By the same logic, you could ask, “Why didn’t Jesus come now? We’ve got the Interwebs and Twitter and all! Think how many people Jesus could have reached on a live stream and think how easy it would’ve been to build the Church on Slack or something.” Clearly, God wasn’t as enamored with our technological capabilities as we are. He was like, “There’s a common language and some halfway decent roads. Now, watch this.”

  114. Kevin,
    Indeed, the “spread of the gospel” is not an information event. It is a concrete, sacramental event on a hands-on level. In hindsight, we can see many propitious things about that particular time. But we cannot accurately suggest that any of them were the particular reasons for the Incarnation at that moment. I would say, sorry for being tautological, that it was the right time because it was the right time. And when it is all said and done it will seem clear.

  115. ” The “time was ripe” someone would say. But also, that this specific time was always the specific time intended.”
    Father…I am reminded of your teachings on God being a God of “particulars”. He has His particular designs in particular places with particular people…especially concerning His Son.
    Also, I think of the Spirit speaking through the Prophet Micah (5:2) that “The One to be Ruler in Israel” would come out of Bethlehem.

  116. “It was the right time because it was the right time” is kind of how a lot of things happen, anyway. The way I met my wife was stupidly improbable. I also knew of the tiny Orthodox parish in my city over ten years ago, but didn’t go see what it was about because I worked nights and I was content at the Baptist church and had friends there, one of which gave me the idea to check out such-and-such dating site. A year ago today, I finally went to that little church. Why then? I have no idea what I would have thought of it in, say, 2006. It might have seemed irrelevant to me, just pretty, but unnecessary traditions. The priest died two months after I arrived, but he left enough of an impression to keep me going back.

  117. Kevin,
    Happy one year! I can remember when I was about 15 walking with my friend past the Serbian church and thinking, “What a strange looking place!” I attended a drab little A/G church with my family. I lacked any aesthetic sense, obviously. Yet at that time all was in church slavonic and the old priest spoke no English (found this out later). However, fast forward some 34 years later I walked into that church and was profoundly changed! I’ve never looked back. God does have His own opportune time. For me His timing took half a lifetime.

  118. I understand the significance of particularity as opposed to say an algorithm or set of equations that describes general patterns or models the behavior of a system. But there are implications from saying that the Almighty God has a chosen people. And I am very uncomfortable with those implications, which has nothing to do with globalism or modernity. For example, we are free to interpret the conquest mythology of the Levant allegorically. Just as Hindus treat the Mahabharata allegorically. But there is little evidence that the historians of the first century treated them allegorically…well Im not sure how Philo of Alexandria interpreted the history of Israel. But Josephus certainly took it as fact. Regardless I absolutely despise discussions about how change is an ever present now to a changeless God. Because all we CAN ever really mean by “time” is the measurable difference in entropy. To talk “time” in any other way is meaningless. I say this to say that a tribal God isnt an interesting God. And the God of the OT is extremely tribal.

  119. Simon,
    I think that reducing things to a scientific narrative is less than productive. The most one can do is make up their own narrative in those terms. The actual content of the fact that God “chose” Israel is something to ponder, and there is much there to be pondered. I think you’re making a premature leap and just creating a conundrum where none need exist.

  120. Simon,
    And forgive me, but please don’t give us a litany of the atrocities of the OT. There’s a different way to read it without throwing the particularity under the bus.

  121. Simon,
    There is a problem in asserting various rules of the game: “to talk time in any other way is meaningless.” As such, the problem created is not something I buy into because I think it’s wrong.

    On history, there are some among the fathers who saw the OT’s description of God’s commandments (kill, destroy) as incorrect, for example. It’s not aboout what Josephus or Philo thought, etc. This is just making up a problem that is not going anywhere. I’m sorry.

  122. My comments on time were specifically addressed to your comments: “All things are “now” to Him. But only that “now,” was rightly suited.” What I heard you say was that past, present and future are all equally present before God, and God could chose the moment of Christ’s arrival given the equal presence of every moment of history. That is really problematic because that has real ramifications for my future. If all moments of time (whatever that means) are equally before God, then so is the moment of my deification…or not. If God has not predetermined anyone’s future yet all moments of time are now to him, then that includes the moment of our deification or not. If those things can be foreknown, that leads to real conundrums regarding God’s own decisions and actions as well as to questions regarding our freedom.

  123. Simon,
    I don’t think God is in time. But we are. Because we are, it’s hard to think out of this proverbial ‘box’ to grasp what it is like to not be in time. Christ entered into creation. It seems the Church holds that the ‘coming into creation’, the in-breaking, had to have specific antecedents, as entering into creation the process itself is contextual and engaged within time.

    It also sounds a little like you’re working on the notion of ‘accidents’ of the sort St John of Damascus wrote about.

    I too think about time and particularity. I believe there is an ‘ontological’ level to this as well as the particular. I don’t think this is necessarily paradoxical, but it might be. And I apologize if I sound a little ‘airy-fairy’.

  124. Dee, I think all talk about time in theological contexts is fraught with hazards. To me it seems incoherent. What does the statement ‘God is not in time’ even mean? Doesn’t ‘inside time’ vs ‘outside time’ and ‘into creation’ vs ‘outside creation’ sound like the kind of talk you get with a two-story universe?? Again, this critique is not new to me. There is a real concern about human freedom and the nature of of God’s judgment if the outcome of my resurrection is absolutely foreknowable. Am I wrong about that??

  125. Also, I understand what Fr. said previously about Mary not being a random Jewish woman. She is a bit of a mystery isn’t she. I can completely see her as an anchor in terms of the timing of God’s incarnation. She wasn’t just some random womb-on-loan. But that just pushes the question back: Could Mary have been Indian and could we have had an Indian Jesus? Of course, I don’t really care about that specific question. What I really care about is the degree to which we are married to the idea of God having a “chosen people,” an ethnic group to which he has sworn allegiance. So, in anticipation of what I think someone will say let me just state what I think the Orthodox position is. God is organic. Here works within the particular and the peculiar. Therefore, there was a sociohistorical context (“season” or “proper time”) that was well suited to the work of the incarnation. And that was at least in part what determined the where and when of the incarnation.

