Consent to Reality


Catholic philosopher, Alasdair MacIntyre (After Virtue), has presented perhaps the most cogent account of our modern cultural landscape. It is not an account of how one set of ideas gave way to another set of ideas, but how a once-upon-a-time consensus gave way to our current collection of competing truth-claims and world-views. Indeed, he demonstrates (Whose Justice, Which Rationality) that our present confusion is not primarily represented by competing groups and sub-groups, but within most individuals. A person, in the course of a single argument, will likely cite any number of disparate and mutually-contradicting propositions. This is not simply the plight of the uneducated – it is a pattern that MacIntyre demonstrates occurs even in the most carefully crafted statements, such as a Supreme Court decision. This lack of consensus is perhaps the greatest hallmark of our age.

We disagree. In truth, we not only disagree about conclusions, we disagree about the facts, about how the facts are to be considered, what, indeed, constitutes a fact, what constitutes considering, and so on. We are a fragmented society whose fragmentation is becoming a major spiritual force in the lives of its people.

We do not want to disagree. Despite the fact that we do it so often, even constantly, we find it exhausting and unpleasant. This fact heightens the importance of affinity groups in our culture. We want people around us with whom we share a common vocabulary and enough general agreement that we can find rest from the constant social warfare. Of course, this does not mean that we find groups of people who have abandoned the mutually contradictory inner world of MacIntyre’s description. We rather find people who share an affinity for the same contradictions.

This situation is not normal within the span of human history. Most cultures have shared a broad consensus of the most basic assumptions about the world. A common narrative, common values, common perspective are only to be expected. Our own society is a successor to such a culture of consensus. The sacramental world of the Middle Ages in the West, is the foundation of pretty much all modern thought. It has not disappeared, but as multiple narratives and critiques began to take their place beside it, the consensus has eroded. However, none of the positions we find in our culture can be rightly understood without seeing in them an argument with what came before. Cultures are not created out of whole cloth.

The darker side of our fragmentation can be seen in the many varieties of attempts to assert some form of control. Whether it is political correctness on a college campus (or workplace), or simply trolling and bullying on social media, sheer assertion of the will is substituted for reason, conversation and persuasion. The last form of consensus that remains in a culture is the agreement that gives way to violence. The loudest, meanest, most legal, etc., assert their will over others as a means of silencing them, and in the forced silence, declare victory.

Christianity has, at certain points in time, been a form of consensus within cultures. At the healthiest of those moments, it has been a true consensus (con-sensus, a common mind). St. Paul urges us:

Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom 15:5-6)

Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. (1Co 1:10)

Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. (2Co 13:11)

…so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, (Phi 1:27)

…fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. (Phi 2:2)

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, (Phi 2:5)

Being of “one mind” (consensus) is clearly considered normative in the life of the Church. To a fairly large extent, it has been historically true as well. The fragmentation of the modern mind (even within itself) is just that – modern. Of course, a new consensus has been suggested: that we all agree that not agreeing is normal. Stanley Hauerwas places this at the very heart of the meaning of modernity:

By modernity, I mean the project to create social orders that would make it possible for each person living in such orders “to have no story except the story they choose when they have no story.” Wilderness Wanderings, 26

 This is proving to be the most destructive aspect of the modern world. “To have a story” requires that someone else consent to the story – we do not live alone (even when we pretend that is our story). The only means of generating a consensus that has no basis other than “the story I choose,” is coercion. The social cohesion of consensus is being replaced by various versions of coerced agreement. We are angry.

This is not a game Christians can win, nor is it a game Christians should want to play. The Christian witness is not to a story we choose. Our witness is to things as they truly are. We truly were created out of nothing. We truly are sustained in our very existence by God Himself. Christ truly is God-made-man. He was truly crucified for our sake and truly rose from the dead. None of this is a story that we have chosen. It is the true story we have received (1 Cor. 15:3).

The fundamental orientation of our spiritual life is towards tradition (that which we have received). It is not towards what we choose. The world is not our own creation – it has been given to us. The reality of creation and God’s action within it is our strong argument. Even in our silence, the eloquence of that reality speaks unhindered by the false stories of our voluntary modernism. More than this, we live among fellow human beings who, regardless of false choices, are created the same as ourselves and share the same reality whether they acknowledge it or not. It is madness of a sort to live in one reality and yet seek to coerce another. God does not coerce – He woos.

The Christian faith is apocalyptic. It reveals that which is hidden. The Church is the revelation of reality (or it is nothing). To live its life is to live as a revelation of that which is. All of creation agrees with that revelation and utters its yearning “Amen.” If the Church were silent, the rocks themselves would speak their agreement.

You cannot create consensus – it is the gift of God. The Christian vocation is to receive the gift and to live in a gifted existence. This restores us to sanity and unites us with the God who is the only ground of reality – the “author of our being and our God.”







  1. Truthful words Father. This division of competing truth exists even within the faith in today’s world. The outcome of this phenomena is hard to see but the signs are not good.

  2. Father, I think you minimize the concerted effort of the societal elite to create the culture. An effort with which Western Christianity has done a great deal to assist while it has placed The Church under agressive persecution or slow strangulation.

  3. Michael,
    Perhaps so. The one thing that gives me comfort is the fact that they can only create a make-believe reality. The dystopia that they are currently assembling (which includes an incredible assault on children) will fail. The question for me is how bad will their failure have to become for them to accept it? Also, many people drop out of the false reality all the time…some even becoming Orthodox.

  4. They will never accept failure, Father. They are like the demons who believe but ceaselessly fight against the Truth. I know of nothing more depressing, to be honest.

  5. And yet it was Paul that refused to take Mark on his second missionary journey because Mark didn’t follow a mission plan that Paul felt was sound. Then later, in his letter to the Corinthians, he writes “Apollos planted but I watered. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but it’s God that causes the growth.” I can’t help but think; observing the ministry of Apollos put a monkey wrench in what Paul felt was a sound mission plan. Apollos had no connection to the Apostles or Christ, but had come from Egypt mysteriously teaching the same message. In the homily today I remembered a verse from Psalms. “The mind of man plans his way (And in the case of Paul, planned Marks way.), but the Lord directs his steps.” There are some that believe they can micromanage in others, God’s plan for them without knowing what that plan is. They want to put a bowl over a sown seed, out of insecurity, not realizing without God’s provision (sun & rain) that seed will not grow. Modernity is that seed under a bowl.

  6. Thank you, Father Stephen.
    I think you are giving us a way to deal with the modern attacks on us all. I wonder also what is the role of the spiritual Father or parish priest in all of this.
    Can he address the millions of current ‘news’ stories, disasters and give people a language and a prayer to deal with them? Or should the Priest and flock just not bother? We are talking about matters that exist in brokenness that cannot be repaired with political or legal violence. We will never have enough words to deal with this messy, demonic world.

    I often wonder if silence is in itself an answer. There is no shortage of words; silence, on the other hand, is as rare as a white leopard. One has to spend ages on a mountain to come close to it.

  7. Our priest taught us this weekend that the root of the word heresy is “I choose.” This sounds like the modern church in America.

  8. Byron,

    Who is “they”?

    Forgive me if I am misunderstanding what you are trying to say, but you sound like Jonah refusing to believe that the seed of our witness can be fruitful in certain places. We do not have the authority to speak on the eternal fate of anyone on this earth.

  9. Byron,

    I have a lot of hope, but only because there is plenty to be had. For some reason I’m reminded of the story in 2 Kings 6 where Elisha’s servant is distraught by the Syrian army surrounding them, whereupon Elisha prays and asks God to open the servants eyes that could see the heavenly hosts protecting them and greatly outnumbering the enemy. I suggest the whole story has relevance for our “modern” situation.

    If I may, in this situation the host of angels lays not only all around us, but also within us (everyone) and within nature itself (the rocks rising up, etc.). Everything in the universe – including the very roots over our beings – still heeds what has been traditioned from the beginning of time. In our limited vision it’s easy to think all is lost, but in fact the voices clamoring in confusion and dissent have never stood a chance of unsettling the truth God established. All we have to is faithfully live our lives according to that reality, according to what we can discern to be the truth in every situation. The weight of the world is not ours to carry.

  10. Adam,

    I piggy-backed on Michael’s comment concerning the “social elite”.


    I certainly have not lost hope but I find the endless machinations of the world to be quite depressing at times. They will not succeed, of course, but it’s still depressing to see them continuously try and to take so many down that deadly path with them.

  11. Thomas B.
    I like what you say about silence. What more could we possibly say about the world out there that hasn’t been said already. I think those comment sections that follow news articles simply indicate a world where we assume we are free to say anything that comes to mind. We choose a position, align socially in group form, and anyone not in the group is a seen as a threat to be eliminated. Like Father says “The loudest, meanest, most legal, etc., assert their will over others as a means of silencing them.” I heard someone say about their teenage son, that these young people have tee-shirts with the word “anarchy” blazed in front for all to see. It is the next step after the ‘revolution’ we demanded back in the ’60’s. I question too, as Father did, where is this going, what is next, and what is it going to look like.
    I think the parish Priest addresses these issues based on the needs of his congregation. I see my Priest doing this in his homilies, touching on the issues and relating them to our lives as Christians. But for me, I take great consolation when the Deacon steps out in the various parts of the Liturgy and begins to lead us in prayer for the world and ourselves in it….”Let us pray to the Lord….” and we in response…”Lord have mercy/ grand this O Lord”. All the Saints, Martyrs, Fathers, everyone in Christ in Heaven and on earth is praying. Very powerful, I think…..

  12. I was with you Father right up until you said “…The Church is the revelation of reality (or it is nothing)…” Taking “The Church” out of the abstract into the local parish, or the local collection of parishes, the ecclesia IS this local body. The character of these folks is exactly as you describe – each individual is internally fragmented and these parishes are collection of “people who share an affinity for the same contradictions” and thus the bodies themselves are are also fragmented. Orthodoxy is no different in this then the other christian bodies or the larger society/culture. One could argue that the *degree* of this fragmentation is different, or that it is (on the whole) being healed, and the like. I would listen to such a point of view . However I have experience that points to the fact that it does not matter much – a deadly would is a deadly wound.

  13. Thomas and Paula,
    I’ve heard it said (paraphrasing), that silence was “here first.” It seems to me that silence is underrated, not understood and often derided. However, the old adage, ‘Silence is Golden,’ just may be a very deep truth.

  14. Byron,

    I very much understand how the world can be extremely depressing, but as Father says, in everything give thanks. The further and harder the world goes down the false path…
    –the closer it is to being set right again
    –the more obvious it becomes to everyone that it is off course
    –the more your neighbor feels this and is therefore open to conversation and relationship
    –the more things get black and white instead of hiding behind nominalism

    The list goes on. There is good in peace and good in war, good in life and good in death. If we cultivate the habit of perceiving everything in our lives as gift, the power of the evil one is greatly diminished, God is there in every situation, and we reach a place where our lives are hidden with Christ and can not be touched. When something bad happens, mourn. But then give it to God and move on. Don’t take the world on your shoulders. It is enough live even one day well, doing justice to whatever God puts in our path, treating it as gift.

  15. Paula,
    Thank you for the precious gift you gave to me in the words of Fr. John. They are now on my ‘wash, rinse, repeat’ list.

    “Out of a seemingly impenetrable silence and stillness, she found in the Name of Jesus a strength that sustained her in her struggle from near death to recovery. Her experience is a spiritual metaphor for the struggle each of us is called to assume: to speak out of inner stillness the sacred Name of Jesus, and to find there the only true healing of soul and body.

    But as we speak out of that stillness, we also listen. We listen for ineffable words of love and compassion, of healing and life. These are words God addresses to each of us, without exception. And He does so in the silence of the heart. There He makes known the infinite depths of His love for us, His passionate concern to lead us from brokenness to wholeness and from death to life.

    This is the experience of the saints, and it can be our experience as well. All that is required is that we make our own the confession of the Psalmist: ‘For God alone my soul waits in silence; from Him comes my salvation.’”

    God waits for us in the silence. Oh, my precious redeemer, have mercy on me. Thank you, thank you, a million times, Jesus.

  16. To Christopher’s comment, I suggest the consideration of apocalypse in Scripture. Our own condition (or other factors) may limit our experience of the revelation. Those with Paul, with Daniel, heard only noise. We can look at our parish and see only noise. But if we are cleansing our own heart, we can look at our parish and see Christ and the saints surrounding us, ahead of us in line for the chalice, serving the prayers, sitting, standing, present and imminent, especially in the sacrament. That is the apocalypse of the kingdom. It is found in the church. Jesus promises to manifest himself to the apostles, and to the world, by means of love. And if we don’t see it around us, the first place to start is by showing it ourselves.

    I am sorry for your experience of a deadly wound. I am also fully aware that I cannot directly speak to your experience. Please take all that is said as an attempt to interact with the idea I thought I understood expressed as “there is no qualitative difference in Othodoxy”. I disagree with that statement, but forgive me if I have misunderstood your meaning. But for healing, I can recommend noplace better than the hospital of the apostolic church. To give up on the church is to despair, and while that may be an important crisis in an individual walk (and I speak to my own experience here), we accept crisis, we don’t seek it out (this gets discussion in the context of the martyrs in other posts).

    God grant us all eyes to see reality, who is Jesus Christ, present uniquely in the Church.

    In Christ,

  17. You make me smile, Jeff. Felt the same way after reading it!
    Very encouraging how he says all of us, no matter where we find ourselves planted, can acquire this stillness and silence. It may be for a moment…but in the moment is exactly where He is found!

