The Singular Goodness of God

It has long seemed to me that it is one thing to believe that God exists and quite another to believe that He is good. Indeed, to believe that God exists simply begs the question. That question is: Who is God, and what can be said of Him? Is He good? This goes to the heart of the proclamation of the Christian faith. We believe that God has revealed Himself definitively in the God/Man, Jesus Christ, and preeminently in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Years ago, a friend of mine was speaking with an Orthodox priest about certain matters of conscience. In the course of the conversation, my friend mentioned concerns with the judgment of God, expressing a certain dread. The priest responded by turning around a small icon of Christ that was on his desk so that my friend could see it. It was the icon of Christ, “Extreme Humility,” that pictures Him in the depth of His humiliation and suffering. “Which God are we talking about?” was the priest’s question. My friend’s concerns were answered in that moment. Whatever our concerns might be, the goodness of God is revealed in that icon without qualification.

It is possible to use the entire Jesus story as a way of proving the existence of God, only to then proceed to think of God in terms that are somehow removed from Christ Himself. I’m not sure whether we imagine this “God” to be the “Father” or something else. These conversations (and thoughts) are often expressed in terms of, “I believe that God…” and on from there. I think of this as the God of the blackboard. Jesus is used in order to prove the blackboard but then we begin to fill in that large, blank wall with our own imaginings (or various passages of Scripture that we might use as a counterweight to the story of Jesus).

Sometimes those imaginings are extrapolations from Scripture (this story or that). Sometimes they are the productions of opinion. Many times our imaginings were handed down to us or written in our minds long before we ever thought about the matter.

If the stories of Scripture “prior” to Christ were sufficient for the knowledge of God, Christ would not have spoken in correction of the conclusions falsely drawn from them. There is a Greek word for an interpretation of the Scriptures: exegesis. It is most informative to note that St. John (in the Greek) says:

The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has exegeted Him. (Joh 1:18)

Christ is how we “read” God. We cannot get behind Christ to speak about God as though we knew anything of God apart from Christ. We do not know God “prior” to Christ. When Christ declares that He is the “Way, the Truth, and the Life” and that “no one comes to the Father except by Me,” He is not merely describing the path of salvation, He is making it clear that it is through Him alone that we know God. This is also affirmed in St. Matthew’s gospel:

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

Christ not only reveals God, but He reveals the goodness of God. He is what goodness looks like. Throughout His ministry, every word and action is a revelation of goodness. That goodness is supremely made manifest in His voluntary self-emptying on the Cross. This revelation is definitive and must be always borne in mind when we consider who God is and what kind of God He is. He is the kind of God who empties Himself for our sake, unites Himself to our shame and suffering, and endures all things that He might reconcile us to Himself and lead us into the fullness of life in Him.

This is the proper “exegesis” of the Scriptures. Anything that imagines God in a manner that is not consistent with this presentation is a deviant reading (for a Christian). This calls for an inner discipline. When reading even the most disturbing imprecatory passages within the Scriptures, we should search for the image of the Crucified Christ within them. There are frequent paradoxes in such an approach. This is particularly true in the language of hell (and its synonyms).

God has no need for punishment. He is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). He cannot will our destruction and punishment while at the same time not willing that we should perish. Even the language of the fires of hell as a self-inflicted reality can be misleading. We know by experience that we are capable of inflicting great suffering on ourselves and we can easily imagine that stretching into eternity. What is being described, however, are the inner dynamics of a relationship with Divine Love: compassionate, forgiving, gentle, self-emptying in the extreme. The language and imagery of Scripture can be graphic, at times repulsive, particularly in the confusion of modern literalism.

These matters must be read within the heart (for that is where they were written). The singular commitment of the heart must be grounded in the goodness of God. We are not asked to look at something that is repugnant or horrible and say that it is good. That would do damage to the soul. What we know in Christ tells us that God is good. It is this that we look for as we search the depths of our world for understanding.

An element of God’s goodness that is frequently overlooked is found in our freedom (even when we misuse it). Nothing else in all creation is given the freedom that marks human existence. Everything else around us expresses its nature. A dog always acts as a dog. Human beings have the capacity in our freedom to act contrary to our nature. Sometimes our own sanity is insane. Some of the Fathers describe this capacity as “godlike.” We have been given a freedom that transcends our nature. It is this freedom that, potentially, finds expression in the fullness of personal existence.

We are created with the capacity to see God “face-to-face,” to interact as an equal, regardless of how absurd that might seem. It is an existence that is not confined to nature or circumstance but finally is above both. It is an existence that is constituted solely by love. I have seen this freedom exercised as love, even within the depths of protracted, life-long suffering. The goodness manifested in such examples is staggering.

I do not think there is a calculus that can be brought into this reality. Is the freedom we are given worth the price? No calculus is possible because we cannot measure the things involved. I cannot measure the suffering of an innocent child (as did Ivan Karamazov) just as I cannot measure the full joy of the freedom of love. What we have in Christ, however, is an example of both.

Here, we profess, is the most Innocent of the innocent, who, “for the joy that was set before Him, endured the Cross, disregarding the shame” (Heb. 12:2). The “joy that was set before Him,” is not some sort of private bliss. It is the joy of love, in freeing those who are held in bondage so that they might see Him face-to-face (as an equal) in all of the fullness of a true personal existence.

I cannot imagine this, nor measure this. But I can say that I see this. I see One who is utterly good, compassionate and self-emptying, walking the path of the unimaginable because He is good and thinks we are worth it. My faith (trust, loyalty) says, “I want to walk that path – help me!” I take His death and resurrection as the revelation of God and of the world as well.




  1. Fr. Stephen,
    My heart rejoices as I read your words! Growing up in church, I heard about Jesus’ love, but dreaded the Father. Before becoming Orthodox I continued this bifurcation into adulthood. I have the icon you reference. I think I need to take it out from a drawer more than just during Pascha. You are correct. It is simply impossible to look at this icon and to believe that God is not good. I do not want the God of the blackboard…but the living, good and gracious God which we see in Christ. Thank you for reminding us that Jesus exegetes the Father by every word He speaks, by every action He takes. As I’ve written before, in my heart, still before God, I have only experienced Christ as good. Stillness is good, the God we meet there is totally Good! Thank this good God for your writings on this blog, thank Him for His holy Church. Since it is His body on earth it continues to this day to faithfully exegete the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to us, through every prayer, liturgy and hymn. I could not have known this good God in His fullness but for the Orthodox Church.

  2. I like to remember 1John 4:8 “God is love” when reading 1Cor 13. Then I read ‘God’ in stead of love in each instance. Therefore, ” God is patient, God is kind. He does not envy, He does not boast, He is not proud. He does not dishonor others, He is not self-seeking, He is not easily angered, He keeps no record of wrongs. He does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. He never fails.
    Perhaps one isn’t supposed to do that with scripture, but how else do we know love than Christ revealed unto us. And again , the fuit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22) must reveal something of the nature of God Himself – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. I feel it is all summed up in the word philantropos. Our good and man-loving God.

  3. Amen Father! Joy is a gift of God that cannot be contained. It shines through the deepest grief, sorrow and pain.

  4. Father Stephen, thank God you posted your thoughts today. I had gone surfing on the web yesterday and got caught up in the teaching of toll houses. I will bookmark this post to read again (and again!)

  5. When a protestant, I saw God the Father as a distant “great cosmic bushwhacker.” It took coming to the Orthodox Church and experiencing the true faith to know the love of God, Faher, Son, and Holy Spirit.

  6. Father,
    Laura’s comment made in think of something. Now, your article rings true to my mind and heart. Being so, how does something as frightful as the toll houses get started? Had I first read about them when I first approached Orthodoxy I would have rejected it all outright. After being Orthodox some years I had to toss out a book on judgment and tollhouses. It simply wasn’t what I knew of Christ.

  7. So how do we see human freedom with respect to Romans 7 where the apostle twice says ‘If the things I wish to do are not the things I do, but the things I do not wish are what I practice. Then it is no longer I that do them, but the sin that dwells in me.’ How do understand the ‘no longer I that does it’?

  8. Father,
    I think my own willingness to profess belief in foreign images and expressions of piety that, if I am truly honest with myself, undermine my essential childlike trust in the love of God I see in the face of Christ in this Icon, and which I cannot translate into the language that comes across to me clearly in Orthodox Liturgy and dogma, is not a “noble sentiment”, but rather more like spiritual delusion and a state ripe for the development of prelest (if it is not that already). Maybe that’s a too harsh judgment on myself and I can’t speak for others, but that’s what I suspect.

    That said, I can’t judge pious Orthodox customs in the old country. Otoh, I have run into other converts like myself from non-Orthodox backgrounds (Catholic or Protestant), not just from American culture, but also from other cultures, who by things they told me or did and said with their children in my presence gave the impression of living in an unhealthy fear of displeasing God and of their own sin’s power relative to God’s disposition to forgive, in their own or their children’s lives. I admit I have seen things that have troubled me for them and the kids. I could see that mindset, if uncorrected, reaping some trouble (especially with the kids) down the road (especially if they remain in this culture). Always, but especially when they are young, our kids need to know we do not love them (and God does not love them) only when they behave appropriately or only after they say sorry for an infraction of parental instruction, etc., but ALL THE TIME!

    Going back to my own experience, when we can never completely relax in childlike joy and abandon to the love of God, even right after Confession, that’s a sign there is still healing needed in this area.

  9. Simon,
    I think that our freedom is impaired. It’s not that we have no freedom, but it is clearly damaged. St. Paul seems to be echoing a common rabbinical understanding of the time – that we have within us the “Yetzer Ha Ra” and the “Yetzer Ha Tov,” the “evil impulse” and the “good impulse.” Paul describes it as “no longer but sin that dwells in me.”

    Take that passage and consider it in light of Galatians 5. There Paul speaks of liberty (freedom). Just as he says in Romans 7 that it is Christ who can set free (from this ‘body of death’). Our freedom is a gift of grace – not the product of a perfectly free will. As such, I think, we frequently experience it as fragile in this life. Paul begs the Galatians to “stand fast in the liberty.”

    We should not think of human existence as possessing freedom – it is capable of freedom. Freedom is an attribute of God – “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” That we can have it is a token of the theosis of which we are capable by grace.

    Be we should not think of human existence as bereft of freedom. Just like all of our capacities, we still have them, even though they are damaged. We still breathe, and think, etc. I think of the man who cries out, “I believe, help my unbelief!” Or, perhaps, Fr. Thomas Hopko’s famous, “Do you want to want to want to?” Sometimes that’s about the best we can muster.

    I’ve said before that if we give God an inch, He’ll take our life. Or, that my prayer is, “O Lord, drag my sorry soul into paradise.” That is a statement of the will – even though I know how hard I’ll fight Him. The morning I “decided” to become Orthodox, I knelt by my bed and prayed, “O God, make me Orthodox.” I meant by that, “O Lord, I want to be Orthodox” and “O Lord, you’ll have to make me.” It took seven years. There was one set of footprints (His), and one set of marks made by two feet that were being dragged.

    And that was only a willingness towards Orthodoxy…which is nothing more than the gate. He’s still dragging me. Blessed be His name!

  10. Karen,
    You’ll note I deleted my earlier comment. Sometimes I have to moderate myself!

    But, I’ve encountered plenty of fear of an angry God among those who have grown up in Orthodox lands (and elsewhere). Orthodoxy, per se, is not really a protection from it. I think of it as a shallow, under-formed Orthodoxy – far too common in some places. It is quite possible for Orthodoxy to be a “cultural religion” just as being Baptist in the South is a cultural religion (I ought to know).

    St. Anthony the Great said there are three kinds of believers: the slave, the hired worker, and the child. The child acts out of love; the hired worker for reward; the slave out of fear. He advocated the role of the child. But, his saying also did not dismiss the slave or hired hand. Some are saved by fear…though God wills so much better for us. Finding that better thing is often difficult given the circumstances of life. I know plenty of priests who think fear to be of great use. It has never been terribly helpful to me. Over the years, I have noticed that those who prefer fear as a godly approach do not care for my ministry over the long haul.

  11. We should not think of human existence as possessing freedom – it is capable of freedom. Freedom is an attribute of God…[But] we should not think of human existence as bereft of freedom.

    Yep. I agree.

  12. Thanks, Father.

    St John Climacus also picks up on the language of St. Anthony in his famous work. In the first chapter, he writes:

    “…The man who renounces the world because of fear is like burning incense, which begins with fragrance and ends with smoke. The man who leaves the world in hopes of a reward is like the millstone that always turns on the same axis. But the man who leaves the world for love of God has taken fire from the start, and like fire set to fuel, it soon creates a conflagration.”

    This understanding is reflected in the advice given by Elder (now Saint) Porphyrios in Wounded by Love where he strongly emphasizes doing everything out of love for Christ (rather than the compulsion of fear or duty). He prefers the “soft” way. I find that much more effective for me as well.

    I think somewhere in St. John’s book, he does again pick up this theme using the language of “slave, servant and son” for these stages/types. I think I have seen language about this from the Fathers that suggests salvation (theosis) only properly characterizes the third stage/type and that the first two only save by being the intermediate means (for some) to the third. In my mind, getting stuck in fear or even hope of a reward (external to God Himself) correspond to mistaking the spiritual disciplines as ends in themselves, when they are only a means to the end of a true participation in the love of God, (which mistaken mindset is not salvific). This was the problem of the older son in Christ’s parable of the Prodigal Son. He never stopped performing long enough to find out the Father loved him just because he was a son—not for all the work he was doing….How well I can relate.

  13. When my heart worries about judgment, I sometimes think of our being saved as a question of consent. I know that God would do anything for us, has laid down His life for us that we might live forever and know Him, that He desires all to be saved. But just like in modern sexual politics, it all comes down to consent. God created us to love him, but there is no such thing as love without the freedom to choose.

    God can’t be in a relationship with us without our consent. He is all-powerful and could force us to “love” Him, to follow Him, but what kind of love is that? Love is only love when it’s freely given, and that is what I believe He wants from us, our freely given, but imperfect, love. That is why He created us “in His image,” able to choose for ourselves, gifted with the ultimate power of being able to reject the love even of God Himself! Our creator who loves us more even than His own life! And we all do reject Him and betray him every single day in greater and smaller ways. He can forgive it all and bring us back to Him. But only if we desire it.

    I know an alcoholic who has been suffering the deterioration of his esophagus and in great pain from it. But he won’t stop drinking a case of Budweiser a day. He can’t sleep from the pain, but he can’t give up drinking. Sometimes I think we are like that, just so addicted to sin, so unable to imagine life without our vices, without our anger or our selfishness or whatever our worst weaknesses might be, that we can’t put them aside and be healed. We reject the God who loves us and choose slavery to another master who is destroying us.

    I think of judgment as really an extension of that choice. Christ can free us from the chains of our own broken “freedom” that we imagine we have in this life, clouded by our woundedness and the fallen, sinful world, but not if we don’t want Him to!

    The people I pray hardest for are those who say they “hate” God. Often I hear people say, “if God would allow XYZ to happen, then He’s cruel/evil/uncaring/fill in the blank. Why should I worship a God like that?” This post strikes at the heart of the false God these people imagine. A God like what? The icon says it all!

    I’m not theologically trained, so what do I know, but that is how I think of things. I love your blog, by the way, Fr. Freeman, I have been reading silently for a long time, but this is my first time making a comment!

  14. Father Stephen, i have a friend who was raised Catholic and is now Orthodox. He recently told me that henhoped his father was not in hell. I told him that it was my understanding that no one was in hell at present and that no one would be consigned to hell until after the Last Judgment. Can you please tell me if my understanding is correct?

  15. Karen,
    The issue of how a fearful image of God informs parenting has also been troubling to me as of late.

    I have noticed that folks who have a fear based faith often embrace parenting philosophies which are authoritarian at best and downright abusive at worst.

    Father Stephen, thank you. This writing answers the deepest cry of my heart to know that God is good.

  16. Father,

    I believe that the language Scripture sometimes uses – and the language of a dread judgement is found in Scripture- is helpful according to the spiritual state of the one hearing/ reading those words. I’m sure you agree on this.

    In this way, I don’t think it is right to completely toss out the more fearful imagery of the tradition. Especially in our day and age when we consider everything relative, with no consequence whatsoever and we expect to be allowed to do whatever we want, a lot of people may all too easily reach a false conclusion on the opposite extreme of the spectrum: God will always forgive me whatever I do, so I have nothing to worry about. And so never feel any impulse to actually wake up from their torpor and actually get to real ascetical action and true repentance.

  17. I can’t remember when this passage from the book of Wisdom really opened my being to the goodness of God. But it is comforting and confirming to me. I am Roman Catholic, so Wisdom, part of the Apocrypha, is really part of Scripture to me. Wisdom says, “Because God did not make death, nor does He rejoice in the destruction of the living. For He fashioned all things that they might have being, and the creatures of the world are wholesome; There is not a destructive drug among them nor any domain of Hades on earth, for righteousness is undying…For God formed man to be imperishable, the image of His own nature He made him. But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who belong to his company experience it.” Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24

  18. Mihai,
    The danger you mention in your last paragraph is a real one. I don’t think we advocate for removal of the language of the dread of God’s judgement at all in the Tradition, but it is important to recognize that until we are very clear about what kind of God it is who judges here, this language and imagery in Scripture can be very badly misused and misunderstood, such that it is destructive of our very salvation, rather than our sin. This is true whether one rejects the judgment of the (imagined false) “God” we fear or accepts it. In the latter case, where we embrace the false understanding of God’s nature and judgment, it will really work to make us more like the demons than like Christ.

  19. Fr Stephen,

    I am struck by your statement “It is possible to use the entire Jesus story as a way of proving the existence of God, only to then proceed to think of God in terms that are somehow removed from Christ Himself. ” [thank you for such provocative sentences!] I catch myself going down this path. If this resultant ‘blackboard God’ is removed from Christ, how can the branches partake of the life in the true vine if we live with this ‘blackboard God’ rather than Christ? This ‘blackboard God’ may be just a man-made construct: it will lead to barrenness, not life. Why do I tend to think of God in terms removed from Christ? Excessive theologizing in the sense of scholasticism? [my background is Protestantism]

  20. I find that God speaks to everyone in a way they can understand. I remember hearing an Orthodox priest say that much of the OT makes God sound angry because that’s the language those people understood. In those cultures they were always warring with each other and would have no place for a God that didn’t use a show of force.

    The dwarves of the Last Battle (Chronicles of Narnia) only understood hay and stable water. I know God’s a genius and He could find a way of bringing them into the kingdom, but I wouldn’t be surprised if in the situations where we were standing nearby, that it wouldn’t sound right to us.

    We have this desire to be able to bless everything as onlookers, but that’s rarely possible because we understand so little and are so damaged and standing in the peanut gallery isn’t really our place.

  21. Esmee,
    I’ve heard varying takes on this. The character of things such as heaven and hell, seem to have a timeless character about them at least in relation to how we live and think. I certainly believe (in Orthodox understanding) that regardless of any of it, we may pray for the departed and our prayers are of benefit to them. The careful delineations and distinctions about details in the afterlife are a fairly late development and are not found so much in the early witness of the Church. I pray with confidence – not because of the nature of hell, etc. – but because God is good.

  22. Thank you, Father Stephen. I don’t always understand but always am fed and ‘directed’ (for lack of a better word,) by your most helpful and Christ glorifying writing.

  23. Father Stephen,
    Is there any literature out there on the OT that speaks to it specifically in regard to Christ’s Pascha? I have a book on my shelf (to be read), “The Old Testament in Eastern Orthodox Tradition”, by Eugin J. Pentiuc. Are you familiar with it? I purchased it because I was looking for a book that would directly address the OT scripture in one place, rather than in the various homilies and such by the Fathers.

  24. Fr., Isn’t it appropriate to read the OT as history? It is presented with chronologies and genealogies. Things are time stamped by the the reigns of kings. So, why is the tendency to take these accounts literally misdirected? My assumption would have been that at some point in the the history of Israel these were taken as matters of fact.

  25. Father, about my question above…I do recall you saying that OT scripture is directed to Christ’s Pascha in the words of the Divine Liturgy….

  26. Dear Father Stephen;
    I would find it helpful and perhaps others as well, to have a much better handle on Marcionism. Both how the heresy arose, how it was handled in its day, and how the Church maintains its Christ-in-His-pascha hermeneutic for interpreting OT scriptures that is *not* a ‘pseudo-Marcionism’ (as some like to think).
    Perhaps if we Orthodox better knew what Marcionism is and more importantly what it *isn’t*, we would have more peace and understanding with our Holy Scriptures (O.T.).

    Thanks as always for your care and insight;
    -Mark Basil

  27. Simon,
    That’s a very good observation and fair question. Drawing from the many times Fr. Stephen has written on this I’ll try to summarize in my own words, what I have learned from him.