  126. As far as I know up to this point with all the limitations that are involved.: There is one creation and God’s energy, His workings, permeate throughout it—that too, begs to question of what freedom we could possibly have. In creation is time. We don’t know cognitively, scientifically what is outside creation. All that we talk about in science is creation. Since God created the universe, using logic we can derive the idea about ‘a before creation’ without having an experience of it. That reference is hypothetical, and we don’t know it since we are within the context of the created.

    The two universe concept is a spirit ‘world’—a God inhabited world —apart from the ‘physical’ earth world. That isn’t what I was attempting to describe but it might have sounded like that.

  127. Last, epigenetics might provide a useful tool to understand how one group of people might be selected or rather ‘separated’ into which Christ is born. A particular ‘flesh’ was created. Not a generic flesh.

    I really believe you might appreciate St John of Damascus book if you haven’t already read it. It might be helpful.

  128. Simon,
    “Chosen” does not mean a special ethnic group to which He has sworn allegiance. “us” “them”. It would seem that the nature of particularity (and the world is particularity or it’s nothing) is that it is not interchangeable. To say that God becomes incarnate as the Son of Mary is not a generalizable statement in which “God becomes incarnate” can be isolated from “the Son of Mary.” If we would want to substitute an Indian woman, for example, it would not be the same thing. It would be something different.

    We could as well say, in place of “chosen,” that God has, over time, always been incarnating Himself in human history, our union with Him is and always has been His plan and His working. It comes to fruition and manifestation in the particular details of Jesus of Nazareth. But, “Jesus of Nazareth” also means everything that has gone before, or, includes everything that has gone before.

    We are given the stories of that working in the stories of a beloved people. But His actions with that beloved people is revealed to His actions towards all in the end. He chooses one in order to choose all, not to exclude some. You’re right on the Orthodox position – but don’t be too narrow about it. The whole world, all of humanity, is, and always has been related to that particular working of God. Indeed, every moment of everything is the particular working of God. Nothing is excluded.

    So, Raja, the untouchable, in 589 B.C., has a bad day and goes hungry (just making up a random example). That action is happening at the same time as Jacob, a Jewish boy who is being carried off into captivity in Babylon. He, too, is hungry. Both are part of the one great story (in which we are all “chosen”). The boys don’t know each other (obviously), but their lives are not really disconnected. The moment in which Gabriel speaks with Mary is not just an isolated moment in Galilee. It is a moment that is the whole world’s moment. She is the mother of us all. “All of creation rejoices in You,” we sing of her.

    We speak of inside and outside of time. But that’s actually poor language. There is no “outside” of the universe (space-time). “Side” (in or out) is a created reality. The one thing the Fathers insist on in our language regarding God is that He is “uncreated.” He is utterly not us. They do not speak of Him within the realm of being. He is “beyond all being.” It is the transcendence and unknowability of God.

    It is the utterly transcendent God who makes Himself known and does so in a particular way (for we can only know particulars – generalizations are just abstractions). But, in trying to speak of God’s transcendence, the language of “outside” “above” “beyond” are employed – not in a spacial manner, but in the manner of language.

    When I say that all moments are “now” for Him, it is because He has no past or future – He is present. Foreknowledge is not predestination. It’s not really “fore” either. He simply knows His creation. I wouldn’t try too hard to deal with the mechanics. It makes our hair hurt.

  129. Hi Simon and Dee, a few small thoughts.

    Karma is not the same as what the Orthodox believe. I have spent years trying to figure this out. My dad is Hindu, my mom is cradle Orthodox, so I have a bit of exrea context to my exploration.

    Orthodoxy has the sense ‘you reap what you sow’ which I have seen quoted in the wonderful book Suffering and Salvation (Tabor Press) but there is also

    Unearned difficulty


    Unearned benefit

    that we take note of within Orthodoxy

    Unearned benefit is what we receive but should bestow on the poor, as cited in the wedding service.

    Unearned difficulty is that suffering, embodied and in our spirit and soul, that is similar to the man blind from birth in the new Testament. Everyone crowded around Jesus and said ‘whose sin (is responsible) for this? His or his parents”?” Jesus explained : neither. ” It is so the power of God may be shown in him.”

    Hinduism would never anticipate that.

    There is a key Old Testament theme: Israel was the laughingstock of the Ancient world, the weak one, the David to the Goliath of other skilled and developed nations. But God chose theme to reveal monotheism and be the human community from which Christ would be born. They were chosen tonbe his human family.

    Incidentally I think one of the most profound unearned difficulties is childlessness. The parents of the Theotokos endured 20 years of it with faith, despite the misunderstandings of those around them which may have cast them as unholy or enemies of God in some way. has a beautiful essay on them (I think under Feasts for Dec 8, the Conception of the Theotokos). Sts. Joachim and Anna had a model of their Finances which included 50% to the Temple and 25% to the poor. Bestowing indeed on the poor. I think their holiness uniquely created an environment for the Theotokos to grow in holiness as a child. We must not forget them. I have a strong hunch Jesus looks just like his Granddaddy Joachim.

  130. (I have nothing to add to the conversation…just some thoughts…)
    Simon, I cannot thank you enough for your honesty and continuing to press your thoughts. You don’t give up! This is “seeking” (even if it includes doubting or disagreement) if I ever saw it. If you had kept quiet, these rich conversations would not have taken place. I hope they bless you as much as they bless me.
    Thank you Father, Dee, and Nicole.
    Simon, it is very hard for me to understand all that is going on in your mind. I only pick up on bits and pieces, like the ‘why evil’ thing, or this predestination, or this matter of free will, along with what you have told us about your past…I see it how weaves through your thoughts. So, because of my limited understanding, my response (for example) when you say, so easily, that Jesus *could* have been born in India, and if He would have been, then….and so on…. I say to myself (really, to you!), no! He could not have! There is no “if” or “then”! So I thank God for the responses from our friends here. I know what I know, but have a terrible time expressing it.
    Father, thank you for speaking more about “particularity”, and the “chosen”, and “created time” and God being beyond all instance of time. Yes indeed, it does make your hair hurt…we can never get to the end of such thoughts.
    I think a key difference between Simon and myself is what I describe as my gullible-ness. I have a tendency to trust more than distrust, although I have been burned in doing so. Yet as a result, my “antenna” has become more sensitive, but still, words fail me. As for Orthodoxy, those who have gone before us that are the “pillars” and those who are with us now that have had years of experience, I simply trust, learn from, and very thankful for (even if I don’t show it). And God, well, I trust completely….I could even say, in a sense, blindly….though I have many many questions too. I just don’t expect them all to be answered. He has been more than generous already….