  18. Mark M @ 2:22 pm. … Oh that was well said!

    I wondered too, about your statement at the beginning where you said “Taking the Church out of the abstract…”. But “the abstract” is merely a thought! On the other hand, just as Father said “…The Church is the revelation of reality (or it is nothing)…”. Before that he stated factual truths of our faith…that we are truly created, sustained, that Christ is truly the God-Man, crucified and Risen. These things are not abstract…not a thought nor an idea but have real concrete existence! And another reason to see The Church as Mark describes “… to see reality, who is Jesus Christ, present uniquely in the Church.” !

  19. Fr. Stephen,
    I am curious how far down the rabbit hole of modernity one has to go to recognize it is just that, a rabbit hole. While there may be aspects of it that reveal in contrast the true gospel, on the personal level are we not being distracted by the dark side? I am reading St. Porphyrios (again) on The Devine eros in Wounded By Love wherein he discuses being so totally consumed in God’s love: “When you are in love, you can live amid the hustle and bustle of the city centre, and not be aware that is where you are. You see neither cars nor people nor anything else. Within you yourself you are the person you love.”
    He goes on to say, “Life without Christ is death; it is hell, not life. That is what hell is — the absence of love. Life is Christ. Love is the life of Christ.”
    Suffice it for me to say, without miraculous intervention I can do nothing to impede the infernal onslaught
    depersonalizing human nature, except to love and succor those within my reach, family, friends, parish.
    May it be blessed.

  20. Christopher,
    I take the Church to be that eschatological reality that is being made present. That is the true reality towards which we journey, and which is the judgment of what I might mistake for reality at present. It is being revealed, or made known. But everything is wounded and fragmented. Were it not, the eschatological reality would be unnecessary. It’s not for me to judge whether an institution is faithful on the whole, etc. Comparative Christianity is sort of a fool’s game most of the time.

    What I know is what is made known at the altar in our midst. We eat it, partake of it, share it. In the face of it we repent and make ourselves ready to receive (as we can). Looking at the stretch or scope of history is bound to produce little more than depression or sadness. Reality is a gift from God.

  21. There is a rare psychiatric term of art that describes pathological self-contradiction: “ambivalent psychosis.” This medical idea seems to imply that a person needs to have a unified mind to be healthy and know what’s going on and what to do. It’s reassuring that Reality is sometimes, if not usually, endorsed by the therapeutic authorities.

    Unity involves an organized hierarchy, so I immediately think that meek, freely chosen obedience to qualified elders is one way to encounter Reality – insanity and division involve willfulness. Perhaps anarchy can be a lie, as it is in rebellion against holy rulers, or an attempted cure to tyranny. St. Paul’s very simple and civically modest teaching in chapter 13 of Romans is controversial among postmodern political theorists, and also neglected by contemporary believers – this dispute sadly represents our rebellion against each other, our failure to meet our individual and collective needs, and God’s Will.

    Our reality is a social, shared blessing, connecting philosophy and relationships, and Romans Ch. 13 offers a precious, unpopular, and biblical philosophy that I feel could renew our political relationships, so that we wouldn’t expect our frail, beleaguered, and sometimes surprisingly Christian (who bothers to look up or ask them about their religious denominations?) rulers to do our critical thinking and community participation for us. One article written by an Orthodox monk that I read this spring pointed out the irony of how many nominally Christian leaders, even in Orthodox countries, argue and fight so much, but all think they are on the same side as Jesus. We are capable of bearing the same motives and values as our enemies, yet still not getting along – cooperating with Reality is not easy.

    I hope that Jesus Christ’s Most Holy and loving Will anchors each Christian’s mind – in a logical way, if love makes human life meaningful, and life is the experience of Reality, therefore love is the good meaning of Reality. But mysteriously, ‘nepsis’ is a basic way to experience Reality, to truly live – I think this means that Orthodox “watchfulness” is an act of intelligent love for the Creator and His creation. Paying attention correctly is a virtue!

  22. Paula AZ, all,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I am reminded of the “ évlali (well spoken?) silence”, a book by Monk Moses of Mt Athos. It analyses the 7 phrases or words that Jesus said on the Cross.

    A God was being crucified and Jesus didn’t say much. “I’m thirsty”, “Tetéleste” (it is done), “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing” and so on.

    I like the notion that silence is the language of prayer. How can you say the Jesus prayer during the services, I used to wonder? On days like these, of national mourning, the people will take sides on either side of the Cross, like good and bad thieves, but God remains silent.

    Glory to God for all things and for the pain that awakens the heart and silences the mouth.

  23. Thomas,
    “Glory to God for all things and for the pain that awakens the heart and silences the mouth .”
    Wouldn’t that be nice! But first He’d have to take away our blogs! 😉
    But seriously, thank you…I agree!

  24. But for me, I take great consolation when the Deacon steps out in the various parts of the Liturgy and begins to lead us in prayer for the world and ourselves in it….”Let us pray to the Lord….” and we in response…”Lord have mercy/ grand this O Lord”. All the Saints, Martyrs, Fathers, everyone in Christ in Heaven and on earth is praying. Very powerful, I think…..

    Paula, YES!

    There is good in peace and good in war, good in life and good in death. If we cultivate the habit of perceiving everything in our lives as gift, the power of the evil one is greatly diminished, God is there in every situation, and we reach a place where our lives are hidden with Christ and can not be touched. When something bad happens, mourn. But then give it to God and move on. Don’t take the world on your shoulders. It is enough live even one day well, doing justice to whatever God puts in our path, treating it as gift.

    Drewster, I wholeheartedly agree.

  25. A note to all:
    This import of this article is not to make comment on various Christian groups outside of Orthodoxy (nor am I restricting my observations on Orthodoxy, per se). I cannot make generalized comments on the non-Orthodox because they are not one thing, but many, many things. I’m glad for anyone who calls on Jesus as Lord.

    By reality, I mean the Kingdom of God, which is the only ground of reality. It alone is real and true. It is only by reference to and participation in the Kingdom of God that anything can be truly said to be “real.”

    The reality that is the Kingdom of God is coming into the world. It is largely made known to us in the reality of the sacraments. In Orthodoxy, we understand that it is this reality that we encounter in the assembly of the Church – in the Liturgy. Christ gives Himself – we eat His flesh and drink His blood.

    Christians in our culture believe many things. Many of them are completely secularized and consider the culture itself to be what is “real.”

    The reality of the Kingdom of God is the “judge” of us all. The Kingdom cannot be shaken (Heb. 12:28). Everything else will be “shaken” and will be taken away. The consent to reality, is the consent to the reality of the Kingdom, grounding ourselves in that alone.

  26. I think it’s interesting that Jesus said “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” Of course it is obvious they didn’t know who they were nailing up. But I also don’t think that Jesus meant “Only forgive them for killing the Son. After all these brutes didnt know it was. BUT don’t forgive them for acting so cruel. They should have known better than to act like that and the fact that they were told to do it is no excuse either.” It is my understanding that Jesus’ words embraces the entirety of the soldier’s actions: They don’t know what they are doing. If it is the case that those soldiers acted out of ignorance, if that is what human ignorance looks like, then–from a certain point of view–what sin isn’t done out of ignorance? Here I would suggest that the ignorance is one of ‘ignorance of what is real.’

  27. Here I would suggest that the ignorance is one of ‘ignorance of what is real.’


  28. Yes, Simon, I would say that all sin is indeed done out of ignorance to one degree or another — because if we truly knew God, we would never ever allow ourselves to do anything that would grieve Him.

  29. Maybe this is me being naive, but this really challenges how I think about the willfulness of human action. If ignorance of the Real yields sin and sin deepens ignorance, then what do we mean when we say about people “They should have known better”? How would they have known better? Had they known the Real then, yes, they would have known better. But Jesus looks at these brutes, his tormenters and murderers, and he says. “Forgive them. They dont understand what they are doing.” And if that is the prayer of the Son to the Father, then certainly the Father sees their ignorance and the occasion it creates for mercy. Which makes me wonder: Is our insistence on hell for the unrepentant a reflection of our communion with the Real or our ignorance of it?

  30. If what you say Simon is true then the possibility of repentance is not even possible. This leaves our Lord’s words as a mere riddle or possibly a cruelty…

  31. That isn’t what it means at all. I would have thought that this would have been a reason for comfort. After all, if Jesus is praying that his Father forgive them because they don’t understand what they are doing, isn’t that a reason for hope?

    Wouldn’t your expectation be that God would have mercy on people who either have never had the opportunity to repent or are not capable of it? Mine would be. So, I guess that’s why I don’t see it as cruel at all.

    The Scripture says “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.” The disobedience that many people see as the reason for God’s wrath is presented as the reason for God’s mercy. In Jesus words the ignorance that many see as the reason for God’s wrath becomes the reason for God’s mercy. In another Scripture the futility of creation that some think is an expression of God’s wrath is in revealed to be the reason for hope.

    Repentance is certainly vital to our salvation and a precondition for our growing in communion with God, but I don’t know that repentance is a precondition for God’s mercy.

  32. The problem as I see it is the hidden pre supposition in your first post which is for repentance to occur perfect knowledge is necessary. Since perfect knowledge is not possible for a creature, therefore repentance is not required, or even real, or is a kind of relative act that has no eternal consequences because Mercy requires hell to not exist because for it to be Just perfect knowledge is a prior nessecity and condition

    Hell, good and evil, the Eschaton/Kingdom – all these things are revealed and not subject to a moral calculus…

  33. The problem as I see it is the hidden presupposition in your first post which is for repentance to occur perfect knowledge is necessary.

    I never said that. I never said that perfect knowledge was a precondition for repentance or that repentance wasn’t real. In fact, I said that repentance was vital to salvation. Did you see that??

    Mercy requires hell to not exist

    Putting people in hell who are spiritually blind makes as much sense as punishing a blind man in jail for losing at yard darts.

  34. I am for some reason fixated on Father’s statement that it is not possible to create consensus, it must be received as a gift.

    I have come to the conclusion that there are those who serve evil knowingly or not simply because they desire power above everything else. This need not be large power, it can be quite petty, but it is power that is the goal.

    There are also those who serve God in as pure and humble way as possible. The rest of us are caught somewhere in between thus the fragmentation of which Father speaks. We are quite literally at war with ourselves.

    How is consensus possible? Power seeks to impose consensus under pain of death.

    To receive consensus requires a humble vulnerability that seems dangerous but in fact is the only course of safety to life.

    God is merciful.

  35. There are those who serve evil knowingly or not simply because they desire power above everything else.

    I used to be so sure about a lot things. I was sure that there were people who chose evil just because it was evil. Now I’m not so sure that people are capable of making that choice. What would you really have to know in order to truly choose evil?

    There are human beings doing things that are absolutely abhorrent. But are you telling me that had those persons been born at different times or at different places or had different upbringings they would not behave any differently? Are you saying that no matter what conditions we might stipulate those persons would have behaved in an abhorrent manner anyway? No matter what? If that is what you’re saying then how did this poor person get to be so…inhuman? How did that happen to them? BUT, let’s say that the place of birth or the time would have made a difference. Then are those people to blame for that?? Is that their fault? If the people who beat Christ with the flagella and spit on him and and hit him and finally crucified him, if those people were to be forgiven because they did not know what they were doing, then how much more so does humanity need a merciful allowance for their ignorance and their lack of understanding? Don’t you think Christ could have thought, “Hey! Even animals don’t treat other animals this way.”? Regardless of whether or not those soldiers knew he was the Christ, shouldn’t they have known better than to treat other human beings that way? Shouldn’t they have known better? And isn’t that the obvious case so to speak? Yet, Jesus says, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”

    Not to make this too personal but it occurs to me that had my father been one of those Roman soldiers just beating one more miserable Jew for no good reason other than he liked to then he would have gone home that night all warmed up for a grand finale with ‘the fam.’ And there Jesus would be…hanging from the cross knowing everything that neanderthal of a man was going to do. And what would Jesus say of that man, “Father forgive him he doesn’t know what it is that he does.”

    What I’m saying is that hell makes all the sense in the world to a person who wants vengeance or to someone who thinks that justice means that the bad guys have to pay. Maybe what Jesus was showing us in the last moments of his life–and maybe the only time he could really show it–wasn’t the unconditional mercy of God, but that the darkness is just so much darker than we think.

    But, I could be wrong. Its happened before. I’m kinda getting used to it.

  36. Simon, there probably are a few folks who consciously serve evil, but most of us do it out of a dizzying mix of passions and circumstance. The societal structure is built for that to happen more easily than it should. Since the middle of the 19th century there has been a philosophical and cultural onslaught that is Nihilist which has broken down our ability and desire to acquire and practice virtue.

    It is more than simple personal sin and temptation.

    Still the antidote is the same, my repentance giving thanksgiving to God for His mercy and provision.

  37. “Born at different time or place”

    No one would be the same person if born in a different time or place. Who/What we are is uniquely related to a specific place and time. We are historical creatures and represent a moment in time. We can’t be extracted from that time and not simply be someone else.

    But, the role of ignorance in the doing of evil is certainly real. But, it seems to me, that our actions are always a bit complex. Knowledge, will, and so much else enter into it. This conversation and others like it tend to mix images. Sometimes they speak of good and evil in moral terms (forensic/legal), and sometimes in ontological terms. Mixing the two approaches creates inner conflicts that can’t be resolved.

    I prefer to think in ontological terms. Thus God holding someone responsible is, more or less, not a concept that I would include. The point, ontologically, is “who/what I am.” Someone doing evil is on a trajectory towards non-being. They are diminishing and disintegrating. Can’t that be corrected and healed – of course. How that is displayed is often hidden.