    1) “History” in the modern mind most often means something that is literally not ever possible for humans to know–it is a modern conceit. In modern terms, “history” as “facts and chronological events” is taken to mean “what actually happened in a purely ‘objective’ way (objective in this sense is another modern conceit) from a (humanly imagined) ‘omniscient’ point of view (that literally nobody, apart from Christ, has actually ever had). We are told quite pointedly in the NT after the revelation of Christ has dawned that the OT and even NT prophets “know in part and prophesy in part” or “see dimly as in a dark mirror” (Hebrews 1:2, 1 Corinthians 13). Only Christ sees, knows, and reveals fully to the prophets, apostles and ultimately to us in the Church, “insofar as we can bear it” (in the language of the Hymn of the Holy Transfiguration we will soon be singing) what is “true” or “real”.

    2) This does not mean that the “historical” data we have, whether modern or in the Scriptures, has no relationship whatsoever to people that really existed and events that actually occurred (at least insofar as the former were able to perceive them). It surely does. Both the language of the Apostles in witness to Christ and Christ in witness to the OT prophets makes clear that they do. Nowhere does this become more evident or important to us than in the Scriptural witness to the Person and Resurrection of Jesus Christ Himself. But the relationships of these narratives is not purely “objective” as in the modern conceit. Knowing the content of these narratives certainly does not render the reader omniscient about the events that occurred! The relationship of these biblical narratives to the realities as they occur in heaven and on earth is, according to the Scriptures, “God-breathed”, and our understanding/perception must be similarly “God-breathed”–it must come through the life of God at work in us–if it is to be properly connected to the reality. The important thing to understand is we must have the guidance and inspiration of Christ by His Holy Spirit to understand the importance of these historical witnesses and events for us today. We are given that within the collective witness (Liturgy, Dogma, and Saints) of the Church down through the ages taken together and are granted it within our own hearts as we put into practice all we have been given in the faith (thus proving it over time in a process in our own experience to be true/real and in so doing increasing our own capacity for accurate discernment and spiritual perception).

  28. Karen, Thank you for your response. Not to be offensive. But, I think it is fair to ask: Did Israel invade Palestine and subjugate the existing population by war? That can be decided both by taking the OT at its word and by archaeology. I get the impression that you are saying that history as a matter of fact cannot be approached empirically. Is that right?

  29. Simon,
    Kinda, sorta, yes and no. 🙂

    Even the most historically written accounts in the OT have an underlying theological shape to them. If we think of history as “the facts of what happened” (one of our mistaken notions) – why are certain facts included and certain facts omitted. What makes these facts important? History is never “just the facts.” It is a story (perhaps drawing on facts) and that story has a point that shapes how it is told.

    One mistake to make about the OT is to treat everything the same. It’s a collection of books, written over a very long span of time. Genesis is not at all like 1 Kings, for example. When they are read in that manner, something gets very distorted.

    How did Israel read these writings? In a variety of ways. The assumptions about literal historical reading are mistaken. The notions of literal historical methods are largely a product of modernity. It is a moving of the notion of truth from the realm of God to the realm of a secular, merely factual playing field.

    An example: in the book of Daniel, we see described scenes of heavenly warfare between Michael the Archangel and the “Prince of Persia,” which, in turn, is reflected in the historical events of Daniel’s world and later. I wrote about this in a recent article. At no point is Israel thinking that “history” is a thing created by the actions of this King versus that King. Almost all of their “historical” accounts assume that there is ever so much more going on than can be seen on the ground. Sometimes the accounts are quite specific.

    Let’s leap forward. Suppose you’re reading a book on the history of the American Civil War. If the chapters begin to be shaped by a narrative that says God ordained the defeat of the South because of its many sins against the poor, etc., a modern historian would laugh the book off the shelf. You can’t say such things in a purely “historical” account. But the Scriptures say that sort of thing all the time.

    That said, what we have is a “doctrinally shaped” narrative of history.

    “And God caused confusion to come on the eyes of the Confederate guard such that he shot Gen. Stonewall Jackson, mistaking him for the enemy…”

    The chronologies and genealogies of Genesis have about them something quite different than pure history…but that’s another matter.

    What is interesting from a classical Christian point of view is that we view the OT writings as “Scripture.” They are Scripture because they are inspired (God-breathed), not because they are a precisely, fact-only historical account. These writings may be read within the life of the Church and within them can be found the truth of the Christian faith as made known to us in Christ.

    Christ was raised on the third day “in accordance with the Scriptures.” But, pretty much, the only reference to a third-day resurrection is Jonah’s being coughed up by the fish on the third day. We had to be taught to read Jonah in that manner. It is not at all obvious from the book itself. Jonah is read in its entirety on Holy Saturday each year (one of 15 readings). I would suggest that it is read on that day so that the very setting itself will teach us how to read it.

    Another oddity: the story of Abraham and the battle of the 5 kings is read for the Feast marking the First Nicene Council. That’s quite odd on the face of it until you see that Abraham’s small entourage of soldiers consisted of 318 persons – just as there were 318 bishops in attendance at Nicaea. The two have no historical connection whatsoever – but that didn’t seem terribly significant to those who assembled the lectionary of the Church. They thought about these things in a manner that seems quite odd to us.

    All moderns are literalists. That’s how we imagine the world. It is devoid of magic, enchantment, etc. It has been thoroughly “de-mythologized.” Little wonder that it keeps producing atheists. At best, God lives on the second storey.

    That Jonah in the belly of the whale is actually, really and truly about Jesus in the belly of the earth is almost impossible for us to understand. At most, we think that reading the book in that manner is a literary technique, a way of reading that is fanciful, imaginative, and ok so long as everybody agrees about it. But, as factualists, we would never see it as the basis of a convincing argument.

    St. Paul says concerning Hagar and Sarah:

    But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are an allegory. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar–for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children–but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.
    (Gal. 4:23-26)

    When Paul calls it an “allegory,” he doesn’t mean here’s a neat way of reading the story. He thinks that the nature of anything in Scripture can be read allegorically because that is the nature of Scripture. It has the strange quality about it in which deeper meanings can be found by going beneath the letter itself. If you will (to use modern speech), Paul can use allegory, because he thinks the allegory is literally true. It’s really there.

    The gospels are very good examples. The gospels are written with all kinds of keys and hints about how to read them – even deeper than the letter itself. The story of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ are told in a manner to guarantee that we will be able to see them within the OT Scriptures. They teach us how to read the Old.

    This bothers us, because we think that truth has a modern, literal shape. They do not think that. They believed that what we call “literal” or “fact” is only the end product of something behind, beneath, before that gives it its shape and that you don’t understand anything until you know the behind, beneath and before. Jesus as the Logos is a declaration that He is the behind, beneath and before of everything, always and everywhere.

    Modernity doesn’t think there is a Logos of any sort, other than in the imagination.

    That’s enough for the moment.

  30. I will add one last point to my response to Simon’s question.

    In this life, we as limited creatures, only ever know “in part”. We do not know in full, until we see Him face to face (1 John 3:2, I Corinthians 13:9). Nevertheless, what we can know from Scripture, from the Church, will always be sufficient to our growth in grace toward salvation as we cooperate with the grace of the Holy Spirit drawing us toward our proper End in Christ.

  31. Mark,
    First, almost everyone running around today talking about “pseudo-Marcionism” is, in fact, a modernist in old clothes. Marcion thought (literally) that the God described in the OT was a different thing than the God made known in Christ. The refutation of Marcion was not made by arguing that the stories of the OT were actually really nice stories about the gentle, kind God made known in Jesus Christ. The truth is, the Church was frequently scandalized by certain things in those stories that were contrary to what we see in Christ. Christ rebukes his disciples when they invoke the Elijah story and want to call down bears to eat the people who rejected him. “You do not know what Spirit you are of.”

    Jesus Himself critiques the Torah, suggesting that it was Moses, not God, who gave the teaching on divorce. But, if you read Leviticus, it sure seems to be saying that Moses got it from the mouth of God.

    The Church refutes Marcion by affirming the inspiration and use of the OT. But it continued to use the OT frequently in an allegorical or deeper level of reading. There are a variety of ways among the fathers of doing this – of justifying the violence, etc., of the OT. Not all of them are as successful as others. The worst, in my opinion, are like certain modern Protestants who say, “Yes, this is really how God is and if you don’t behave yourself He’ll do the same to you and worse.” They tend to like the Penal Substitionary Theory of the Atonement because it needs the graphic imagery of the OT God to work. “He’s not like that now so much because He took it out on His Son instead.”

    I have certainly been accused of being a pseudo-Marcionite (though not by the Orthodox to my knowledge). I saw someone critique my use of allegory, etc., as a case of pseudo-liberalism. I’m quite the opposite. Like the fathers, and St. Paul, I think that the types, symbols, allegories, etc. are “literally” there. They are real. Mary really is the Ark of the Covenant. For me, a “mystical” reading is not a fuzzy thing, an ethereal compromise because you can’t handle the literal. It is the real thing, just as the Body of Christ is the reality of the Bread on the altar. I’m a Realist – a very rare thing in the modern world – but the most normative thing of all among the Fathers.

  32. Simon,
    That is how Israel tells the story of its settling in the Promised Land. How literal is it? We don’t know. Some archaeologists think there is more imagination in that than actual fact. It’s just not clear “in a historical sense.” But, that is a matter that can be debated and will never be settled. What we can say is that the story of Israel’s conquering of the Promised Land is Scripture and can be read and used (when rightly read and used) for “doctrine and reproof.” We do not use history (in the scientific use of the word) to judge the Scriptures. They are Scriptures because the Church uses them as such. If we determine that every jot and tittle of the stories are literally true – that is interesting – but it doesn’t make them more true than they already are. They stand regardless.

    That approach to the Scriptures befuddles the modern mind. Many defenders (including some among the Orthodox) of a more literalistic treatment of the Scriptures cannot fathom anything other than a literalistic treatment being true. In that sense, I think they are modernists. They fail to see how their own worldview differs from that of the Fathers. It is why I frequently complain about an uninstructed use of the Fathers – when they are just used as “pull quotes” without a real understanding of their mind and worldview.

  33. Hear is what I honestly heard Fr. say. History is at best a figment of the modern imagination and at worst propaganda. The idea of facts and facticity are a modern fiction. And so the question of the historicity of the OT is moot.

  34. I also hear Fr. saying that the truth of the OT that the Church is interested in is the allegorical truth embedded in the stories of the OT. It isn’t concerned or at least it is much less concerned about whatever might be historically true.

  35. I thank God for your clear exposition of the true apostolic and classical patristic way of looking at these matters, Father. It is a most welcome deliverance from the “modernist in old clothes”, which message, when all is said and done, can be seen to be the very antithesis of the gospel as it has been received in Christ! No wonder it has borne such deadly fruit in people’s souls and in our culture.

  36. Simon,
    “Empirical” history is detective work. Evidence is gathered and events are inferred. But we can rarely do more than infer. We can look at the walls of Jericho, for example, and see if there is evidence for something like the Bibilical story. But it’s always a bit of a guessing game. Rarely do we get anything that would hold up in court. Ever so often, there is a discovery that cause a complete shift in all the interpretations that have gone before. It’s useful, and interesting, but not requisite for the Christian reading of the OT.

  37. I won’t lie to you it is so foreign to how I think that I feel like I’m resisting double-speak or brain washing. I’m laughing as I type that…but it’s true. I feel like that I am being told that 2 + 2 = 5.

  38. Beth, I would like to thank you for this common sense synthesis of several New Testament passages. Your approach might not be conventional, but I think it’s a logical, true syllogism (A is B, B is C, therefore A is C, with God as A and love as B), and at least it inspires joy in me.

    I am very pleased by this scriptural discovery, as it helps me trust in God’s connection to love – in the past, I have doubted if love is part of God’s nature. Spelling it all out corrects my doubt.

  39. Karen, Simon,
    A little biography here. One of the things that led me to think carefully about “allegory” (which was a catch-all term for a variety of non-literal readings) started when I was in seminary. There were literalists out there, and there were historical-critical scholars who looked for scientific, empirical ways of reading. Then I would come across an allegorical reading in the fathers.

    The key question that came to me was this: “What if this reading of the Fathers is actually true? How could that be possible?”

    That question led me deeper into their world and into the kind of world that would ever have thought that Christ’s teaching on the Eucharist was real and accurate. No modern can ever believe that the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Christ. At best, he will struggle, but will always doubt. Or worse, he’ll believe it in the wrong way and for the wrong reason.

    The right way is similar to Pat. Bartholomew who says, “The whole world is a sacrament.” Yes – that’s actually a statement about the nature of reality. Reality is sacramental.

    That question about the Fathers’ mind and the nature of reality gradually led to a conversion of my own mind – and through much toil and trouble to accepting an understanding of classical Realism. There were many, many things that contributed to this. One of them that some might find interesting is the work of Owen Barfield, one of the Inklings. His work deeply affected both Lewis and Tolkien. I just threw that in for the fun of it!

  40. Here’s another quick observation:

    In modernity, things being just things with no reality deeper than what you see on the literal level, all meaning is nothing more than an act of the will, an imposition. As such, meaning can only be a political construct, a way of seeing things imposed by one group on another. That worldview is actually gaining in popularity and is the natural conclusion of the assumptions of modernity.

    For a long part of the modern period, we have been living on the left-over agreements from the older world of Realism. But they survived only as social conventions. As the conventions are shattering, all we are left with is the raw power of politics. Fox/CNN is the shape of modernity – the inevitable consequence of the whole thing. I find that disgusting. It is for reasons like that – that I speak as disparagingly of modernity as I do. It is not about science, test tubes, toilets, medicines, etc. Modernity is about the shattering of the world into competing uses of power. It tries to create its own sacraments. In modernity, some of the most deadly words ever spoken are: “This is my body…”

  41. Simon,
    I think we all (as those recovering from the relentless modernist propaganda in which we have been submersed all our lives) especially at first feel the same way when we stumble across the real spiritual way the Scriptures (and our lives ultimately) are to be interpreted! It really is very foreign to us and can just seem so wrong, but as I think you will discover it is actually more and more liberating because it is the only true way to relate to Reality, of which the material events we can observe with our ordinary human faculties and means of analysis, are only a very tiny subset. Did not Jesus say, “The Truth shall set you free”? Suddenly so many words, events, and experiences in the Tradition and in our lives begin to find a coherent Paradigm in the Logos that connects all things together in the right sequence and relationship from Beginning to End. Isn’t there some kind of Zen puzzle box that only unlocks when you work out the “key” that opens it, which is actually contained in/on the box itself, but which is not at all intuitively obvious until after you find it by an extremely intense process of trial and error and the box actually opens? I think that puzzle box is an allegory of the real world (not merely the material world we can empirically examine) we inhabit as material/spiritual creatures (“In Him we live and move and have our being.”).

  42. “For a long part of the modern period, we have been living on the left-over agreements from the older world of Realism. But they survived only as social conventions. As the conventions are shattering, all we are left with is the raw power of politics. Fox/CNN is the shape of modernity – the inevitable consequence of the whole thing. I find that disgusting. It is for reasons like that – that I speak as disparagingly of modernity as I do. It is not about science, test tubes, toilets, medicines, etc. Modernity is about the shattering of the world into competing uses of power. It tries to create its own sacraments. In modernity, some of the most deadly words ever spoken are: “This is my body…””

    Well, now! If that isn’t one of the most potent and succinct descriptions of the cultural and corrupt spiritual reality we inhabit in the present moment, I don’t know what would be!

  43. Thank you for your response Father. I am still hazy on the nature of the Marcion heresy. Is it heresy only because of the separation of the Deity between the testaments? I struggle because I do still find my efforts to read the OT “through Christ’s pascha” a challenge. When I come upon something that is just not consistent with Christ, what exactly do I do with it? This may just require more wisdom and maturity on my part.

    I do also wonder, can we read our own church hymns and history similarly?
    I personally cannot imagine taking Constantine’s interpretation of the sign as he took it– “through this you will conquer.” For Constatine to think that the thing to conquer were his flesh and blood enemies, and to put the cross on carnal weaponry almost like a talisman, directly misunderstands the Christian theological understanding of the Cross and even contradicts it, as well the nature of Christian warfare (spiritual not carnal).
    Should we read this Church history “allegorically” too? And take the true meaning to be spiritual not as it was initially taken by the historical participants?
    Also, “O Lord save your people… grant victory to the Orthodox Christians over their adversary(s)”. (and a few other hymns). As a Christian I simply cannot sing this hymn with its historical “authorial intent”. I have to read and mean it spiritually- true Adversary being Satan, and all that is his (demons, my own passions, the world, etc.). To what extent should we read our own church history “through Christ’s pascha” as it were?
    I see a glimmer of this in how Met. George looks at Byzantine violence.
    I dont know if you’ve ever read the article by Met. George (Lebanon) addressing OT violence?

    Where would you place this sort of read on the spectrum of realism, allegory, “the whole world is a sacrament,” the meaning behind the visible, etc.??
    -Mark Basil

  44. When I come upon something that is just not consistent with Christ, what exactly do I do with it? This may just require more wisdom and maturity on my part.

    Ditto for me.
    I don’t find anything at all Christlike or Paschal about wiping out a village with short swords, but sparing the young “women” for yourself or to give to your sons. To be fair, shouldn’t we at least acknowledge that there are really good reasons why someone would reject this as tribalism and dismiss it out of hand?

  45. Mark,
    Viz. Constantine. The story about the Cross is not an eyewitness thing, but a later story, and there are a couple of versions. It also only tells us about Constantine’s experience, not what is definitively true. It is not a story that says, “God did this.”

    I do not read Church history allegorically – in the sense that it is the story of what has happened (we have no “Scripture” about Church history other than the Book of Acts). The article you cite is certainly on the spectrum of allegorical interpretation…a bit bold, I might add. But, note. It’s not some little blogger – it’s an Orthodox bishop. So, at the very least, it is an example of an Orthodox reading.

    One way to bring Christ’s Pascha into everything – is to see His Pascha in the unfolding work of Providence. Even terrible things (like His crucifixion) are redeemed and brought into a triumphant, even paradoxical use. He saves us from the inside out.

  46. “One way to bring Christ’s Pascha into everything – is to see His Pascha in the unfolding work of Providence.”
    Ah…that was my original question that lingered in my mind while reading all you’ve said so far! I come away wondering if there is any hope for us moderns to be able to read the OT allegorically, as the Fathers did. Because I do not doubt a word you say about the difficulties we face. Father, BTW, I have read one of Owen Barfield’s books on the English language. It was very good…but I still struggle with seeing Christ’s Pascha in the OT!! I don’t mean just Jonah and Paul’s Mt. Sinai….I mean the entire OT! I know it’s going to take much more than Owen Barfield 😉 !
    Another question: there is a difference between “types and shadows” and allegory, isn’t there?
    I think you can write about this from now until Christ comes and I’d still not totally get it! I’m trying though, and will continue to pay attention.
    Thank you for all you’ve said, Father. Hope there’s more coming 🙂 .

  47. Simon re History. It is always about interetation. It can never be fully empirical because there are large amounts of data we can never know. There are two basic interpretations of history currently extant. The Nihilist and the Provendential. Father Stephen writes in the Providential mode. Most of us are conditioned and taught to think about history in the Nihilist manner: the triumph of the powerful and the destruction of things (over simplifying).

    In a recent discussion with Fr. Alexander F. C. Webster, Dean of Holy Trinity Seminary, he told me that we Orthodox must learn the Providential reality — especially those who would be priests or it is impsossible to understand in an Orthodox way.

    That one statement brought together my fifty years of studying the philosophy of history as a avocation. Each new found nugget in my exploration has brought me closer to the Providential reality of God with us full of love.

    People tend to overwork our rational brains to “understand” which often is simply a means to control or seem to control. It is certainly that way with history.

    God’s Providence is history. Although it is also the in most spark of love and longing in the center of our hearts and the communion we share with one another in the Church and the burdens we bear for one another leading to the Cross, the Grave, the Ressurection and the Parousia.

    God is good.

  48. Thanks for biographical and the Owen Barfield suggestion for reading, Father. Another one to add to my list…

  49. My avocation of history was a direct response to my first encounter with Jesus 50 years ago on a hill in northern Illinois. After 50 years I find I am not seeking to know more, but to know more deeply what I have been given. Facts and data; what and why not so important to me as who. It is a welcome change.

  50. Father, I have just finished reading your post and have skipped all the comments. I don’t even know what has been said so far. But I must say, this post is one of the most beautiful, the most hopeful, the most helpful, and the most awe inspiring things I have ever read. It explains so much while at the same time making one stop in one’s tracks to bow in worship. Thank you for using your freedom to listen to God and to share what he tells you through our Lord Jesus Christ.

  51. For an excellent study of the Old Testament, I refer everyone to the podcast on AFR by Dr. Jeannie Constantinou called Search the Scriptures. Her 178 lectures are in-depth and address many of the issues that have been discussed in these comments. I suggest starting with the introduction lectures and just listen straight through – preferable with pen and paper for taking notes!

  52. Melba…thank you! I actually have her podcasts bookmarked. What I was hoping for was a concise reading, like a book (!), in one place, that would be “quicker” than reading or listening to bits and pieces here and there. I want too much too fast I think. I am sure it is better to give some time to absorb, think about and settle. Appreciate your advice.