  131. A useful image of the Theotokos is that of the door which was open and exclusively turned towards nothing other than inviting God to come and save His creation. There had never been such a purely and wholy consecrated-towards-intercessory- prayer-being on the face of the Earth (St Gregory Palamas is remarkable on this description of Her as a child in the Temple).

  132. I never understood the argument that since God knows our choices “before” we make them (from our point of view at a particular moment in time) we are therefore not free. If I watch you order coffee instead of tea your choice is still your own. My knowledge doesn’t change that. How is it any different if God is “watching” from “beyond” time? I simply know you chose coffee from a point in time after you ordered by being present with you when you ordered. God simply knows everything about you by being present in your every moment and not constrained a particular one at a time like we are.

  133. For those grappling with foreknowledge and predestination, this simple illustration helped me at one time. Say you are 5 miles up off the ground. You look down over a desert and see two trains racing toward each other on the same track at 60 miles an hour. Time is too short for them to stop. A head on crash is imminent. Now seeing what will happen (all things constant) will not cause the crash to happen. I know this is not without problems but it aided this simple, not philosophic mind.

  134. It goes without saying that predestination and foreknowledge (even for humans) is not the same thing and foreknowledge needn’t affect freedom (as our idea of predestination does)… for example: the fact that we have been given to know that, say, Saint Hyacinth whom we commemorate today, for instance, will eternally be choosing to be with God in His Kingdom does not remove this saint’s freedom towards this.

  135. There is a real concern about human freedom and the nature of of God’s judgment if the outcome of my resurrection is absolutely foreknowable.

    Well, I suppose the outcome of our resurrection is foreknowable in a general sense: we shall be resurrected to God, who loves us. The nature of what that actually looks like, we really don’t know. As Father said, much of this stuff will simply make our hair hurt!

    More than ever, we trust God to save us. That we don’t know exactly how that comes about is probably a good thing. If we did, we would probably do everything in our power to control it!

  136. I clearly am unable to communicate the sense of paradox of a God that can foreknow the results of decisions he has not made yet.

  137. Simon,
    I do not think I could ever say, “Decisions He has not made yet.” That, for me, makes no sense. It applies something to God that doesn’t belong to God. It is, on the one hand, extremely anthropomorphic, assuming that “deciding” on God’s part is anything like deciding on our part. We might use language of “decide,” but, in truth, it’s really inappropriate. God’s will has been made known to us in Christ Jesus. The outcome of my existence or yours does not depend on some later decision of God. His goodwill has already been made known: “to gather together in one, all thing in Christ Jesus.” How that plays out in my life or yours, does, in some manner, depend on what we do with it – do we cooperate or do we resist – with the ultimate outcome not being revealed to us. But that ultimate outcome (the one not revealed) is not dependent on some decision that has yet to be made. “He is not willing that any should perish, etc.”

  138. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
    Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
    “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    So are My ways higher than your ways
    And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
    – Isaiah 55:8 – 9

    One day, as I was reading this for the 100th (200th? 300th?) time, the coin dropped, as they say, and I stopped worrying about things like foreknowledge and predestination, and other things like why God made Israel his chosen people, why He became incarnate in a scruffy desert before there was anyway to publicize his presence to the rest of the world, and why he allows evil to exist. I just don’t know, and these verses helped me to understand (finally!) that I will never know.

    More important, perhaps, was my concomitant realization that it does not matter. To the end of my days, my knowledge of why God does what He does will be less than my dog’s understanding of how nuclear reactors work. That’s just the way it is. I can either accept God the way He is, or reject Him. I now know that I was wrong to think that I had to understand God before I accepted Him.

    “But neither do we know, nor can we tell, what the essence of God is, or how it is in all, or how the Only-begotten Son and God, having emptied Himself, became Man of virgin blood, made by another law contrary to nature, or how He walked with dry feet upon the waters. It is not within our capacity, therefore, to say anything about God or even to think of Him, beyond the things which have been divinely revealed to us, whether by word or by manifestation, by the divine oracles at once of the Old Testament and of the New.” – St. John of Damascus, Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, 1.2

    Instead of trying to understand God, I need to understand, and obey. these words, also from Isaiah 55.

    Seek the Lord while He may be found;
    Call upon Him while He is near.
    Let the wicked forsake his way
    And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
    And let him return to the Lord,
    And He will have compassion on him,
    And to our God,
    For He will abundantly pardon.
    – Isaiah 55:6-7

    Please forgive me for this lengthy intrusion into a thoughtful discussion, but I felt compelled to share my experience, strength and hope.

  139. I do not think I could ever say, “Decisions He has not made yet.” That, for me, makes no sense.

    Sure, but how else would you describe God’s actions that occur in time? For example, we might say that there was a time when someone was not illumined and a time after that when a person becomes illumined. There is a distinct state change that occurs for the person in time by God’s power. There is a distinct sense of before and after.

    How that plays out in my life or yours, does, in some manner, depend on what we do with it – do we cooperate or do we resist – with the ultimate outcome not being revealed to us.

    Two thoughts. First, here is what I heard you say. Even though the ultimate outcome is not revealed to us. It could be. In other words, to God the ultimate outcome of all human fates is as knowable to him as checking the TV guide to see what’s going to be on tomorrow night. So, ultimate outcomes haven’t been revealed, but they can be. That’s a bit of a problem.

    Second, you make it sound like God set up a universe where his will for everyone’s salvation is continuously at work and whether you are blessed or cursed depends on your compliance with that Divine Omnipresent Will at work in all things. Is that right?

  140. I’m sorry. Forgive me for saying this so bluntly, but if I was going to totally shut my brain off, I could have remained a JW. About the ONLY reason I pause on any question anymore is the moral conflict it poses. To be frank I couldn’t care less about most of theology and things like “created time” and I am assuming its converse “uncreated time.” BUT I do care about the moral implications of the ideas I am going to introduce my son to. I spent my childhood believing that ‘bad was good and good was bad’. Everyone thinks that I’m not age appropriate with my son. I don’t know about that. You want to know what else I don’t know, I don’t know how much time I’m actually going to have with my son. So, in that regard, I have already minimized and cut out what I understand to be questions that are useless distractions. But there are moral complications to a God who knows the outcome of EVERYTHING in advance. As I continue to write in my journal and leave him with thoughts about what to take seriously and what to ignore…I have to iron out the moral implications.

