Orthodoxy Represents Our Original Incompetency

There is one thing to be said about Church-shopping: you can always find a better one…

I often see examples of what I would describe as “comparative denominationalism.” It is the comparison of one Church to another (yes, I know that Orthodoxy is not a denomination). Indeed, the drive for a “better Church,” a “more authentic Church,” the “true Church,” the “New Testament Church,” is little more than a game invented in America during the 19th century. It is post-Reformation and represents the rise of Christian consumerism.

I have long thought that Orthodox Christianity comes out on the short end in this shopping effort. For some, it seems too hard, too complicated, too ethnic, too riddled with rules, too confusing and inconsistent, etc. All of those things are true. And, just when you think you’re going to like it, there’s some sort of train wreck across the world and it falls apart again.

The greatest victim in the course of the split between East and West, and later in the Reformation, was the Church itself. To a great extent, the last thing considered in all of the various iterations of doctrine was ecclesiology (the doctrine of the Church). Particularly after the Reformation, the notion that correct doctrine would produce a correct Church gained increasing acceptance. However, history has repeatedly proven this to be a false idea. No matter the corrective measures, Christianity, as Church, remains flawed. Apparently, allowing sinful people to be part of the Church ruins its excellence, and, even the most excellent people are revealed to be broken.

All efforts of comparison fail. Perhaps the assumptions that drive comparisons are the real problem.

I will describe what I mean in terms of my own experience. I did not become an Orthodox Christian because I thought the experience would be more excellent than my Episcopal life. Indeed, in many ways, I knew that the most immediate consequences of my conversion would be pushing my ecclesiastical life off a cliff. Just months before being received into the Church, my corner of the Southeast was plunged into a terrible schism (OCA/ROCOR) that revealed some the worst weaknesses of American Orthodoxy. To a degree, my life is still encumbered with the effects of that situation.

It was possible for me to make comparisons: priests in Orthodoxy were and are more likely to believe the Creed, but even demons believe the Creed and tremble. The shared life of a common tradition is far richer in Orthodoxy (I prefer the piety of peasants and monks to the sentimentality of Anglo-Bourgeoise). However, piety easily becomes more of a “style” and a “badge” than a thing that is practiced. In short, comparisons reveal the one who does the comparing.

So why convert? I think that is a serious question and worth considering carefully. My own journey towards Orthodoxy spanned nearly 20 years. I looked at every possible angle.

At its deepest level, I came to see that becoming Orthodox was a renunciation of comparisons and the empty efforts to improve the Church. It became an agreement that the Church, with all that came with it, was instituted by God for our salvation. The Church is what salvation looks like. Someone could ask, “Couldn’t that be done in any ecclesiastical setting?” My conclusion was that this was not so. Reformation, Counter-Reformation, Restoration, Oxford Movement, Latter Rain Move of God, the endless forays towards some new, imagined excellence, were the founding ideology of the various modern ecclesiologies. Orthodoxy represents our original incompetence. It is the quarreling of the Corinthians, and the fiery courage of Ignatius of Antioch. It is the excess of Greeks, the soul of Russians, and dancing Ghanians.

The story of the Church is not one of progress, certainly not a progress that can be measured by worldly standards. The saints and martyrs alone serve to give evidence that the vine is still alive and fruitful.

Thus, to a large extent, my conversion to Orthodoxy was a decision to cast my lot into the messiness of our original humanity, refusing to remain a part of the modern project and its attempt to improve on the work of God. Its idolatry has been to make successful versions of a middle-class secularism at prayer. The result is largely insipid.

I am often embarrassed by Orthodox failures, just as I am by my own, and for the same reason. However, I believe our failures are uniquely unmasked by the sublime reality of the sacraments, and the perfection of the gift we have been given. It is measured by the yardstick of the spotless bride and constantly found wanting. And this is the truth of our existence. I would not want to exist in any other manner. Before the altar of God, I stand in union with human failure throughout the ages, and in union with the infinite compassion of Christ.

Accept, O Lord, this sacrifice upon Your heavenly, noetic altar, and send down upon us in turn, the grace of Your Holy Spirit.

130 comments:

  1. Hello father, thank you for the article. This really speaks to my own conversion and perhaps why I feel a comfort in Orthodoxy even though I still see all the brokeness that exists in the Church. I think that a life centered on the Sacraments and Thanksgiving to God really helped me.
    I am perhaps stuck on this sentence, both because I’m not confident that I know what you meant, but also because I am curious about your thoughts: “Its idolatry has been to make successful versions of a middle-class secularism at prayer.”
    I interpreted this as you meaning to say that (American, I’m not sure about other places) Orthodoxy has gone on to be some sort of support network for maintaining a middle-class life — with perhaps some “church” sprinkled on the side. Being new, I thought that this was a symptom that I’ve seen given the areas of my parishes so far: largely white, upper-middle class, convert, suburban type communities (even though both have been churches in an urban landscape!). I think though that much of what I’ve experienced as the general lay attitude and also encouraged by some of the ordained does not try to lessen the secular in favor of the Church. What can we do as individuals to break from this “normalcy” of our lives. I write this as an especially convicted white-middle-class-convert, how can I understand the piety of the peasant? I’ve spent a nice amount of time at a monastery to understand how monastics are, but it’s so hard to bring that piety into the world which completely shuns it, even in our parishes. What can we do as individuals or as a community to get rid of this idolatry?