  53. “My avocation of history was a direct response to my first encounter with Jesus 50 years ago on a hill in northern Illinois….”

    But an archeologist who works at Modernist State (no agenda there) just discovered it was *southern* Illinois so of course none of this really adds up… 😉

    “Perhaps one isn’t supposed to do that with scripture….”

    I am glad you did Beth – food for thought

    On Pentiuc: his book is a scholarly work that is a kind of survey of a large number of “issues” from a scholastic perspective , etc. It reads like a Ph.D. thesis that was later revised several times into book form (you can spot the ‘breaks’ in writing/though rather easily). Useful reference but not a catechesis as such…

  54. The Christian Old Testament by Fr. Lawrence Farley is a very nice overview. At first it seems almost too simple, but on my second reading, more is being revealed.

  55. ” It is not about science, test tubes, toilets, medicines, etc. Modernity is about the shattering of the world into competing uses of power. It tries to create its own sacraments”

    Those Romans had nice toilets (sorry, could not resist 🙂 )

  56. Beth,
    I see your comment about the passage in 1 Corinthians 13 is gone (I assume at your own behest—there was nothing offensive in it at all). With Christopher, I can say I think that is an apt and very fruitful way to read St. Paul in that passage. In fact, I have heard others suggest that is a good exercise to do if we want to better understand God in His love. I have found it helpful that way in the past.

  57. Christopher, that’s funny. Thanks. It was a beautiful hill with a vista of sky and trees with little modern interference. A place of peace.

  58. Bless, Father! It seems sometimes that this singular goodness of God I know to be true feels too often absent in Orthodox parishes and even among monastics and is all too often replaced with negative, critical attitudes. I know that early after my conversion almost ten years ago I was zealous to the point of critical of Protestant family which I sorely regret and have since tried to repent of. What is the humble response to Orthodox Christians who are critical of convert parishes as not being Orthodox enough? Example: a
    parish consisting mostly of converts offers Vespers or Compline on Wednesday evenings followed by a meal and a teaching yet does not offer Matins every morning and thus is not a traditional Orthodox parish. Instead the parish is deemed too Protestant because Protestants meet on Wednesday evenings. What should one say in particular to a monastic who makes these repeated complaints about Wednesday evening gatherings or the homily sounding too Protestant because of how the priest chose to convey the message, etc? Should the hearer ignore this or is there anything appropriate to say?

  59. Beth,
    What you do with I Cor.13 I have done for several years with the Lord’s Prayer. I asked my priest for his blessing to pray the prayer this way. Instead of the plural “us” I insert someone’s name. If I feel the need I can pray in this way for the person several times a day.

  60. Father, must be these old, tired eyes! I went scrolling to find it after I saw Christopher’s mention to see if my memory was accurate and didn’t find it.

  61. WoW! The Extreme Humility icon is beloved in our house and Fr’s article and the commentary here throws much illumination on it, glory to God. What a good blog.

  62. Allison,
    I think to myself: Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing. In truth, they are ignorant of the faith, mistaking certain practices (like daily Matins) for true piety. Such Orthodox drive away converts, or turn them into something less than Orthodox. If there is no love – then there is nothing. Where God is, there is love.

  63. Allison, it is also a part of the modern project that one is not considered smart unless one finds fault.

  64. Michael Bauman, you say that “[History] can never be fully empirical because there are large amounts of data we can never know.” In science, there are always gaping holes in the unknown. But, there are also gaping holes in our theology. That there are data that are inaccessible doesn’t mean that empiricism fails or that the results of inquiry aren’t valid. Everything requires humility. Scientists (and I’m including researchers in history) who aren’t humble become dogmatic…but so do the Orthodox. Dogmatism is almost a certainty in the absence of humility. Humility is what separates a human being from the “one-dimensional man.”

    Personally, I want to believe that every one of those horrible stories in the OT ought to be taken literally and here’s the reason why: The world is a violent and despairing place, so any account of humanity should be one that is true to the world as it really is. Therefore, one isn’t surprised that the OT is violent. BUT, if the OT is only properly understood in the light of Pascha, then the implication that follows is that the world itself is only properly understood in the same manner. If we learn how to read and understand the OT in the light of Pascha, then perhaps that is an exercise in developing a Paschal understanding and experience of the world…or I could be full of my oats.

  65. The Paschal understanding of God’s utter solidarity with and transformation of us is scandalous because (like in the psalms) we often want Him to intervene with His power like a magical Zeus. However He mainly (as we see in His denial of power in the 40 day desert temptations or in His exchange with Pontius Pilate) scandalises us with His respectful non-intervention in the face of our eagerness for His (or the sanctioning of our own) intervention. As the sea creates the sand by retreating backwards so does He creates our Spiritual maturity. But accepting this requires the highest humility -of the Mother of God- that releases God from any “duty” to intervene… …it is our trust that His power (once united to us) needs no intervention: it is the Pascha of the telos of cosmic resurrection.

  66. Regarding the discussion about the Old Testament, I have to make two observations.

    1. It is clear that the view of history of the ancients is worlds apart from what is considered history today and of course this is especially true of the Old Testament: what those authors were after was clearly not an exact exposition of facts, but of the hidden essence behind those events they are narrating. However, they did have the notion of history as opposed to myth.
    The difference between the two is that myth is a presentation (or attempt at that) of archetypes in an imaginative form- like fairytales. They contain a lot of truths but they are presented in a purely archetypal form, not “incarnated” in the corporeal world. History, on the other hand, presents these principles of Divine Providence, these logoi to use the proper language, fully incarnated in space and time.
    So for the ancient authors there was a clear divide between “this event actually happened” (regardless of the details) and “this is just a story or an illustration for the sake of a moral teaching or a theological lesson etc”.
    So to say that it does not matter whether, for example, Sarra and Hagar were actual flesh and blood and living people (in addition to being archetypal representations of two principles) or never existed in this world is falling into post-modernism for whom “there are no facts, just interpretations”. Our faith is not like this, nor did any of the Fathers ever proposed such a thing.
    I always make comparisons with icons. The Nativity Icon is not a photographic picture of what took place at the birth of Christ, it is clearly theological in shape. Yet, it presents in theological form an actual event that took place at a certain time and at a certain place in this world as we know it.

    2. Whenever you hear some news that “modern archaeology says that this event in the Bible is false” Christians usually jump straight into efforts of mental acrobatics to justify how this does not change anything of the faith etc. Yet, they never question the claims of modern scholars because they are so imbibed with our modern age scientistic ideology, that they unconsciously consider what goes by the name of “science” (sometimes correctly, sometimes not) to be infallible.
    For example: I once saw a show of some archaeologists claiming that there is no archaeological evidence for Solomon or his temple. I thought to myself- wow, could it be because the temple was simply razed to the ground about 2,600 years ago and nothing remained of it?
    Archaeology cannot dismiss a written claim. 90% of our history is based on written documents, not on archaeology. Can you reconstitute, for example, the history of the Crusades through archaeology alone?
    What sort of archaeological proof would you expect to find of a battle that took place during the time of Joshua, for example? Swords and bodies conveniently lying around in a big pit at that very location? But the bodies were removed from the field and buried and the swords or other arms were usually taken away by the victor.
    In reality, we are dealing with an obvious anti-Christian agenda that would do anything and support any kind of absurdity for the sake of demolishing every trace of Christianity and the civilization which was/is a by-product of it.
    Yet, many Christians consider this mere “conspiracy theory”, although the elephant lies in the middle of an extremely well-lit room…

  67. Simon,
    There is any number of interpretations of that specific story. The whole gamut has been explored. I side with what Father Stephen wrote earlier on the matter –which I now read and deeply appreciate and haven’t anything better than that to add to be honest.
    There are saints who allegorized (like Nyssa) problematic accounts (like the ‘stealing’ from the Egyptians prior to Exodus) to great degrees, and others –especially more recent ones – who preferred to bring attention to the need for sober contextualization of the literal basis of such stories, based on the fact that those were unimaginably barbaric (sometimes institutionally barbaric) times, that mustn’t be judged on our post Christian underpinnings…

  68. Just to be clear, my question wasn’t intended to challenge anyone’s previous replies. I was merely curious what you thought. Ergo, good enough.

  69. Mihai,
    Yes. I do not think we have “mere myth” in the OT (although St. Irenaeus has something very curious to say about that). I want to see if I can clarify what I’m trying to say.

    Modernity (the philosophy) assumes that only “things, facts, objects” are true. And it means by that a very secular, flat sort of thing. It would think that history is self-existing, just like it thinks that we and everything else in the world are self-existing. As such, when it does “historical” research of any kind (archaeology, etc.) it is trying to determine the self-existing facts. It would be like Mr. Spock’s rendition of a rainbow. It would be correct, but would also dismiss anything else as being nothing more than mythic poetry.

    I am saying that nothing is self-existing in all of creation – and this includes what we call history. Just as everything at this moment is providentially related to God (and that is the truth of its existence), so, everything in the past (“history”) is also only truly recounted in that manner. And this providential working of God is not some sort of mere mechanical thing like a force in physics. The “shape” of God’s Pascha is most completely revealed in Christ’s Pascha. That is how St. Paul can say, “All things work together for good…etc.” It’s not an abstract theory, it’s something revealed to us in Christ’s Pascha. Indeed, we would often have a hard time, if not impossible, seeing this from mere observation.

    What we have in the OT (from a Christian perspective) is Scripture. These accounts of various things, including the poetry of Psalms, the Proverbs, etc., are an authoritative text on the work of Pascha (God’s Providence) within the world.

    I would never want to say (incorrectly) that the facts do not matter. It’s that the facts do not matter in the way that modernity would mean that statement. Modernity thinks that the things it calls “facts” matter because there is nothing else. The facts are self-existing. I would say that the facts (the observable things that happened) are not the “primary” matter. The primary matter is God’s Providence.

    I like your mention of icons. Icons sometimes do funny things with “facts” – but three or four things together that did not happen at the same time, for example. But, in terms of Providence, they not only can be viewed in that way – they are better viewed in that manner.

    Did God order the slaughter of innocent women and children? I find the thought to be repulsive and contradictory to what we see revealed in Christ. And, that is quite clearly true in the writings of many Fathers. Within Reform Christianity – these things are taken at face-value and become the basis of an alternative “Christian” theology that portrays the slaughter of innocent women and children as just as revelatory of God as is anything in the NT. And they give us an abhorrent account of Christianity with a God who is not worthy of worship. Even the justifying theories (“He had to do that in order to protect Israel, etc.”) really don’t work. They are facile and flimsy.

    What we see in what I take to be the “best” of the Fathers’ treatment of these things (and not all ‘Fathers’ are equal by any means) is a providential reading of Scripture. It is read with an eye to Christ’s Pascha – the unfolding revelation of God’s singular goodness in all things. It does not ignore the tragic any more than we ignore the Cross.

    The Reform (just to keep picking on them) would see the Cross and say God ordered it to happen because Someone had to pay the penalty demanded by His justice. They see the Cross in a manner consistent with their OT-derived notion of God. They read Scriptures backward. They start with the slaughter of innocents and read it into the whole of everything.

    We should not have an argument with others about archaeology, regardless of the many agendas out there. The reason is that they are looking for the wrong thing. What if the historical facts of some event happened in a manner somewhat different than how it is recorded in the Scriptures? We do not say that what happened doesn’t matter – that “facts” are nothing. But, we say that the Scriptures remain what they are, regardless. These Providentially-governed texts are what we read. We do not read the dirt of archaeology.

    Now. There are things recorded in the Scriptures that make a careful case for historical facticity. When St. Paul speaks about the evidence for the Resurrection of Christ – he cites eyewitnesses as though he were in a court of law. The Scriptures know how to speak in such a manner when necessary. But they do not always speak in such a manner.

    Modernity’s theory of truth and meaning makes it think that if it could “falsify” a single historical detail recorded in the Scriptures, the whole things would collapse. It is just that sort of fallacy that I mean to debunk. There are Christians who think the same thing. Unwittingly, they are Modernists.

    Post-modernism (which is a term often misused, or used in so many ways as to be useless) is a critique of Modernism and nothing more. Sometimes its insights are useful. However, when it is used as a catch-all term for the madness of the present world order, then it simply becomes a useless thing. The insanity of the present world order is a result of modernity itself – not post-modernity. The present shape of insanity has been inevitable for several centuries. My constant critique of modernity is an effort to help people see the true nature of the insanity around them – and to be untroubled through faith in Christ whose goodwill is at work in all things for our salvation.

    (BTW, never take anything you see on TV to be representative of archaeology. The real thing is as alien to such tv shows as possible) TV is largely a view of the world as seen from Hell.

  70. Father Stephen,

    We are in agreement, mostly, regarding Scriptures and how they should be read.
    My concern is that people tend to misuse this principle to justify and find easy solutions to their own struggles in the faith and their own doubts. Another concern is that people rarely question the so-called “evidence” brought against the Biblical accounts. They seem to immediately start from the premise that the evidences of scholars are infailible, while it is the Biblical account that needs to be re-arranged or turned and twisted so we could go around the “devastating evidence”.

    I do not speak lightly of archaeology (that TV show was just an example I pulled out at random), I have a family member who is a PhD in history and I’ve discussed many times how findings in archaeology are used and misused and how fallacious arguments are brought to the table merely to justify an agenda.

    As for the brutal mass killings of the Old Testament- is is what it is- an image of a fallen world. We could say that the authors of the Old Testament, being bereft of the fullness of Grace, which is only given in and through Jesus Christ, understood to be God’s will what was merely allowed by God. Remember that God says to Abraham that much time will pass until his descendents will claim the promised land- and that is because the sins of its current inhabitants (the Canaanites) have not reached their fullness. So God protects them for quite some time until he allows the cosmic law of action-reaction to bring retribution. That’s how I interpret this.

    Other than that, I agree with you that spending too much time in these debates is pointless. I take, for example, St Paisios from Mount Athos- in his conversations he doesn’t split the hairs in 6 regarding the accounts of the Old Testament and such. He takes everything as true and finds God in all things.
    However, I see a creeping liberalism in Orthodoxy which, I believe, is a real danger.

    As to post-modernism, I would contradict you: post-modernity is not a critique, but it is modernity eating its own tail; it is the consummation of the premises of modernity, which are taken to their logical conclusion.
    Modernity though that it could jettison transcendence and build a worldview entirely on rationalism and naturalism. Post-modernity takes such a premise to where it inevitably leads: to nihilism and complete relativism, because the natural, without any reference to anything above it, is left hanging literally in mid-air.
    Nietzsche is one of the first to have seen the inherent fraud present in modernity: for example jettisoning God and trying at the same time to still withhold a morality based on Christian principles.
    It is just as you say: the world is not self-subsisting, as modernity claims. Post-modernity sees this is true- that the world is not self-subsisting, but does not go back to the traditional Christian view. Instead it takes us one step further- into utter nihilism and relativism.

  71. ” TV is largely a view of the world as seen from Hell.”
    Thanks Father for your comments.
    I’ve always liked C.S. Lewis’ take on naturalism and rationalism in his book,

  72. Thank you Michael Baumann and Father for your replies. I have saved your words for future reference. What you both said is what my heart knew to be true, but when confronted with someone in monastic attire I start to doubt myself. So true that nowadays one must find fault in order to appear smart. I feel I must redefine how I communicate with this particular monastic, perhaps letters instead of phone calls.

  73. Mihai,
    My experience with post-modernism is probably different than yours. It’s a broad term. I have known Christian scholars who use certain aspects of post-modern criticism of modernity but ground it in a traditional Christian world-view. It’s a broad term that I prefer not to define too narrowly, much less in terms of the culture wars. As a culture war thing – it’s almost useless as a term. I generally only write about modernity and leave off the subtleties of later iterations.

    I do not know about a “creeping” liberalism in Orthodoxy. That tends to play into a narrative that creates fear. There are certainly some out there who are bad actors and are wolves in sheep’s clothing. There are also who react in a different direction and are just as destructive. I think it is important to do the truth and be grounded in it and a thorough commitment to the faith of the Church. I cannot control the outcome of history, or worry myself about what is or is not a trend in the Church. There are wolves, there have always been wolves, there will always be wolves. However, if my concerns are primarily about the wolves – I’ll have put them in charge of the conversation already. For me, it’s important to write as clearly as I can – taking even more time to clarify and answer questions.

  74. Allison,
    What Fr. Stephen wrote to you is the reality in a nutshell. Where there is only criticism, not love, God is not present either. That said, it seems to be the case in our American context that we can find this dynamic working both ways and all at once such that it can be very confusing. What I mean is there can be folks being informed by traditions of piety from the old countries, insisting all must observe in exactly this way or it’s not true “Orthodox” piety (like your monastic). Then also there can be converts from other Christian traditions (including some who were clergy there and who very quickly were made priests within the Church) coming in with an “Orthodoxy” that is more the result of book learning and deductions by analyzing ancient practices than a true understanding from experience within the Church. Depending on the nature of their former piety toward Christ—whether it was more one of love in response to the gospel or more one of legalistic performance (and here someone’s image of God is paramount) will also inform the mindset they bring into the Church and how they take up her practices. I’ve seen a lot of criticism of old country Orthodox piety or economic adaptations on the part of cradle Orthodox in the USA within various jurisdictions coming from highly-informed (in the book learned sense) converts as well. It is just as ugly and destructive. It can easily set up a dynamic between the two groups that becomes deeply destructive of the unity of the Church, inasmuch as condemnation in turn gives birth to condemnation by the other. Romans 14 has the antidote to this poison if we will listen.

  75. Father,
    Bear with me, please…
    a lot of thoughts…
    Where you say ” The “shape” of God’s Pascha is *most completely revealed* in Christ’s Pascha.”….
    so in other words, “God’s Pascha therefore is hidden in history and revealed to us in Christ’s Pascha”?
    Pascha = God’s Providence, so that even now as time passes and becomes “history”, even every current event, everything that “happens” is Providental and to be seen with an eye to Christ’s Pascha. It is not that Pascha was a singular past event that is not still “working”, but rather it continues to work as it worked (or unfolds, as you say) in history (OT), as timeless, in moving all things back to that timeless moment…Christ’s Pascha.
    And this is how we are to understand Reality. Yes?
    So Providence (one more time) also can be said to be God’s working the good by embracing even the tragic, every event, all the tragedy that Christ took upon Himself and ….now finish my sentence Father…He took it upon Himself …and what? Is it all about dying to the self, the essence of baptism…this is the transcendence of chaos, evil? But there’s more…in that He is gathering all of creation back to Himself.
    By transcending death by His death Christ took the “wages of sin”, the movement toward chaos, darkness, nothingness, and gave (all creation, through mankind) the only possible way to be drawn back to Life…He is Reality, true Life. This is the transcendence of death in which we partake through the Church and her sacraments. And as for the events of the OT, the types we read about…Israel, Moses, Joshua, the Red Sea, Babel, on and on…these are types (shadows) of the Church, Christ’s Body, which have been united through His Pascha…and that is what we see as “unfolding” in the stories of scripture? This is what is meant by the OT as shadow, NT icon, and Reality the age to come, when He is “all in all”?

    It amazes me, all this…God truly is Love……

  76. “post-modernity is not a critique, but it is modernity eating its own tail; it is the consummation of the premises of modernity, which are taken to their logical conclusion.”


    As a french philosophical (i.e. “academic”) exercise I agree with you. These sorts of post-modernists take the epistemic premises of modernity to their logical conclusions, but it must be stipulated that theirs is still a Cartesian exercise. In other words epistemology always rests on metaphysics and/or ontology. Nominalism taken to the extreme (i.e. a rejection of “metanarrative”) IS a metanarrative of creation and subjects in such a creation.

    That said Fr. Stephen is using the term in a broader sense – its meaning outside academic philosophy in the larger world of culture critique and self understanding (and this somewhat paradoxically includes the narrower academic exercise). I agree with him that here that the world we live in (or more accurately our western civilization) is not usefully termed “post-modern”. The Cartesian Self is still the nexus of all this and is still being played out so to speak, and the rush to a “post” modernity (or any thing else) is just symptomatic of modernity’s self story.

    Have you engaged Met. Heirotheos or Met. Zizioulas writing on Heidegger? I know this is not engagement with “post-modernism” per se, but it is a very interesting strand of modernism…

  77. Paula, it is wonder inspiring, isn’t it? To contemplate everything from within Christ’s Pascha?

    On earth this involves suffering, but suffering that is transformed though the grace of Pascha into wholeness and healing for every soul. We make this our own by offering ourselves together with Christ in the Eucharist to God and receiving from Him in return the gift of life (zoe) in the Body and Blood of the Lord. We are told in Hebrews, Christ “endured the Cross, despising it’s shame” for the sake of “the joy set before Him”. As in our Friday night Holy Week service, we obtain a glimpse of the Ressurection even within that very darkest Event of sacred history.