  141. Simon,
    The decisions that demonstrate the internal “inclination-towards-God” of Man, Angel or demon can accord to God’s eternal good-will for each (i.e.: that all be saved) or not. From past to future this freedom of one’s self-determination and disposition towards Godremains free and respected by God, and the fact that He works to aid this towards salvation -without impinging freedom (eg using suffering or inspiration etc) and foreknowing our choice of damnation or salvation (aiding even the minimization of the foreknown damnation) does not predetermine our continuously free self-determination towards Him.

  142. Hi Simon, I have a few more thoughts to gently share. There is an analogy I used to share with my math students when I was teaching at a Catholic High School. Since the World Cup is going on now I will share it here and trust that others will correct me if it is inappropriate.

    Different countries have different styles of soccer, and the style in Brazil was once referred to as ‘the Beautiful game.’ I believe everything about God is ‘the Beautiful argument.’ If you ever hear something that is disturbing about God it is either untrue or it is being incorrectly articulated to you (perhaps the speaker is misspeaking it or perhaps the listener is filtering it through hurts, etc).

    In one of the services of Lent we are referred to as ‘rational sheep.’ I truly believe what we are able to know about God is beautiful and does in some way light up our heart, though we never would have thought of it ourselves. I like that line in the New Testament that describes how the Incarnation was a mystery even to the angels, they wouldn’t have guessed it or figured it out in advance, it was a mystery into which the angels desired to look (1 Peter 1:12)

    But I don’t think our brains are the best filter for these things, our hearts are. The story of St. Spyridon the Wonderwork on gives a good relevant account of this.

    My dad’s struggles in life are so relevant in shaping my own. God has brought good from them that I can currently see and I believe more good that I cannot know or predict will continue to come. I learned the word ‘interdependence’ here (thank you Michael!) and it is true. My dad came to America to study Architecture. He had three job interviews and drove to Boston, DC, and Chicago for each one. He only got the job in DC. His ‘failure’ to get the other jobs narrowed down his choices. My parents did not have the money to buy their dream home and settled in Arlington and when I was 14 I dropped a card catalog drawer on the foot of my future husband. We had a baby arrive in January so I have not been here much since this past two weeks but I really appreciate the themes you have brought up. I know that the shortcomings we have as parents, and our failures, are not the end of the story. God brings good from them on a timeline that is vaster than we can see.

    Just some thoughts and also some best wishes. Please keep sharing if you have a chance.

  143. Two thoughts. First, here is what I heard you say. Even though the ultimate outcome is not revealed to us. It could be. In other words, to God the ultimate outcome of all human fates is as knowable to him as checking the TV guide to see what’s going to be on tomorrow night. So, ultimate outcomes haven’t been revealed, but they can be. That’s a bit of a problem.

    Second, you make it sound like God set up a universe where his will for everyone’s salvation is continuously at work and whether you are blessed or cursed depends on your compliance with that Divine Omnipresent Will at work in all things. Is that right?

    First: I’m not sure that “outcome” is the right question. For one, we do not know the outcome. It could be, for example, as St. Isaac of Syria says, that the outcome is the salvation and reconciliation of all. It could be, as some say, that, for some, the love of God will remain painful (in some manner or other) and can be described as “hell.” Hell being nothing other than the love of God towards us, and contains no punishment within itself. Those are pretty much the “two” options generally held within Orthodoxy. It can be argued, but never with real assurance since we have not been given to know what we call “outcomes.”

    Second. Nope. God’s love is continuously at work. There is no curse, only blessing. It is not compliance that matters, it is love. Will I accept His love, or will I hate it? If I hate it, I create a misery for myself.

  144. Simon,
    You will not correct everything in your son that was done to you. You cannot guarantee in any way that he will do what you have found would be best and truest for him. He will, no matter what we do, struggle to make these things his own and sometimes he’ll get it right and sometimes he’ll get it wrong. Our only hope is that there is a good God who loves him and will preserve him. That same good God rescued you from the JW’s and continues to work wonderfully in you and has given you the joy of a son. But relax a bit about it. When the dilemma’s crop up, do not rush for a solution. It’s not a matter of turning your mind off. It’s that when you rush for a solution, you’re not primarily using your mind anyway, but the anxieties of life and a frightening history, etc.

    First question viz. Orthodoxy: Are these people good? Are they mean? Do they preach hate and condemnation? Do they love God and love others? Orthodoxy is a complex collection of people – Christians who are part of a continuous and unbroken Christian culture. They come from every walk of life and with all kinds of backgrounds and educations, etc. We cannot work out a tight set of syllogisms, viz. Protestant thought. It’s a life. Is that life good and true? No one should be asked to say good is bad and vice versa, and I cannot think of anything in my life as an Orthodox Christian that would fit that description. I do allow for some paradox and think it describes things better than many so-called solutions.

    God is a good God. Nothing is said more loudly or clearly or repeatedly in Orthodoxy. If something is said that contradicts that it is either said badly, heard badly, or somewhere in between. Bottom line: He is a good God.

    I never taught my children that killing the Amalekites was a good thing. It’s not how we spoke about things. My son, James, was something of a literalist for a number of his early years. He wasn’t ready to hear more than that. When he would press those questions (like on Adam, etc.), I tended to defer the matter and tell him there was much more to the matter than he was getting from reading the story. In time it came. That was God’s gift.

    We should be good and practice goodness. I think that you might have a fear that your son will be injured or taught badly as you were as a child – I sure don’t see that happening. But neither can we get everything perfect for them. They are free – frightfully so. How much good teaching will a child endure before they rebel and head in a different direction? Don’t know. The story of the Prodigal Son includes what seems to be the perfect father, but the son went away for awhile.