  2. Father, there have been many times I have gone to Liturgy with the mindset that I am too sinful to accept the Eucharist. I do not remember the priest who said so, but I remember one saying that we should always take part in the Eucharist for this very reason. Our salvation is in God, not in our own excellence. I am ever thankful for His compassion and never worthy to receive it.

    Many thanks for this wonderful writing, Father!

  3. Thanks for writing this (just for me!).
    I’m ruined by Orthodoxy. I can’t ignore the lack of apostolic succession in non-historic churches. I can’t deny the real presence any longer. *sigh*

  4. Father,
    Thank you for this beautiful reflection. And sharing about your conversion. I keep discovering that the converts to the Orthodox Church are the bravest, smartest, kindest, most open-hearted people I know… I probably would never be one of them if the Good Lord did not help me by letting me be born Orthodox….

    How interesting to also receive this email (below) in my mailbox today, right next to the notification about your new post. The last sentence in that article is a good reminder to always greet the visitors that come to the Liturgy/Church with a warm welcome…

    https://jamesclear.com/why-facts-dont-change-minds

  5. I remember when I was preparing to convert reading something written by a nun ( I forget who) but it was a letter almost dissuading a potential convert from following through except for the knowledge that it was the path to salvation. I think I converted in part because I knew it was the end of the road, that my days of comparative churchianity were over.

    I have not found anything like perfection in Orthodoxy, in fact there is much that would drive one away. It is hard and messy and there are some frankly strange theology. But like you, Father, I wouldn’t be anywhere else. There is no other tradition that is strong and powerful (yet gentle) enough to withstand and transform all of our human failures beyond the true church.

    Thanks for the reminder. Thank you for your ministry. It has gotten me through many a dark night of the soul.

  6. Thanks for sharing, Father. This landed for me. Unlike you, when I was recieved into the Church, I had a notion that Orthodoxy was the most “excellent” Christian tradition, and that I was leaving all that second-rate Protestant nonsense behind once and for all! Sigh. It has taken a couple years of that line of thinking, crescendoing into a full blown dark night of the soul for me to finally surrender to the freedom, the right-glory that is in our failure. Glory to God for ALL things!

  7. Tim M
    I had a couple of things in mind. First, the blatant intentionality of contemporary Protestant to create a lightly Christianized bourgeois lifestyle. Secondly, the contemporary Orthodox attempts to do the same. In a country with so many white-middle-class people, it’s no wonder that we wind up in the middle of them. I’m one of them. A primary way to avoid this, or to live authentically within it, is to reject its values. Live with failure, embrace your incompetence. Live as a sinner for whom grace alone is life itself. Make yourself no different than the least. Fr. T. Hopko’s 55 maxims is still the best summary I’ve ever seen.

  8. Although my coming too and being received in the Church can be described quite simply, there were many twists and turns along the way.

    It began really when I was born because both of my parents had deeply held understandings of God based upon their personal encounters that were decidedly pre-modern. They gifted those to my brother and me.

    It received serious impetus though fifty years ago when, in a moment of crises, I called out to Jesus and He made Himself known. Much as Met. Anthony Bloom experienced.

    The next twenty years was spent trying to find out what that encounter meant. He satisfied that for me the first time I attended Divine Liturgy because there He was again, proceeding down the aisle with the priest in the Great Entrance.

    The rest is the battle to live as He requires. My Cross as it were.

    I did a lot of consumer comparison along the way and everything else lacked the presence. My living wife had a similar experience starting when she was five. She was received at her age 61.

    So, for some reason, Jesus Christ wants me here. I know that whatever messes there are are in some way my mess too. I do almost nothing to make the Church “better”.

  9. Father I’ve been thinking about this more and would like to ask you about something. My husband and I are wanting to buy land and start doing some sustainable agriculture in the next couple years. We have many reasons for this, but I wont deny that I believe it is “excellent.” Do you think this is purely wordly? I know the Apostle told slaves to not seek their freedom. Does that principle apply in the same way to the situation of suburban Americans? Do you think it is possible to forsake the suburban, consumeristic ways humbly and authentically without forsaking a life of faithfulness to the Gospel? Or is the excricuating emptiness of suburban consumer existence simply the cup we are being asked to drink?

  10. Thank you, Father. This is very much what I and my family experienced. It became clear that either we submitted to the Church, or we submitted only to ourselves, which is the same as capitulating to the demons. I don’t want to generalize that starkness, but it was what we found. Moreover, I continue to find a very odd comfort in the presence within Orthodoxy of ALL the problems. Our former Christian life was very concerned to avoid lots of problems, especially messy and obvious ones. Yet in the Church, we are simply called to bring those problems to Jesus, own them, repent, and let Him swallow up death in His resurrection as we swallow Him in the Eucharist.

    And William D., it can be very healthy in the long run to be ruined for good reasons. Ps.119:71 comes to mind: “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” Too, I love the imagery of Psalm 1. Trees take firm root because of wind, and drive roots deep because of drought. But transplant is violence, and not to be done lightly. God keep you!