  78. Paula,
    Very well said. Yes!
    Consider this: the Scriptures speak of the Lamb “slain from the foundation of the earth.” St. Paul speaks of the “mystery hidden from before the ages.” That mystery is Christ’s Pascha – revealed as an event in history – but always at work, from the foundation of the earth, as God’s providence draw all things to Himself, reconciling all things, trampling down death by death. We are Baptized into Christ’s Pascha (His death and resurrection) such that our life is His Pascha at work in us.

    Pascha is all-encompassing!

  79. Christopher,
    If you could do it succinctly and in terms us non-philosophy majors could grasp, would you describe what is meant by the “Cartesian soul” and what the alternative(s) might be? Thanks!

  80. Ahhhh….thank you Father Stephen! Yes, “our life is His Pascha at work in us.” !

    Karen… It surely is wonder inspiring to contemplate everything from within Christ’s Pascha! I can hardly think on it without being greatly moved!
    On another note Karen…I had the same question for Christopher…matter of fact I’ve had it ever since the first time I “met” him on these blogs! Christopher –> 😉 !!

  81. Correction: “Cartesian Self” is the philosophical construct I was looking for a definition of.

  82. Paula, thanks! I’m glad I’m not the only one without the inner conceptual framework to know where to “hang” some of the stuff Christopher writes (or many others do, for that matter). 🙂

  83. Oh boy, I will try. The Cartesian Self is an idea lived, so that makes it a story. A story is personal so allow me to say this: the Cartesian Self is the story of Karen where she is *comprehensible* to herself….in this story she turns and *sees* herself with her thought, and when she does this she comprehends herself with what she already is – her “thought” or self dialogue, the “dialectic”.

    Here is another answer that says more about the link between being/what a thing is (“ontology”) and thought/language:

    Rene Descartes famously said “cogito ergo sum”, most often translated “I think, therefore I am”. The term “think” is a bit loaded here in that when a person “thinks” he is thinking with language – he is “in dialogue” with himself and his ideas and perceptions of the world and reality itself. What Rene did was link this internal dialogue with being itself and the very core of what a human being is existentially. In other words, this internal dialogue IS existence itself, and without it a person does not exist. Since man is dialogue, it makes sense that dialogue is at the center of his relationship with God and other human beings, and even reality itself. If there is conflict in a relationship or a problem to be solved, then it is a conflict of dialogue because everything man is rests on it.

  84. Yes, that’s helps Christopher. Seems like a very “individualistic” view of life. Plus mere thinking does not make a person. Anyway, do not want to get off topic here… thanks for making your explanation short and concise!

  85. “…or worry myself about what is or is not a trend in the Church…”

    After musing on this and moving past a “I wish circumstances were such that I could be worry free about this” (i.e. I have a duty of conscious to my children, to those I love in the Church and outside of her, heck even to myself) I have come to this thought: The doors! The doors! This Imperial Church of the East is a big tent, and it has been for a very long time – but not always, at least not in this way, which leads to

    “there will always be wolves…”

    Paradoxical is it not: not mere wolves but wolves of souls, not mere sinners but the Liar himself devouring us in the very place/ecclisia where we turn to salvation from the wolf of souls!

  86. Christopher,
    This has always been true in the life of the Church. There is no substitute for living faithfully. However, as much as possible, I choose to wage the good fight by pouring more honey out for all, rather than trying to get rid of that which attracts flies. I like putting certain things in the hands of bishops. I expect them to do their job. If they do not do it – all the priests in the world cannot do it for them.

  87. Christopher,

    Even though there is a lot of history under the bridge in the institutions of the Church, it seems to me wolves of souls and the Liar have been active even in our midst from the very beginning. I do not know how else to read the prophecy to the seven churches in Revelation, or, indeed many of the Epistles. Even St. Paul had to confront and rebuke St. Peter in the matters over which he wrote his epistle to the Galatians. Are you not, perhaps falling prey to a species of Puritanism in your mindset about this sort of thing?

  88. Father, Christopher,
    Christopher, you write”…dialogue is at the center of man’s relationship with God….” But how does this play out in the heart/nous where often/most often there is no dialog, only stillness?
    Communication occurs, but unspoken.

  89. The wheat and the tares grow together. Thus it has always been since we were created–often in the same human heart.

  90. Dean,

    Heysachasm and everything it entails comes from a different story, which is why it is not Cartesian. Just to be clear I was explicating what the Cartesian Self believes, not advocating it.


    I hear you, and as you well know the priesthood is a sacrificial life. The truth so well preserved in this Church of the East is that all our lives and all the world is a sacrifice. That said, we all have to work out our life as a good sacrifice and not a vain one.


    I don’t think so, but then I probably don’t have a very good grasp on what puritanism is. As Father Stephen always says Christianity is a paradoxical life. I think of it more in terms of double mindedness, and to what extent that double mindedness is enculturated (for the vast majority this is unconscious) and then institutionalized…

  91. Christopher,

    Paradox (the nature of the gospel) and doublemindedness (which afflicts us all) are, I believe, very very different things, The first describes the way in which God works transforming death (in us, in the institutions of the Church, and in the world) into life. The second is a sin from which we need purification (which comes by the Holy Spirit working through what faith in Him we do have, and in spite of our attachment to sin).

    I’m using the term Puritanism rather loosely here, but I think of Puritanism as the urge to get rid of corruption, especially within established institutions of the Church by withdrawing from and condemning those institutions (in the case of the Puritans I believe it was Apostolic
    Succession as classically
    understood as being in the Bishops, Bishops, Icons/Church art, Liturgy, beauty, etc.), and trying to set up our own little idealized conceptions of biblical (churchly) society. The problem is trying as humans to do what is God’s job and not in the way He has given to the Church. The Puritans who came to this country tried their own little “Benedict option” in their day, only without the fullness of the Church to support that, and it ultimately failed.

    By contrast, istm God has told us how He works in this age in the Parable of the wheat and the weeds. He allows both the wheat of His Kingdom life and the weeds of death to grow to maturity together until the harvest (which is also not a human work, but that of “the angels”). When we prematurely try to cut out our own deadwood, whether within our own hearts, in our parishes, in our dioceses, or jurisdictions, we risk uprooting and damaging along with that what is good and growing. Rather, we need to keep nurturing life and keep sowing seeds of the Spirit, rather than the flesh, trusting God to do the reaping and threshing of the harvest when the fullness has come.

  92. Whoops! I didn’t see Michael’s comment while I was forming my comment to Christopher. I didn’t mean to be redundant, but hopefully the expansion on the theme was helpful.

  93. @Christopher (and Father):

    I agree with you that the term ‘post-modernism’ is more like an umbrella term to describe a certain tendency prevalent, however, not just in “academic” circles, but more and more penetrating to the level of the common man as well. It is not easy to define, but that is because it is more and more ubiquitous. It is, properly speaking, the spirit of the age as we experience it today.
    Let’s not forget that many things are difficult to define and to describe in proper words, but that does not diminish their reality.

    And I most certainly agree that “carthesianism” is the still the nexus of it all- this is why I said that the premises at the dawn of modernity remain firmly in place, while the mask is wearing off ever more each day.
    Wolfgang Smith attributes to this residual carthesianism the chaos which has visited physics in the 20th century, which is going through a philosophical post-modernism of its own, without this invalidating in any way the reality of its discoveries on the quantum level.

    As for Met. Zizioulas, no I haven’t read him, though I have read a book by JC Larchet which is critical of his (and a few others’) personalist philosophy.

  94. The truth so well preserved in this Church of the East is that all our lives and all the world is a sacrifice. That said, we all have to work out our life as a good sacrifice and not a vain one.

    Nicely stated.

  95. Karen,

    I will contemplate more your perspective on the parable. When some well meaning modern “deadwood” tried to vest our two young daughters (“sub” alter girls describes this stillborn reform best) my wife and I did not wait for the Eschaton to say “no” (my wife said “over my dead body” or something similar 😉 ). My conscious tells me that any interpretation of the parable that would have required me to do so is wrong as well. More than a year later we congregate and are in communion with these folks just as we were before, but theirs is that particular modern and sacred quest for Justice and Equality that still dominates their heart and mind just as it has since they were teenagers. I love them, I really do and did my best to head off those who wanted to put them in the dock before our bishop, etc. The paradox is that we worship the same Jesus, follow the same Tradition, assent to the same anthropology and symbology and soteriology…or do we?

    No offense intended at all, but I wonder if it is too easy to throw out “wolves” and “puritanism” and “tares” and the like when the wolf has his teeth around your neck. It *might* be that this is your significant sacrifice, perhaps even your last and final, but then it might not be and to do so might be the very definition of vanity. What are we willing to sacrifice for our brother? The truth itself? Is this even possible?

  96. Mihai,

    Thanks for the reference to Wolfgang Smith, I will have to spend some time with him. I have wondered to what extent modern physicists themselves are aware of the Cartesian/methodological materialism duality that is at the heart of modernity an to what extent it affects their theoretical project!

    You might prefer to approach Met. Hierotheos and his dialogue with Heidegger and modern existentialism. I myself prefer Met. Hierotheos Christological emphasis over Met. Zizioulas’s “Trinitarian” one. Met. Zizioulas is quite speculative, but then he is at the same time the more incisive philosopher. Similar to N.T. Wright vs. D.B. Hart, or Superman vs. Batman…. 😉

  97. 1 Cor 10:6- 11 “Now these things took place

    as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written. “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.

    Now these things happened

    to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on who the end of the ages has come.”

    Where’s the allegory? Took place, did, did, did, did, happened. The thurst of the argument is lost if it is pure allegory or any other reconstruction that denies the historicity of what took place.

    Same goes with Romans 15:4 For Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

    In what, allegory? I don’t deny the deeper meaning of Scripture beyond the historical. But the failure of those who do not know how to read the Old Testament does not leave us with only allegory – otherwise Jesus is wrong about the Old Testament, Paul is wrong, the Apostles are wrong. So I’m quite comfortable with labeling someone Marcionite who approaches the Old Testament – the Scriptures that Paul tells Timothy (or whoever wrote Timothy) are able to save him..

    If we denounce anthropomorphism yet ascribe it to the entire Old Testament, even if by means of progressive revelation- how can we believe the Old Testament to be inspired and avoid ascribing error to the entirety of the New Testament. I know writers like Pete Enns and Gregy boyd etc., try and do this, but I am not convinced.

  98. For Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction

    “Instruction” does not require literalism–only that there is a point, a deeper Truth. This Truth was manifest in Jesus, specifically at the Cross, and it defines everything.

    It seems you are beginning with the OT and then proceeding to Christ. Begin with Christ and then understand the OT in Him. It is not that the OT is “pure allegory” (there is certainly history, poetry, etc. within it) but that the meaning of it is not found in its historicity, only in Christ.

  99. Matthew,
    I would like to offer a patient answer. There are many assertions in your comment that seem to me to be based in logical fallacies.

    1. “did, did, did…happened…” does not entail the necessity that what is being referred to is a literal, historical event. If I were reading a 2nd grade class the story of Peter and the Wolf. At its conclusion I could ask any number of questions that say, “What happened?” or “Did the wolf eat Peter?” etc. Any kid who responded by saying that nothing happened since the story is fictional, would be seen by me to be a smart ass or simply thick-headed.

    Now, I am not at all saying that St. Paul thought that the events to which he referred did not actually happen. I am saying that your assertion that he must have thought so is incorrect. You’re saying similar things about other uses of the OT in the New. I would assume that Jesus’ referencing the Noah story (“the days of Noah”) would mean that Jesus must have believed that Noah lived to be hundreds of years old, etc. Again, simply citing a story in no way asserts anything about its historical nature. The question is a modern problem. For it is modernity that thinks only the self-existent events of history are real and true. Anything less or otherwise is thought to be false. It assumes that the OT is only true inasmuch as it represents literal, historical accounts of particular events. I am not arguing that this or that did or did not happen – only that what is true of the OT, as far as Christians are concerned, is determined solely by their being literal, historical accounts. This is simply not true – and not an Orthodox hermeneutic.

    Again, I am not arguing about what Jesus or Paul or this father or that might have thought about the literal, historical character of any particular event. I’m arguing that it is a modern conversation that is out of place. By being “out of place,” I do not mean that it has no interest to me, or that there aren’t things to think or say about it, only that it is not a question that is/was of particular interest in the period of the NT and early fathers. For one, no one speaking about the NT world should do so without having some thorough familiarity with the Jewish treatment of the OT in the centuries just prior to the NT, and what was common to actual rabbinical thought. For example, those who read St. Paul’s statements regarding Adam, when all they are familiar with is the first three chapters of Genesis, without having read the book of Jubilees, much less the abundance of Jewish material on the topic, are simply writing in a vacuum, with an imaginary understanding of the world of the NT.

    I do not think you understand what I have meant in saying “allegory.” But I don’t have the time to go into here.

    I have never read Peter Enns or Greg Boyd (and had never heard of them until you mentioned them). I’m generally not terribly interested in Protestant writers and thinkers – most of whom are in a conversation that is alien to Orthodoxy. Who here has mentioned “anthropomorphism?” You seem to have everything already figured out and are ready to label people as Marcionite who do not agree with you.

    BTW, are you suggesting that St. Paul is saying that those who do evil like the examples he gives will be killed by Christ, or that Christ will send serpents to bite them? If not, then why not? What has changed according to your view? Something has changed – and it behooves us to think long and hard about what and why that is.

    I am an Orthodox priest. We are a hierarchical Church. We do not label as heretics quite so easily. I am making an effort to explain something (which is not easy) regarding the understanding and use of Scripture. What I’m writing is perfectly representative of the hierarchy of the Church and easily and comfortably within the realm of Orthodox practice (not that there are no critics).

    But the argument you have put forward regarding how certain statements in the NT necessitate a certain understanding of the OT are both logically false and contrary to Orthodox understanding. St. Irenaeus treats the “literal” reading of the OT by the Jews as “myth,” strangely enough. There is ever so much to say about this, to think and consider. Protestant concerns are, frankly, beside the point. Ireanaeus says:

    If anyone, therefore, reads the Scriptures this way, he will find in them the Word concerning Christ, and a foreshadowing of the new calling. For Christ[1] is the ‘treasure which was hidden in the field’ [Matt. 13:44], that is, in this world – for ‘the field is the world’ [Matt. 13:38] – [a treasure] hidden in the Scriptures, for he was indicated by means of types and parables, which could not be understood by human beings prior to the consummation of those things which had been predicted, that is, the advent of the Lord. And therefore it was said to Daniel the prophet, ‘Shut up the words, and seal the book, until the time of the consummation, until many learn and knowledge abounds. For, when the dispersion shall be accomplished, they shall know all these things’ [Dan. 12:4, 7]. And Jeremiah also says, ‘In the last days they shall understand these things’ [Jer. 23:20]. For every prophecy, before its fulfilment, is nothing but an enigma and ambiguity to human beings; but when the time has arrived, and the prediction has come to pass, then it has an exact exposition [ἐξήγησις]. And for this reason, when at this present time the Law is read by the Jews, it is like a myth [mythos], for they do not possess the explanation [ἐξήγησις] of all things which pertain to the human advent of the Son of God; but when it is read by Christians, it is a treasure, hid in a field, but brought to light by the Cross of Christ, and explained, both enriching the understanding of human beings, and showing forth the wisdom of God, and making known his economies with regard to the human being, and prefiguring the kingdom of Christ, and preaching in anticipation the good news of the inheritance of the holy Jerusalem, and proclaiming beforehand that the human being who loves God shall advance so far as even to see God, and hear his Word, and be glorified, from hearing his speech, to such an extent, that others will not be able to behold his glorious countenance [cf. 2 Cor. 3:7], as was said by Daniel, ‘Those who understand shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and many of the righteous as the stars for ever and ever’ [Dan. 12:3]. In this manner, then, I have shown it to be, if anyone read the Scriptures. (haer. 4.26.1)

  100. Father,
    Wonderful comment!
    Those who believe that if one part of the OT can be factually disproved, then all becomes suspect, remind me of this.Remember the “domino theory”
    as applied to SE. Asia? If Vietnam fell to the communists then all of the surrounding countries would as well. And so we ravaged Vietnam losing over 50,000 Americans (some personal friends) and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese…other friends have died or are suffering from agent orange. Well, think of the ravages as a result of a “literal” interpretation of the Bible. Here I recall Harold Lindsell’s book, Battle for the Bible. And those who continue preaching the wrathful God of Jonathan Edwards, God wanting and willing to squash all sinners like bugs. This teaching has produced untold numbers of atheists worldwide. So, domino theory, literalist dogma, both have done great damage to untold numbers of innocents. I am sorry for both. I joined the A.F. by fluke on the day of the Tonkin Gulf incident, starting the war in Vietnam. I easily could have been a casualty there. And had I not met the loving and merciful Christ in His Church, I may have succumbed to atheism.

  101. This has been such a tremendous conversation, flowing from Father Stephen’s original post; thank you all very much. It’s a joyful discussion, even in probing the darkest elements of the Old Testament. And we are still on the other side of Easter, but approaching what some would call ‘little Easter’, the Dormition of the Holy Theotokos. (That has special meaning for me, having been born in the antipodes where springtime is approaching now.)

    And I was thinking reading down this thread, how exciting it must have been for Saint Paul, blinded and then able to see, with all his knowledge of ‘Ta Biblia’, the little books, revisiting those in the light of Christ! Just imagine! There he was burdened with the most heinous sins of persecution, with the death of Stephen, (and Stephen’s words) most of all imprinted upon his soul, still in mad pursuit of victims – ah!

    And it is in the Acts of the Apostles that we see, as they encountered souls on their first journeys, how the disciples adapted (very freely) to the states in which they found recipients of the Word – some already touched by the Spirit; well, baptize them! Some baptized by John; bring them the Holy Spirit to complete the transformation. And (which recently surprised me), don’t overwhelm them with all of the Law if they are gentiles – teach them Christ first and foremost!

  102. If Josephus tells us anything at all, it is that the Jews of the first century absolutely read and understood the OT as literal history and understood those accounts as containing the facts of the matter. However, if Philo of Alexandria tells us anything it is that the Jewish community was comfortable with interpreting the OT allegorically. The two arent mutually exclusive. Even today a Rabbi may move fluidly between the realm of fact and the realm of allegory with respect to the OT. The Hindus do something similar with the Mahabharata. I get the impression that the Orthodox arent concerned with protecting facts or even ideas as they are a “grammar” (Fr’s word not mine). There is a grammar or pattern to Orthodox thinking and that pattern of thinking is important in spiritual growth: It opens up the heart to prayerful contemplation, makes it sensitive. I think this is one reason why Orthodoxy was so amenable to Daoism. When the missionaries arrived there they evidently saw no need to completely replace the existing religious vocabulary and grammar. Where the grammar and vocabulary of Christianity mapped to Daoism the missionaries retained the Daoist forms. To me it makes sense that as human beings seek God and grope for him that a grammar for speaking about God would emerge that would find its fulfillment in Orthodox thought about Pascha….or NOT…Im sure Im completely off base, but there’s my two sense.

  103. Father…. your comment was indeed wonderful! You were very patient, thorough and spoke the Orthodox Way. Yes, it is hard to teach these things…and I thank you deeply for taking the time to do this for your us.

    I was taken back for a moment, reading St. Ireanaeus’ quote where you inserted his reference to 2 Cor 3:7. This morning I read the same reference in an article by Bishop Golitzin, about the mystical experiences Christian sages in Persia and the almost identical experiences of the Egyptian holy men (our first monastics), despite being separated by 1000’s of miles, differing cultures and language. The Bishop said the commonality between those two groups was literature of Second Temple Judaism, of Wisdom, and apocalyptic themes, and that both groups, across all those miles, etc., assimilated that literature into the Risen Christ. Here is how the Bishop described “how” those identical experiences between the sages and the holy men just happened to occur despite never having contact with each other:
    ” the Christian Gospel acted on these currents like a kind of theological “singularity”, a center of overwhelming gravitional force that acted to attract to itself the several themes I have mentioned in this essay — together, certainly, with many others from the Old Testament that I have not mentioned — and to bend them into a new configuration around the figure of the Risen Christ. If the Latter is the “place” of God par excellence, Himself transfigured and acting to transfigure humanity (cf. 2 Cor. 3:7-4:6), theophany in short, and Giver of saving life and knowledge, then those who come after Him clothed in His likeness are likewise theophanic, temples of God and “places” of divine revelation and salus. We see this already emerging in the New Testament itself, in St. Paul’s letters, in the portraits of the Apostles given in Acts, in Stephen the first martyr, or in the seer of Patmos. ”
    Although an indirect example of how the Orthodox interprets scripture, I think the way the Bishop explains this particular part of Orthodox history and gives a glimpse of Her roots shows She is eons away from a literal view of anything in this world, nonetheless Scripture.