    But thoughts of “paying, etc.” belong to a forensic conversation. Essentially, we can’t have it both ways. Our culture teaches us to think in forensic terms (but it often confuses matters as well). Learning to think things through ontologically requires a certain discipline – and I often have to work it through several times and revisit it later still.

    Just thoughts.

    I’m at a conference this week and am getting to the computer only sporadically.

  38. Which makes me wonder: Is our insistence on hell for the unrepentant a reflection of our communion with the Real or our ignorance of it?… Maybe what Jesus was showing us in the last moments of his life–and maybe the only time he could really show it–wasn’t the unconditional mercy of God, but that the darkness is just so much darker than we think.

    Jesus reflects God, not darkness. Approach it from that understanding and the answer, I believe, becomes obvious. Our tendency to see things from where we are and project them onto God, insisting that He conform to them instead of the other way around, is a product of our ignorance. It’s not necessarily that we don’t “see” God; it’s that we refuse to see Him rightly.

    It is much the same with how we (too often) view our fellow man. Our refusal to see the image of God in them is a form of ignorance we embrace and put upon ourselves. Just my thoughts.

  39. What I think that I am doing is bolding, underscoring, and italicizing the complete inadequacy of how we talk about good and evil. Because we are creatures of history which implies–at least in my mind–the question: How much credit or blame can we take for anything?

    Ontologically we are icons of God. That is the ontology of every human. My assumption would be that we never lose that ontology. The implication there is that hell is full of the icons of God or alternatively there are icons who will not be able to stand in the presence of God without getting cooked. And at what point does God cease indwelling all things? So these icons of God are forever burned by the light and love of God because of the darkness they bore in greater or lesser degrees of ignorance for a few short years on earth???

    Makes. No. Sense.

  40. Byron, Thank you so much for your comnents, but I think I understand it just fine.

    I think I know where most everyone is coming from.

    Thanks for the feedback!

    God bless!

  41. Simon,
    This is still a very mixed way of thinking about it. It’s not as simple as saying we are ontologically icons of God. That is the end towards which we are created and what we are becoming. We are moving towards it. I would not spend a lot of thought on burning as though that were punishment. God has no need to punish us. All that God does is towards drawing us to Himself. There are lots of images that get used in describing that. Credit, blame, have nothing to do with ontology.

    It probably requires a much larger, longer conversation.

  42. Simon @ July 24, 2018 at 11:57 pm,
    Simon, my brother, I appreciate your comments. I read your words slowly in order to envelop your ‘impressions’. Just when I think ‘no…you can’t say “what if” because you are speaking ‘abstractly’, it is an idea that never existed in reality, and there is an infinite number of ‘what ifs’…you end with saying the “darkness is so much darker than we think.” OK! Now you’re talkin’! Because, and this is the irony, I have heard from those who take up a position in defense a certain reality of hell who claim that those who lean heavy on God’s mercy, hoping for salvation of all creation (including all mankind, of coarse) do not comprehend the depth of evil (darkness) as well! The difference is the former categorically define evil in a certain way and think it is misunderstood by moderns (us). They insist on a certain type of retribution, and insist it is proven in scripture, and certified by certain Fathers and Councils; and the latter insist on pleading for God’s mercy, also based on scriptural accounts and certain Fathers, and Councils, councils who do not outrightly condemn this “hope”.

    I suppose there are those like myself that always had a bend toward the eventual salvation of all mankind, in some way or another. Call it
    presupposition…whatever…when it is presented in the form of an ‘argument’ or debate, a person’s presupposition can easily be discounted as purely theoretical, or worse, illogical, therefore wrong. But can’t presuppositions, if you will, be simply a “knowing” that can not be put into words, yet not ignorance…that sounds foolish and “emotional”, yet the ‘bend’ can not be moved by arguments/apologies (which I actually find a bit coercive) ? People scoff at that…and write books, articles, take a stand and speak loudly. I have made it a point to consider (read about) both sides of the issue. Still, in the end my gut tells me “mercy”. I leave it at that. God will judge rightly and I rest in that. There is much in the specifics we do not know.
    Another thing I noticed…scripture is read both allegorically and literally. It seems to me that those who have a bend toward ‘the literal’ are those who insist on ‘a certain hell’. Because I have noticed here and there, a manner of wording that implies that allegory is too disjointed, not to be depended on (can’t think of the right word here), and creates an inability to come to firm conclusions. To me that is too much picking and choosing. Because I see allegory as a way the Saints plumbed the depths.
    Anyway Simon…I encourage myself, and through myself, you, to not to worry about your ‘bend’. Father says above that we are an angry society and strive for some kind of agreement…hence, with us, endless debates on, for example, hell. If you can endure the debates, more power to you! I leave them alone, because I (God help me) do not have the patience!

  43. Shoot! The italics were supposed to end after “do not comprehend the depth of evil (darkness) as well! ” ah, no biggie….

  44. I understand where youre coming from and I aporeciate it, but I really dont think that there is anything else to say. But sincerely I appreciate it the concern.

  45. There are people who are explicitly in support of penal substitution…and then there are just graduated forms of that idea that I have heard people call by different names. One name for those less offensive versions is consequentialist.

    I really understand where everyone is coming from. Ill just say if Im wrong and this is the error that erodes my soul such that I spend eternity burning in the light of God’s love, then that is where I truly belong.

  46. “consequentialist”…yes, labels that help explain these versions.
    I understand what you are saying as well…and the part, if any, I don’t ‘get’, doesn’t matter. It is well received.

  47. Simon,
    The issue is how we understand the judgment of God. In the West we were taught the legalistic concept of God holding a trial and assessing guilt and then punishment for that guilt. We beg for mercy meaning clemency and the release from the GUILTY verdict. What is actually written in Scripture is from a totally different concept. Judgment, in Hebrew, does not mean trying us in court and assigning punishment. The Hebrew word for judgment is far removed from the legalistic sense. It means to correct, set right, return to its intend condition, to heal and to release from bondage.

    Until we fully grasp this, we fall back on our legalistic understanding of salvation and cannot understand the overwhelming gift that our Lord brought to us in His incarnation and resurrection. Remember, Satan is about guilt and punishment and is the great accuser. Our Lord tore up the writings against us on the cross and has given us the Acceptable Year of the Lord, the eternal Sabbath of Sabbaths as He declared as fulfilled when He read from Isaiah in the Synagogue. This Sabbath of Sabbaths is a general amnesty, where all debts are cancelled, all slaves freed all property returned and the land and people rested for a whole year.

    The only guilt we bear is our shame and our shame separates us from God. We cannot look at Him Face to Face, be in His presence. He promises healing so that we can be cleansed from this and be in His presence. The only issue is our willingness to be cleansed and that is evidenced by our repentance. Our continuing confusion results from our cultural point of view, not the Truth. Our task is to learn to think differently as we develop out Orthodox mind set or Phronema.

  48. Stephen,
    I don’t hold a legalistic view of the judgment of God. What in the world did I say that gave you that impression?? I would have imagined that if anyone was reading what I said they would have found it completely in harmony with your comment “[judgment] means to correct, set right, return to its intend condition, to heal and to release from bondage.” How is my original thought contrary to this idea?
    You also say, “Our task is to learn to think differently as we develop out Orthodox mind set or Phronema.” Fine. Then explain to me how what I said is inconsistent with the Orthodox mind set. I’m sincerely asking you to explain that to me.

  49. Fr. Freeman,
    I’m looking for some suggestions on teaching worldview to teens and/or adults. If you have some suggestions please let me know.


  50. Simon,
    Adding to your comments. Judgment is very much self-inflicted. When we have access to Life and reject it, we remain in death, remain under the wrath of God. When we abide in Life we have forgiveness, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin – and we are prepared for the Life to come. Wrath and judgment become the un-preparedness to experience the Divine Life of God while remaining in death. Without the blood of the Sacrifice and his resurrection there is no way to be clean since we remain death. With the regular application of Christ’s perfect offering of His Life, consumed worthily through ongoing faith and repentance, we can remain clean, remain death-free – and be prepared to see Christ in all of his glory, with the utmost enjoyment of His Life, and the experience will be all joy – but for those who have abided in death, who have never put to death the deeds of the body, who have never acted in faith and repentance towards God – the experience is described as wrath.

  51. How is a person supposed to repent from a problem that they have no idea that exists?? How does Gods mercy extend to them…or does it?

  52. First, penal substitution is alive and well in Orthodoxy. It always cracks me up when Orthodox folks act like that is something that only those “Prots” believe. No it isn’t. So, please, don’t act like Orthodoxy is above all that…because it’s not. Second, please, think your beliefs through. Saying that ‘judgment is very much self-inflicted’ doesn’t make it fair. Basically you’re saying that God is someone who says ‘Ignorance of the law–the way things work to create consequences–is no excuse.’ I hear you saying to someone ‘You jumped off the cliff and gravity worked its magic and now you’re legs are broken. You did that to yourself!’ And the person says ‘But, I was blind and didn’t know that a cliff was there or that such things as cliffs exist!!’ And you say ‘Doesn’t matter. This is the way it is. You did this to yourself.’ The god of the consequentialists has a “natural” law of causes and effects on our souls such that this direction naturally and unconditionally erode the soul and leads to death AND the other direction naturally nourishes the soul and leads to life. And who made the system to work that way? God did. So, there are some people who in their ignorance and blindness and lunacy will be in a direction of death when they die and then what happens to those poor people? Hell forever after??

  53. Penal substitution may be believed by some but it is an heretical doctrine. Simon you keep speaking of guilt. Guilt is associated with the legalistic view of salvation which is where I get the idea you are speaking from a legalistic view. Penal substitution has its roots in the writings of Anselm of Canterbury in his work Cur Deus Homo. He postulates our sins offending the honor of God to an unforgivable level and that it took Jesus’ death to atone for our sins. It also assumes Original Sin as a true Christian Doctrine. If one is to carefully read Anselm and make note of all the attributes he assigns to God one will notice that these attributes are all pagan assumptions of the divine and are not founded in Revealed Truth by God.

  54. I wonder if you didn’t just google it and start talking about it being heretical because the website that you read said it was heretical and that it was started by Anselm. Many (most?) trace it back to Augustine.

  55. It is a Roman Catholic doctrine developed by Protestants to the degree it is today. It is totally against the teachings concerning salvation by the Church Fathers. This doctrine was part of what was anathematized in the Jerusalem Synod in 1672 when the Reformed Doctrines, to include this one, were studied and rejected.

  56. Simon,
    Also (since I didn’t read the entire thread first), I want to point out some assumptions you’ve given:
    1) Conditioning may or does make man non-culpable because conditioning = ignorance. Conditioning may lower culpability but if it completely erased free will then you will never, as you said, have anything praiseworthy or blameworthy about a person. This amounts to pre-destination of the atheist sort. Once the ball starts rolling there is no stopping it. This assumes the Creation (including all nature and conscience and so on) doesn’t speak – but it certainly does. It also assumes that God doesn’t not work with the knowledge, darkened though it may be, that a person does have. It assumes our intuitions are not oriented towards God. But Acts tells us that the non-covenanted people would “feel their way” towards Him though they had been “dis-inherited” ever since Babel. It was a huge failure of the Jews that instead of reaching these people they instead regarded them as dogs.
    2) You seem to be using the “Father forgive them” as too much of an interpretive lens. Who was that statement directed at? I don’t think there is a definitive answer. To the Jews who had rejected him? Possibly? To the soldiers? Possibly? Because he knew of the coming destruction of Jerusalem? Why even say “Forgive them” unless they were culpable? And what would their forgiveness mean? Total justification? Who is truly culpable, in need of forgiveness, when they are truly ignorant? True ignorance in Scripture does not imply moral guilt – you may still be unclean – but not immoral. There is a real, substantial difference between being unclean and morally compromised. In Leviticus many to most of the sacrifices are for what you unintentionally did- but touching a dead body had a sacrifice that restored you to “clean” whereas if you committed adultery you were given the death penalty. Also, while it is probably genuine, “the Father forgive them” is not in many of the earliest manuscripts of the N.T. Building a theology off of one statement (like many do with Jesus’ words to the penitent thief) seems dangerous to me. But again, why would Jesus ask for forgiveness for people who didn’t really need it. Is Jesus the nice one and the Father the harsher? But Jesus is the Judge in the Judgment. Jesus tells people not to even bury their parents or they cannot follow him – how can He do this unless there is some inherent knowledge in them? How can Israel “not have known the time” unless it was obvious? It seems clear to me in Scripture that people do have an innate external and internal knowledge of God. This knowledge is suppressed as in Romans 1-3, actively held down. There are degrees of culpability and Jesus points this out (a person less culpable received a light beating in the parable). Personally, I’m most at home as an annhilitationist, because the further you move from life (as in my other post) you remain in death and may go out of existence – this would be triggered by meeting Christ in His Glory unprepared. Or, there are some, N.T. Wright comes to mind, who think that people may turn into animals having lost the image of God in the Judgment. Whatever it is, hell is bad, and it is due to those to did not respond to Revelation precisely because the Revelation was self-authenticating. Creation, conscience, etc. is self-authenticating, meaning there is no need to resort to a higher authority to demonstrate credibility – therefore no one is truly ignorant, there is no one with a reason to truly be agnostic about God.
    3) Spiritual blindness = moral ignorance. That is not true. Spiritual blindness blinds you, keeps you from seeing the Glory of God in the face of Jesus. This blindness is accrued through conditioning, but more so through the denail of conscience, and consequentially by slavery to Satan.
    4) Look up the genetic fallacy when you get a chance
    5) The comfort you see in wiping away knowledge of God and removing culpability. If I had to guess, this is the real reason to hold such a view. It would make God more forgiving and me, the uneducated sinner, more like sin-less. This would free the conscience as well. We could blame our parents for everything wrong with us. God’s active presence in the world removes such a comfort. We can trust his love, and trust that he truly knows our hearts, what was volitional and what wasn’t – though we pray that our “voluntary and involuntary” sins both be forgiven. This is the flip-side of being comforted by Total Depravity. Many Reformed and Evangelical Christians find great assurance in knowing they are so bad that God must choose and save them apart from their will. If they have some affection toward God this is a sign of their election and they are comforted though they may be involved in ongoing intentional sin. I know, I was one, and knew many who talked this way. Total Depravity leaves everything to God’s Will (so does Original Sin when you are consistent). You’ve reversed this, but ended up with the same conclusion – no one is intentionally evil because they were conditioned and no one is intentionally good (by intentional I mean by an act of free will) – for the same reason. Everything is still in God’s hands only now He will choose everyone for salvation. Calvinism and Universalism are brothers. They both remove free will’s determinative function from salvation altogether. They both bring great comfort and remove responsibility. They are both internally flawed. I wonder if you could label what you’ve been talking about Pelagian?