    In Christ,
    Mark

  11. Sunny,
    It is possible to want to live, and to want to live in an “excellent” manner. One problem with our consumer way of life is that it cannot be excellent – because you cannot consume your way to excellence. To do an agricultural life is a good thing, even worth the bother. It is not a good thing because it is a better consumer choice – it is a good thing in its doing and in the living.

    It is quite possible to live a good life and do a good thing while remaining quite urban (even suburban). But it is filled with temptation. I think one way to live it well, is, in the very “worst” days, to say, “This is good.” When we can know that even the very worst days are good, we begin to live.

  12. Father,
    Thank you for these words:
    “It is quite possible to live a good life and do a good thing while remaining quite urban (even suburban). ”

    I often go back to your “Modern Vocation” post from January 20, 2014, and your words there:
    “The proper vocation of the Christian life is to be united with God and to be conformed to His image. Economically that vocation is defined by work, hospitality, mercy, kindness and sharing. These are the criteria of “success” in the Christian life”.

    I think we all can do that in our suburban setting, without having to run away into the wilderness. If we did run away, who would we offer hospitality, mercy, kindness to? And how far would our parish Church be? Would we make an effort to be at every Sunday Liturgy and especially other services during the week? I think many people forget about that when they make their decisions to move far away from the city.

  13. When I was an inquirer, I was overwhelmed by the seamless beauty of the theology/worship. I suppose I thought that was “excellent”. However, I was also very much attracted to the messiness that existed in the Church, and that without much apology. There was enough excellence touted in other expressions of Christianity of which I was part, that I was pretty well done with it; I’m a (recovering) perfectionist to start with, and the implicit or explicit calls to excellence exhausted me. Another paradox – that the beauty and messiness exist together in the Church, and it’s all okay, because the Lord Jesus Christ is there.

    Hope you & family are having a lovely vacation, Father.

    Dana

  14. The ark will ride out this storm, just as it always has! For, “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;”

  15. “I’m ruined by Orthodoxy.”
    Yep. I get it.

    When I look back on my life there were events that seem distinctly Orthodox although I had no clue at the time what Orthodoxy was. When I was a little boy somewhere in the 8-11 age I prayed before my Bible much the way I pray now before my icons. I was prayed while prostrated. My mother saw this and she threw a fit. Idolatry was serious business! Later in my teen years–as Dino mentioned in another post–I learned to prefer prayer at night. Later in my 20’s I really understood the need to find lonely places. In my 30’s I began to clearly see mysticism and the inward character of the gospel as it’s true intention. Matthew 5:8 I knew–I just knew in my guts–that verse was about experiencing God inwardly. Parables where Jesus would say that ‘no one lights a lamp and hides it under the bead, but puts it on a lamp stand so that everyone entering in may see the light.’ Even know that seems like an explicit mysticism of the heart. Later a philosophy professor recommended The Brothers Karamazov to me. I still had no clue what Orthodoxy was, but whoever Fr. Zosima was he was the real deal. And then we adopted Micah and within a couple of months of that a friend brought me to a Saturday night vespers. I knew right there that this wasn’t like anything I had ever encountered before.

    But, I haven’t experienced anything that has either scared me more or felt more consuming or more demanding of my attention than Orthodoxy. I have had to fight the urge just to sit and pray all day or read Orthodox books or scribble my dumb thoughts down that came after meditating on scripture. It is so…consuming. I feel like I fighting just to keep some semblance of who I am because if I let it go…I am truly, truly afraid that Orthodoxy would become all that I would do. I am not exaggerating even a little bit. There have been times that I have thought that maybe this religion triggers religious obsession or whatever.

    I am sure I am not alone in this feeling. Right? I am asking, please, for feedback.

  16. Simon,

    I am not Orthodox (yet, or something). I am sort of a lone wolf, sort of Christian. I live in the sticks, not a lot of churches around here.

    Let me just say that what you wrote about the scary nature of Orthodoxy is how I feel about Christianity, period. I read the Bible, and I’ve been reading the Bible for decades, and sometimes I think that if I really believe this, I need to say good-bye to myself. It’s scary, alright.

    I believe! Lord help me in my disbelief!

  17. My daughter is still riding high on grace after her Orthodox Baptism just over a month ago. She has been reading her Bible and her prayers, usually several times a day, and relishing being able to commune. She has autism, which in her case makes her excessively talkative, and she is talking a lot about her faith (and asking about that of others–like her dad, who is Evangelical, and friends who are Catholics, etc.). She is inclined to interrogate her older brother about why he isn’t going to church any more! We keep steering her away from comparisons, but she is fascinated by differences (religious and ethnic among the most fascinating to her), and her thoughts always come out as questions that can be uncomfortable to try to explain to others or answer.

    Recently, we were at a dinner with Evangelical friends who after hearing from Katie about her Baptism, asked me to remind them about why I became Orthodox. I do not know how to explain it, except the Holy Spirit led me here. I came to recognize I need it for my salvation, but it’s impossible to say this in only so many words to an Evangelical because it will be misunderstood. Yet I certainly didn’t feel comfortable in that setting going into the long explanation. Only in Orthodoxy did I find a coherent framework in which to understand the nature of the Church, of our salvation in Christ, and of the Scriptures. It was certainly not a framework that put the dysfunctional mess that is modern Christendom or my own life in a favorable light, but it did more fully illumine Christ, and that was exactly what I needed.