    (Father, if I remember correctly, you had mentioned in the past that Bishop Golitzin was your Bishop…or maybe you recommended his work…)

  104. Christopher,
    Judging from what you seem to be inferring from my comment to you, it seems to me you have perhaps misread me a little. I have known those whose consciences have required them to leave a parish and the leadership of its Priest and/or Bishop recognizing their salvation and that of their children was at stake in the matter. Assuming a properly informed conscience (I have seen instances of neurotic scruples and the other kind, too), this actually would be an example of the Spirit’s working, not human manipulation. I certainly see freedom in the Tradition to do this. Priests and Bishops who consistently disobey the Holy Spirit will eventually be cut off in this way or another, though we may not see it happen in particular places in our lifetime. It is a dynamic of spiritual reality that churches that fail to really and truly nourish the spiritual life of their members and reach out in the vernacular with the gospel to their youth and surrounding communities by consistently putting the message of Christ ahead of externals and (small t) traditions (not talking true virtue, Liturgy or Dogma here), will simply lose the future generations to other churches or the world and die. These processes take time, though, and don’t often happen on the schedule we in our impatience (and perhaps myopia) would wish. “How long, O Lord?!” has been the refrain of many saints.

    OTOH, I have known converts who were “more Orthodox than the Orthodox” and ended up doing things like leaving a canonical parish to join the parish of a “True Orthodox” cult or joining a tiny, insular canonical parish populated by people who seemed mostly obsessed with their own and everyone else’s performance of the proper Orthodox forms, but didn’t seem to have much of a clue about the nature of gospel love for one another. A friend in my parish who had a close friend in the form-fixated parish worried he might be stranded after church when he was having car problems one week and she might have to give him a lift, because although he had been going to that parish for over a decade, he had no fellow members there with whom he was intimate enough to rely on for assistance or a ride home! Mind you, this is a tiny parish we are talking about. It seems to me something is desperately wrong with that picture, but I suspect it is not all that uncommon. We’re a hot mess, but if we each keep proper charge of that for which the Lord has given us responsibility (our own consciences, our own families), sowing to the Spirit (laying out the honey, being the bee not the fly) the Lord of the harvest will take care of the rest.

    I find I fall into worry and despondency about the state of the Church when I lose track of what are truly my responsibilities and instead take up the burden of those that belong to another and ultimately only to God. I’m not equal to the burden of the latter and with the former I am equal only with the ever-present help and guidance of God.

  105. Simon…my comment to you about the quote is in moderation, probably because I posted two links. Here is the link to the main site of that article:

    The article is listed under Theme 2:
    The Place of the Presence of God: Aphrahat of Persia’s Portrait of the Christian Holy Man (Alexander Golitzin).

    There’s a slew of articles on that site…a lot to sort through, but I found some of them very interesting and helpful. Thought you (or others here) may want to check them out.

  106. Sorry for my lack of patience Father…should’ve asked you to delete the comment that “was” in moderation! Or should’ve just waited….

  107. Josephus was not a rabbi. Rather, he was a historian who was far more Romanized than Jewish. Philo was not a rabbi but a very Hellenized philosopher. In saying that, I mean that they are not good examples of what I’m describing. I would point rather to some of the sources referenced by Paula from the Marquette website. It represents the work or project that Abp. Alexander (my bishop) has been involved in for most of his academic life (and the present). The landscape of Judaism at the time of the NT was much “weirder” than the average Protestant thinker assumes. Indeed, for some hundreds of years, there has been a make-believe Judaism used and cited by Protestant interpreters that bears very little resemblance to the evidence that actually exists.

    It’s like Protestant thinkers who imagined a Judaism without images (when the excavations of their synagogues prove otherwise) and with nothing that might be a fertile ground for early Christian thought. That imaginary Judaism was supposed to have given rise to an imaginary Christianity, free from the things that we find in Orthodoxy or early Catholicism. Those things were imagined to be influences from Roman pagans that corrupted Christianity. All of that is a false narrative – largely invented after the Reformation – but sticking around doggedly into the present.

    Jesus did not read the Old Testament like some Reform guy from America. He did not read it like Martin Luther. He did very interesting things. Indeed, He rebuked Moses and announced that some of the Levitical law represented Moses’ own work and not the work of God, and He didn’t go on to give much of an explanation. He actually contradicted the literal text of Leviticus. Of course, Jesus doesn’t have a hermeneutic – He is a hermeneutic. He can say, “Moses said, but I say…”

    The drive towards literalism gained steam during and after the Reformation in order to free the text of Scripture from the so-called “tyranny” of the Church’s interpretation. The Reformers wanted a Bible that could stand independent of the Church. That is real heresy.

    There is not a dismissal of the historical from the text – but it plays a much different role than the simplistic flatland account of modernity.

    As Orthodox Christians, we should have no fear in asking any question that occurs to us – whether within Scripture, science, etc. The teaching of the Church is not at stake. Those who would seek to alter the faith that we have received are themselves deceived by modernism. But it is very important, I think, to understand the true nature of Scripture. It is not a book among books – nor should it be compared to any other book. It is read uniquely. Its reading requires the grace of the Holy Spirit as fully as was required in its writing. Certain forms of historical literalism are arguments against grace – as though the Scriptures were to be read in an “objective” manner (not needing God).

    There is a depth and a richness that is too easily ignored – particularly when Orthodoxy is turned into a merely conservative version of modern Christianity (complete with pretty services). I have no truck with modernity. But I do not want to replace it with a de-mystified, flat Orthodoxy that is as stuck in arguing about history and science as are the American fundamentalists (yes, the real ones). It’s a dead-end street.

  108. I know who Josephus was and my point was that he took the OT as history. I get the impression that you think that the Jews didnt take the OT literally. And they did. Theres no evidence that they didnt. Which implies that there are goid reasons for thinking the early Christians did as well regardless of whether or not they restricted themselves to that way of reading.

  109. Simon,
    I’m not saying they didn’t take it literally – I’m saying that it was not an issue – it’s our issue and we read it back into them. They thought some things about their texts that were far more than literal which says that to describe it as merely historical would be inadequate.

    I can imagine that we could go among a group of first-century Jews and ask questions about history and Scripture. I think that it would be one of the first times they ever thought about the problem. They certainly thought their writings were far superior than the fanciful stuff of the Greeks and Romans. But when you get into Jewish mystical writings – which are far more dominant in the centuries before Christ than most people know – you are looking at texts in a very different way. That way is by no means the way used in the NT, but the NT is clearly familiar with it and not immune to it.

    Again – and I will pound the point yet again – the historical question (as we understand it) is a modern question and not theirs. It is a modern discussion and not theirs. It is anachronistic to read our concerns back into the worldview.

    I would even suggest that what they would have meant by “historical” is not at all the same thing we mean. I could elaborate, but it’s getting late. Blessings!

  110. Sure.
    I would have thought that the overall point would have been squarely within bounds of Orthodox thought and really not much of a stretch.

  111. Again – and I will pound the point yet again – the historical question (as we understand it) is a modern question and not theirs. It is a modern discussion and not theirs. It is anachronistic to read our concerns back into the worldview.

    I have never read anything in anyone’s comments on the blog that suggested that “the historical question” was the question of Jews or Christians in the first century. Maybe I missed something, but I didn’t see it. I would have assumed that the last thing that any Jew or Christian of the first-century would have ever done was question the history of the people of God as recounted in the OT. I would have assumed that for them that was had all the texture of a concrete reality for them. The questions of history are powerful questions. They force us to look at the implications that mythos has on our self-understanding, and what that means if mythos is determined to be mere myth. If, for example, Abraham was not a real person, then what does that mean for someone’s understanding of the Jews as the chosen people of God? Does it matter at all that Abraham might be mere legend? And if it doesn’t matter, then what does that mean? Telling us ‘that isn’t how the fathers read the scriptures’ doesn’t really help. For better or for worse, the answer to the problem isn’t to ridicule these questions as part of the diseased mind of modernity. On a practical level there is the problem of how do you then teach people to read the scriptures? We can ridicule modernity and Protestants for asking questions that we aren’t interested in, but that just doesn’t help. To be frank, I find it somewhat alienating.

  112. Thank you Fr Stephen for an insightful post. In seeking to understand the goodness of God, it is important to discern what is about God and what isn’t. What we know in Christ, reveals to us that God is indeed goodness and Love.

  113. I’m deeply sympathetic to modernity. It’s all billiard balls, cinders, and scorched earth–which seems pretty inhospitable–but if that is the way the world really is, then we can’t reject it simply because we don’t like it or its implications. The person who sits alone on a pile ashes who asks the pestering question “How do you know?” isn’t just making a nuisance of him/herself, just using reason as a solvent for everything that comes its way so that they can get back to doing whatever the hell they want. Given that every human illusion born on the wings of despair created to escape that despair goes up in smoke, the question “How do you know?” isn’t rebellion it is a search for what is real. That which is not destroyed in the crucible of reason holds the potential to reveal that which is genuinely Real. In fact, I would argue that it takes courage and soulful honesty to hold such a position. Sure. In modernity, everyone wears a crown and gets a participation award. In other words, everyone must decide for themselves what is right and wrong, whether to do or to do not and gets applauded for doing nothing. But who isn’t doing that anyway?. We are only lying to ourselves if we think that we aren’t deciding for ourselves whether or not to pursue obedience. Right? Even in Orthodoxy God waits on our “Amen.” Given the emphasis on free will that speaks to me about the importance of our continual decision to yield our autonomy (authority/rule over self) to God. A person decides for themselves whether or not to obey God. That is their autonomy at work.

    For me the larger question is “How do we bridge the gap?” How do we reach the cinder people? The answer I am hearing is we don’t. We answer phones. We attend liturgy. We pray, fast, read, raise our families. We criticize…but we don’t reach out. And that to me seems alienating mainly because for all of my efforts to be Orthodox…I am still very much a person of the cinders. As a cinder person the questions that I share with others or modernity seem dismissed.

  114. $64,000.00 question: “how do you then teach people to read the scriptures? ”

    Was wondering the same thing. Good suggestions earlier in the comments. I think it takes time. I wanted it in a concise book form! Don’t think it works that way.

    And Simon, Father isn’t ridiculing anyone…he is teaching us things about modernity and Protestantism that are in opposition to Orthodoxy, so the subject matter is sensitive. It’s hard…and I think he handles this with great care and consideration. Surely Father does not endure these “blasts” because he is deriding anyone. These difficult truths are hard for all of us to hear…

  115. Fr. Freeman,

    I never disagreed with you as much as your suggest. But…
    1) To compare Peter and the Wolf and Old Testament conquest narratives / Noah / a literal Adam / etc. – leaves me with a lot of questions. I believe the Old Testament should be read in the way (to the best of our ability) that it’s original audience would have read/heard it – so I disagree with the accusation – the Old or New Testament, any writing, should be true or beneficial to the extent that it is understood within the intention of the communicator. I know that much of the OT is polemical in nature and repurposes ancient near Eastern worldview to show the superiority of Yahweh. But even then, the stories that were repurposed – were believed to be historical. For example, say the flood narratives are corrections to other well known flood narratives and the long life spans correspond to deities in the ancient near-East – they still believed they were historical. But I also believe that it’s impossible to make the suggestion, the warning for example that we should avoid sexual immorality based on a story that is quite possibly only a fable with real truth behind it. When Jesus told about the Tower of Siloam he was referring to a real event – unless you repent…
    2) I’m in full agreement that Adam was not the full reason for the Jewish understanding of the Fall – The Enochian material was more important and took much more precedence over Genesis in explaining human depravity – this much is true in Irenaeus who attributes more to Satan than Adam. That’s no big deal to me. But they, including Irenaeus, took the Enochian material to be real history. Irenaeus and other contemporaries had to deal firsthand with the apologetical issues presented by Jews – so it makes sense for him to believe their methodology flawed – especially since they denied their own Messiah.
    3) I don’t go around labeling people Marciontie – I didn’t officially label you that way. To make the history of Israel as recorded in Scripture, if it is history, a depiction of an evil god – how is that not consistent with Marcion? If we have to de-historicize Scripture to uphold a good God, how would Marcion not approve? Did not Jesus say that it would be better for Sodom and Gomorrah than Capernaum on the day of Judgment? Was Sodom and Gomorrah a fictional yet true myth? Same with Noah, Adam, etc. True myths? Talk about Divine condescension. If so, how should we be sure that Jesus is not a truer myth? This idea destroys anything like knowledge. I don’t believe this is a modern problem, it is a problem anytime anyone has to provide an apologetic for the goodness of God. Remove one problem and you get another. God is an embarrassment for many for what He is said to have done, so, He really didn’t do it, it’s not history. I’m not accusing you of this, it’s just very popular to do.
    4) I believe fully that Christ is the hermeneutical rule for interpreting the O.T. But that doesn’t need to come at the expense of de-historicizing Scripture. Would you criticize an Orthodox Christian who believes Noah was hundreds of years old? Or that Simeon lived far beyond his years to see the coming of the Christ? Or that Mary appeared decisively during battles? Did a child really see into heaven and see “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal”? Or is that all pointing to a deeper reality. If you don’t begin with some sort of concrete experience of reality then there is no real correlation to a deeper reality is there? To have a real analogy don’t we need something real to start with? My guess is you’d disagree.
    5) I’ll stick with what I said, “These things happened” – not figuratively, not allegorically, not a myth with a deeper meaning – I really believe Paul is saying, warning, if this is what happened, don’t repeat the same mistakes. Or he could have been wrong. Or they were not ready for the real meat of the deeper meaning to Scripture. Or twenty-three thousand people died and something similar or worse may happen to them. Can you imagine saying to your children, “Don’t touch the stove. When my great-grandpa touched the stove he caught his clothes on fire and died.” They ask, “Did that really happen?” “Well, yes chlildren, not historically, that’s a modern concern. He really …. he really, uh, became less close to true life.” “Oh, okay daddy.”
    It’s an infinite regress.
    6) I’m not reading our concerns back into their worldview. If there was no Passover there is no Pascha. Pretty soon you don’t even need a real resurrection.
    7) I don’t deny that Scripture, to interpret it properly, happens in the context of the Church and in people to whom the Spirit has gifted to discern it. I understand Origen’s understanding of layers/levels of meaning.
    8) Do I care if Jonah was literal, no. Do I really care if Adam was completely literal, no. I am no fundamentalist. I do care if Moses crossed the Red Sea. I do care if Jesus really rose from the dead literally.
    9) If when we pray and sing the Psalms that God scatter His enemies, that they vanish as wax melts before fire, that they perish at the presence of God – as in Agape Vespers – and we say, the deeper meaning of that goes beyond David and his misunderstood, underdevoloped understanding – how are we not engaging in anthropomorphism? We are insinuating that his words were anthropomorphic and our understanding post-resurrection supercedes David’s to the extent that his original words are… what are they? Rants? Yet we quote David and the Psalmists all of the time in various services. I’ve been accused of wanting to believe in a vengeful God – but I’m more scared of refusing to love a God who has revealed Himself as a Judge.
    10) Last. The quote from Irenaues says nothing I do not agree with. It mentions nothing to do with historicity. Again, I’m not hard pressed to believe everything in the OT is historical in the modern sense – but when NT writers use OT historical events to impress the gravity of consequences for making the same mistakes that have already been seriously dealt with – I’m inclined to think they really happened.

    Fr. Freeman,
    I do appreciate your writings, so I apologize for jumping the gun throwing out Marcion – but I am still confused – since it seems like he would have been content to deny the history of several OT events if there had been only a spiritual meaning behind the accounts. That’s not a back-handed compliment/apology.


  116. Paula, I never meant to imply that Fr. is deriding anyone. That is not who he is at all. But, modernity doesn’t exist as a thing outside of human minds. Therefore, there is a real sense that when we speak harshly of any way of thinking that we are speaking harshly of the people that think that way.

  117. I’m more scared of refusing to love a God who has revealed Himself as a Judge.

    Whether you realize it or not, brother, you are a fundamentalist. Fundamentalists are motivated by fear and judgment–and that is you. I’m not attacking you. I’m just saying that is how you come across to me. You don’t want to be a fundamentalist, you just don’t know how to escape it.

  118. Simon…I see a difference between speaking hard truths and being harsh. That these truths are unbearable to some does not mean that they should remain unspoken. There can be, and lots of time there is, fruitful dialogue. I see that a lot here. The same can, and does, happen in the world. A little love and kindness goes a long way. But I think you know as well as I that these ‘human’ difficulties are, in this age, here to say. Hard truth.

  119. I see there’s a fascinating and very informative conversation which I wish I had time to read properly… The interpretational key of Holy Scripture (as of everything actually) can only ever be the Divine Logos of God. He is the meaning of it all and He comes and ‘opens our hearts to understand’ (Luke 24:45). But this means that God’s Uncreated Grace is what enters into the Church’s sons and daughters and illumines and ‘opens the hearts’ of the Church’s children to comprehend the ‘one thing needful’ – the divine revelation concealed behind written words (or hidden within any other ‘icon’). To the measure we are without God’s Uncreated Light we are like a man without eyes, or, quite often: with extreme shortsightetndess and armed with nothing but a microscope (one who would therefore do well to trust the guidance of those who have eyes that see far and wide). We might be able to ‘see’ and even argue with rational perspicuity on details of cells, nerves, atoms and electrons but miss the human being these form right in front of us. There is a great breadth and depth in what we can cogently analyse and study regarding cells, nerves, atoms and electrons (like stories, personalities, facts and dates) but to ‘see’ the ‘Crucified and Exalted God’s’ work in everything, requires the Light that emanates from Him to enter the heart and mind.
    Whether there’s cells or atoms forming them, or quantum mechanics forming them, etc is not “beside the point” but it can easily become the reason for missing the point/meaning.

  120. I’ll give this one more try. I am not saying that the historical character of an OT writing/event is of no importance. However, the writings of the OT are rarely written in a manner in which the “what happened” of things is primary. The way the story is told is primary. It is the meaning of the story that is shaping it, not a careful rehearsal of facts. There are things in the Scripture, such as 1Cor. 15 on the resurrection, that is a careful rehearsal of facts, citing eyewitnesses. That is done for a very careful reason and a particular concern for the literal/historical character of the event.

    I readily assume that most people of the time of the NT would have thought about events in the OT as historically true. What I am saying is that was not the dominant or primary thing in their mind. We are conditioned to think in extremely historical terms and pretty much think that the “truth” of things is found in their history. If they were not primarily historically minded, then what were they?

    They were primarily textually minded. There was an attitude towards the text that was almost magical compared to how we think – at least in the mainstream of rabbinical thought. It is one of the reasons for the incredibly accurate transmission of the texts across generations (particularly when compared to other ancient writings). The text itself triumphs over the historical questions. It doesn’t destroy them or make them of no interest – I’m simply saying that it was not the primary thing in the manner that it is in modern thought where the “truth” is seen as historical.

    I will use an example (thinking of Matt’s comment). In point of fact, we cannot know about the historical character of the first Passover. We have a highly stylized, theological account that even has many things in common with a fictional account (written in an omniscient viewpoint – for example). That doesn’t make it fictional – and I’m not saying that. I am saying that the historical details of the event are lost to us because the telling of the story in its theological form supercedes it. The event is clearly important to Israel and is the center of its cycle of feasts. However, we get it backwards when we think, “If the details of the historical account of Passover cannot be trusted, then it undermines everything about Christ.” That is backwards. It is the death and resurrection of Jesus that gives truth and meaning to the account of the Passover regardless of its accuracy.

    The backwards approach, in which we imagine ourselves to start at the beginning and work our way, billiard ball to billiard ball, until we reach the present is simply a non-starter. First, we cannot (in a historical/literal way) get back to the first billiard ball, or accurately to each billiard ball in the sequence. We imagine that we can – but that is the modern imagination.

    This same flaw within the billiard-ball approach is frequently used by various moderns to undermine the entire notion of the Scriptures. They question this billiard ball or that one, and then argue that everything fails.

    For myself, in preaching the gospel to moderns (which, I will note, is the only thing I have done ceaselessly for the last four decades of my life), I try to address their historical uncertainty – their anxiety that “maybe all this stuff didn’t happen.” I try to address it because, if they insist on a billiard ball approach to truth and reality, they will fail and their faith will fail – unless they suspend their disbelief and enter a form of fideism – “it must be true because the Bible says it.” If that works for you fine. But it will probably fail your grandchildren.

    Instead – I turn to the death and resurrection of Christ as the single, essential point in all of history. Christ’s Pascha is true in every possible sense of the word. Everything is relative to it. We cannot know all of the historical details of OT writings – we simply cannot. We can “infer” it – which is what Matt is doing. “If Paul said it, it must be true because he believed it and Paul can’t be wrong because then the whole NT would be wrong.” Can you see the weakness in this? You are arguing for the historical character of things based only on your fideistic assumptions about the NT. That will convince only those who want to be convinced. It is useless with an atheist or a doubter. If you want to argue on historical grounds – then look to the death and resurrection of Christ. Start there.

    I do not want to argue against the historical – but I want to suggest that it’s the wrong way to approach our questions most of the time. In the quote from Irenaeus, we see the text, and the mystery hidden within the text, triumphing. He’s not arguing about history with the Jews or the Gnostics – he’s arguing about how the text is to be read. It doesn’t dismiss the historical – but it’s a different way of thinking.