  57. Simon, I know it is heretical. Yes, it is based on Augustine’s writings on Original Sin as expanded by the Roman Catholic Church to be developed into their current doctrine on the subject (which is heresy). I did not google on it. I studied it in detail in Seminary both in the Protestant Seminary that I graduated from and the Orthodox Seminary I graduated from.

  58. Matthew Lyon
    I’ll just have to say thank you for taking the time to comment and reply. It is appreciated. Clearly you still need a god of vengeance and that just doesn’t make any sense to me.

  59. Simon, your statement: Simon says:
    July 25, 2018 at 8:50 am
    What I think that I am doing is bolding, underscoring, and italicizing the complete inadequacy of how we talk about good and evil. Because we are creatures of history which implies–at least in my mind–the question: How much credit or blame can we take for anything?

    Blame implies guilt . Your long statement before that on July 24, 2018 at 11:57 pm, is a discussion of whether or not people are to blame/ have guilt for their “abhorrent” acts. Calling them such implies judgment in a legal way and an assignment of guilt. This is where I get the impression that you are stuck looking at the world in a legalistic way. It is not a criticism of you as a person, we are taught to do this throughout our lives. Resisting this thought pattern is part of why the Fathers teach us to focus solely on our own mistakesand not look at our brother’s. After all, we have a plank in our eye and cannot see to remove the mote from another’s eye.

  60. Stephen, Thank you so much for your time. But I think I know where everyone stands. It’s all good!

  61. Matthew Lyon,
    There is a really great YouTube video of Fr. Andrey Tkachev “What is happiness?” (this one has good English subtitles) where he is actually talking to a group of young adults. Fr. Andrey speaks well about how modernity is deceiving and confusing us (similarly to Father Stephen on this blog).
    I especially like his ideas about modernity’s main characteristic being an attack on a biblical version of a human being, paralleling the idea that the Bible is “God’s version of humanity” (and not, as many suppose, humans’ version of God).

  62. Simon, there is an excellent article in this blogs archieves from 2009 on the official condemnation of Calvinism as heresy in AD 1629.

  63. “I am for some reason fixated on Father’s statement that it is not possible to create consensus, it must be received as a gift.”

    I am fixated on the corollary; what does it *mean* to “be of one mind” in the context of this truth? At times St. Paul says it as a prayer “May God…grant you”. Other times it is a exhortation “I plead with you”.

    Holy Scripture does not have a theological (or any other kind) of *argument* for the marriage of a man and a women, rather it *presupposes* it such that our Lord can say “the Kingdom of Heaven is like…a marriage…” and His hearers (presumably) knew what he was saying. The Kingdom is explicated, revealed, made known through something preexistent and given, which everyone already knows and “agrees” about in the same banal way that they *know* the sky is blue.

    Today, right now, *in the Church* we have great learned men at the highest levels of the hierarchical structure who speak of “stable and loving relationship(s)” between homosexualists. Not marriage, but “relationships”. Not “stable and loving” in the context of Holy Scripture and Tradition – a *sacramental* understanding and all that implies – but ‘stable’ and ‘loving’ in the context of the modern psychological (read Cartesian) self and modern consumerist lifestyles.

    An essayist and academic I respect and admire calls this language and the assumptions behind it “ambiguous”, but I think she is wrong. They are not ambiguous at all and everyone here understands perfectly well what these men mean when they say these things. They might as well be saying the sky is blue. How can this be?

    It is so for exact reasons Father Stephen says, we are a people of “multiple narratives” who “choose” among them because we have no unity, no one story, no one Reality. When I say “we” I don’t mean the society and culture in which we are (presumably) sojourning through, but “we” now in the Church. From the highest levels of the clergy to the man or women standing next to you on any given Sunday, we are these fragmented people who have no one story but rather multiple stories that we choose among given the circumstances and predilections of our “self” at any moment. Our any of us *really* married scrementally, or do we rather have “relationships” which are “stable” and “loving” in a modern and Enlightened way?

    Father replied to my first post above by noting how it is Christ Himself, *breaking in* to this fragmentation of our very being and as long as we are turned towards (i.e. repenting) that, we are journeying toward Reality. That is the Faith, but what is the fruit in the here and now, and how are we doing? Since we *understand* of which these men speak I submit that we are not Christian at all – we don’t have one mind, one story, one Faith…

  64. Simon, I will suggest a book to read. It is a three volume set and the second two are not yet available but that gives you time to read and digest the content. The Book s called “Reclaiming the Atonement” by Father Patrick Henry Reardon and is available through through the Ancient Faith Bookstore. You can buy it in paperback or E Book form. I am certain that it will help you to come to grips with your questions and where the Church stands on Soteriology.

  65. Listen…I don’t need to read something that basically says that there will be people who lived 30 years total. And between 15 years of age and 30 years of age these people’s behavior was raucous, controlled by passions and out of control. Therefore, because they died unrepentant they are going to experience God as hell–for eternity. If that is the Orthodox teaching…then I don’t want to be Orthodox. I sincerely mean that. It is as unfair and cruel as penal substitution and it isn’t my fault that you can’t see that.

  66. “Calvinism and Universalism are brothers. They both remove free will’s determinative function from salvation altogether. They both bring great comfort and remove responsibility. They are both internally flawed.

    Well stated Matthew. Remove the term “determinative” and its even better in my opinion. I agree they both are “internally” flawed in that neither are a perfect sum of the dialectic of their presuppositions, but even more importantly they both are a hermeneutic of the Christian story and as such impose a moral calculus on the narrative *from the outside*

  67. Simon,
    I’m not an expert on Orthodox theology and can’t weigh in on the official teaching regarding the eternality of hell or penal substitution. But–forgive me–an attitude toward Orthodoxy which says ‘believe X and reject Y or I won’t be a part of you’ is unhelpful for constructively discussing any topic, let alone contentious ones.

  68. William, I don’t expect Orthodoxy or anyone Orthodox to change. But, if part of being an Orthodox Christian means believing that God sets up a system of causes and effects that results in people experiencing God himself as HELL…for ETERNITY, then that just isn’t something I will agree to. Neither my conscience nor my reason will allow me to agree to that. It is unconscionable and unreasonable and is against the core of who I understand God to be.

  69. “The Church is the revelation of reality (or it is nothing).”

    Exactly, Father, Exactly,

  70. Whatever it is, hell is bad…there is no need to resort to a higher authority to demonstrate credibility – therefore no one is truly ignorant, there is no one with a reason to truly be agnostic about God.

    This is the most confused thing I have ever read. It is as severe as any Protestant theology has ever been.

  71. Simon,
    If you can’t see the difference between a sinner being unable to tolerate the Glory of God and a God who needs vengeance and retribution I don’t know what to say. There are other views of hell which do not include an eternal torture chamber. It’s like those who can’t see a difference between Divine Foreknowledge and absolute Predestination. One says both entail a Calvinistic understanding, another sees the difference – whether or not it is easy to form a mental picture.

  72. Stephen,
    I hope you don’t equate what I’m saying about being culpable with juridical guilt. Although we shouldn’t act as if juridical themes are nowhere present in the N.T.

  73. If you can’t see the difference between a sinner being unable to tolerate the Glory of God and a God who needs vengeance and retribution I don’t know what to say. If you can only see what is unconscionable in the latter and not the former…the fault is yours.

  74. ” ….if part of being an Orthodox Christian means believing that God sets up a system of causes and effects that results in people experiencing God himself as HELL…for ETERNITY, then that just isn’t something I will agree to…..”

    Neither should you. I will join you as well.

    A suggestion apart from Heaven and Hell, time and eternity, cause and effect. What if Reality is not “a system”? What does THAT look like?

  75. Simon, in my struggle with similar questions over the years “making sense” of salvation will never happen. In fact IMO it is the concerted effort to reduce the nature of salvation into a package that “makes sense” is a Procrustean Bed.

  76. Simon,
    My conscience and reason feel the same way about the eternality of hell. If God is good and desires the salvation of all, then it’s hard for me to believe that hell could last for eternity. Can free will hold out against the love of God forever? I don’t know–I hope not. David Bentley Hart and other Orthodox theologians seem convinced that eternal hell is nowhere to be found in scripture and is an affront to true Orthodoxy. But again, I’m no expert and what my conscience and reason tell me does not have any bearing on what actually is. I’m content to know that Almighty God loves and desires the salvation of all things.

  77. Would someone please honestly answer this question for me: Is part of being an Orthodox Christian believing that God has set up a system of causes and effects that results in people experiencing God himself as eternal hell?

  78. Simon,
    “This is the most confused thing I have ever read. It is as severe as any Protestant theology has ever been.”

    That’s quite interesting. I thought I was basically coherent.

    Romans 1:18-20 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

    These verses only make sense if man has come free will left over after all his conditioning.

    I thought the whole “they are without excuse” stuff in Romans was self-explanatory. No one gets to claim absolute ignorance. That’s not Protestant, it’s Romans. You chopped up my quotes. General Revelation is self-authenticating. It gives man no reason for deniability. Since man knows God, in generic form automatically, he acts with some knowledge when sinning and refusing to worship. This makes him liable to judgment, to remaining in death, to the intolerability of God’s presence.

  79. Would someone please honestly answer this question for me: Is part of being an Orthodox Christian believing that God has set up a system of causes and effects that results in people experiencing God himself as eternal hell??

  80. Simon,
    Again, like I said, there are other views of hell -while being eternal in nature – that are not eternal torture chambers. I’m not sure why it has to be one or the other, eternal hell or heaven. If man must go through theosis to experience God, and someone never starts this process, or someone starts it and de-rails, why expect them in heaven? As C.S. Lewis said, “Hell is locked from the inside.” Does man merely need to be innocent to experience God?

    Also, you assume Providence is behind all of the cause and effect, much like a Calvinist.

  81. “Would someone please honestly answer this question for me: Is part of being an Orthodox Christian believing that God has set up a system of causes and effects that results in people experiencing God himself as eternal hell?”


    Cause and effect is a product of discursive reasoning. Discursive reasoning is a tool, that is designed (by God) to “work” on certain aspects (i.e. “problems”) in the context of creation. God and thus men (created as we are in his Image) can not be reduced to terms in the dialectic of cause and effect. God is “uncreated”, and thus is not “caused” nor is he “effected” upon. Our life (if it is true life) is not “caused” nor “effected” upon -we are created ex nihilo – not “caused” and thus we can not be an “effect”. God, nor the Christian life, is a “system”.

  82. This makes him liable to judgment, to remaining in death, to the intolerability of God’s presence.
    I take this to be a “Yes.”
    And I am DONE with Orthodoxy. If this puts me on the side of sinners…so be it.

  83. Christopher, the academics and others who are advancing the doublespeak are deeply in thrall to what Fr. Stephen calls “The Modern Project”. That project is throughly Nihilist. For all the fine and flowery wrappings it is only about power, death and destruction. There is no use debating them. They are propagating a lie. It must be seen as that and called what it is. We know who the father of lies is.

    We must resist the temptation to argue as that enables the lie to become a tar baby. The only viable response is to simply say, “That is a lie, forgive me”.

    There is simply nothing anyone can say that would overturn for me so completely what has been revealed through the Church on such things.

  84. Simon, Calvinism and PSA are not the same but there is an intersection in what is assumed about the nature of God, man and the inter-relationship that is deeply heretical.

    I really do not understand the phrase “Think what you like”. Everybody does that all the time. I guess it is some sort of dismissal that to my mind is a vague ad hominum.
    It makes me laugh though. Thanks for that.

  85. “And I am DONE with Orthodoxy. If this puts me on the side of sinners…so be it.”

    I am right there with you brother! IF Christianity (i.e. “Orthodoxy”) is a system, a philosophy, then to paraphrase Flannery O’connor TO HELL WITH IT!

  86. “the academics and others who are advancing the doublespeak”

    Michael, the doublespeak rests on something deeper – double mindedness. These great and learned men rather consciously or unconsciously (I see very little evidence that it is conscious – they are all almost to a man poor philosophers) “propagate” nihilism and lies out of schizophrenic and fragmented narratives that they “choose” among variously. We don’t disagree.

  87. Christopher I didn’t see your comments a t July 25, 2018 at 1:02 pm.
    Also, “A suggestion apart from Heaven and Hell, time and eternity, cause and effect. What if Reality is not “a system”? What does THAT look like?”