  18. Simon,
    Since you seem to ask ‘us’ and not necessarily Fr Stephen, I will respond.
    It sounds like you are immersing yourself in the Orthodox Way. The Orthodox Way is Christ and there is no other way in Christ other than to be immersed. Baptism is immersion and praying and chanting the Liturgy is immersion. And you are immersing yourself in your daily life too, it seems.
    Yes I would agree it’s scary because we do lose our past life, or rather we die to it. It took all my failing strength to continue move forward, and only by grace was I capable to surrender and with resolve, to follow-through in the last weeks before I was baptized. I’m grateful for the struggle, as I fail and get up again, and for God’s grace in the struggle.

    As far as I know the struggle doesn’t end. But the joy increases.

    Thank you for your comment!

    Sgage: Indeed when Simon speaks of Orthodoxy, he’s speaking of classical Christianity, as is Fr Stephen. It’s not your ‘average bear’, so to speak, but the real deal (as Simon says).

    Classical Christianity, the real deal, can be scary in so far as it is messy as Fr Stephen describes, and doesn’t mirror modernity in the way the Western Churches do. One question my husband asked me (which was a bit humorous) was, “Why would you want to join a Church where the priests have big beards and wear funny hats?” Indeed, initially I wondered about that too. The iconography in Orthodoxy and some data ( related to particle physics) drew me in, and that too was hard to explain to my husband, and because of that paradox, it was scary. But the Way, which is separate from modernity that Orthodoxy eschews, is not bound up with beards and hats. Orthodoxy as a Way of being, is at a hard relief against the flat land of our secular society. The beards and hats are silent indicators pointing to a Tradition that has continued and has passed down to us the Way of Christ through two millennia.

    Yes indeed, there is something scary about Christianity, the real deal, because it shows us Life against the backdrop of death, of non-existence. The contrast overwhelming.

  19. Thanks for that, Father. I’m willing to believe we could keep doing the American middle-class thing and be saved in that. Stay in your suburban life and it can teach you everything? We long for a wholesome place where we can raise our kids, and where the boundaries around our life can become more permeable to other lives. Urban life is not conducive to these things.

  20. “Particularly after the Reformation, the notion that correct doctrine would produce a correct Church gained increasing acceptance. ”

    Father, thank you for so succinctly summarizing my ecclesiology as a protestant. I was convinced that knowing, understanding, and teaching my tradition’s confessions would fix all the problems I saw in its modern iterations, yet all the liberal apostate bodies that bore its name were at one point “traditional”, “confessional” institutions. It’s a dead end.

  21. Simon,
    As for your question “am I alone in this…” obsession with Orthodoxy, I wonder
    if you are a “loner” like myself. Would I be correct in saying that for as long as you can remember you found yourself “on the outside” of pretty much everything and everybody?
    If so, it is to be expected for a loner to naturally bend more toward introspection. That, along with God’s call, and lead (which, by what you said, you responded to very early in life), it is no surprise to be fully consumed with Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is consuming because God is consuming.
    It is hard to explain this “driven-ness”. As a result, socializing does not come easy. Fulfilling conversation (I mean in daily life) is hard to come by. I find that I am constantly being corrected as to conform to modern expectations.
    Nevertheless, I am consumed too, Simon. Totally. It is of concern to me, but probably not so much “scary”. I just have to be mindful of my responsibilities. Yet I have nothing to loose by total immersion (ie family and social interaction. the social is very minimal. family,..immediate ones deceased, the others distant. never married.).
    I am amazed and totally taken with the wealth of Orthodoxy, of its approach to life, of its depiction of Truth…there is no end to it, because there is no end to experiencing God.
    I understand fully what you are saying. It is not odd to me at all. But it is very odd to the world out there. If it is labeled “obsession”, so be it. I mean, what exactly is meant by “obsession”? If it means obsession to the point of neglect of others and our responsibilities, well that’s a problem. Probably in another day and age “obsession” would be the norm. Not here and now, in the United States of America…that’s for sure….

  22. Sunny,
    There are Orthodox monasteries in the States which have communities of families around them. The Greek monastery in Dunlap, CA., is one such example. Most of the children are home-schooled and many families have gardens and farm animals. There may even be such a monastery close to where you live. It might be worthwhile inquiring.

  23. Paula, by alone I merely meant ‘Am I the only one who feels this way? Has anyone else had analogous experiences?’

  24. Dear Father Stephen
    Thank you for this. Tears came to my eyes as I read your closing paragraph. Your description of your conversion echoes my own. I too came from the Episcopal Church – first Scottish, where I had a brief but very intense experience of almost-Orthodoxy, then Canadian, where I spent 30 years before being led to the Orthodox Church by Father Daniel Matheson of blessed memory.
    With love in Christ to you and all your readers!
    Jane

  25. Simon…It’s so hard to pinpoint points in this type of conversation. Sometimes it is not much easier face to face.
    I could have answered your question “am I the only one who feels this way” by saying simply “no you are not…and for me being a loner it is easy to lean into being consumed by Orthodoxy”…or something like that. Instead I expounded, probably too much.
    And so now this is getting lost in the translation….
    sorry….