    We do not say that the God in the OT is “evil.” We say that the God of the OT is Jesus Christ and that the OT is a “shadow” (to quote St Maximus the Confessor and St. Ambrose). We have to read beneath the shadow of the OT to see Jesus Christ. They both say that the NT is “icon,” and the age to come is the Truth itself. You do not call something a “shadow” if you’re primarily thinking in historical terms. I find their approach to be not only helpful, but extremely useful in speaking to a modern world of unbelievers. I do not argue history with them. I argue Christ and His Pascha. We start there.

    To Simon: I think I care more about moderns, as moderns, than most people. I write about the problems of modernity because those problems are eating up modern people and leaving them empty. I think, based on the correspondence that I have, that many people have found great help through the work. Simon, you say (quoting me, I think), “we attend liturgy, etc., and answer the phone,” and assume that nothing else is happening. I have about a half-million views a year on the blog (that I know of). Since the internet is where people get their information – that’s where I am. I have no idea of how to go out an “reach” people in some other manner. Not door to door – that would require a cult.

    Based on the correspondence I’ve had with people for the more than ten years of the blog – it has played a role in the salvation of a very large number of people – certainly more than 10 times the number of my parish. And that represents only those who have stopped to send me a note and say thanks. But the Orthodox faith has to be absorbed and lived. That happens by patiently praying, fasting, attending liturgy, repenting, etc. If it were an ideology, then we could quickly equip people to spread the ideas. But it’s not. It’s a way of life. I didn’t write a line for the first 8 years of my Orthodox life – and then, only because I was asked. It takes time.

    “We criticize but we don’t reach out” – it’s simply not true. It also ignores the endless hours of counseling, listening, confessing, etc., all among “the cinder people.”

  121. Dino, in principle I understand what youre saying and in principle I reject it out of hand. Is that fair enough to say?

  122. Fr. I do not question your sincerity, your integrity, or the value of your work. I find your criticism modernity puts me in a state of cognitive dissonance. Am I the only one that feels that way? Maybe. Or maybe not. That dissonance hasnt been resolved by either grace or good sense. I hear about all the dangers of modernity, but that doesnt map to my experience. Does that make sense?

  123. Simon,
    Indeed it makes sense. I once heard someone say that it was not good to answer questions that are not being asked. I think that in many ways, what I’m saying about modernity is not an answer to the questions that matter to you. There’s nothing wrong with that.

    On the other hand, I’m working with answers to things that are questions for me (since that’s sort of true for all of us). And, it seems, those are questions for many others – but not for all.

    The most one can expect in that sort of setting is to listen to the other and hear what their questions are and seek to understand. But I’m not saying that these questions should be everybody’s questions.

    The assumptions of modernity (as I’ve carefully described them – noting that the term has nothing to do with science, technology, etc.) – I believe to be false and that they lead to false conclusions and a false construction of the world. But, it’s important in the conversation is to actually respond to what I’ve said about modernity and not about some other take on modernity. Several times in the course of comments, you’ve gone back to saying how you like science, etc. And I have said nothing against science nor do I think it to be part of “modernity.” When that happens, we talk past each other.

    But I do not expect everyone to be interested in the questions that interest me.

  124. “Based on the correspondence I’ve had with people for the more than ten years of the blog – it has played a role in the salvation of a very large number of people.”

    I’d left the Church for a number of years to my great detriment. I’ve returned by grace, the prayers of my Godfather and friends, a very good priest and this Blog. I’m blessed to bring with me my wife and young daughter – who will be Chrismated next week. My deep thanks to you Father for all you do and for everyone here for the community you provide.

  125. Michael,
    Thanks. I have to say that I never began thinking, “What do people need to hear, what will work, etc.” I have simply written and continue to do that. The miracle (to me) is that it seems to be helpful for many. May God give you and your family great grace in the coming weeks!

  126. Fr. Good points. I often fail to think about the fact that you have questions that interest you and that you write about those questions. And there is a reasonable expectation that your audience is interested as well.

    I think there is a large intersection between science and the philosophical content of modernity. A question might be whether or not that intersection is inevitable?

  127. Fr. Freeman/Simon,

    Last comment. I appreciate that you have an apologetical/pastoral concern for those who question the historicity of the Bible. The only real apologetic that satisfies me for taking seriously the content of the OT is that Jesus believed it, and then only because of the Resurrection – if that is fideism, so be it – but I’m sure I’m among millions of Christians, Orthodox included who think this way. And I’m familiar with the archaeology issues surrouding the Exodus and the conquest narratives. I do not care whether or not theologizing the accounts was in play – the entirety of the Jewish life was built around Passover.

    The reaction from me, is probably more sensitive, due to the fact that it resembles liberal Protestantism. I understand that their concerns were to protect inerrancy and therefore Sola Scriptura and the authority of Scripture.

  128. Dino,
    Thank you much for your comment. I assume you are in the midst of dealing with the aftermath of the fires. I pray God’s continued strength for you and all.

    I can’t help but see in your words the very things that St. Maximus said were revealed in The Transfiguration. He says that the rays of the Uncreated Light “overwhelmed the strength of the eyes…so also there God transcends all the power and strength of the mind…”. He goes on to teach that Christ’s shining garments point to the light of truth revealed in 1) Holy Scripture and 2) the presence of The Word in all of creation (logoi). And…that this knowledge of God is given to each in proportion as to what each person can comprehend.
    So Dino…I have no doubt whatsoever in these teachings that are not only here on Father’s blog but are taught by the Fathers/Church on down the line throughout the history and even pre-history of the Church. I am quickly coming to the conclusion, especially based on your comment here that this Uncreated Light for us laypeople comes in increments…each increment totally fulfulling, lacking nothing, and only to plant a desire to want to know God even more. I think one of the reasons I want to know “everything…and everything now” is because of my age (63) and the concern about the possibility of “missing” something. It is a vague feeling, and probably pretty silly. In truth, most of us, the learned and the just-beginning-to learn, haven’t even come close to knowing true Reality. I don’t know any way else to describe it, only that these Truths are the source of Life that keeps me going. Oh, there is so much more to the literal! I think, even after death, we will ever be moving toward God in knowing Him. It’s a wonderful thing!
    Blessed Feast of Transfiguration, Dino…and to all!

  129. Simon,
    I would think you’re right about the intersection. After all, the philosophical world/culture we live in is grounded in the ideas of modernity. An interesting question might be, “How would science be different if it was grounded in something other than modernity – say, a classical world-view?” For one, I think it would be less geared towards supporting a consumerist view of the world. It might have a deeper ethical content (there are fewer and fewer ethical questions being asked). It might turn its attention to questions that would never occur to a modernist. Interesting line of thought…

    On my writing. I have a rule of thumb: only write about what you know. That sometimes means writing about the questions that I know – the ones that kick around all the time in my head/heart. The few times I’ve ever tried to violate this, the result is terrible. Thus, what I write is very much a part of who I am and really can’t be otherwise. To write in a different manner just feels inauthentic. I might add that it’s how I preach as well. I think of St. Anne’s and how the congregation has had to endure my stories for 20 years…makes me feel very much like a grandfather.

  130. Paula,
    A quick comfort on the Uncreated Light. That rather rare experience is a seeing of the Divine Energies. It helps me to remember that the primary revelation of the Divine Energies is found in Providence. Many of the saints (St. Dionysius, for example) say that Providence is nothing other than the Divine Energies. So, as we look around us at the unfolding work of the good God, we behold His Divine Energies everywhere and in all things.

  131. Matthew,
    I completely understand. And I know for a fact that what you’re describing is shared by millions. My path to Orthodoxy was between the claims of liberal Protestantism (in which I was trained) and the demands of Evangelical Fundamentalism (in which I was born, more or less). Both seemed to be failures, ultimately. You are clearly not a fundamentalist, by the way. 🙂

    I found Orthodoxy, and many of the patristic writings, to be describing a different path that I found helpful and saving. As I replied to Simon, I write from within my own questions. It is helpful to some. If I have a problem, it is with being occasionally accused of doing something other than Orthodoxy (I do not hear that in your comments at all). There are voices that would drag the Church into a dead end. I’m also aware that there are some, embracing an essentially Liberal Protestant approach, would drag the Church off a cliff. Avoiding either of those options is tricky. I think it is the times we live in.

  132. I apologize for labelling Matt. That was just an idiotic thing to.

    Any time I hear about fear and judgment in the same sentence that seems very fundamentalist. I havent met a fundamentalist that doesnt fear the judgment God. But I have no business characterizing someone’s experience for them. That was just ridiculous.

  133. “Fear and judgment”
    I was thinking about this the other night. I do “fear judgment” and I was wondering what that meant for me. I believe that to behold the Face of Christ is also to behold the truth of our selves. And I think it is that truth that makes us cower in shame. I believe that Christ is a good God and that I have nothing to fear from Him. My fear is of my own sin. Every time we go to confession (for example), we stand before the judgment seat of Christ. The Elder Sophrony said, “God never judges us twice.” When I bear my soul and its sins before Him, I am settling that matter for all time. But (thinking in ontological terms), I know the depth of things is so far greater, perhaps infinite, than anything I attempt in confession. Shame and fear go hand in hand. The course of the spiritual life, it seems to me, is to go deeper and ever deeper into that place we would fear to go so that we might find in it the love of Christ, in whose bright presence there can be no darkness. But that’s a strange, scary journey.

  134. “It helps me to remember that the primary revelation of the Divine Energies is found in Providence…So, as we look around us at the unfolding work of the good God, we behold His Divine Energies everywhere and in all things.”

    Thank you Father! By His Providence, through His Divine Energies, in everything and all around He is revealing. A blessed thing to remember!

  135. My understanding is this to the extent we fear judgment then to that extent we do not know God. And by that I mean the judgment of a person sitting across the desk with a stern face reviewing your performance record and while you wait for him to decide what your fate is. I know that isnt what youve described, but a person who fears God this way doesnt know God. Or at least this person doesnt know God well. In Jesus parable of the talents fear of a demanding master led to treatment consistent with that fear.

    For me God is so much like the Good Samaritan that judgment doesnt enter my mind. How could you ever fear such a person?

  136. Simon,
    Yes. What you’ve described is not my image of judgment at all. It is anthropomorphic in the worst sense. A bit of theology is very helpful in such matters. In Orthodox hymnography, the Judgment Seat of Christ is synonymous with the Cross.

  137. Father Stephen,
    As to biblical interpretation, a godly hermeneutic… How does belief in the one storey universe affect our interpretation of Scripture? As you just mentioned again, God is everywhere present. I’ve been surprised in looking at Navajo traditions/mythology. Of course for a traditionalist in that culture, the spirit world surrounds them, as they seek beauty and harmony in everyday life. Their’s is also a very one storey world.
    Anyway, how is our interpretation of the Word influenced by a one-storey, non-modernist seeing of the world?

  138. Dean,
    It’s a very good question. The easiest way to approach that question is realizing that the “one-storey universe” is another way of say, “the world is a sacrament.” For the Scriptures, it is right to say they are sacrament and icon. When I take communion, I am not terribly concerned with the bread. I’ve had various qualities of prosphora to work with over the years – but it all became the Body of Christ. If we were laboring as much over the relationship between bread and Body (like a Medieval Scholastic), as we are presently laboring over the relationship between history and meaning, we would soon get lost. The bread is important, but it is subsumed the reality of the Body of Christ. Whatever we might say, one way or the other about OT Scriptures, they are subsumed in the sacrament of Christ’s Pascha. I don’t spend much time worrying or thinking about historical problems/questions. I’m looking for Christ’s Pascha and seeking to be united with it.

  139. Thank you Father.
    At one time I was one who believed that if one thing could be disproven in the OT, then it all collapsed like a stacked deck of cards. This very much worried me as did God’s wrath. Through the many years, in the Church, Christ has freed me from these worries. I look to Him, His forgiveness, His grace, His kindness and goodness to me. I do try to live in His wonder, in the moment, attempting to anchor my thoughts and actions in this one-storey. Thank you so much for your teaching on reading the OT through the Pascha of Christ and for reiterating that we only see the Father through Christ. Glory to God for all things!

  140. As far I am concerned the idea that the entire OT is fictional doesnt take anything away from it or diminish its capacity for revelation and truth. I read Dostoevsky with as much authority as scripture. Unknowingly Dostoevsky was my introduction to Orthodoxy. If you had no OT, you could read Dostoevsky find yourself one night at Orthodox church and get baptized and six months later still: Dostoevsky is a much better intro to Orthodoxy than the OT–and it is totally a work of fiction. But there is real truth in that fiction.

  141. Simon,
    I would never want to make such a disconnect. Pure fiction would by Isaac Asimov. Jesus was a Jew. To be a Jew includes a Jewish history. Regardless of how the stories might be told, they are told of a real people in a real place at a real time (for the most part). And, even if a story is largely fictional, it is the fiction of a real people at a real place in a real time – and that is also revelatory.

  142. I don’t want to take up too much space….however.
    This is one vignette of how unreliable history is or “eyewitness” testimony. When I was 24 I went through the CA. Highway Patrol Academy. We were all out in the race track. Unknown to us 58 cadets, the officers were readying a staged accident. So, we were standing there listening to an officer speak. Then, right behind him the “accident” between 2 vehicles occurred. We were very surprised at what we had just witnessed. At that point we were all given a pen and pad and were told to write what we had witnessed. Later, we read aloud what we had seen. At some of the responses, we almost rolled in the aisle! They were so at odds with “our” own observations of what we had seen. Why the differences? Well, we were at different vantage points, some were more alert than others, we may have been suffering from the affects of an Academy breakfast! Yet, to a man we would have testified in court as to the truthfulness of what we had seen.
    Before modern technology, eyewitness accounts, physical evidence, written statements, oral history, etc., was what we based our history upon. Even today with cameras, evidence can be photo-shopped so as to be unreliable. Same is true with other technologies.
    I have not studied history as has Michael B. who writes on the blog. Anyway, I do know that written histories are “massaged,” that none are written without bias of some sorts. And we have the theological “bias” as it were, of the OT, only understood through the lens of the Holy Spirit working through the Church’s Holy Tradition. Without Christ’s Pascha the interpretive lens will remain clouded.

  143. Simon
    I don’t quite understand what “understanding in principle and rejecting in principle” means.
    That we only truly understand Scripture (even scripture we had previously deeply studied and analysed) to the measure that the divine energies open it (as on the road to Emaus) to us is pretty foundational and I would assume not “rejectable” much…?

  144. Simon one thing history does, particularly oral history, is to serve as a people’s memory of what is valuable, what creates cohesion, what gives them identity as a people and as persons. With the advent of “empirical”, “objective” history in the 19th century along with an industrial economy much of that has been lost. Such history no matter how factually correct has a void at it’s center.

    However the reality of God’s Providence is still extant in the Biblical narrative and the Tradition of the Church as revealed through time — God with us. That is the real lie of Marcionism that there was a time when God did not reveal Himself to His people.

    It is akin to the mistake of certain Protestants that the Church, after the Apostles, fell away and had to be restored. The realization of the continuity of God’s revelation of Himself to us is critical to a full faith. The Old Testament is an important part of that fullness

  145. Dean, you are quite correct. The Biblical narrative is largely a particular type of oral history designed and guarded by the priesthood as a treasure to be passed down with a certain mythos always intact. Some “facts” may be in error but it is not a legal testimony. It is there for us to be opened for us as Dino explains. An Ark if you will.

  146. How does the Orthodox church interpret the conquest of Canaan? What is the allegorical meaning? How does it fit in with Pasha? Regardless of whether or not it is literal history, there’s a story there that is a shadow of a greater reality? What greater realities are shadowed by the stories in Joshua?

  147. Simon,
    Frequently, the Land of Israel is treated as synonymous with the Kingdom of God – the fullness of our life in Christ. Who inhabits the land that we must fight. There are the passions and distractions, temptations and the demons. There are commentaries that stress the need to be thorough (kill them all) taking those passages into a spiritual allegory. I have rarely seen any other treatment.

  148. Simon,
    Let’s see how the OT story of the Israelite conquest of Canaan functions as a “shadow” of Christ within the Church. I notice the conquering Israelites also pass through the Jordan (by a miracle of God through faith) in order to launch their conquest of the Promised Land (a picture, as is the Red Sea in the Passover account, of baptism, death and resurrection in Christ). Their fight is with their enemies the Canaanites and they are told to destroy these all from warrior to infant. The Canaanites, if you will, are a symbol of our passions (in all stages of maturity) that need to be destroyed lest they remain and destroy the new life we have through Christ. The Promised Land is an image of the Kingdom in its consummation. The whole narrative (in this deeper level of meaning as type, shadow and symbol of life in Christ) is a picture of salvation from beginning to end.

    I also see a parallel between the Israelites’ first baptism of Passover followed by their second baptism of the Jordan with our first (Liturgical) Baptism (rebirth) in the Church followed by ascetic struggle supported the prayers of the Church and Grace of the Holy Spirit to work out our own salvation in the “wilderness” of this world which is culminated in our actual rebirth (Baptism into Christ) through physical death and struggle in the particular judgment to defeat whatever sin remains in us through the grace of that judgment (also accomplished by the prayers of the Church and the grace of the Holy Spirit working through
    our faith) to take our own proper place within Christ’s Kingdom in its consummation. That is my summation of an Orthodox reading and application of those texts. Does that help?

  149. In talking of baptism, I should add that we will have the joy of witnessing my daughter’s Holy Baptism tomorrow during the Divine Liturgy in my parish, and I invite everyone’s prayers for her (Katie) on this blessed occasion. She is very excited.

  150. “Our religion is perfectly and profoundly conceived. What is simple is also what is most precious. Accordingly, in your spiritual life engage in your daily contest simply, easily, and without force. The soul is sanctified and purified through the study of the Fathers, through the memorization of the psalms and of portions of Scripture, through the signing of hymns and through the repetition of the Jesus Prayer. Devote your efforts, therefore, to these spiritual things and ignore all the other things.”

    This is just the way it is going to have to be for me. I’m not capable of engaging all this other crap without getting provoked. Yet, there is a presence that has me by the back of the neck and despite all my efforts to the contrary will not let me leave. I have concluded this before and every time without fail that I get away from this I end up with my britches in a bunch. I don’t like it. So, this is me.

  151. Karen and Michael,
    Delighted to hear of your daughter’s Baptism, Karen. And Michael, your daughter’s Chrismation. God is good!
    My prayers….

  152. Karen,
    I like your reading of Joshua. Thanks!
    I have a question about your use of the word judgement here:
    “… our actual rebirth (Baptism into Christ) through physical death and struggle in the particular judgment to defeat whatever sin remains in us through the grace of that judgment …”
    You are saying that the actual judgement of our sin, is Christ’s judgment of the wage of our sin, that being death…which Christ conquered by His death, reading Christ’s Pascha into this…and “by the grace of that judgment” (I am enamored by that phrase), is that it is not punishment but, as we said before, grace as a Divine Energy that carries us in our cleansing and healing right up to the end of the age. Is this how you are using that word?

  153. Simon,
    Fr. Lawrence’s take is not uncommon. It is pretty much what St. Augustine did with the question. Here’s another link:

    What you see, I think, is a variety of treatments. It’s simply one of those things that are never defined. I’m not terribly satisfied with Fr. Lawrence’s answer (and thus Augustine’s). There are weaknesses in it – but it is one of several different approaches. I prefer to deal with these things typologically or ascetically. Jesus’ Pascha is definitive for me (and for the faith). One problem that crops up in Augustine (one of the founders of Just War theory) is that you begin to do a theology of God that is not controlled by Christ’s Pascha – but just a sort of moral reasoning.

    There are things in Orthodoxy that are left unanswered, half-unanswered, or multi-answered. We should draw certain conclusions from that – and the conclusion should be – “Don’t be dogmatic about this.”

  154. It isn’t that I thought the conclusion was worthwhile, but it seemed to be something that would pass for an “official” view.

  155. It’s a common view. But there’s not really an official view. Some things are sort of messy. Since Orthodoxy is not an ideology this sort of thing comes up from time to time. I think of this when I’m reading in the Fathers – they are in conversation many times – not in a dogmatic mode.

  156. Simon,
    I think something to consider is the fact that nowhere in the tradition is there a real ease about the violence of God in the OT writings. It is seen as problematic. That much is agreed. What is not agreed is how to explain and talk about it. It is there that we see variety.

  157. As you say Orthodox thinking is messy, incomplete, and multiple and that can be difficult to adjust to. To be frank, that is difficult for me to adjust to because my sense of it is to see it as a warning sign. There is a voice that says “If their noetic understanding is such hot stuff, then why aren’t these things better understood?” At times this voice is quite insistent. So, I retreat to ground where I know there is surer footing and I recover. Sometimes I just want to know what are the Orthodox 101 basics and then just stick to those things for a period of years. I mean really lay a solid foundation. At the end of the day I have a sense for why I am here as opposed to anywhere else. And to be honest there is a hold that Orthodoxy has on me that makes me feel very uncomfortable.