    I’ll have to give those things some thought.

  88. There’s a lot of things that I’ll flex on, but my conscience isn’t one of them.

  89. The Orthodox Church is the systematic encounter with the living and Incarnate God. That inexorably means we will also encounter sin in all it’s variations.

    Living in the Church requires a willingness to not be ruled soley by one’s own rational mind, one’s own deep set passions. It is hard, exhausting work often but the transcendent joy and transformation available makes it worth it.

    I know Jesus Christ is the Incarnate Lord-fully God and fully man and that He has Risen from the dead and Ascended into Heaven still fully man and fully God. I did not arrive at that knowledge rationally but I have it more deeply than some mental agreement with a theological proposition.

    I also know that I am unable to articulate how I know other than to say God has revealed those realities to me even though I am lazy and arrogant. I want only one thing though to know the Truth.

    Despite the difficulties, it is far easier than many of the posts in this thread make it out to be. It is simple. Life or death. The details I need will be shown to me as I need them, the rest is an irrelevant distraction. Heresy is everywhere ubiquitous. Thus it has always been. It is certainly in my heart but I am not a heretic. The Providence of our Lord has protected me against that.

    The fruit of heretical belief though is disunity and is always the work of someone’s rational mind riddled with passion and sin. Repentance is the cure. As always we should look to the beam in ourselves first.

    Forgive me if it sounds as if I am berating anyone. I am not. Only reminding myself. As my God loving wife often tells me we just need to say Yeah God! with the heart and trust of an innocent child.

    His mercy prevails.

  90. Simon,
    I’m wondering why anyone would judge Orthodoxy by unknown blog commenters. Christianity is the true picture of reality, not a system or philosophy. So I can agree with you, “to hell with it” otherwise. Christianity heals the death in man. Man had conditional immortality in the Garden and he lost access through an act of the will. God has been working with humanity ever since to cure his death problem and get him back on track for theosis and inclusion in His Divine family. Christ came for this, to heal man and the cosmos. If you think it’s unfair for God to not override the will in a person and make them into a Christian – then be a Universalist. Or, be satisfied with not having epistemological certainty over the issue.

    It’s much easier to hold a belief provisionally while you work it out than to look for complete certainty over something, not find it, and have to start over with a new picture of reality all over again. Read some David Bentley Hart. He’s an avid Universalist. I disagree, but I have plenty of friends who believe in an eternal hell with fire, friends who are Universalists, annihilationists, etc. I can tolerate them all without thinking they believe in a hateful God. The thing I can’t understand though – is people who deny what a tragedy it is to be offered life and refuse it.

    For what it’s worth I believe the people most liable (and I don’t mean that in the juridical sense) are those who are Christians. They have been initiated into the New Covenant, promises and curses. The people in the world who have never heard the Gospel, they will have to face God with the knowledge they had and that’s not for me to speculate on. They do have real ignorance of Christ but they also have the light of God’s presence in the world though darkened by evil. In all of this I don’t think anyone has even mentioned Satan.

  91. “There’s a lot of things that I’ll flex on, but my conscience isn’t one of them.”

    Nor should you.

    “I’ll have to give those things some thought.”

    If you really want to give those philosophers in your head a workout, as them to work out what “uncreated” means 😉

  92. I refuse to worship a God where ‘eternal fire’ is in the picture. That isn’t the truth.

  93. “Christopher if you care to elaborate, I’m listening.”

    What kind of knowledge is NOT dialectical, which is to say not oppositional and based on contrast? If I think of “evil” can I think of it without *at the same time* holding in my mind its opposite, “good”?

    One of the wonderful things about our conscious is that it refuses to be trapped in opposition, dialectic, and opposition. It understands something that our discursive reasoning minds do not – that there is more to Heaven and earth than can be dreamt of in our philosophy and philosophical minds. This is why the Fathers speak of true knowledge originating in Holy Silence, and not from the philosophers in our heads who are in endless “dialogue” with each other…endlessly…forever choosing among the various…all the way to Hell.

  94. Our life (if it is true life) is not “caused” nor “effected” upon -we are created ex nihilo – not “caused” and thus we can not be an “effect”. God, nor the Christian life, is a “system”.

    What are you trying to say here? What’s the implication?

  95. “Read some David Bentley Hart. He’s an avid Universalist. I disagree…”

    He’s brilliant isn’t he? Who is he in dialogue with in “God, Creation, and Evil…”? Universalism is the only possible moral outcome to such a dialogue. Any other outcome would be meaningless. It is as you say, “Calvinism and Universalism are brothers”.

  96. Michael,
    Your heart shows through your comments. Thanks!
    As I age I depend more and more on God’s mercy and love, as seen especially in our Lord’s life, death and resurrection.
    I think this is normal as we see our own mortality loom before us, especially past the threescore and ten.
    There is a judgment, the cross of Christ, as Father has often pointed out. I take comfort in knowing that mercy triumphs over judgment…but not sure how it all will shake out, especially seeing the evil in the world, in my own heart. So, I look to Christ and know that He sees every heart of the billions. He is a good God. I can rest in that, in the peace He bestows
    to my thirsting heart.
    Age has also allowed my mind to rest more also . The things I at one time put on the back burner are now cool. The fire under them has long extinguished.

  97. Simon,
    This makes him liable to judgment, to remaining in death, to the intolerability of God’s presence.
    I take this to be a “Yes.”
    And I am DONE with Orthodoxy. If this puts me on the side of sinners…so be it.

    It can’t be a Yes because I don’t agree with your presuppositions. I don’t believe God providentially sets the ball rolling, or interacts with humans actively, in a way that determines if they are Christian. We’re not deists, atheists (ball just starts rolling on it’s own), or Calvinists. There is to much free will interaction between God, humans, angelic and demonic beings, the departed, Saints, etc. for me to believe in what you’ve described.

    And again, if man has real free will, then choosing against God will mean locking the door on the inside. You have to assume free will is non-functional to get the conclusion that God set up the program to fail for so many. This is Calvinistic. You cannot blend Calvinistic soteriology and Orthodox soteriology. I’ll recommend a book that has nothing to do with hell or atonement (although by implication it has everything to do with these): Ancestral Sin by Fr. John Romanides. Or look up his articles. When the original vision God had for Adam is clear, then what happens to free will and responsibility makes much more sense. If you start with the presupposition that man was not immortal but had conditional immortality, that he was not perfect but innocent, that the effect of the fall was the introduction of death, that God’s origial purpose for man was that he occupy a place amone the host of heaven, etc – then seeing heaven as something deserved by default to every human goes away. If the first man fell and lost life, needed restoration to his divine calling, could royally blow it through a rejection – why would it be different for other humans – especially after the coming of Christ. We have the capacity to reject Life, knowingly. We can always choose to believe lies and then work on supporting arguments to prop up the lies. We also have the capacity to embrace Him and grow into the likeness of God. When people are forgiven and come into the family of God they are given this opportunity again, to become human. But not everyone wants to become human. Some want to stay in death. Is it their fault for rejecting Christ (people who have been presented with Christ)? Whose else could it be? God’s? He didn’t do enough? Creation doesn’t speak? Conscience doesn’t speak? HIs Word is ineffectual? His Spirit too weak? This doesn’t mean the decision is easy, it’s absolutely difficult. There is a cross to bear. Christ said to deny him before men would get them denied before the Father. It’s difficult to choose Christ against conditioning, against parenting, against the school the devil has been training all of us is – but will all be forgotten because we didn’t know better? No, we choose to believe lies rather than the truth – that is the trajedy.

    So, No, I don’t believe Orthodoxy teaches what you are describing.

  98. Matthew, thank you, but I know where you’re coming from and that’s fine. There’s no where for this “conversation” to go.

  99. Christopher/Simon,
    I’m much more comfortable with Open Theism (not the Process Theology type) than I am with Universalism. I may think Universalism is non-sense, but I appreciate where they are coming from. But without some explanation of how a person is supposed to be given a chance after death (non-Christians) to go through theosis – unless it is automatic as in Protestant theology and then that created all sorts of problems – I can’t understand free will and the cruciality of decision making in this life. Open Theism just removes an imaginative barrier for me – trying to think of foreknowledge and predestination – I hold it provisionally. I’m not sure how compatible it is with the Fathers. Although it is part of the larger free will tradition.

  100. Simon,
    I’ll bow out in just a second. I would ask though, I’ve been on a theological journey understanding the Orthodox view of Original versus Ancestral Sin. How familiar are you? I ask this because I tell everyone this is the main distinction between Orthodoxy and Protestants/Catholics? Just for my own information, since I’ve given this blog hours today.

  101. ‘What are you trying to say here? What’s the implication”

    What I am saying can not be said (and believe it or not, I mean that quite literally 🙂 )! The implication is God is not subject ‘to’ (He is not “a” subject, a term) or ‘of’ dialectical reasoning. He is neither “cause”, nor “effect” nor is he implicated, contained, subject to, or otherwise captured in a “system” which is just a term we use to say that cause and effect governs and explains things.

    Heavy philosophy no? Did I not just say that God is not subject to philosophy?!? Why is it when I speak about God I speak literal nonsense?!? What is it about the dialectic that is not enough? Are narratives and stories complex species and examples of dialectical reasoning, or are they more than that?

    What is the story of our lives?

  102. Matthew/Simon,

    Do you ever read science fiction? Ever heard of Chiang’s novella (about 80 pages or so if memory serves) “Story of Your Life”. They made it into a movie which I have not seen and heard was only so-so. The book is the best work on predestination I have ever read. Chiang is not a Christian as far as I can tell and explicitly his’ is a Romantic solution, but the work exceeds his limitations and speaks directly to the modern mind and the assumption of cause and effect…

  103. Simon, et al
    This conversation, such as it is, has spun completely out of control. I have been in meetings all day and with no time to monitor or mediate in the comments – and I think that has been problematic. Several thoughts:

    First: Penal Substitutionary Atonement is alive and well among some who profess the Orthodox faith. It is ignorance and not rooted in the fullness of the tradition of the faith. It is a false import. That, however, is a technical note. It cannot be part of the faith since it wasn’t invented until around the year 1000. Orthodoxy was a settled matter long before that.

    When thinking about what is “Orthodox,” please do not assume that surveying things on the internet is equivalent to knowing anything. Some of the best, most sophisticated looking sites, are just full of junk, driven by false agendas. I’m sitting in a hotel convention center with hundreds of priests. I would be hard put to find among them anyone confused about atonement theory. That is Orthodoxy – not the internet.

    Yes, I write on the internet. One reason I do so and have done so is to present a reliable, safe and accurate presentation of the mainstream of Orthodox thought and life.

    Second, on the matter of hell and fire, etc. The dogmatic understanding of the fire of hell is that it is immaterial (this from St. Mark of Ephesus’ responses to the Council of Florence). It is an image, a word picture to describe something that cannot be described. As such, it can easily be misunderstood and often is. Does the movement from where we are towards conformity with the image of Christ involve pain and suffering (of some sort?) – obviously, it does. But not pain and suffering of the sort that is inflicted as punishment.

    It is the purifying love of God. Now, that can be described in gross, torture, burning images and cast it into a form that is ignoble and abhorrent, or it can be understood in a better form. It is not gross, torturing, burning, in the manner that we would compare to a literal fire. It is a purifying fire. The image of fire for purifying is chosen by the Fathers because that’s how things were purified in their time. St. Gregory of Nyssa also uses the image of a rope, encrusted with mud, being drawn through a gunwale – an image of scraping. We could find other images as well. Jesus used another image with St. Peter – that of being “sifted.”

    Third: I will state again (back on the matter of “bookends”). We cannot leap to the end to say definitively what the end will be for the simple reason that we have not been told. I’m well aware of those who say otherwise – but I do not think it is correct to speak definitively in the matter. There are notable saints who have spoken about this in both manners.

    Fourth: It is not correct to say that the Orthodox faith requires anyone to believe that God tortures anyone (with fire or anything else) simply because they haven’t got it yet, or failed to understand, etc. The imagery used is the imagery we have been given. But the point of the imagery is not its mechanics – it is in its point. That point is our salvation.

    It is apparently the case that getting from here to there – from birth to theosis – involves the grace of God, working in us as a healing, transforming, scraping, purifying, etc. process. And, most importantly, that process is the love of God and is perfectly consistent with love in the fullest, kindest, most generous possible meaning.

    Lastly, and this is to Simon:
    Resist the temptation to push such conversations to the extreme point (“I’m done with Orthodoxy” etc). You’re conversing with other people, some Orthodox, some not, sometimes just folks pooling their own ignorance or best guesses. It’s inappropriate to take elements of that conversation to be “Orthodoxy.” It also makes a terrible emotional problem for them. (“My God! I got into an argument on a blog site and caused someone to abandon the faith!”) Because that’s what it is made to sound like. If you’re going to have a conversation that is actually being pressed to that length – it should be in private with your priest.

    Conversations, when they go off the rails in this manner, are damaging to other readers. It’s like listening to your parents in an argument. It’s not helpful and it scares the children.

  104. At the risk of being misunderstood as an “on the other hand” to you last post Father, your writing is not anodyne and goes to the heart of the conflict and fragmentation of the modern mind (Christian or not). As such, there is a bit of risk of being misunderstood, misinterpreted, and being said to be working against the cause. Just think how much anxiety “unmoral” prompted among your peers. If the conversations are not challenging then they might not be worth having.

  105. Fr. Stephen,
    When the string of comments gets obtuse and convoluted it is refreshing to see you give it a yank and the crooked becomes straight. Your last comment was just so.
    Now if there were only a D. B. Hart for Dummies!