  26. Paula, I understand and I appreciate your reflections and comments. I am a bit of a loner, but I also know that I am not alone. There are several men in my parish Im sure I could talk to and I would support. Im actually quite confident of that. But I feel like there is something akin to a mental disorder surrounding my zeal for Orthodox prayer and worship. I am often very alarmed at how easily I become consumed with Orthodox prayer, worship, and reading. Its a very real consuming passion. Ive recently pulled away to try and get my bearings.

  27. Simon…thanks, that helps me better understand.
    I do not know what to say about your zeal to the point of alarm. I am inclined to say it is not dangerous…I mean, that it will not harm you in the long run. Because to me, zeal is good! It just has to be tempered sometimes. Spiritual guidance is of much value, and a trusted friend as well.

    My hopes are high for you, Simon! God is with you!

  28. I mentioned this axiom recently here I think, the idea that when things seem good, they are not really as good as they seem, and when things seem bad, they are not really as bad as they seem. This applies to one’s relationship with Church (something I struggle with), and perhaps even God thinking of your concern over balance Simon. You conscious should be your guide in my opinion, and if you are sensing the “externals” of prayer and praxis becoming out of sync with your heart then certainly a kind of reassessment seems prudent.

    On the other hand, as Fr. Stephen has written the Christian heart at prayer IS a “mental disorder” in the eyes of world. Thus others ( whom you trust, even if it is just a little bit) experience might be informative here…

  29. Simon,

    You are not alone. The bit and bridle of “normal” life chafes at me – but then so do my passions in general. My answer was to offer my life to God as His servant. Remember Maximus’ servant Cicero in the Gladiator movie? “Sometimes I do what I want to do. The rest of the time, I do what I have to.”

    Living out my tenure as a servant allows me to see each thing more objectively. Pertaining to your thoughts, I see how such Orthodox desires could also be an idol and why it is better to let God set my pace & priorities.

  30. Father, in your message here you sent me hunting for an old (early eighties) magazine article, a book review by then Bishop Jonah Tolson that stayed with me when I recently rediscovered it. He is reviewing “Man and the Cosmos” by Lars Thunburg, explaining the difference between the understandings of St. Maximus the Confessor and Western scholarship thereon:

    “…In reading the book one almost feels St. Maximus trying to break through the author’s analytic structures and approach with the light and vibrance of his own thought…The Fathers are not systematic theologians — indeed they are not systematizers at all…There is, as one author put it, a direct line running ‘from Plato to 15th century Russian monasticism’ and that world is not one that operates in the terms of a dichotomy of Realism-Nominalism. It is an iconic world based on participation, union, transfiguration, presence, synthesis, and a sense of things as dynamic and, to ‘cop’ a modern term, ‘processive.'”

    I think the power of the last touches on the aspect of Orthodoxy that Simon was describing above. And yes, ‘consuming’ and ‘demanding’ are, in my own experience, aspects of the faith. I like to flavor my excesses with some of the desert father tales about discernment. That is also to be desired!

  31. I’ll just add a little tale that used to be told in my church – a mother was so proud of her youngster that she was very eager for him to join the parish priest in his first confession, even though he was younger than the usual age.

    The priest resisted for a while, but she persisted, and finally he relented, taking the child into the church with him while the mother waited outside. And waited. While inside, the boy took his way eloquently through a list of misdeeds that was far-reaching and eloquently phrased.

    Finally they both came out. And the priest said in an aside to the mother, “He’s not ready.”

  32. Juliana,
    I once had a very vivid dream. I was in a beautiful Church and it was filled with priests. We were making confession and going to communion. I approached this apparently famous old elder who had suffered much in the Gulag. When I came to him he said, “I cannot hear your confession. You need a theologian. I’m too simple.” Rebuked in a dream…

  33. Father,
    Today I came across this quote from Irenaeus’ Against Heresies and immediately thought of the message of this post:
    “God has displayed long-suffering in the case of man’s apostasy; while man has been instructed by means of it, as also the prophet says, “Thine own apostasy shall heal thee; God thus determining all things beforehand for the bringing of man to perfection, for his edification, and for the revelation of His dispensations, that goodness may both be made apparent, and righteousness perfected, and that the Church may be fashioned after the image of His Son, and that man may finally be brought to maturity at some future time, becoming ripe through such privileges to see and comprehend God.”
    (I’m still thinking about the Ukraine…)

  34. “For some, it seems too hard, too complicated, too ethnic, too riddled with rules, too confusing and inconsistent, etc. All of those things are true.

    I would disagree over whether or not all of this is true.

    Yes, its hard, yes its complicated, yes its extremely ethnic – a real challenge in congregations where liturgies are done in Greek, Antiochian, or Russian. But rather than confusing and inconsistent, suddenly all the complicated isolated doctrines that I had learned as a denominational Christian that were cobbled together as part of an overarching systematic theology, everything suddenly made sense in the context of an organic faith.

  35. Matthew,
    I agree. I think it is utterly true, and uncomplicated in an organic way. The key word in the phrase is “seems.” Also, note, “for some.”