  145. Simon,
    He is a gift of God and it is a wonder and a joy to see you together and how you are together. I trust you with him – and I trust God with you. Children are a joy, but they will also teach us just how powerless we are. My wife’s instinct with the kids was different from mine. I wanted to lecture, argue, teach. Her first instinct was to go pray…and pray a lot. It still is. Her method works way better than mine. I suspect her prayers are what make this blog work…they have certainly had everything to do with my salvation up to this point of my life. I am not blowing smoke here…I’m as serious as can be…

  146. Not exactly answering that of God being good. But I recall Fr. Tom Hopko saying that Orthodoxy will never ask you to believe something that is not true.
    And Nicole of VA. Your post last night really spoke to my heart. I don’t always follow all written here…but my heart’s antenna usually modulates to the heartbeat of another. Thanks!
    Father, one of the things that makes my heart to rejoice is what you have written about hell. Barring major sin, when I stand before Christ’s icon I have never felt condemnation…only love. I certainly am in no rush to die, but as I age I have more longing for His presence.

  147. “I trust you with him.”

    Thank you for the vote of confidence. Dads sometimes need an atta’boy.

  148. I have been reading and re-reading the comments on this article as they touch on topics that have been troubling me for some time now. My deepest thanks to all the commentators – particularly Fr. Stephen and Simon – who have been willing to have this conversation publicly. I am grateful for your honesty, compassion, and insights.

    There is one thorn I can’t quite get rid of, despite the marvelous things already said, in regard to the “problem of evil” and the providence of God. As I fall farther and farther away from the notion of a “second story God” intervening in human history and closer toward a God who continually creates all that is, in every moment, I think it only reasonable to conclude that yes, all things are from God, all things are under His Providence – both suffering (agony) and blessing, death and resurrection. If my life is “given” by God, then my death, when it comes, however it comes, will be too.

    BUT: if both death and life are from God, why or how is one to be preferred over the other? Put another way, if death and suffering – and maybe even evil? – are intrinsically woven into the fabric of the universe (the cruciform shape of creation?), then why call death and suffering “bad” and life “good”? And more personally, how am I to act or pray if I can’t call some things “the will of God” and other things “NOT the will of God”? If I give thanks in all things, isn’t the distinction between good and evil obliterated??

  149. I know this topic was left long ago, but… well, I suppose I haven’t been able to leave it yet.

    Father, you wrote in a response to Simon that “God’s love is continuously at work. There is no curse, only blessing.” I want to agree, and see how the path to God is one of growth in thanksgiving for everything that His providence/love (for they are the same) give me in every hour of every day. Yet, this seems far too close with a Buddhist idea I’ve always chaffed at – that there is no good or evil, no blessing or curse, no righteousness or sin, but all is somehow one.

    I don’t know if this question makes sense or is perhaps a far too simple one, but – to be able to act or pray, we need a direction, a measuring stick by which to judge what is “the path” and what is not. And, if everything is from God, well, then on what grounds do I call some things good and praise-worthy and follow them, and others not and avoid them? If everything is from God, why did Jesus heal the sick? Weren’t their illnesses as much God’s providence/love as their potential restoration to health – and should have been met with thanksgiving rather than a plea for healing?

    I think you might say “Look to Christ and his life and follow it – that’s the path and the measuring stick”. That “works”, and I probably ought to just stop thinking and do it. But it doesn’t answer the question, if everything is from God HOW do we call some things good and others not?

  150. John,
    How can anyone not sympathise with your questions?
    But an answer would have to put in words the great mystery of how God’s ‘omnipotent-love’ mingles with His creatures’ ‘freedom-to-go-against-it’.

    The case studies would be endless and their discernment would require omniscience…
    We can, however, remind ourselves that we can & must trust in God in the good and do our best to trust in Him in the bad too.

  151. Thanks, Dino. You’re right, of course, as far as the inability of putting a great mystery into words. Which is why Dostoevsky didn’t answer Ivan with a rational argument but instead with a kiss, and with the life of Fr. Zosima… I guess that “answer” is easier to swallow (and live by) if I hang on to the notion that, somehow, evil, suffering, and death run contrary to the “will of God”. If they do, then Zosima is a beacon of truth: he lightens the sufferings of others and is himself full of God’s life, thus walking in the good will of God. If, however, death and suffering are as much a part of God’s will – perhaps even a part of God himself, through the mystery of Christ’s death?? – and death and suffering MUST be a part of God’s will in a one-story universe – well then .. “good” and “bad” sure look like they start loosing meaning real fast, and I honestly see no rational ground from which to call Zosima “good”, or to follow his model. (The distinction between God’s active will and his “allowing” something that is against his will leaves me cold; seems like desperate semantics, honestly, if we’re dealing with an “everywhere present” God and not second-story Zeus).

    … I’m really just getting more and more confused. How can we say death is a part of God’s will/providence and then ooh and aah over incorrupt relics??

  152. John,
    My understanding is that death is an inevitability for a creature (created from nothing and yet created to be immortal-by-grace, according to God’s ‘first’ will) as soon as the creature chooses to turn to a direction away from the Source of it’s eternal life, but, this does not mean that God cannot exploit this inevitability (of death –as well as suffering) to bring the creature to its senses another way. Death then becomes a ‘part of God’s providence’ despite us “going ooh and aah over incorrupt relics”, as testaments to the Spirit’s transformative ability. (This “coming to one’s senses” is essentially realizing that without God we are nothing, only He is our Life). The distinction between first and second will etc. is bound to free creatures’ response to God’s ‘first’ will, His respect for our freedom does not mean that what he ‘allows’ is random. What is allowed against God’s ‘first’ will is allowed only while it simultaneously somehow effects our eventual salvation (albeit through means that also allow for our away-from-God-will to become realized – but within the bounds of His ‘second’ will.)
    Once someone starts ‘western style’ case-by-case analysis and objections of course, (an argumentation that I find is more rare in eastern thought that is accepting of all-encompassing notions with far greater ease) especially with an eye to debunk the all-encompassing worldview, they are –as we say in Greek– digging their one grave with their own hands.

  153. John,
    On the one hand, Christ has changed death in His death and resurrection. What might have been unmitigated disaster now has this paradox that ends in victory. That same paradox runs throughout our encounter with “bad” things. They are, indeed, “bad,” but, we can say they are “good” in the sense that God rescues us from their complete tragedy and brings us good. Like the irony in the story of Joseph and his brothers. It’s always “bad” to sell your brother as a slave. And yet, when Joseph later saved his brothers, after having become second only to Pharoah, he said, “You meant it to me for evil, but the Lord meant it to me for good.” That God meant it for good does not make his brothers’ action good. It simply means that God has redeemed their evil actions. The same can be said about “Good” Friday.