  106. But Christopher…the conversation went a bit beyond challenging, don’t you think?! In this case Father clearly needed to moderate ‘on behalf of all’, like he said to me (I blush!) not too long ago!

    Father…may the conference be a blessing to you all!

  107. Thank you, Father!

    There is the anodyne that is salutary and that which perhaps is intended to be so, but falls short. 🙄 Fortunately, I find your writing has the former effect on me. Perhaps sending all comments into moderation (or suspending them) while you cannot monitor would be advisable to protect the vulnerable? Too hard to do that for the whole blog?

  108. I was very moved today by the Priest who spoke briefly in a segment of the OCA Diocese of the Midwest’s AAC video about losing a son to addiction, then three days after his son’s death serving the Divine Liturgy and finding himself completely upborne up by the grace of Pascha. This is the inbreaking of the Kingdom, even in the midst of our death, suffering and tragedy.

    Last week, I was visiting family in MI. I took my parents to see three of my mom’s sisters, two of whom are in hospice care. What a difference the hope of the Resurrection makes! It means Life and Love, not death, have the last word. Christ has removed the death (sin) within death, and has instead filled Hades with His own Presence (Psalm 139:7-12). Death is swallowed up in victory; it has lost its sting!

  109. Beautiful Karen…the love and beauty of God in His people…so full of Grace.
    So glad you shared these precious moments. A welcome balm. Thank you.

  110. Back to the oroginal topic…Im of the opinion that consensus is dangerous. Once everyone decides or concedes to what the story is then the story, regardless of whether or not it true or even helpful, becomes dogma. Dogma over time will gain all the psychological certainty of a fact. The facts over time will become the Truth. At this point the story and the story tellers will gain all the authority of infallibility. At this point anyone who challenges the story is challenging an infallible truth. In my understanding what we need is not consensus, but wisdom and intelligence. Even within our own minds we need to be able to be adversarial to our own story in order for us to grow. We need the ability to experience dissonance within ourselves without experiencing a crisis.

  111. Dear Fr. Stephen, thank you for your comments here containing your 4 “thoughts”, as well as your advice here:
    “Conversations, when they go off the rails in this manner, are damaging to other readers. It’s like listening to your parents in an argument. It’s not helpful and it scares the children.”
    This is the reason I usually just scan through the comments section attached to your blog posts and read only your comments.
    Of course in coming online to write this comment, I saw Simon’s most recent comment and so it goes…to me proving the truth of your comment I have quoted above.
    God bless all you do, Fr. Stephen, and thank you for this blog! Lord have mercy on us all as we draw near to Him, the Lover of Mankind.

  112. Simon,
    What you’re describing would be a merely human consent or common mind. That would be dangerous and cult like. I’m describing something quite different that is only by grace. My point is to speak of Reality as something that is received from God as gift and not something we create for ourselves. It is synonymous with receiving the Kingdom. A mere human imitation of this in the manner of the cults is almost demonic in its oppression.

  113. Simon, the consensus you describe is actually the opposite to that which is consent to reality. It sounds like the coerced consensus to falsehood that so characterizes the human project. Consensus which derives from the experience of Christ is like that which derives from the experience of gravity. There is pretty much a unanimous consensus that if one steps off a cliff sans parachute one will fall, etc. Is that consensus dangerous? Obviously not.

  114. I understood the Story that Fr was describing to be the story given to us by the Church. Is that not right?

  115. I mean by the Story, that which God is truly doing. At its best, the Church bears witness to it. It cannot impose it. The Story itself is ever correcting the Church and this is effective on as we attend in true repentance. But again it cannot be imposed.

  116. Margaret,
    Pity you choose not to listen to our voices…even as broken as we are. By choosing to do that you miss out on seeing how “good” comes about through our failures. There is a lot of pain here…and a lot of love. It hurts to hear you say you scan through the comments and only read Father’s. It can be another cause of shame…the shame that many here find unbearable in the first place. I’ve heard you say the same thing before, Margaret. This time I respond to you. Forgive us. I am sorry our pouring out our hearts is hard for you to hear. A while back Father said when we read comments that contain a lot of anger and even lashing out, it is really a deep pain from the soul that is speaking…I think he said ‘agony’. That was very helpful for me. It reminds me to look past our words for the sake of compassion, for words can not express the agony. Only groans can. We try hard to bear each others burdens. We fail sometimes. But to ignore another person is the ultimate rejection. It says ‘you are not important…to me you don’t even exist’. So instead of doing that, we respond and embrace…as hard as that is, we do it. I am not asking you to read the comments. I’m just telling you how I hear what you are saying. Father said himself that it is the comments that make the blog, although too, the blog would be the same without Fr. Stephen. It is a picture of unity.
    I came across this verse this morning, Margaret…
    ” “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Ps 133:1)”
    Forgive me…I just had to respond. We are real people, living souls, here behind the computer screen. Sometimes, for all of us, this is easy to ignore….

  117. Paula,

    I have been blessed by many commenters at this site, but I also respect readers like Margaret, who prefer to avoid comments. There is great wisdom in that. Not all conversations edify all people, and I don’t think any of us should take that too personally—especially in the Internet age. My 2 cents…

  118. I think Paula makes a good point. Not commenting is one thing, not reading other comments is another. A person is free to do both, but its like watching a movie where you strictly only pay attention to the lead character as if subtracting away the cast of characters doesnt diminish the lead. Some people just want a sage on the stage.

  119. Ok Karen…never thought of it that way. I do take it personally…I don’t know how not to. This is a personal place. I have difficulty seeing people in the context of the internet. I see people. I also do not disrespect Margaret herself. I did say I did not expect her to read the comments, but as one who does not read the comments, she surely knows we do. Words have an impact Karen. That’s all I’m saying.

  120. There are no rules for reading. There are a few ground rules for commenting. What I would advise anyone is to take care of themselves. That will mean different things for different people. There are times I would like not to read the comments. However… pray for each other.

    Remember me in your prayers today. I’m having lower back problems and have a seven hour drive ahead. But there’s a chiropractor at the end of the journey!

  121. Your are in my prayers for good health and no pain, Fr. Stephen! Please forgive my comments. Do understand that nothing anyone has said has changed my mind. I fall into being very judgmental of others through reading their comments. So it is easier for me to read the author of the blog’s comments, because he is a priest, and to pray for my thoughts. I am very aware that Our Lord has said that I will be judged in the manner which I judge others. Again, please forgive me and please understand that I have no intention of commenting further or engaging in conversation here in this comments section. Lord have Mercy

  122. I read that scores of Greeks and tourists have died in the wildfires there. One firefighter has died in a fire near us just outside Yosemite. Pray for the children, firefighters and all others affected by these tragic fires.
    Our prayers with you Fr. Stephen as you drive.

  123. Margaret, thanks for your contribution here, too. It is as Father says, we each need to take care of our own souls, as we read, in light of our own infirmities and temptations (which are legion for us all). I make it my goal to comment only when I think it can benefit another reader and always trying not to put any obstacle in another’s path toward Christ. Many times I fail in that. We all need forgiveness for many things. May we find grace to forgive as we have been forgiven.

  124. The Holy Angels Convent is also near the fires in Greece. Please remember them in your prayers as well.

    Prayers for a safe return, Father!

  125. Concerning reading all the comments, I think it’s worth noting that keeping up with this blogging community can be a lot of work. I would venture that at times it can amount to a part-time job in terms of effort. Sometimes I like to read the article and just reflect on that for awhile. But whenever I do that, it’s with the understanding that this will put me 30 comments behind. If I stop reading for a week, I likely have 4 solid hours of catching up to do. Not everyone has that kind of time. And some people are slow readers.

    On top of that a lot of effort has to be expended to both understand AND absorb what is being said. And of course as Karen noted, not all conversations apply equally to all readers. We are each tuned into various wavelengths. So it’s good to show grace in this matter and not take offense.

  126. Drewster thank you for your comments in this thread. Yours are not the only ones I have appreciated but your intial comment was particularly salient in the moment of need when I read it.

    Fr Stephen, thank you so much for this article. I had just read it this morning. And haven’t had the time to read through all the comments. I had several thoughts on how science has been co-opted by divisive polemic and as this is done, purports to report ‘valid facts’. So much depends on science literacy, that is deeply lacking in this society. But more important than that is remembering St Paul’s words you quoted:

    Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom 15:5-6)

  127. Hmmmmmmm. I have been reading and commenting here since 2008. I am sensing a certain contention all of a sudden that is quite different than I have experienced before. I do not think that is a good thing. As good and important as the discussions here are, I think they are best approached in a more relaxed manner. Easier to hear what we are supposed to hear that way.

  128. Sorry to be late to this discussion, but as I read through some comments I couldn’t help remembering the wonderful section “Of Hell and Hellfire: A Mystical Discourse” in Dostoevski’s “The Brothers Karamazov”.
    It’s a different way of looking at the problem but I’ve always found it very beautiful:

    “Fathers and teachers, I ask myself, “What is hell?” And I answer thus, “The suffering of being no longer able to love.” Once in infinite existence, measured neither by time nor by space, a certain spiritual being, through his appearance on earth, was granted the ability to say to himself: “I am and I love.” Once, once only, he was given a moment of active, living love, and for that he was given earthly life with its times and seasons. And what then? This fortunate being rejected the invaluable gift, did not value it, did not love it, looked upon it with scorn, and was left unmoved by it…”

    The passage goes on, but the sense of it in those first words has stayed with me, and the Pevear note accords the passage to homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian.

    Then, with respect to Christ’s request to his Father for forgiveness of persons unnamed, on the Cross, my simple understanding of that is that even at such a moment his thoughts are in harmony with the prayer he gave us – “Forgive us…as we forgive those…” so I think the question of repentance doesn’t even come into it. Forgiveness has to be wholehearted on the part of both God and man, and we can’t ask His forgiveness if we haven’t fully forgiven others, whether they repent or not. And there, on the Cross, it is between Our Lord and his Father to whom the forgiveness he is asking for applies. It is that intimate a request, harmony in the face of death itself.

    Just my thoughts on the matter.

  129. Julianna,
    Thank you, for that passage and your reflection. I particularly appreciate your description of the intimacy of forgiveness. –very beautiful.

    Michael, on reflection about the contentiousness here. I’ve been reading this blog only since 2015. It took awhile for me to first write, out of fears of presenting a ‘contentious’ description of how Christ first found me. I’ve been grateful for the reception I have received here, including your own encouragement. I offer some reflections via a link, presented by Fr Thomas Hopko, on the contentious issue of homosexuality and the Orthodox faith. What I love most is his insistence that we remember our humanity and all that the word ‘humanity’ can mean in Christianity. In particular, you might enjoy the humorous story about Orthodox villagers fighting amongst themselves. The story begins somewhere about 13-14 minutes into the talk.

    Here is the link:

  130. Dee,

    Yes, science misunderstood as an “ism” is definitely one of the many minds.


    Starting with trusting God, and then reasoning about suffering is what the fragmented mind cannot do…

  131. Michael,
    Thank you for your comment. I have not been reading the blog for as long as you, but have been blessed greatly ever since I started… I think I even once commented on what a wonderful place this is to learn how to deal with ‘contentious’ confrontations in my own life, as Father Stephen models that skill so well (I think it was during some rather personal attacks on Father).
    And the rest of you, the wonderful commenters came to mind for that very same reason immediately – you, Dino, Dean, Drew [to stay with Ds only 🙂 ].

    So I too am saddened. There was a beautiful comment from Dino this morning that I read on my phone, but now it is gone. It contained his personal witness to how trust in God can be modeled under the most tragic circumstances… Yes, there was depth in that beyond what most of us will ever be capable of.. To know someone like that, even through comments on the blog, is a privilege and a blessing… Most of us cannot understand and relate to it because of our lack of Faith and depth.. But we can try to learn if we have a teacher.
    May God grant that depth to all of us.. Time is shorter than we think to get honest with God…

  132. I have been following this blog for so long that I can remember when it was surprising to see more than ten comments following a post. I try not to comment too often, because I do not think I have much to add that would be useful to anyone. But I am commenting now (second time today!) to join in with what Michael said. Things have a gotten a little contentious around here and I think that distracts from the discussion. Father said that he has not been able to moderate the comments recently, because he has been in a conference. It saddens me to think that he should even need to moderate the comments. We are all seem to be striving towards a greater understanding and love of God. We are all good people. Why should our comments have to be moderated? My solution has often been to be like Margaret and moderate the comments myself. The Holy Spirit and my guardian angel will sometimes help me see that a particular thread is helping me in my journey towards Theosis and I will just skip over that discussion. I am also sympathetic to Drewster’s situation. Frankly, I do not have time to read all the comments, although I always read the posts.
    I am not driving towards any particular point here. Just thinking out loud and sharing my thoughts with my friends.
    There are two more things I want to say, however.
    The first is that I pray that we continue to love and trust each other. Trust that the other commentator is sharing in good faith, to help and encourage you in your growth in the faith by sharing their own knowledge, hope and experience.
    The second is, please, just take what you like and leave the rest. It’s ok. We are all lost, but I believe we will all get there, by the grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ, together.

  133. Agata,
    It’s kind of you to mention me on your “D” list. I’m always grateful to be helpful to someone. But I know that sometimes I am not. When this happens that I’m not contributing helpfully, Fr Stephen has on occasion removed or edited my comments, for which I am very grateful for that, as well. This is his blog and he’s the mediator and I have the utmost respect for his decisions for what stays and what is removed. This trust in his decisions and willingness to moderate is what helps me to venture to say what is sometimes difficult, knowing that if I go too far out of bounds, he will bring me back in, which I actually take to be a loving gesture.