    I would describe myself as at home within Orthodoxy, in the same manner that I am at home in being human – and for the same reasons. But accepting my humanity means taking the baggage of the whole Adam with it. I reject the philosophy of modernity that suggests that we can create ourselves and “be anything we want to be.” I reject modern Christianity for the same reason.

    My point in the article is to make it clear that Orthodoxy should not be compared to modern denominational Christianity – because it doesn’t belong there (except when we try to make it be the same thing only better). But, in accepting Orthodox Christianity, we must understand that we are accepting the whole of it – complete with all of its baggage (just like the baggage of the whole Adam).

  36. Fr., Matthew,

    Orthodoxy is confusing and incoherent. How do the the Orthodox think about heaven and hell? That’s not well-defined. There are a range of ideas and dispositions on this matter. The same is true for salvation. What happens to nonOrthodox folks when they die? Do we really know? Some say ‘yes’, some say ‘no.’ What about the genesis account of human origins? Again, there are a range of ideas and dispositions. When it comes to liturgy or the seven councils, the Orthodox stick the landing. So, we can think of all that as “organic”, but all that really means is ‘we don’t know.’ And where something is uncertain or unknown perhaps it is better to remain silent rather than create confusion.

  37. Paula, that’s a great quote. It seems that sin, like physical disease, is a self-limiting condition; if it is not repented and healed, it ends in death. The gospel is the offer of life from (out of) death.

  38. What a great article and commentary. Thank you all.

    It seems there are two camps of people: those looking for the best church, and those looking for the best church *for themselves*. I suppose I fall into the latter category, or at least that’s the easiest way to frame it for people who don’t understand. On a superficial level the Orthodox Church jives with me: the ancientry, the smells, bells, icons, candles, and so on. But on a much deeper, and so more difficult to express, plane, the Orthodox Church is like a gravity well I can’t break free from (in other words, I feel you, WILLIAM D!). I can only say that God has been leading me in this direction for one reason or another; for my salvation. I’m not interested in correctness or excellent doctrine, I believe I’m simply being led.

    I find it especially funny that you (Father) post something like the article here on the week that I begin my attempt at regular attendance at my local parish, since it was one of your articles that was the first nudge onto the path some years ago. There are lots of feels, way more than I anticipated. The expected newness of change (I’ve attended a few times but never regularly), the sheer terror of a potential misstep for me and my family, the latent pain of leaving the church I’d been a part of since I was a teen. So here goes nothing! I feel better knowing that the messiness is all part of the package deal. Nice to know that Orthodoxy is somehow not a part of all this denominational mess, though it’s its own mess in its own way.

  39. “I reject the philosophy of modernity that suggests that we can create ourselves and be anything we want to be.” I too reject it Father Stephen.
    A man now in his seventies…same age as Mr. Trump, Bush and Clinton…am I senile too?
    Be that as it may…From this vantage point it simply is not true. TV in the 50’s was pervasive with this philosophy…think of Beaver’s dad and their visits. Anyone can be president, we were told in grammar school. Well, as we all know, the playing field is not level. We all cannot (could not) achieve the American Dream…monetary prosperity, your own home, etc. Yet, so we do “achieve” this dream…for many a nightmare, what do we have? What of the inner man, of our spouse, our children….? Without Christ we end with nothing. The Psalms are so to the point in describing a man of wealth who in his pride and hubris names lands after himself and then dies bereft of God…who has seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer, as they say. What is important to me nearing life’s twilight? The Church and Her mysteries, my family both physical and church, my health, the majesty of creation, prayer. Just an old man’s ramblings.

  40. “Nothing makes more sense to me than monothyletism. I have been implicitly monothyletic this whole time. But guess what? That’s a heresy.”

    Don’t worry Simon, you’re not alone in this. Indeed most Orthodox (to say nothing of western Christians) are implicitly monothelitic, though more commonly in the other direction (i.e. Christ had a divine but not a human will). At the risk of sounding like Lossky, the common soteriological dilemas (Heaven vs. Hell, God’s goodness vs. His Justice, etc.) have their nexus in this “implicit” monothelitism. In other words as with most the really hard things in Christianity, it comes down to Christology. However to put it this way is only descriptive as the heart does not operate at this level.

    “We even find a related notion (although here it is more cerebral than noetic) in Buddhism.”

    Seemingly incoherently this statement of Dino’s reminded me of Charles Taylor. Do you Fr. Stephen or anyone else know of a critique (an essay, or perhaps a book review) of Taylor from an Orthodox perspective?

  41. Simon,
    We make the mistake, I think, of conceiving noetic understanding as a sort of human version of limited omniscience. Noetic understanding understands noetic things. Many of the things that we think should have clear and straightforward answers – if noetic understanding were doing its job – are things that noetic understanding isn’t actually concerned about. That itself should tell us something.

    On montheletism – a problem, I think, is that the Fathers understood the will to be a function of the nature (rather than the person). Thus, if there is a Divine Nature in Christ, there is a Divine Will. Most modern-based ideas about the will have almost nothing in common with the Fathers understanding of it. We are particularly distorted in modernity because we confuse the will with “choice” – that thing we do in a grocery store. That is something completely different. The “voluntaristic” notions of humanity, and the salvation models that go along with it, are just theological components of consumer capitalism. They do not describe what it is to be human. They describe what it is to be a shopper.