    When we say “all things are sent down from God,” we do not mean “all things are good.” Clearly, many things are bad and terrible. The confession that “all is sent down from God,” is a way of saying that, despite every intention of evil, God will use all things towards our good and the goodness of His creation. We should never feel that we are being asked to say that something “bad” is actually “good.” Only God is truly “good.” And His goodness is so complete and so transcendent, that is can make even the bad things of no ill effect when all is said and done. “All things are sent down from God,” is more a statement about God than a statement about “all things.” I hope that’s helpful.

  154. Remember watching the painter Bob Ross on PBS? Usually, he’d paint this pretty mountain in the distance and there would be some kind of water scene in front of it. Then, he’d put ugly slashes of paint in the foreground and you were like, “Ugh! What is he doing?” Then, he’d put branches and leaves on those trunks and fill in the foreground with bushes and maybe add some rocks and running water into the foreground and by the time he was done, the whole thing made sense and you couldn’t imagine the picture any other way. The phrase “our life will be revealed in Christ” makes me think of Bob Ross. Perhaps our lives are icons in production and we can only make sense of them from outside the frame.

  155. Kevin,
    Thanks for the analogy and for remembering Bob Ross. His was a gentle soul. I miss him.

  156. John –

    Your statement, “I honestly see no rational ground from which to call Zosima ‘good,’ or to follow his model,” resonated very deeply within me. I struggled with that for decades. Then I was taught how to sit with God in silence. Some decades later, I began to grow in the Eucharist. Even more decades later, I realized that the problem had just gone away.

    I never came up with a rational solution. I just do not need one anymore. As a result of my experience, the ground from which to call the Fathers “good” and to try follow their model is obvious to me now.

    Rational thinking without spiritual experience would have never gotten me here.

    Just my experience,of course.

    God bless.

  157. Thank you, all, for the responses.

    Dino – As far as death as conditional or optional, i.e., the result of man’s inevitable turning away from the Source of his life, I don’t know… It looks to me like death is very much woven into the fabric of the world. I’ve always disliked the saying, but, to quote Forrest Gump’s mama, “death is just a part of life” does seem to be how the life cycle operates. Biological life as we know it is based on death and decay, from human digestion to the fertilization of the soil by decomposing organisms. On what basis could I ascribe this to a secondary rather than a primary will of God? I think only faith can see this – faith and eschatological vision, a belief that everlasting life (i.e., communion with the Source) is the telos to which all things strive. I suppose I haven’t made that leap yet. … On the other hand, if Christ is crucified “from the foundations of the world”, there seems to be a nod to the centrality of the process of death and rebirth as being at the very heart of Christian belief. Is Christ’s death part of God’s “second will”?

    Father – Did Christ’s death and resurrection CHANGE death or REVEAL its true meaning? (Sorry for the caps, I don’t know how to do any formatting (italics) in these comments). The distinction seems to matter. If Christ changed death, the narrative is one of “God’s response” to man’s inevitable falling away, and this seems to be more of a second-storey narrative: an “outside” God intervened in his fallen creation to redeem it. If, on the other hand, Christ revealed death’s meaning, then death, as we have been saying, is somehow an intrinsic part of life, and Christ revealed it – or its voluntary acceptance for the sake of another – to be the path to our resurrection, to eternal life. This narrative seems to jive more with a one-storey universe, as all things – death and suffering included – are given by the “at work in every moment and in every process Creator” God for the sake of our salvation.

    But, even if this second narrative is the more accurate one, I think we still need some ground, some reason, to call life, eternal life, the ultimate good, and death and suffering merely a process – a cross to carry – by which we arrive at eternal life. I’m coming to the conclusion that the ground for this belief isn’t rational – it’s faith and eschatological vision.

    David – Thank you, deeply. I don’t know if that is “just your experience”. I somehow know that this is the path I too will have to follow – or dig my own grave (as Dino said) paralyzed by rational doubt. Say a prayer for me, if you think of it.

  158. John,
    I can’t disagree, the tradition doesn’t… death is in the nature of creature-hood. Creatures are mortal inherently “by nature”. The significant distinction is that we have been given immortal life by Grace.
    It’s there for the taking from the start, it is “our calling”, despite our mortality “by nature” to be eternal –in Chirst– “by Grace”.
    Speculations on what would have been without a Fall e.t.c. –”in Adam unfallen” if you like– can only remain speculations. What we now know is that death is trampled by death in Christ incarnate, crucified, exalted.
    His being ‘slain before the foundation of time’ has to do more with Kenosis rather than a before or after His creatures fall…

  159. I hope everyone will forgive me for coming into this conversation late, and not having read all of the comments.
    Dino wrote:
    “The distinction between first and second will etc. is bound to free creatures’ response to God’s ‘first’ will, His respect for our freedom does not mean that what he ‘allows’ is random. What is allowed against God’s ‘first’ will is allowed only while it simultaneously somehow effects our eventual salvation (albeit through means that also allow for our away-from-God-will to become realized – but within the bounds of His ‘second’ will.)”

    I have a question for you and Fr. Stephen and anybody else who can answer: Could you please tell me which Orthodox theologians wrote about this? Or are there particular Fathers known for this teaching? I find it quite important, I just don’t know which patristic teachers are known for this in Orthodoxy.

  160. Thanks, Father.

    So, is this saying, in other words, “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose”?

    I was studying the passage in Matthew in which Jesus teaches about the stone that becomes the head of the corner — that those who stumble over the stone will be broken, and that those upon whom it falls with be crushed to powder. It seems a part of a classical understanding of this passage that we are fortunate if given circumstances from which we may learn from our mistakes — brokenness indicates a chance for change. That doesn’t seem to find much place in a modern mindset, but it is increasingly coming to mind for me — especially in light of some of the conversation regarding change we’ve observed in others after/during illness.

  161. Janine,
    Romans 8:28 is one of the great affirmations of Providence. I prefer the translation that reads: “For those who love God and are called according to His purpose, all things work together for good.” That more accurately conveys the meaning of the text.