  134. I don’t know what heaven and hell are exactly or how the judgements of a God who created the universe and everything in it will be towards me ,God will do what He wants wether it seems right or wrong to me . All I know is I’m still just trying to love my neighbour as myself and honestly failing at that everyday, Maybe if I ever sort that out I can move onto these more complex issues .

  135. The way that I came to Christ and Orthodox Christianity was through the book The Mountain of Silence by Kyriacos Markides. In this wonderful book, the author discusses Saint Seraphim of Sarov. Reading about him (and other modern day saints) in this book was an “a-ha” moment of the great proportions for me. I realized that Christianity was not some man made religious movement from the past that had no relevance to the modern world, but the Way and Truth and Life that was very much alive and well, as evidenced by the lives of contemporary men and women who had given themselves wholly and completely to Christ. Reading about the lives of these remarkable individuals, especially Saint Seraphim, who so beautifully defined the purpose of the Christian life as the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, is what convinced me personally of the Reality of Christ and Orthodoxy. There were lots of things that, as a very modern rational person, I was unable to understand and accept about Orthodox teachings, but I finally decided to simply set my questions aside and trust that if these saints achieved what they achieved through the Orthodox Church, and that what they achieved was something I very much wanted for myself, then I must proceed on faith that they know something I don’t know. This pretty much eliminated all my angst and stress about the stuff I did not comprehend. These saints are shining lights of God’s love and that is all I really need to know or care about. They have forged the path of how to get there. All I need to do is try to emulate them.

  136. I think that my earlier comment was moderated and had to be deleted because parts of it initiated a conversation that was potentially hot-blooded.
    I cannot currently follow everything here well…
    However, I would like to add the key point based on the response we are receiving as the victims of the fires in Greece since we were in the worst of it with our neighbours now in heaven.
    The ‘response’ that I take some issue with – which I connected to the earlier hot-blooded [in the comments] response to the infinitely more important theme of Hell– and which I mainly have seen, is of a dramatized, emotionally charged and highly expressive of angst (and even protest to the ‘powers that be’ for many, or towards ‘God’ for some.)
    I believe this to be deeply modern, secular, western and not at all traditional Orthodox.
    The response of the Orthodox tradition and of the holy faithful of it (the very very few) has been much more tempered, accepting of the naturalness of all such tribulation as earthquakes, floods, fires, wars, deaths, destruction, firmly planted in trust in God’s providence, as well as faith in that we can always demonstrate some goodness in all such difficulties, healthiness, balance, calmness, acceptance and Christian fearlessness even when burned, with devastated property and no worldly prospects in the secular perception of things. God’s Kingdom, His love, and a continuous effort to remain in that optimism even when ‘crucified’ in the eyes of others, is not even a ‘big deal’ as they say, it’s just what people would do traditionally, but our modern plastic life is utterly dissonant with and would rather argue against.
    This is also the best foundation for considering the infinitely more important theme of hell and I deeply appreciated Father Stephen’s earlier comment saying the same thing from a different angle and urging to avoid expressions that press emotionally in their (understandable of course) protest.

  137. So the key point I want to make is that
    I think this “protest” against God is a continuous danger for man. There are siruations that can work as catalysts for this type of spirit of anguished protest and if we give in, we will become sucked into a hell of demonic pain. It is the seat of the devil, his love, and what he presses us towards most vehemently when given such a chance. The story of Job is all about that…..
    We are surrounded by similar predicaments to Job here and that “protesting” stance ( which we encounter too) is of no help at all. The”old school” Greek (somewhat stoic) stance is the only one that helps. It isnt a lack of empathy but a resolute belief that God makes no mistakes even when I suffer what Job suffered.

  138. Father Stephen –
    I am currently in Washington, D.C., for the University of Maryland’s Summer Institutute. This is a conference on developing more integrated approaches to working with persons suffering from addictions, mental illness, and behavioral health issues. One thing that I was very encouraged about is to see that across the country Peer Supports are being recognized by the “system” as a critical part of recovery. What I was discouraged about was the number of times over 3 days that I have heard about how it is our job to “change the world.” Change the world for the good…. Change the world with technology…. Change the world (fill in the blank)….

    Please know that I am not disparaging anyone, but your blog postings have very much sensitized me to how pervasive this mindset is and how entrenched we all are in it. I am so grateful for your reflections and how you have really challenged all of us to at least be more aware of this. I have to honestly say that I do not see how any of us can totally separate ourselves from this mindset, at least not without turning evermore toward Christ, the only source of true transformation. Anything else, ultimately seems like an exercise in continuously re-arranging the deck on the Titantic.

    Thank you again for the time that you put into this blog and sharing your faith with all of us.

  139. Dino, your comments lead me to the possibility that we are much more familiar with hell than we typically think. Is not this world described as “a fortaste of hell”?

    The minute tastes of God’s Kingdom that I have been graced with indicates to me how overwhelmingly different it is than this world. I really have no cognates to describe it nor even sometimes the capacity to know exactly what happened. Yet it has a substance and reality that nothing in “the real world” can approach. That is the effect of the Incarnation perhaps.

    Hell though I feel I can much more easily understand. The darkness, pain and despair of such a place is magnitudes more than I have known and the unquencable anger and lust barely imaginable, but it seems to have a lot in common with what I deal with on a daily basis. Constantly impinging but somehow strangely insubstantial.

    Only God can transform the rebellion (protest) of my spirit that is the gateway to Hell.

    It is that rebellion that is the spirit of this world and IMO is the essence of Hell.

    Can my will to rebellion be so perverse and entrenched that I would never allow God’s mercy to penetrate-ever. I pray not, but it is not impossible for me to imagine such a state.

    So easy to “curse God and die” is it not? The only alternative is to discipline myself to find concrete, real things for which to give thanks to God even in the depths of pain.

    Don’t want Hell? – lift all things up to God in thanksgiving or failing that, endure with hope and patience.

  140. Still, as we should, we weep and wail at the destruction wrought by our rebellion.

  141. Dino,
    My prayers are with you and your family and neighbors. This fire is a terrible tragedy. We have had severe fires on this continent as well. And I pray that you and your community receives support and help to recover with God’s grace.

    With the grace of God I urge us all not to be presumptuous regarding Fr Stephen’s rationale for his moderation decisions. I think it is important to realize we participate to the support and help of us all. Sometimes our emotional personal circumstances can blind us regarding how we might ‘sound’ to others. This is why I urge each one of us to consider it is a blessing that Fr Stephen moderates our comments. Even when they are our own.

  142. Michael,
    Yes, Michael. We are surrounded in this world by much darkness. But there is much love, hope- -hints everywhere of resurrection. Children are often like little flowers. In Home Depot the other day I smiled at a little girl, perhaps not even two. She was in a store cart sucking a lollipop, she being pushed by mom. When I smiled, she took the candy from her mouth, smiled at me and gave me a little wave. But, her two tiny reactions to me made my day. I experience love, forgiveness, acceptance everyday in prayer. I experience the same in each liturgy. A new bloom on flowers in the garden, the orange glow of the moon going down just now in the western sky, the greeting smile and kiss hello of my wife in the morning, all are freely gifted signs of life and beauty, if you will– of resurrection. Glory to God!

  143. Michael, Dino, et al
    The cry of rebellion is one thing – a cry of pain is another. I think that it is largely a cry of pain that we hear, including in the sometimes heated discussions. I do not think it useful to characterize the cry of pain as not Orthodox or anything else – only as pain. Pain needs respect, comfort, reassurance, etc.

    As to hell – we undoubtedly are already there. The Icon of Christ’s Nativity (and the depiction of the cave) would indicate that “this world” is indeed “hell” of a sort. St. John reminds us, “For we know that the whole world lies under the sway of the evil one” 1Jn 5:19. I know very little at all about things beyond death (“the geography of hell”). These are what I do know:
    1. The Christ who entered our world and conquered death is the same everywhere and always. His compassion and mercy demonstrated ceaselessly among us is His character – it will not change. This same Christ was merciful even to the demons (He allowed them to go into the pigs when they begged Him).
    2. We have parables from Christ that are certainly provocative – seeking to wake us up and provoke us to enter the Kingdom. I cannot, however, imagine the Christ whom we know saying about someone, “Tie him up! Cast him into outer darkness!” etc. People seem to have a confusion and take parables as examples of Jesus’ character. They are not. The Cross is the ultimate revelation of who Jesus is.
    3. There are speculations on the part of many, including saints, that suggest various things about the afterlife. Can we still repent? Is there any change or healing? etc. I take this to be a distraction. What I know is that I am commanded to offer the Bloodless Sacrifice “on behalf of all and for all.” And that is what I do. It is why I hope and hope cheerfully.
    4. Living with a bit of ignorance is part of being a child – of being innocent. What I don’t know (and probably cannot know) has its own reasons. But we have enough to live, to thrive, to be joyful, to be hopeful above all things, and to give thanks always and everywhere. “Lo if I descend into Hell, Thou art there!” And so, like Jonah in the belly of the whale, we should sing of God’s mercy and rejoice, until this rough beast coughs us up on the shores of paradise!

  144. Dino,
    I don’t know if you saw my comment to you yesterday or not. My prayers are also with you and family. They will continue. You mention Job. Job said,
    ” (God), though you slay me, yet will I trust in Thee.” I see that trust in you, even as you went through a hellish experience with your family.

  145. Father, good reminder yet in my in soul the worst pain is seated in my rebellion and only tears can bring surcease of sorrow. Strangely perhaps, it is when I cry the most that the Joy of Christ is most present.

  146. Also, the comments suggest that I was looking at the foretaste of hell in which we live with despair. Not the case although it is easy to go that route, that is the hope of the evil one.

  147. Dino

    Our prayers are with Greece and you and anyone in your family or friends affected in any way by the fires. It’s very tragic and that so many could not escape… that has been the hardest to bear. We have wildfires in the states every year but I can not recall a time when I have heard of so many lives lost – property damage is nothing.

  148. A year or so back we endured fires in Gatlinburg, TN, which is nearby. Some of our parishioners lost everything. There were lives lost (not in my parish) as well. The authorities were caught off-guard and unprepared for an unusual situation with high winds that moved extremely fast. Falling trees blocked escape routes for some. It has left an indelible mark in our memories and a particular concern for others battling fires.

  149. We went through horrible fires here in Santa Rosa last year which took a record number of lives. There are currently horrible fires occuring in ither parts of Northern California as we speak. The thing I remember most about the fires here last year is not the destruction, but the way that people came together to help one another. Sometimes it takes tragedies like this to remind us all of our true humanity.

  150. Simon – the Orthodox Church does not teach that God is only present in the Orthodox Church. At every Liturgy, we affirm that “God is everywhere present and fillest all things.”

  151. Thanks for your response, Dee of Saint Hermans. It was the intimacy of the Forgiveness ceremony before Lent that drew me into Orthodoxy. It was the first time I had knelt and bowed down to the ground in church, and as Father says, that motion unexpectedly and amazedly returned me to the perspective of a child, warmth and love permeating that simple activity in an unforgettable lovingkindness.

    I think Father is correct about speculation as well. I loved Father Zossima’s directive that our short moment in the world is precious in terms of being an opportunity not to be wasted – the sort of opportunity that doesn’t ask us to achieve enormous ascetic endeavors, but to love. That is certainly a speculative thought, yet it is attainable.
    And it struck me because I was just then learning about Orthodoxy as well; the novel helped me with many aspects of this.

  152. Dino & Michael,

    Thanks for your posts yesterday. Michaels yours in particular reminded of valley of sorrow in my soul, the river of darkness in my blood (thinking of Emmylou’s “prayer in open D”, and of course Psalm 50). Once you move past the pain (i.e. you find a way to suffer it) and the initial rebellion, it’s truth and our hope becomes evident – at least it does to me.

    Dino, I wonder though if this spirit of rebellion is not rooted in an initial truth – that of our “energy” (God given). It gives us the fight/spirit to suffer a bit and when rightly directed to turn from the Devil toward God?

  153. But we have enough to live, to thrive, to be joyful, to be hopeful above all things, and to give thanks always and everywhere. “Lo if I descend into Hell, Thou art there!” And so, like Jonah in the belly of the whale, we should sing of God’s mercy and rejoice, until this rough beast coughs us up on the shores of paradise!


  154. Christopher and all
    I very much appreciate your prayers and thank you deeply.
    As to your point I think there’s a cry of rebellion in Job’s shoes that is secular and beloved to the Adversary and a “cry of rebellion” that is utterly different and is not really rebellion. This last one is the Holy Spirit praying inside a God-trusting soul with pain for all and in solidarity with all -as one- interceeding in the image of Christ to forgive all “for they know not”.
    The human impetus is there like anger and desire which can be directed sinfully or Spiritually. Father correct me if I am wrong…

  155. I think its interesting that Job’s rebellion was “beloved of the Adversary” and yet God said to Job’s false comforters “you have not spoken truthfully of me as my servant Job has.” And then God has Job make sacrifices in their behalf. Job’s protests were the protests of faith.

  156. Dino,
    I think a secular response would be to disregard God completely, to simply forget Him and ignore Him. The heart that is angry at God is still engaged – and may be very close to “entering the Kingdom.” When I think about the gospels, I find it interesting that we are not really given a story of someone who is angry with God.

    I generally think of anger as a “secondary” emotion. Beneath it, almost always, is a wound of shame (at least in the technical form) By that I mean a great wound that violates us, exploits our vulnerability, exposes us, and destroys our sense of communion – leaving us terribly alone. That “insult” to our being is unbearable most of the time and is quickly changed into anger or depression (sadness).