  42. Re Dino and Simon…
    Simon…it doesn’t matter if you define what you hear Dino say….I mean, it is helpful in a face to face dialogue, but no matter what, even if by a miracle Dino was 100% correct, you (or I or anyone) the “part” you will hear is but a reflection your capacity to assimilate the particular knowledge you have accumulated by experience, mental capability, and such. In other words, you are going to hear only “so much”. This is not a criticism, nor is it right or wrong. It is how we “work”.

    I am so glad you mentioned monothyletism, because it is a perfect example of what I’m trying to say. [Ever since reading at the Marquette site, I have come across this and many other very interesting topics. And BTW, I was introduced to this wealth of info through Fr. Stephen DeYoung’s blog. It just struck my interest, I must say] There is an well known author that speaks about such labels such as monothyletism, dyothelitism, nestorianism. Each group claims the other is heretical. But the author identifies a interesting thing…the very words, “nature”, “person”, “hypostasis” has a different definition for each of those in opposition. Their definition is not the same, and so each have a completely different concept of the nature vs divinity of Jesus Christ. Bishop Golitzin (Father’s Bishop who birthed the Marquette site) said it is high time we begin dialogue with our brothers and sisters that we are estranged from. It is very sad.
    You, coming from everything you have experienced and learned and are learning in your own way, and Dino coming from everything he has experienced (etc)….is *almost* like a monothylete trying to convert a dyothelite or visa versa (only you two are not really at such odds as the latter). Somewhere way back in the beginning of the meeting of the minds, definitions have to be agreed upon. And that includes being mindful of the vast differences in cultures/upbringing.
    Back to monothyletism.
    I have no answer for you. Of coarse I don’t. You are on a journey…and God is with you. All I can go on is this…you chose the Orthodox Church, chose to go as far as to be Baptized and Chrismated. You have an active life as an Orthodox Christian.
    You have many questions that need to be answered. I believe with all that is in me you’ll get your answers.
    I will offer my thoughts on your comment on monothyletism. These are my personal choices that I offer. Not saying its right for you. I don’t know what is right for you. You will have to talk face to face with a spiritual guide for that. So… I chose, and at the same time was led, to Orthodoxy. I am staying there like a block of concrete…set in stone because I am at home there. Yes, there are theological reasons…the fullness of the faith, to put it plainly, that factor into it, but also it is my home. There are many other “good” homes out there…but this one is mine. So, as for the monotheyletes, the nestorians, the Oriental Orthodox, I can sympathize with them. They are about as devout as we are. And I hate the schisms. But I am Orthodox. I believe in its Truths. I recite the Creed. I accept the messiness of trying to be exact. I actually want to be where God is, and I found Him very much present within Orthodoxy. I don’t have to go anywhere else. God will sort all the rest out.

    So Simon…for whatever reasons, your path presents itself as a different picture than mine…but one day, here…”there” (in the by and by)…either way… there will be Peace.

  43. “Most modern-based ideas about the will have almost nothing in common with the Fathers understanding of it. ”

    Father, have you thought about how modern notion(s) of self (and thus will, choice, etc.) come out of a personalism that comes before nature for example the “I am” of Descarte, or the “I can be anything I want to be” even in the face of nature (sexual binarity for example)?

    Some Orthodox even seem to approve, such as when Zizioulas;s personalism has St. Maximus (in his interpretation) reversing the “western” idea of nature “having” person, into persons having nature.

    Too technical for a comment box? 😉

  44. Christopher,
    A bit technical, no doubt. The will is a function of nature – but nature has to be instantiated by the person – and that’s where things get a bit sticky. Z’s personalism is interesting – and even useful – but can become almost ideological in the wrong hands (and it has on occasion).

    We cannot really speak about “nature” in a naked form – in only comes in “person”. It is language developed, I think, in order to provide a grammar for speaking about Trinitarian and Christological concerns – but is still only a grammar. God did not become man in order to reveal nature and person – or so I think it is good to remember.

    It is largely the case, that the classical monophysites and monothelites were grammatically different – but not substantially so. I’ve spent some time with a couple of Coptic theologians (who are considered “leading” figures) and could find nothing in which we differed. If they are “Monophysites,” then so was Cyril of Alexandria. They simply rejected a grammar that they took to be charged with Nestorian dangers.

    Nestorianism, in my opinion, is a different kettle of fish and has genuine problems and errors.

    I think that person and nature, when examined in a noetic fashion, are quite different from what people mean when they generally use the terms.

  45. ”I prefer the piety of peasants and monks to the sentimentality of Anglo-Bourgeoise”

    May I make that into a bumper sticker?

  46. “God did not become man in order to reveal nature and person – or so I think it is good to remember.”
    I think I’ll latch on to that thought Father! ‘lot less headaches!

  47. “The “part” you will hear is but a reflection your capacity to assimilate the particular knowledge you have accumulated by experience, mental capability, and such. In other words, you are going to hear only “so much”.”
    I could not agree with this statement more. We are all certainly limited by our capacity one way or the other. And we learn from our interactions with people. For example, I have learned that metaphysics is pure speculation…unless you have some fantastic noetic gift, it is pure speculation. Whether or not the will is anchored in the metaphysical nature or the mind is pure speculation and yet there were people who were punished as heretics for thinking one way or the other about it. This is what confusion looks like. And yet I am supposed to accept that the councils who decided these issues were not confused. I don’t buy it.