  162. Thank you Father, Janine, Dino, John…
    Janine, as I was thinking about your question to Father and Dino, and rereading Dino’s response to John regarding the “different wills” of God. I think this wording (of different wills), although not wrong, but misunderstood, can easily become problematic, as it did for me when I was taught (in non-denom. church) that God had a “perfect will” and a “permissive will”. Looking back I see how that could give a perception of duality (good and evil) within the Person of God. And it can easily become a barrier to truly understanding God’s economy/means of salvation for us (this church taught ‘eternal security’). Further we were not taught about the divine and human wills of Christ, who did have two natures, yet His human will, unlike ours, perfect and complete. And we were not taught that this (the Incarnation) was the means to our salvation, but rather that salvation is gained through Christ as our ‘substitute’, as He was punished by the Father for the sake of our sins.
    But back the the “wills”, I found some clarity in St. Maximus’ teaching of our fallen will in relation to God’s divine will. He formulates this well (I’m thinking you know this already) and I believe it is the basis of the Churches’ teaching on this subject. Thinking of it in this way…God’s will, the Fall, our fallen will, the Incarnation…we can see how by the love of God “all things work together for good”. It is by the simple goodwill of God ; it is in this respect I do not think of God as having multiple wills. And too, your reflection on the verse in Matthew that some are going to be crushed by that Stone and some will stumble (note, it is an either/or here), only to find by the patience and providence of God working for our salvation, we can thank Him that we learn from the painful circumstances of our choices.
    Just some thoughts Janine. Thanks again to all…

  163. Thanks Paula, that makes sense to me. And thanks also for the pointer to St. Maximus as well. One can see how the “punishment” angle kind of throws a wrench into the whole thing or perhaps makes it all require additional adjustment in the theory! — or perhaps differences in what the basic concept of what “fallenness” is starts that whole ball rolling in the first place

  164. Janine,
    Indeed. Paula’s point is important, I think. I remember the breakdown, a misapplication from St. Paul’s 12th chapter to Romans:

    2 Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:2 RSV)

    I cannot say that none of the Fathers didn’t take this verse and run in the same direction as some Protestants. If so, it’s really problematic. But some want to make a distinction between God’s good will, God’s acceptable will, and God’s perfect will. In point of fact, the three words, as St. Paul uses them, are simply synonyms. Good, acceptable, perfect – means “perfect.”

    God’s good will is one thing. That one good will of God is the Divine energies working in the world for the well-being of all things and everyone. It works despite everything we do wrong, and all of the brokenness of creation. His good will means that the whole universe doesn’t fall back into chaos and nothingness. Our lives sometimes tend in that direction, but He works “all things together for good.”

    “Good” is never less than “perfect.” I’ve heard that teaching and, in the ears of an American, it just means that I have to put up with 2nd best, with what is merely acceptable, because I messed up. Our culture cannot hear these things correctly. Good means good. When God created the world and said “It is good,” it means good. When He said, “It is very good,” He means good.

    The life we are given through the death and resurrection of Christ is not a second-best life, that is, the pretty much as good as He could do considering that we had screwed everything up way back at the beginning.

    The good wrought for us in Christ is good, without a better. The Lamb was slain before the foundation of the earth. God knew before ever creating us that our freedom would require the death and resurrection of Christ. St. Maximos, no less, says that our “fall” was almost instantaneous. It is never for us to speculate about there having ever been a different way or a better way. There is only the way of Christ’s Pascha, and Christ’s Pascha works good despite every attempt at chaos and evil. “Death” is the word that stands for the ultimate evil and chaos. Christ trampled down death by death, and bestowed life on those in the tombs. “Life” is the word that stands for every possible goodness.

    We sadly get trapped into thinking, “What if?” this is a game of those who think they are living the second, third, or one hundred and first best thing. It’s brother is, “If only,” and both are false questions. They are answered by, “I did” and “I did not,” and “But God can and He did and so now I thank Him.” That is enough. God’s good will is the life that I am living unfolding in front of me despite every effort I have made for it to be something else. It is His good will.

    That’s all for tonight!

  165. “Good and acceptable and perfect will”–Paul is a Jew and he is writing like a Jew. The OT proverbs are full of those kind of parallelisms and compounded superlatives. The idea that these are levels doesn’t really work because, at least in my experience, “acceptable” should be lower than “good.” If I tell my wife her cooking was good, she is happy. If I tell her it was acceptable, well…

  166. Good word Father!

    Kevin…. oh contraire!….St. Paul is a new man in Christ and wrote like a new man in Christ! 😉

  167. A new man in Christ, but also a scribe trained for the Kingdom of God, bringing out treasures old and new.

  168. Oh, Father Stephen, your last comment, especially the paragraph on “what if?” is a gold mine. Thank you so much!

  169. Father, you write, “The confession that ‘all is sent down from God,’ is a way of saying that, despite every intention of evil, God will use all things towards our good and the goodness of His creation.“ I follow this regarding evils that come to me from the outside, though I worry that it depends on my responding well too ( I think of St John Chrysostom’s wonderful homily “That No One Can Harm The Man Who Does Not Injure Himself”). But when we ask the Lord to forgive us, or when we pray “Have mercy on me, a sinner,” are we asking the Lord to _redeem_ even our own sins, the evil that comes from inside (rather than merely overlooking the offense)? Are we asking Him to turn even our own ill intentions, sins, weaknesses, and failings to our good and the goodness of His creation?

  170. Reid,
    In some sense, yes. For example, I made a decision back in ’89 that brought me to Oak Ridge. Many things about that decision were rooted in failings and sin, and I often regretted it, in that it turned my PhD work into an MA, etc. But, all that has unfolded in my life since then has been a redeeming work. Despite my failure it became an even greater thing than I think would have existed had I stayed. “I meant it to me for evil, but the Lord meant it to me for good.” Such is His goodness.

    Many decisions after that turning were required. I have cooperated in the goodness He is working. But I did not have to go back and undo the wrong I had done in order to pursue the good that is now unfolding.

    I recall with fondness the words of Geoffrey Wainwright who directed my program. Geoffrey was a Brit. He said, “Pity we’re not in England. Your thesis would have made a perfectly acceptable dissertation. Were we in England, I would simply convene the faculty and we would vote you a PhD.”

  171. Father,
    With what I have seen of your work, without stating the particulars here, I would agree with Dr Wainwright. You deserved and deserve a PhD.

    In my own opinion about my MS thesis vs my PhD dissertation, the MS thesis was more ‘cutting edge’. But for reasons having to do with ‘lab dynamics’ (Simon would know about this) I had to leave that lab and ‘settle’ for something that, in the moment, I valued less. Unknown to me at the time, the area of my PhD, while not cutting edge, prepared me for analyzing the process and modality of modeling in science, which ultimately led me to analyzing the Higgs field data and models, which Providentially led me to Christ.