    Anger is not rebellion – it’s just anger. As to the adversary, he will use anything and everything against us. It is most important, I think, to try to not engage someone’s anger (much less use it to categorize them). The anger, being secondary, is not the truth of what is going on. Just as Christ says, “They know not what they do,” so those who are angry are not expressing what is actually their pain – and they may not be aware of the nature of the pain.

    Generally speaking, anger is useful for resisting sin (in a very, very short burst only), or even performing a heroic act. But it’s not useful for much else. Anger is meant to only be short. Any prolonged anger is harmful to us and needs some sort of attention.

    Desire, on the other hand, is extremely useful (when rightly ordered). It impels and draws us towards an end. If the end is the right end – it is essential.

    If there is a fault in the “cry of rebellion,” it is simply that it incorrectly expresses the pain beneath it (for so many reasons).

  157. “I generally think of anger as a “secondary” emotion. Beneath it, almost always, is a wound of shame (at least in the technical form) By that I mean a great wound that violates us, exploits our vulnerability, exposes us, and destroys our sense of communion – leaving us terribly alone. That “insult” to our being is unbearable most of the time and is quickly changed into anger or depression (sadness).”

    You are right on the money, Father. I know this because I live it. It’s a heck of a way to come by the truth of this. I know it is bad for me, but I isolate in protection, I take the anger out on myself terribly, and it sure does cause a depression. These are periods that wax and wane. I cover it up to a certain extent in public…but its always there. I say to a certain extent because obviously this blog is very much public and I am exposing, not covering up, my shame here. You commented on this once, when I was spilling my guts here. Another commenter took offense at my ‘exposure’ and your reply was it was a way to deal with the shame.
    One of the results of all this is that I go out of my way to stick up for the “underdog”…the outcasts, and those who are despised. I understand that cry of anger. It is nothing but pain, even when that cry is provoking and harsh. I know this very well.
    I thank you again and again, Father. Your words give validation and hope…your ministry is blessed of God. Glory to Jesus Christ.

  158. I will never forget a business road trip I had to make with a fellow employee who was an atheist. I don’t know how I sparked the conversation about God – I know it wasn’t with eternal hell fire – but we’re driving down the road going 70 in a compact car and he starts punching the windshield screaming profanities at God swerving all over the road. It was pretty scary. His mother had lost a battle with cancer. But his view of Providence made God to blame for everything that had happened. All the while he said he was an atheist. I didn’t venture to correct this contradiction. But if someone carries around a view of Providence where God is responsible for everything good and evil – I can sympathize with this moral impulse – to be repulsed by God. It is a Christian impulse I think – very misdirected and dangerous perhaps – but outrage at moral evil is only coherent if you believe in a God of love.

    The Calvinistic view of Providence is probably the predominant one in America among Christians. You win the lotto and God predetermined it from eternity past that you get a free $200. Or your next heart attack, splinter, car crash, etc. I believe this view follows from Original Sin – if you’re so bad that God must overcome your will, predestine you for salvation (or not),and if everything bad we see in this world (including Satan and the demonic) is an expression of God’s anger with humanity stemming from the Fall, then grandma’s cancer is God’s fault. Everything is “meant to be.”

    I can’t help but think that when people react towards God in hate for what they believe he determined (not to say God never determines unpleasant things for humans), that God will be gracious toward their ignorance. They don’t really hate God, they hate something imaginary.

    If people truly believed in Ancestral Sin, these problems would mostly go away. The dynamic interplay between God’s sovereignty, the angelic and demonic, the host of His counsel (including Mary and the Saints), real free-will imagers on Earth, the Trinity, etc. – it wouldn’t be so easy to blame God for everything when multitudes of free will imagers are functional for good or evil. If free will is not functional for any reason, be it Original Sin/Total Depravity, ignorance, etc – then God is back on the hook, in the dock.

    This is the reason Western churches have to deal with theodicy the way they have – they have largely or completely, removed free will from the question of why there is evil and then have the enormous difficulty of showing how God is not to blame. I say all of this a a fomer defender of Calvinism – but God was gracious towards my ignorance.

  159. Matthew, I mostly agree with everything you. But we are not as free as one might think. Its difficult to make sense of the idea of freedom that is so utterly in the darkness and ignorant. How free is someone born blind and deaf? They certainly have a will, but theyre ability to exercise that will is greatly diminished when compared to someone who not only has these faculties, but has experience using them. My experience and perception of humanity is that we are more like dogs abandoned and left to our own devices than children under the care of a loving heavenly father. Im so sorry, but I just dont know how to see it otherwise. But I do what I can in the hope that Im wrong.

  160. Karen, I like Fr.’s thought, “The heart that is angry at God is still engaged – and may be very close to “entering the Kingdom.””

  161. Simon,
    Why do you worry so much about the freedom of others (deaf or blind)? Just read about St. Matrona of Moscow, she was blind and could not walk all her life and she became a great and powerful Saint of God, greater than many of the Saints of the past – certainly something none of us will ever achieve (even thought we walk and hear and see). As for ignorance, people live and marinate in it.. They pretend not to know, they don’t want to know and would rather blame God for everything instead of taking some honest responsibility for themselves.

    We are only responsible for ourselves and our response to God. “What is it to you? You follow me” the Lord said to one of is disciples who had similar question… So do what you can and don’t worry about how God will deal with others. It’s His problem, not yours.

    Sorry, but it saddens me to see you say these things you often do…

  162. Matthew,

    Excellent! In so many ways you have captured the character of where so many are at with themselves and God in the modern American scene (the only one I am familiar with). Those contradictions that lead to the punching of the windshield at 70 mph, blaming God yet *morally* rejecting him, are so common as to possibly be THE defining religiosity at the moment in my opinion. Others disagree, but if it is not THE place where most are at then it is a very common one. When you mix in the cultural/secular story (a metaphysics) of the Cartesian Self and a materialistic scientism then people start to believe that being at such a place is “authentic”.

    At first I was a bit stumped at the recent popularity of Jordan Peterson among the clergy. However I think one of the reasons is that he provides an explanatory frame for the above and much of the current “religious” mind. All of this is shaped by the spirit of our times of course. I agree with Father in that I can’t think of Gospel instance of someone being angry with God. The Old Testament seems to recognize it in having Job’s wife say to Job “curse God and die!” This anger with God is tied to shame and sin in that in the sentence before she says “Do you still hold fast to your integrity?”. It is as if she is saying “Of course you have sinned and are wrong in the very manner of your life, but what else can you do as God is an impossible standard ? Be a *man* and be angry at this impossible situation, spit on God, and die”. Perhaps someone with access to the Septuagint can say more about that word “integrity”.

    All that said the modern mind and person has a different understanding of “integrity”. He or she is primarily Cartesian, so the standard (and thus meaning) of right and wrong, good and evil, brokenness and wholeness does not flow to the person from the outside (Job’s wife even understood this as did everyone in the context of Scripture) but rather the reverse such that wholeness is understood as something *selfish* – that is wholeness has to *first* originate in the self and then flow out into the world. The *genesis* of integrity and wholeness to the modern person is the self, and thus God-as-moral-actor is by definition limited to what the circumstances and limits of the self. Thus, the self is that which moraly judges God – the exact opposite of all of Scripture and for that matter most of the religions and philosophies in the history of mankind where it is God that creates and judges the self – the self only has “integrity” in reference to that which comes from the outside of the self and is its creator.

    So the modern self punches the window at 70 mph without any sense of irony. The Christian sits and sees the vanity, but can not speak to the modern mind because the modern has no perspective, no viewpoint to see himself or God outside of his own “self-story”. I can not disagree with anything specific you said Father Stephen about anger, but I have a suspicion or intuition that something is missing. It is as if anger is a state of being and essential (if selfish) genesis of relating to God for the this large group of people and you can not go around it. Rather you have to go through it. In other words there is no therapeutic sidestepping it.

  163. Agata, I was using the condition of physical blindness and deafness as metaphors. We say as Orthodox people that the eyes and ears before the illumination of baptism are darkened. Jesus says, “If the light that is in you is darkness how great that darkness is.” Unfortunately, physical blindness and deafness challenge our ability to know and understand the world around us and, therefore, they challenge to our ability to act freely. That is why blindness is a near universal metaphor for mental and spiritual ignorance and darkness. I am sorry to disagree, but people do NOT know God and are NOT pretending to not know God, or good from bad. In fact, I would say that unless you are God how would you ever really know what good and bad really are? I think its odd that we think that we understand so much having lived so little time here on earth with all of the confusion of ideas and despair. As for blaming God goes…I don’t think that he is as offended by ‘the blame game’ as his servants are.

    I sense a shift in tone. I must have angered some of the other readers here. I apologize and ask your forgiveness. As for blaming God…I’m sorry, but I’m not remorseful in the least.

  164. Simon, et al
    I do not think I’ve read a single comment that suggests that God is angered or bothered in any way about our blaming Him, or yelling at Him, etc. Thus, it’s a moot point (at least here on the blog).

    What I think I see in responses to comments that engage in that kind of thing is not a drive to protect God but two other things: a drive to protect themselves, as in, safeguarding faith against what might be a perceived slander. Or (and I think this is dominant) a concern for the heart of whoever expresses the blame, anger, etc. Efforts to reason or converse or even argue with the blame, etc., are probably well-meant efforts to help.

    Alyosha’s conversations with his brother Ivan were never intended to defend God or make a philosophical point. There was simply his concern for the pain or emptiness in his brother’s soul.

    It is a very natural reaction when someone expresses a negative feeling or thought to respond in some manner – to comfort, to urge something, etc. The natural reaction is how we respond to pain (or should respond to pain). And so, when we throw something out there of that sort, we should never be surprised that it provokes a response – either helpful or not. But, when we throw something really negative out there and think at the same time: “Hey! I’m comfortable with this, what’s your problem?” it is naive.

    This is not to say that there are not those out there who rush to protect God. I just don’t see any of that around here.

  165. ” Its difficult to make sense of the idea of freedom that is so utterly in the darkness and ignorant. How free is someone born blind and deaf? ”

    Job himself does not “see” either the final limits of his will nor it’s ultimate outcome or fruit. As you say, his is the cry of Faith and not rebellion. Faith is not “darkness and ignorance” and can not come from it, so however the will is limited it can not be reduced to the nothingness that is correctly termed “darkness and ignorance”. So while Job rightly exercised his will (and all the other attributes that make up his Person) and his friends did not, Job and everything he is (i.e. his will, his understanding, his love, and his faith) in the end “repent(s) in dust and ashes” in the face of Him and His uncircumscribable Will.

    Also, ever read Helen Keller’s autobiography? She was literally born blind and deaf yet her will and her whole life just does not seem to be rightly described as a total darkness.

    Whatever the limits of human will, there is “space” for it to fulfill its purpose. Radial examples that seem to contradict this are at best the exceptions that prove the rule, and are probably not even exceptions…

  166. I often come back to the almost simplistic expression that, in a very real sense, ‘at the end of the day’, it matters very little what ‘cards we have been dealt’ (whether we are blind, rich, Samoan or test-tubed etc) but how we “dealt with them” (the direction upon which we mainly directed our energies during our earthly sojourn). Forgetting this, waters many more rebellious weeds in one’s heart, remembering it aids the [scandalous to secular thinking] acceptance and stoic humility that is so admirable when witnessed in the saints.

  167. Father, am I wrong to think that if I start trying to defend God that is a dangerous place to be. In a certain sense it would put me greater than God would it not? At the very least it is a precursor to a useless and hurtful argument.

    God is, I am contingent. My experience has been that He reveals Himself to the extent that I can bear it when I demonstrate some humility and look nowhere else for my help.

    It has literally been in tears of fear, grief and repentance that such has occurred for me by His grace. I do not even have to defend my own perception. It just is. That gives me hope.

  168. Dino (and Dee).

    Dino, you said, “I often come back to the almost simplistic expression that, in a very real sense, ‘at the end of the day’, it matters very little what ‘cards we have been dealt’ (whether we are blind, rich, Samoan or test-tubed etc) but how we “dealt with them”

    That is the very point Fr. Hopko makes in

    Thank you, Dee!

  169. Hello, I am an occasional reader here, and I wanted thank you for this post, Fr. Stephen. I read it to my young adult children this morning at breakfast, and all of us appreciated your thoughts and enjoyed a good discussion that left us uplifted and encouraged.

    I was so impressed with this post that I decided to read the comments, too–all 189 of them! They left me with a lot to ponder. One of the commenters (Stephen Griswold) stated that the Roman Catholic doctrine of Original Sin is heretical. What is the Roman Catholic doctrine of Original Sin?

  170. @Simon
    This is a very late response, and I’m not sire whether it will even be read, but…
    “Mercy requires hell to not exist
    Putting people in hell who are spiritually blind makes as much sense as punishing a blind man in jail for losing at yard darts.”
    Saint Silouan said that love cannot bear that anyone will be tormented in hell. That if you can rejoice in the idea that anyone (unrepentant sinners, atheists, etc) will be in hell, you have not yet learned to love your brothers. I’m sorry, I don’t have the them exact quote in front of me, but I would highly recommend reading “St Silouan the Athonite” by Archimandrite Sophrony if this is still an issue that is weighing on your mind. We should pray for them all: all the people who don’t know God, or who hate Him. Jesus offered a prayer for forgiveness in his torment. How much easier should it be for us, who are not being tortured or crucified, to pray for them that lack understanding?

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