  158. Paula, thanks for your prayers!

    With regard to the particular judgment pictured as the last purgation of our sins (a kind of trial, like the trials in the wilderness for the Passover) wherein we see ourselves for what we truly are in the full Light of Christ’s Presence, I am drawing upon Fr. Stephen’s mention that the Cross and the Throne of Judgment are the same thing within Orthodoxy. In fact, where Holy Communion is placed on the Altar Table in the Altar/Sanctuary in an Orthodox Temple is also called the Throne. Where we go to receive our forgiveness and life from Christ in the form of His Body and Blood is also the seat of His judgment of us (again as a showing forth of who we really are in the light of His love). This is why we pray (from the prayer of St. Simeon the New Theologian) when we approach the Chalice (having prepared through repentance and fasting), “Behold, I draw near to the Divine Communion. Burn me not as I partake, O Creator, for You are fire which burns the unworthy. Rather cleanse me of all defilement. Of your Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant,…”

  159. Paula, also from the imagery of the Communion prayers:

    “…With love have you drawn me, O Christ, and with your divine love have you changed me. Burn away my sins with a spiritual fire and satisfy me with joy in you, that I may joyful magnify your two comings, O Good One….”

    When we read about the Saints in their approach to God there is always the tension in their prayers of their great and deeply sensitive consciousness of their unworthiness in falling short (as we always will) of Christ’s glory, as well as the humbled awareness of His unremitting welcome and the unspeakable depth of His love and forgiveness that emboldens them to keep going forth into His presence where our sins are burned away in His love and only what is of Him remains within us.

  160. Oh Karen, thank you. That explanation touches me deeply. Fool that I am, it brings me to tears when I take in words such as this….The Cross and the Throne of Judgment the same…and the alter is also called The Throne where we receive His Body and Blood…and that too is the seat of His judgment. Merciful Lord!
    I recall Father writing on this, but I tell you every time I hear this it is like hearing it for the first time. I understand both the unworthiness of approaching the chalice and also His great love and forgiveness and it is there, in knowing this, where I weep. It is a healing…hard to explain…
    Yes, the communion prayers…I read them in the little pamphlet…now I will remember this conversation as I read them in the future…like tomorrow!
    Thank you again, Karen. Such a Wonder!

  161. “And to be honest there is a hold that Orthodoxy has on me that makes me feel very uncomfortable.”
    Simon, my brother…it’s that heavy cross your carrying…right toward that mountain…

  162. Simon,
    I suspect that the discomfort is not to be found within the ideas/teachings of Orthodoxy – but within your self – emotions/heart, etc. The purpose of true noetic understanding isn’t to explain everything or to figure everything out in a clean manner – it is union with God. The messiness of Orthodoxy is, for me, a statement about its truth. In one sense, it is the least messy Christianity that I know – the whole of it is a seamless garment in its path to union with Christ. In another sense, it’s quite messy because it is not the neat system invented by human beings (much less a single human being as is true in many denominational Christianities). Like history itself, it’s too large to get your head around. It lacks the tidiness of post-Enlightenment projects because it really is 2,000 years old and encompasses vast cultures.

    Noetic understanding is not terribly interested in the questions that dog the rational mind. Think about this: Is Orthodoxy trying to convince you to be a bad person? Is it drawing you closer to the love of God and life that is on behalf of all and for all?

    There are many reasons to be uncomfortable with that…but none of them are further than the heart itself.

  163. Father and Simon…pardon my interjection…
    Emotion…the heart…as an “emotional” person, I believe that God never stops bidding us to follow His lead, as you’ve said, He woos us, and keeps on “chasing after us” even in our resistance, and can heal the hurt, the damage, the toxic shame, that come forth in our emotions. But it is not that He would have us to be emotionless, but He heals and redirects the emotion for the good…toward virtue, if you will. I think of St. Peter going from boldly slicing the soldiers’ ear off with a sword, to boldly proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as in the beginning chapters of Acts.
    There is always hope for us “emotional” ones who just can’t seem to hide them and tend to the extremes. I just wanted to add that thought, Father, because I can relate to Simon in regard to the emotions. It is a burden we carry…

  164. Some of the recent comments have reminded me of what C.S. Lewis wrote of his conversion.
    “…I was drug into the kingdom, kicking, struggling, resentful…..” Surprised by Joy.
    And of Francis Thompson’s poem, “The Hound of Heaven.” Worth a read, if for nothing else, his wondrous use of the English language.

  165. Father, this post (along with the comments) is one of your best. It is up there with “all things are in motion” . . . I know, it’s been a while . . . that’s not the title, but you probably know which one I’m referring to. I think I will add this to the list of required reading for my adult children. The “angry” god of the OT is something that perplexes them. I can’t wait for our family discussion at our next family getaway!!
    You have blessed me in many ways with this post. Now I know which icon to add to our icon space. And when someone professes the wrong kind of fear of God, I know which icon to point to. Thank you for giving me some tangible take a-ways.

  166. I’ve been away and have attempted to read all comments in one sitting–a difficult task if one desires to imbibe deeply.

    Fr Stephen’s work in this blog (not just this particular comment stream) is the first place I have encountered such a well presented explanation of how modernity as a philosophical filter, alters our perceptions. Personally as an Orthodox Christian and a scientist, I do not at all equate modernity with science, and the explorations of science into the deeper structures of nature. In fact, if one takes such path (through science) into nature while living in the world humbly and sacramentally (and more so in Christ), God’s icon is witnessed in nature through the applications of science. God’s grace in science illuminates His icon and cannot obstruct it. The obstruction that prevents us from viewing the icon of Christ in nature, is not a function of science itself, but of modernity that has been purposefully overlaid upon it. Cells, atoms, electromagnetic forces (to speak of just a few ‘things’ found in nature) all point to Christ and Christ’s Pascha. Modernity is a philosophy that attempts to obscure the arrow. And I’m grateful for Fr Stephen’s writings in how he demonstrates how modernity does the same with scripture.

    I’ve debated whether or not to share the following link as I want to write helpfully when I comment. The link is to a paper that presents somewhat current discussions in quantum mechanics on the topic of spacetime and it’s ‘orientation’. It will seem abstract or indecipherable to some readers, but in it I read one important point, and that is all events in history including those that ‘have occurred’ down to the very ‘nuts and bolts’ of nature have ‘no orientation’ in spacetime. Another way of expressing ‘no orientation’ is to say that the deeper one goes into nature, what we might call a ‘timeline’ becomes ever more difficult point in a particular direction to label as an ‘historical event’. This helps (me at least) to understand how all events whether on the macro level or the deep down level of the subatomic, can be oriented to Christ’s Pascha.

    For those who want to explore this idea, here is the citation: The orientability of spacetime
    Mark J Hadley Published 16 August 2002 • Classical and Quantum Gravity, Volume 19, Number 17.

    And here is a link to the full article:

    BTW there is no mention of Christ’s Pascha in the paper. Christ’s Pascha is what underlies this work. I hope the link works and it is helpful. But I realize it might not be much use to others. I wish to finish by saying that I agree fully with Fr Stephen, and if what I’ve written doesn’t seem to support his work in the way I wish, I ask for your patience and prayers.

  167. Dee, fascinating as I have come to much the same conclusion about “historical events” as the science you present, but through my own avocation of history. Indeed as I look at it, that is the way I was taught to approach history.

    I long ago came to the realization that any human discipline pursued with humility, love and the desire for the truth ends up in the same place.

    Science is not the cause or root of the modern project. It too has been hijacked but it is not to be identified with what is wrong. That is foolish.
    Thank you.

  168. Dee, that paper deals with quantum phenomena and posits a hypothetical in order to make sense of the more ‘spooky’ phenomena that are observed at that scale. Even if the authors are correct, once quantum collapse occurs then linear time predominates. This article doesnt really adress questions of history.

  169. Dee, I find it odd that with the assumptions of strict material reductionism, mechanism, and hard determinism that you find such a sharp distinction between modernity and science. The more I read on modernity the more I am coming to the idea that modernity is almost an inevitable result whenever the assumptions about how to do science move from methodology to ontology. Modernity procedes from science.

  170. Michael, you seem very convinced about the foolishness of someone who thinks modernity follows from science. And on the one hand I would have to say youre right. I used the word inevitable earlier and that was too strong of a word. So, let me ask you, why do you think that the relationship between modernity and science is foolishness? Are there any other sources that argue that there is a strong mapping between the two? I know Fr. has a specific intention and focus when adressing modernity. But he didnt invent the word ‘modernity’ and there are researchers (sociologists and philosophers) who have spent their careers studying these things. Their input is valuable too and so are their definitions.

  171. Simon, Michael

    Some thoughts:
    I have a particular critique of modernity – but the term, as I use it, is its most common meaning in philosophical/theological material. In those writings (which I’ve been studying at a graduate level since the later 80’s) it represents not a period of time, per se, but a set of ideas. Those ideas dominate in our time. But, again, they have nothing to do with science or technology. They have to do with things like the myth of progress (it’s only a narrative), human beings viewed as individualistic (when we actually only exist as social creatures), the primacy of the will and choice (when what is largely meant is little more than consumerism).

    It is true that most doing science are not critical of modernity (the ideas), but neither is a 2nd grade school teacher, because they do not bother to ask critical questions about the underpinnings of their culture. They assume that their work is somehow about progress, even though the bulk of science is done to further the consumer economy (it’s who pays the bills). Even in our beloved Oak Ridge, the push has been steady and constant since the mid 90’s to find ways to turn our science discoveries into marketable things.

    If you go to Amazon – and search “modernity” – pretty much eight of the first dozen books will be speaking about modernity with the same hallmarks that I have described. Critiquing modernity is as much about critiquing our ourselves and our unexamined assumptions as it is anything. In that manner, it is a critique of blindness.

    An immediate connection between science and modernity is that science is being done by people who (mostly) uncritically assume that the ideas of modernity are just “what is.” It’s like talking about the connection between being French and doing science. There is no inherent connection, simply the accidents of people of a certain philosophical bent working with others of the same bent. If anything, it might create a certain kind of bias.

    An interesting example is the drive to find “life” elsewhere. I certainly support the research and have no theological problems if such a thing were found. But the drive itself is fueled as much by philosophical assumptions as by science. Some folks “need” there to be life elsewhere so that their own narrative assumptions will be proved true. There are justs as many valid scientific reasons to think that we’re the only planet in the universe with life (the so-called “Anthropic Principle”).

    Science does not posit a godless world – though many think that is true. Science isn’t theology and shouldn’t be confused with it. I think that there are ways in which science and theology intersect – but not in a manner that can be described objectively, etc. Science is a discipline – not a worldview. So soon as we step back from the discipline to draw conclusions about the nature of things, we have begun to do philosophy/theology and not science.

  172. I would imagine that there is little point to wrangling over this topic. But I feel that it is more than fair to say that science is connected to modernity through the unfolding of historical events in the 17th and 18th centuries.

    The drive to find life elsewhere has nothing to do with justifying it is an effort to understand the emergence of life in our universe and what that looks like.

  173. I want to plug an author who did more to lead me to Orthodoxy than any Orthodox theologian – Dr. Michael Heiser. His book Unseen Realm and his Podcast, The Naked Bible – have done more to explain the OT view of the world, the view the 1st century Christians and the Fathers would have embraced – which is a one story universe. I would love it if more Orthodox would get a hold of his material – He is not Orthodox but he gives OT justification for a multitude of Orthodox beliefs that you do not find in Orthodox explanations. I would be overwhelmingly surprised if he did not convert at some time in his life. I email him almost every time he confirms Orthodoxy. Regardless, when you get into the “trickiness” of the OT, his material is very, very helpful

  174. Simon,
    On Aug 4 @ 4:39, you commented: “Our religion is perfectly and profoundly conceived. What is simple is also what is most precious. Accordingly, in your spiritual life engage in your daily contest simply, easily, and without force. The soul is sanctified and purified through the study of the Fathers, through the memorization of the psalms and of portions of Scripture, through the signing of hymns and through the repetition of the Jesus Prayer. Devote your efforts, therefore, to these spiritual things and ignore all the other things.”

    Where is that quote from?

  175. Simon,
    I thought the paper would be helpful but your response was surprisingly dismissive, given the work that I’ve seen that would support it. If you have on hand something that treats the subject directly and refutes it to warrant your dismissive response, I’d like to see it. Arguing about topics in science without reference to the science for support for it is rather pointless, and does more to give others the impression that anyones attitude or opinion is acceptable.

    The western european world (the culture) didn’t invent science and it will not be the final arbiter of what defines it. Perhaps you are familiar with some of the archeological findings of the mathematical concepts of the Mayans. One in particular that I have found fascinating is their understanding of zero and infinity which relates them in such a way that looks very similar to the current support developed for the Riemann hypothesis. Perhaps, given your response above, this will not interest you either and I will not press this further.

    My point was to say what Fr Stephen says at 8:57am. And I particularly like the last paragraph. Science is the path in which I was found by God. I don’t expect this would be the case for everyone, however this experience suggests the reality of what Fr Stephen describes.

  176. Actually Dee I wasnt dismissive at all. I am asking a question about scale and quantum collapse, which if we’re being honest you didnt respond to. Quantum phenomena collapses and a Newtonian world emerges and when it does time moves invariantly in one direction. I will take a second look at the article, but it is extremely theoretical and I am not sure how one would even go about falsifying the results. Take the work of David Bohm. Its a very coherent system. The math works. But how would you ever test it?

  177. “Science is a discipline – not a worldview.”

    At the risk of offending, Simon is more correct with his line of thinking that there is an inherent link (causal, not a mere correlation) between modernity as a set of ideas (a worldview) and science. Science is a discipline, an investigative *and* interpretive methodology: methodological materialism. Science IS methodological materialism, despite some interesting diversions in history (see what Miahi was discussing upstream).

    Methodological materialism IS an epistemology – an answer to the question “how do we know what we know”. This epistemology assumes a nominalistic metaphysics – and metaphysics is an assertion as to *what is*. The Christian, when he “does science”, is doing methodological materialism. He is bracketing off “meaning” to calculate and measure. He then asks “what does this mean”, and such a question (to the extant that he is a Christian) originates from a different epistemology and metaphysic.

    When a modern “does science” his answer to the question “what do these measurements mean?” can only come from the nominalistic foundation of his world view – a duality that is the story of the conflict and intermingling of the Cartesian self and nominalist/materialistic metaphysics. This meaning has the characteristic of “linerality” and dialectical reasoning, as when Simon says “… once quantum collapse occurs then linear time predominates….”. Linerality is always restored because this is how methodological materialism understands reality including obviously other epistemological assertions such as Christianity and the God of time and history that creates time and history *from outside of it* – which is to say, methodological materialism collapses Christianity back into its own world view.

    So when Simon says “Modernity proceeds from science” I argue that he is essentially correct. Father your idea that you can separate science from modernity is to be frank, a fideism. It is not inherently consistent with the *story* of modernity and science itself. All stories (epistemology and metaphysics are just technical parts/reflections of those stories) contain their own *meaning*, their own Alpha and Omega. It takes faith to cobble them together into a third thing, yet another story.

  178. “… that is all events in history including those that ‘have occurred’ down to the very ‘nuts and bolts’ of nature have ‘no orientation’ in spacetime. Another way of expressing ‘no orientation’ is to say that the deeper one goes into nature, what we might call a ‘timeline’ becomes ever more difficult point in a particular direction to label as an ‘historical event’. ”

    “This helps (me at least) to understand how all events whether on the macro level or the deep down level of the subatomic, can be oriented to Christ’s Pascha.”

    Dee of St. Hermans,

    I would be interested in how you link the two quotes above. The first seems to be a logical (in theoretical mathematics, the interpretation, the *meaning* of assumptions and the math applied to those assumptions) statement of nominalism (i.e. the idea that nothing contains within itself a realistic logoi). “no orientation” indeed is a succinct way to say “Reality is nominalistic”.

  179. “….to be a logical (in theoretical mathematics, the interpretation, the *meaning* ….”

    Oops, I meant to say “In theoretical physics, the interpretation, the *meaning*…

  180. Dee, I am more than happy to think more deeply about the paper, for me the pivotal statement of interest is this: Topological models of elementary particles [quanta] within the equations and framework of general relativity require a breakdown of the causal structure to allow topology changing interactions. At the level of quanta this maybe makes sense in terms of accounting for quanta phenomena, but how we jump from there to casting doubt over the idea of history is an impossible leap for me to make. I am willing to be wrong, but how would this scale to do more than

  181. Simon,
    Your last comment got cut off I think but I think you’re pointing to the problem of scale from quanta to ‘jumping into history’. I appreciate this concern and there are papers out there such as the “more is different” paper (I’m sorry I’m really pressed for time at the moment, and I don’t remember the citation of the top of my head), that would discourage this kind extrapolation. Fair enough about making such extrapolation. However, I do it (I make the extrapolation) because of my faith regarding what I ‘see’ at that level (I’m making hypotheses of my own). Fr Stephen is careful about understanding and taking care about the ‘intersection’ of theology and science in our discourse and I appreciate this also.

    Christopher, I’m not a nominalist, but I am a scientist. This might seem a severe contradiction to you but I ‘do’ science, so I have done experiments and have reported the results in the typical manner. I’ve also come across results that defy current theories, which if I had time would have required a heavy emphasis on inductive reasoning and seeming disparate data from disparate sources. For me this is how and when science becomes really interesting. To publish such a paper is another thing. That actually requires a few beers with one’s colleagues around a coffee table… sorry out of time!!!

    Fr Stephen, please forgive me if this is taking us off track. And delete if needed.


  182. Christopher,
    What you call “science” is actually “modern science.” That science done in a modern mode adhere’s to the assumptions of modernity is, well, tautological. Of course it does. But, science was not invented in the 17th-18th century – it is much older. Everything older, of course, is largely dismissed as “primitive,” etc. But, in modernity, everything that took place before the modern period is primitive, and preliminary, at best.

    I am saying, there can be a science that is not modern. It would ask different questions. It might use a different methodology. I suspect that, in time, something of the sort might well come about simply because of the limitations of a nominalist view of the world. But, who knows.

  183. Ladies and Gentlemen,
    We’re at 210+ comments on the thread – maybe even a record. The article is nice, but much of the conversation is somewhat off the point. I’ll note that one commenter has over 40 comments of his own, with at least an equal number in reply – meaning that the 210 comment mark is not a example of a wide-ranging conversation – but a tendency for the comments to turn into a chat room.

    I have to moderate everything (you wouldn’t believe some of the stuff that doesn’t see the light of day). The first comment made by anyone is automatically moderated. After that, they go through without trouble, unless there is more than one hypertext link. As the moderator, I have to read everything and make some decisions along and along. I like to do that with a light hand.

    I’m also aware of those who “tune in” late and start making their way through more than a hundred comments. It’s possible for that to be great, or to be an exercise that convinces them that they never want to do it again. Sometimes, I wonder if the comments are read by more than a handful. I don’t have a mechanism to tell me that.

    Almost all of the blogs hosted by Ancient Faith have a different moderation setting – all comments are always held in moderation until they are cleared. I begged out of that when I moved to the Ancient Faith Platform so that the freedom we’ve enjoyed in the past would not be interrupted. However, I cannot sustain moderating the blog at a 200+ level of comments – It is too time-consuming.

    The upshot of this is a suggestion that comments try to stay somewhat close to the main topic of the blog – avoid personal entanglements where possible and please understand if I moderate a little more closely and remove comments that seem to be heading in a direction that I would prefer to avoid. The limits of my humanity are poking away at me.


  184. Simon, what I said was that to make an identity between science and modernity is foolish. Some folks do that. We are all inter-connected with modernity even if we do not wish to be. That is the struggle is it not, or at least part of it.

  185. Dude…I’m a narcissist…I take over conversations and make them about me…that’s what narcissists do.

    And I’m not joking either.

  186. A possibly off topic post from me: Thanks Karen for your last reply to me (Aug 3rd)!

  187. Thank you for your patience and countless hours put into this blog ministry, Father! May we be mindful of your small request. Many thanks….

  188. It has been quite exhilarating to read this thread. The reason I say that is because I have been reading “The Unintended Reformation.” Its treatment of the multi-faceted causes of modernity seems to be echoed in these comments. I have just started Ch. 6 “Secularizing Knowledge.” Given the content of most of this thread, I know that I am hugely out of my depth, but the following quote seems appropriate. Forgive me, it is somewhat long (and maybe too much too late).