    Indeed, Glory to God for ALL things.

  172. Thank you, Father. I suppose in my question I was also thinking of the words of one of the morning prayers to the Most Holy Theotokos, “…deliver me from my many cruel memories and deeds, freeing me from all their bad effects.”

    I’m sure I join with many folks whom your priestly service has blessed, in thanking God for the way He has redeemed the decision you mention.

  173. To the degree that you give yourself to the power and love of God, you come to eventually realize that absolutely everything happens either because God wills it so, or because He allows it. An honest look upon my own history (and I believe it is the same with everyone) verifies what Father Stephen reiterates, the worst things I was allowed to do or to suffer, “I (or others) meant it to me for evil, but the Lord (eventually was proven right as having) meant it to me for good.”
    A far greater degree of perception of God’s providence is afforded childlike-faithful and resolved souls who have (as St Isaac the Syrian explains many times) “thrown away all visible help and human hope and cling to God in faith and with a pure heart”. To those, even from their early days of spiritual struggles, “at once Grace clings and reveals its force by various acts of help in order that by such manifest things they may the better be able to perceive the power which is in God’s care of them, and that by insight in manifest things they may become confirmed in hidden ones too, as is becoming to their childlike mind and their lack of training.”

  174. All,

    I don’t know if anyone will see this, but I’ve continued to mull over the things written. I wanted to run this image/idea past you (Father, Dino, anyone else) as a potential way of thinking about God/Providence/suffering/mortality, etc., and would love for you to weigh in on its merit:

    Could we think of God, the giver and source of Life, as a stream flowing underneath all things, sustaining them in existence and causing their growth at all times? In this image, all things grow out of this stream of Life, and all that comes to them comes from Him. However, by the very act of growing “out” of the stream, they necessarily differentiate and separate from their Source, which inevitably causes their mortality. By their very nature, then, by the very fact that they must grow “off of” the stream, “out of” the Source, they separate from Life itself, and so are by their very nature destined to mortality and all the deprivations that come with it. All things, then, yearn for their Source, for God, and for complete union and re-union with Him. Man is unique among the creatures in that he has been given consciousness of this state of things – of both his painful separation from his Source and of his ultimate destiny of and desire for returning to complete communion.

    This seems to me a picture/metaphor that allows for all things (including death/suffering) being given by God while maintaining that death/suffering is not part of creation’s ultimate reality or destiny. Death is “natural” to man, but also not his final destiny. Christ, then, would be the revelation of man’s ultimate destiny – the union of God and man that allows man to maintain his creature-hood – his springing off of the Source – and yet be in complete communion with God.

    Does this work? Is it Orthodoxy? Or is it some kind of new-agey or Buddhist image that has serious conflicts with Orthodox doctrine?

    Would greatly appreciate your thoughts.

  175. John, I think that the Cross reveals death but not in the way that you’re stating. It does not reveal death’s meaning but rather its lack of meaning and its futility in light of the Life of God in Christ. The Lord’s “trampling down of death by death” is a revealing of God and of the transformative power of His Life, given for us. Against this, death has no sting, no power.

    The futility of death, the meaninglessness of it, is overcome in the Love and Humility of Christ on the cross. Death is transformed from meaningless loss into a path of life trod (or perhaps “blazed”?) by Christ and all of His Creation comes after Him through it.

    Please correct me if I have misspoke. Just my thoughts.

  176. Byron,

    You’ve described a powerful and beautiful narrative. I’m thankful to be reminded of it, and hope I can give myself back to it fully. I haven’t been able to do so recently because it seems to me that, in order to view death as “meaningless and futile”, or as an enemy that must be destroyed, you absolutely must view death as the temporal consequence of human sin (otherwise, death would be from God, and why would God need to destroy something He’s dishing out?); and to view death as a consequence of sin, you need a literal Adam and Eve, and a literal moment-in-time Fall, with death as a novel consequence. I gave up believing that narrative some time ago for a number of reasons (the biggest of which is that it doesn’t seem to fit with the evidence of modern biological science), and have been far more inclined to view death as a natural and intrinsic part of the life cycle – and of the processes that gave rise to us humans. As such, death and life both seem to be equally “given by God”, which then causes the narrative of death as something Christ needed to come and destroy to break down.

    Death as meaningless and futile and destroyed by the humility and love of Christ FEELS true. It speaks to the heart. But, am I supposed to shut off my mind and ignore the fact that death seems to be obviously an intrinsic part of everything we know about our biological life?

  177. John,
    You’ve been reading too many writers who lack any theological imagination. A literal Adam and Eve is not required in order to understand death in the form it is treated in Orthodox Christianity. Just a couple of quick thoughts:

    The Scriptures do not teach that creation is “fallen.” It is described as “subject to futility” in St. Paul’s language, and he makes it clear that it is God who made it so for our sake. In the story of Adam and Eve, they are not placed “here” and then fall – they are in the “Garden.” They are driven out of the Garden into “here” and are not allowed to go back “there.” But the “here” (“this world” is St. Basil’s language for it) is not described as undergoing any change – it’s already not a great place – or, not as good as the Garden.

    St. Maximos describes Adam as falling almost “instantaneously.” He is clearly thinking outside the box of a literal, historical account. It is a theological account. If I were thinking in modern terms, I might indeed say that the entire universe was made “subject to futility” in light of the fact that we would fall. You could call that a “cause” if you like.

    But thinking of these things in historical/literal terms really confuses matters. We’re not given that kind of information. We’re given some theological accounts, that themselves have to be read in light of the death and resurrection of Christ, and then applied to the world as we experience it.

  178. John,
    I should add that we should not think of death as a “thing,” even though we speak of it in that manner. Death is actually a direction, a movement. It is a movement away from being and existence and towards non-being and non-existence. Nothing more. It is, in that sense, a behavior but not a thing. Being and existence are God’s gift, who Himself is Being and Existence (and Beyond Being and Existence). If we move towards Hm, we are moving towards existence and being in its fullness. Salvation is the long movement towards the gift that is given to us – a movement that is made possible in Christ’s death and resurrection. The Church sings that He has made a “path to the resurrection” for us.

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