    “As we shall see in filling out this story, the secularization of knowledge in the West was not inevitable. It was not a matter of obvious inferences based on scientific findings or of indubitable insights gleaned from neutral textual interpretation or historical research. Rather, it was a thoroughly contingent process derived from human interactions that involved assumptions, institutions, metaphysical beliefs, the exercise of power, and human desires besides the desire to discover and to learn. The dominant narrative of modern Western intellectual history, of course, suggests otherwise. This is not surprising, since this narrative is itself a latter-day descendant of the story told by early modern Enlightened protagonists about their progress in triumphing over the prescientific, superstitious credulity and the precritical, dogmatic ignorance of peoples in the superseded past. The transition from premodern religious belief to modern secular knowledge is the virtual heart of the story, nearly synonymous with the Enlightenment that ushered in modernity. Seeing matters differently requires a willingness to question some fundamental assumptions that are commonly taken for granted, and to see the secularization of knowledge as embedded in historical processes whose reach extends beyond matters of inquiry, perception, evidence, reason, inference, and epistemology considered in themselves. It also requires a conceptual framework capacious enough to accommodate the different types and subjects of knowledge as they were regarded on the eve of the Reformation, and a chronological perspective sufficient to encompass their historical formation— one that stretches back through the Middle Ages to the ancient world and the texts, authorities, experiences, and alleged events at the heart of the medieval Christian worldview.”
    Gregory, Brad S.. The Unintended Reformation (Kindle Locations 6689-6701). Harvard University Press. Kindle Edition.

    I’m especially interested in this statement: “It also requires a conceptual framework capacious enough to accommodate the different types and subjects of knowledge….” One of these types of knowledge that Gregory mentions earlier in the chapter, is that of participatory knowledge, a type of knowledge I have not been taught to take seriously, but I am finding is just as important as other types of knowledge. But probably even more enlightening to me has been to think more deeply about the fact that there *is* more than one type of knowledge (sorry, at the moment, I couldn’t track down the other types) and that in fact we seem to dismember ourselves when we only trust, engage, or do only one type, because they all actually contribute to knowledge as such, or what might be called the full complement of knowledge (at least to the limits of our inquiry and our finiteness).

  189. It’s an extremely good book that I recommend whenever I get the chance. Glad you’re finding it so rich. I greatly appreciate the quote.

    I have to say, as an aside, I’m not making this stuff up about modernity. It’s not my private hobby horse – but simply an example of a critique that has been around for a while with some very serious-minded people sharing it.

  190. I’m glad you referenced it in an earlier post. It’s been quite helpful. Thank you, again, Fr. for your efforts on our behalf and for submitting yourself to our Lord Jesus.

  191. Jeff & Father,

    I spent a year of my graduate studies at St John’s (New Mexico), one of handful of “Great Books”/Classics programs left in the USA (this was the early 1990’s). Going in I expected that here would be a place where there would be:

    ” ….a willingness to question some fundamental assumptions that are commonly taken for granted, and to see the secularization of knowledge as embedded in historical processes whose reach extends beyond matters of inquiry, perception, evidence, reason, inference, and epistemology considered in themselves….one that stretches back through the Middle Ages to the ancient world and the texts, authorities, experiences, and alleged events at the heart of the medieval Christian worldview…..”

    It turned out the only students who were actually doing this were the small group of orthodox RC’s and Orthodox students/professors (I was the token “Anglican” at the time). Modernism is very very efficient at doing exactly what Jeff points to: convincing that its conceptual “frame” of history, epistemology, metaphysics (everything) is “true”. As a worldview and religion, it is very very successful.

    On the other hand it must be said that questioning the zeitgeist, doing philosophy and history, truly seeing and questioning “fundamental assumptions” is HARD. It is much rarer than most want to admit…

  192. Christopher,
    Sometimes I have taken a page from Einstein and engaged in “thought experiments.” It consists in an act of imagination: “What if xyz were true?” Then I sort of walk around in it. How would I see the world differently if this were the case? etc.

    When I was in my senior year of seminary – when I had some Orthodox information – but much, much less than is available today – I engaged in such an experiment that lasted for about 8 or 9 years. It was this: What would moral theology look like if it was based in the Christus Victor model of the atonement rather than in the Penal Substitutionary Theory? It began with an intuition. I started writing “a book” with that idea. I think best by writing. So I wrote, read, re-wrote, read, re-wrote, etc., over a period of eight or nine years. It was sort of a running thing in our house, “Papa is working on the book.”

    I only stopped that project when I got to Duke and the doctoral program. There, I began to get enough information that I realize what I was doing: I was reinventing Orthodoxy! So, I quit and my reading really broadened. It resulted in the work I did there, which ultimately resulted (along with some other stuff) in my conversion. But the essential thought that led to all of that was an experiment, rooted in an intuition.

    I have done many, many more – the fruit of which continues to fuel the blog. Oddly, it is sometimes nothing more than, “What if Orthodoxy were actually true? What would that mean about xyz?”

    It was studying with Hauerwas at Duke (among others) where I first encountered the critique of modernity. And the question became, “What would an Orthodox take on that topic look like?” etc.

  193. It is interesting is it not Father, how essential a kind of primal “intuition” and creative “imagination” (i.e. a kind of creative imagination that is more/different than the ever present river of logismoi) is at the center of thinking that is above and beyond mere discursive “A simply is, then B, then C”.

    As I get older I am appreciating more how it takes real courage (I won’t say “emotional detachment”) to do this. To question the ground you are standing on is frightening, and to “walk around” a fundamental premise is to leave your “self” for a bit.

    I had a professor of metaphysics (Aquinas) who said on the first day of class that at best, one or two of the present students would actually “get” or do metaphysics/ontology and that the rest would not even begin. I asked him later why he thought this was so and most of his answer was the usual tripe about “intelligence” but he did say he thought there was an emotional aspect as well. I have come to the belief that this aspect is best described by fear and what you talk about, shame. That term captures the soulful component that “existential dread” and like descriptors leave behind in their technical, anesthetic way.

    There is more such as the social aspect. You have to have the willingness and courage to flow upstream against your peers, because the vast majority of them are doing “A simply is, then B, then C” and they do not approve of your walk about because the first emotion upon doing/seeing this is anxiety. We are all guilty of this of course 😉

  194. Father and Christopher,

    I can say my conversion to Orthodoxy was propelled by a singular thought experiment from intuition, “what if the God revealed in Jesus Christ really and truly IS, in all His essential motivation and Being, fully unconditional Love (eg, like the image of the Father we have in the Parable of the Prodigal Son)? One of the questions that arose as a corollary of that premise about 16 years ago was, “What exactly is Gehenna (hell-fire, hell’s torment)?” The answer to that question came like a bolt of lightening the very moment the question had been fully formulated by my aching heart and offered silently (in a kind of agony and desperation) to God. The “answer” was a single sentence, and it shook the very foundations of my being: “Gehenna is the experience of My Presence for those who do not have faith in Me, for ‘our God is a consuming fire’ and ‘in Him we live, and move, and have our being.’” Totally. Blew. My. Mind. It was as if the Lord (or my guardian angel) had been waiting all my life for me to ask that very question, so that He could answer it. And, the rest, as they say, is history! 🙂

  195. Father, Christopher, & Karen,
    I read your comments and realize, I’ve always wanted Jesus to be real. Which apparently meant that He had to be what the apostles wrote about him. Looking back, I realize I often got looks (if not looks, an intuition) that said, “Oh, that’s not real. Don’t be such a child.” And I guess, I never was “smart” enough to stop believing it. Just when things seemed to be turning stale, something/someone would reignite me. I’ve never been able to stop seeking.

    And now, in this next phase, I’m beginning to learn that seeking doesn’t mean grasping. I’m learning to keep my hand open, and, as I’ve said before, to “not store the manna.”

    This way of being has no center that I’m familiar with, and yet deep down it feels rock solid. As you said, Christopher, “To question the ground you are standing on is frightening, and to “walk around” a fundamental premise is to leave your “self” for a bit.” And I might I say, to allow your “self” to be crushed one time, stretched on another occasion, squashed for a day, atomized for a minute, or whatever else God might be doing in the crucible at the moment…and every time, emerging, still you, but more you than you ever dreamed you’d be.

    How good is God? He’s all good, all the time. Glory to his name.

  196. I was once convinced that I had the “truth”, time passed and then I realized that I was wrong. Now loop that sequence over the course of my and that is pretty much who I am. Knowing the truth isn’t something I have been very fortunate at…but I have become quite proficient at burning whatever house of cards I’m living in. Psychological certainty is such a powerful experience because it feels like reality, but it is inevitably a cognitive bias. Karen’s statement about how she understands hell/Gehenna is interesting to me. For her the words “Gehenna is the experience of My Presence for those who do not have faith in Me” was evidently her big “Aha!” moment. Yet I would never knowingly worship the god she describes. For me there is NO justification for torturing and tormenting people. I say this dispassionately and as a matter of fact: I could not care less that the Bible says it, that the saints say it, or that the tradition teaches it–I don’t care. There is NO justification for torturing and tormenting people. For me this is what is scary about religious experience: It can take the most objectionable idea and make it acceptable. And really what this speaks to is the vulnerability and susceptibility of the human mind. When the human mind wants to believe, when the human mind wants to justify it will find a way to do it. No idea is so horrible that people can’t find a way to justify it. I know this as a matter of my own experience. So, I have become quite skeptical of any psychological certainties that I feel. I understand that some bias is most probably at work when I say that I believe something. We need to be humble about what we think we know. In all likelihood we probably don’t know what we think we know…but we are quite certain that we do.

  197. Simon, it’s interesting that my “aha”’moment meant the opposite to me of what it means to you. It meant God torments (ie. actively punishes, excludes or tortures) nobody. It means that all of us (even the unrepentant) have our being and existence in God Who is love. For those who are in the state of being unwilling to internalize that love (a willingness which would require a trust in its truth/reality), unmediated experience of that love is (as long as we persist in this state) torment. As Fr. Stephen has pointed out, to be confronted with the full light of God all at once would be instant death for the unprepared—thus we are transformed in small increments of increasingly seeing more of the depth of God’s love and repenting in ever deeper ways as we seek to be united with Christ. This involves “bearing a little shame.” There are those who for whatever reasons refuse to bear their shame. These nevertheless will have to confront that reality upon physical death because there is no alternate reality outside of God, and our capacity for denial of this through the distractions of this world and of the flesh will have passed. Because I understood through this flash of insight that Gehenna is a state of the soul, not the deprivation of the love of God, it opened the door for a hope for the salvation of all. As Fr. Sophrony said, “As long as even one soul remains in hell, we may be sure Christ will be there with him.” To me this insight was not confirmation of God’s torment of the unrepentant (as what I had understood by that up to that point), but a reason never to give up hope for the repentance and salvation of all.

  198. Karen
    very well said to Simon. The observation of human effort, willingness to believe and disposition to interpret {what is God’s unconditional eternal Love -albeit, often veiled in this temporal plane} this way {Heaven} or that way {Hell} –both on the temporal as well as, alas, on the eternal plane– is always evident. May we all escape our self-absorbed stubbornness and hopelessness and become entirely centred upon the Only One Who truly loves us…!

  199. Karen,
    What you are saying will leave billions of people with no other fate than to experience God simply because they have no idea God exists or their faith is in some other god they fear and worship or they just dont care about religion. Why should those people be tortured and tormented?? Im sorry, Karen, but youre idea of God is in my understanding just as horrible as the Protestant God. Again, we can out of fear and bias comvince ourselves of anything we want to be true.

  200. Simon,
    You are reading into Karen’s statement something she is not saying. I’m not sure in this short space how to explain it.

    Why would God be so gentle in making Himself known now – not forcing us, etc. – only to turn that into some forceful torture later? You seem to race to a kind of literalism in this that distorts what is being said.

    To see God face to face is not some granted in its fullness until we are ready, prepared, cleansed, or whatever. But that preparation is not torture. The language of burning, shaking, etc. is used – partly because those are images of purification. Perhaps even primarily. God does not change. He does not go from the goodness of Pascha to some sort of torture. That makes no sense.

    There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. (1 Jn. 4:18 NKJ)

    I would suggest that a way to phrase our experience of God is that God is removing the torment. We have plenty of torment in this life already, none of which is caused by God.

  201. Fr., Karen’s question was ” “What exactly is Gehenna (hell-fire, hell’s torment)?” So, my understanding from this question is that at that time Karen could not reconcile the image of hell as torments with her image of God as love. These two images to her were contradictory. Thats what I heard her say. Her reconciliation of these two images came in the form of this synthesis: ‘Well, it isn’t thatGod torments anyone. Nothing juridical is occurring. No, no, no that’s horrible. BUT naturally…like the law of gravity…if a person has not prepared themselves through a life of faith and repentance…then of necessity the only way this soul can experience God upon death is as torments. Why? Because is a consuming fire.’

    Karen, have I misunderstood you in any way?

  202. Simon,
    On the face of it – you nailed it. It’s just that, knowing Karen, I understood it in the manner I described. Although, I thought about suggesting to Karen that it could be clarified.

    God is not tormenting us – He is healing our torment.

  203. So, at the very least, is it fair to say that the god I have described above is as objectionable as the Protestant god…IF that is as far as the story goes? Isnt that a sensible conclusion?

  204. Even from your reply, Fr., I get the impression that what I surmized about Karen’s understanding is deeply inadequate. On the one hand, it is exactly what she thinks. On the other hand, it is missing an important component, namely healing. Without that component the picture is incomplete. So, is it fair to say that this incomplete picture is quite objectionable?

  205. Fr., et al of this current line of thought,

    If has probably been alluded to or said explicitly, but is some of this conundrum due to the fact that when we speak, think, or try to understand God, we are largely working with only our own experience. We say we are speaking of God, but aren’t we actually speaking of our own perception of an experience? Even if that experience has happened only a nanosecond ago, it is still only our perception from which we can speak. We then have to come up with words to describe our perception of an experience that we have had in order to communicate it (or some semblance of it) to another person who also has perceptions of experiences that they have had, all of which can be construed to be about God. I guess I’m suggesting that allow for “lost in translation,” even of our own lives…

    Is it possible that the waiting on God we experience is so intense that images and words that are intense are all that we think we have to use? When we travel, as it were with Dante, should we remember our finiteness and God’s infiniteness and possibly make use of an apophatic approach more often, e.g., silence and meditation…and even then holding anything rationally gleaned from that experience lightly? The patience required for this kind of approach (and life) is incredible; and I have certainly not even begun to practice this patience very effectively.

    Just some thoughts…

  206. Maybe this area reveals the absolute necessity of “participatory knowledge,” i.e., when we actually are with one another in the flesh, speaking, seeing each other’s expressions, learning each other (ontologically?).

  207. Fr. Stephen,
    I believe that God does not change. I see Him as the father scanning the horizon waiting for his son’s return. If He is merciful now, having rain fall on the unjust the same as the just, and won’t later turn into a torturer, as you rightfully say. And Karen quotes elder Sophony as saying that Christ will remain even with the last unrepentant sinner in hell. Now, all this being true, does not it dull our sense of evangelism, of reaching out to others? Sure, it would be wonderful if all knew Christ and His love for them now. But if they don’t, no worry. He will eventually reach them, if not in this life then in the next. And in the back of my head I hear St. Paul say
    “Woe to me if I preach not the gospel!”

  208. Dean, Simon et all
    That God’s love (and healing according to St Isaac the Syrian and Gregory the Theologian) endures forever means that, at one and the same time, there will be those who will be healed *even if the healing entails (unbearable for some according to St Isaac) pain*, and those who would rather desire to remain in the suffering that God in his love would remove from them *although Isaac claims that eventually even those (he means Satan) will be saved through the very torture of Gehenna . It’s speculation on unknown realities
    ..while God’s love and our own resistance to it and demand that it works another way is a known reality…

  209. “Now, all this being true, does not it dull our sense of evangelism, of reaching out to others? Sure, it would be wonderful if all knew Christ and His love for them now. But if they don’t, no worry. He will eventually reach them, if not in this life then in the next. ”
    No doubt that some think this way…but I wonder if those who do always had reservations about “evangelizing”, My experience in this area began with the American Evangelicals we’re familiar with. I never was comfortable with that approach…and when I forced myself to, as I was told it was our calling, it was most awkward…fake to say the least. I believe our witness to Christ is much more effective when we live out our lives in Christ naturally, not with a false piety, but openly, with love, not hiding our imperfections. For one, nothing has to be rehearsed, therefore you come across as genuine, thus, more believable. Second, I believe this speaks more loudly to our friends and neighbors out there than any amount of preaching. It is then that they begin to ask questions. In all this, there can be a rich discussions about the Gospel of Christ, about life after death, and equally important, how we live our lives here and now!

  210. Dino,
    I can accept that the movement from whatever this is to whatever that is entails suffering–even agony. That isnt what I would object to at all.

    Questions about what happens before and after are showing up less frequently on my radar and after today’s discussion they have all the texture of a rear view mirror.

  211. I have read that the rejection of God’s love is akin to love lost. The nature of such pain, in this light, is in the heart–that rejection that cuts so painfully deep. How much worse is this in light of His love that is freely given? The oddity here is that we hold onto this pain instead of accepting Him. Perhaps “torture” is not the correct word to describe this rejection we hold on to? Just thinking out loud.

    I believe our witness to Christ is much more effective when we live out our lives in Christ naturally, not with a false piety, but openly, with love, not hiding our imperfections.

    Paula, I think this is very true. However, the fragmentation of our society makes it very difficult. It is no doubt the work of the Evil One to destroy Life’s witness, which is always best done in communion.

  212. Dean,
    I do not think we preach the gospel for fear of people going to hell. In the “Woe to me” passage – Paul says nothing about people perishing as a reason for preaching. There is an inner necessity placed within him. Frankly, there’s so much Americanism (read modernity) in Evangelical thinking that has bled over into all thinking about evangelism. We preach. Because we were told to. We make disciples and Baptize. Because we were told to. If it is not for love of the gospel and of Christ, then it’ll be hollow.

    There are these “we must get the word out in this generation!” or notions of how to be more effective in our preaching – all of which feeds into “technique” and marketing. In the end, it distorts.

    Preaching the gospel is foolishness according to St. Paul. We engage in fooishness. Its effectiveness belongs to God. The outcome in people’s lives is beyond our control. We do good because we were commanded.

  213. Thank you Father. All you have said is good and true. Years ago I was taught “technique” in supposed outreach. Never worked. There is a softness in Orthodoxy I never experienced in the evangelical world. This includes reaching out to others. No brow-beating, but love for another in humility.
    I forgot what elder said this, but it is very pertinent and true. “First, look to your own salvation. And if you can, help 5 or 6 others.”

  214. Dean,
    I think Dino quoted this once, I have saved it as one of my favorites sayings:
    “I am reminded of a saying (by Bullgakov I think, repeated by Elder Raphael Noika): “True Orthodoxy does not convince, it charms””

  215. Simon,
    I do believe that God’s Presence is always cleansing/healing. Many times because of our wounds, that process can be painful. It requires we confront our shame. Using the model of maintaining our physical health would be a good analogy to how we approach the Presence of God and what form that healing takes. If through good habits we maintain our physical health well (through the minor discomforts of self-denial, getting proper exercise and using healthy foods, etc.), we may avoid many of the later greater discomforts brought on by having neglected our health and indulged our disordered appetites. We better avoid the discomforts of advanced disease states and more radical medical interventions like surgery. The torments of Gehenna would be like having to endure the more radical intervention later. Part of what was so mind blowing about my aha moment was to realize the direct continuity between our spiritual state in this life (dynamic) and the next and that God never somehow turns off the spigot of His Self-outpouring in love for anyone—even those in Gehenna. It was very comforting to me to know He never abandons anyone, not even those in Gehenna. Where there is God there is love and life—there is hope, even in the depths of Death itself. This is the message of Christ’s Pascha.

  216. Fr Stephen,
    Thank you for your comment at 2:44 pm.. Indeed it was evangelicalism that you describe that pushed me away from Christ for the majority of my life. And it still irks me. It continues to push my husband away— he gets this brunt most often when I’m not present to deflect it.

  217. comment 251 (I’m always a latecomer 🙂

    When I want to understand where violence comes from, how to be healed from it, I turn to Holy Tradition (what to *do* to become less violent is our praxis; where violence comes from is our tradition on passion- esp. St Isaac the Syrian on desire). When I want to understand the *meaning* of violence more fully- how to understand it (biblically, in history, in culture, etc.),-I look elsewhere than Orthodox authorship.
    Because Orthodox thought has been crippled by an ancient custom (empire-sanctioned violence) as if it were holy simply because it is old. It is not holy nor does it come out of earliest Tradition, and it leads to confusion among the Orthodox ever since.

    Here is a simple introductory article on the genocide and scorched earth of Joshua (Protestant source):

    And a simple introductory book on the biblically transparent non-violence of our God, “A Farewell to Mars”[included in the article link] (Protestant source):

    And a deeply advanced treatment of violence from the beginning (Cain and Able, that is), it’s meaning in culture and religion ever since; the works of Rene Girard (Catholic source):

    We need to read with an Orthodox mind those authors who bring correction to our own antiquated error. As Fr Seraphim Aldea says, listen to your heart- be troubled by violence for God implants this discomfort and know that it is not in Christ or Christianity. We must GO BACK to our genuine Tradition.

    Where is the stavrology of the Orthodox today on this issue (national violence)? Where the fidelity to scripture and consonance with early church teaching and praxis among our contemporary catechists and writers, in contrast with these far bolder and more beautiful ‘heterodox’ voices?
    God forgive us and lead us back home.
    -Mark Basil

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