  48. Simon
    Man is -in a certain sense- dyothelitic. There’s the natural will, ( our nature’s innate desire), and there’s each person’s “choice”, “appetite”, “tendency” (the so called gnomic will).

  49. Simon,
    The will as a function of nature answers the question of what is actually our natural inclination. What is the purpose for which a nature is created? (when speaking of created things). We can “choose” many things – as in our consumption. But these are not necessarily at all in agreement with what is actually our nature. Understanding that the natural will is the true, fundamental drive of our being, is understanding what it means to be a human being.

    Part of the fall, our sinfulness, is that acting in accord with our nature no longer seems obvious to us. We are stuck with something the Fathers called the “gnomic will” – which is, indeed, a function of the person. But it is a “will” that has been fragmented off from our nature. It is a deliberative thing – and we often deliberate badly with it.

    If we lived in accordance with our nature – we would always choose the good that is in accordance with our nature, and would choose it naturally – almost like breathing.

    What we call “choic” in consumerism is often not even the “gnomic will.” It’s just weighing one passion against another and acting on the basis of our passions. That’s not freedom – it’s bondage – completely at the mercy of those who manipulate our passions. Almost all advertising is geared towards the passions – not towards reason, much less the will.

    The true will is exceedingly powerful. One desert father said that if we “truly willed it,” we could be perfected in a day. Just finding the will is hard for us. When I stated that our modern use of the term will has almost nothing in common with what the Fathers mean by the term, I meant it with regard to this deeper understanding.

    I am not at all of the opinion that it really doesn’t matter what “carried the day” – that, in a sense, none of this matters at all, none of this makes any difference. I do think, however, that we get the cart before the horse. That discussing monotheletism (and such things) long before we have begun to heal within is a largely useless exercise. How could we understand the matter when we don’t really have an experience of our own true will, but are bound by the passions?

    We read theology well before we are able to do theology (in its proper sense).

  50. “What difference does it make?”

    In an important way it makes all the difference. For example, in modernism the self is a kind of free floating ideal unmoored from nature and consequently uncircumscribed. This is seen in the obvious cases (for example, in the modern alphabet soup of “gender” – what is it today, LGBTQRS?) but less obviously so in the whole modern project and view. Think of how Taylor describes a situation where persons and their ultimate “fulfillment” are able to choose from among various “construals” and that each choice is as salatury as the other because there is no nature below or perspective above from which to see the truth of the matter.

    As far as Christology, it also makes a.. the difference, but one can only get at this difference once one has left the modern view behind (and one can only do this acsetically). To try to understand the dual nature and will’s of Christ from within modern assumptions about humanity is futile. It’s an entirely different perspective and ‘grammar’ as Fr. Stephen says. That said, the modern person normally tries to subsume this perspective into the modernist view, so that it becomes just another “construal” that the unencumbered Self considers or in Father’s term, consumes…

  51. I am realizing the degree to which I value science over religious creed. I am willing to entertain religious belief until it contradicts science. Then religion is out. I suspected that I was that way…now I am very sure that is exactly how I am and I am not uncomfortable with that. I am a data driven person. Everything else has all the substance of poetry. It could be good poetry or bad poetry.

    Man…that really is where I am at…

    Holy smokes…I am a hard core mechanistic thinker.

    I am going to save everything else I have to say for my priest.

  52. “In modernism the self is a kind of free floating ideal unmoored from nature and consequently uncircumscribed.”

    This is Platonism. Been around for 2500 years or longer.

  53. “To try to understand the dual nature and will’s of Christ from within modern assumptions about humanity is futile.”
    To try and understand it from any perspective is futile. Are you really telling me that there is another perspective from which this can be viewed and understood and it actually makes sense??

  54. “This is Platonism. Been around for 2500 years or longer.”

    That’s right! Now, is methodological materialism aristotelian or (neo)platonic? Is poetry or beauty real, or are they the fitful dreams of a matter/energy soup however organized?

    “Are you really telling me that there is another perspective from which this can be viewed and understood and it actually makes sense??”

    Yes.

  55. The latter. It can’t be the formal because reason (as a function & its products) is itself a function of noetic grace – an empirical experience. St. Maximus puts it this way:

    “A pure nous sees things correctly, a trained reason puts them in order” (2nd century on love)

    A modern “construal” of epistemology would say something like:

    “An authentic self sees things correctly, a pure reason puts them in order”

    Purity and training (what Grace provides) are not even part of the picture, the self and reason are themselves sufficient and a given, only to be chosen…

  56. No, never do that – Grace and Faith are very common things, everywhere present and filling all, and are nearer to you than very thoughts. They are themselves not a “prize” or an “accomplishment”, or anything of the sort.

    They are also THE tonic to despair and sarcasm 😉

  57. Paula, I hope I didnt imply science and Orthodoxy are incompatible. I dont know that that is true.

    I’m merely saying that there is a dawning awareness in myself of how strongly I feel that if there is a conflict between the claims of the Church or the Bible with solid evidence and well-constructed research, that I will side with research. The claims of noetic faculty are becoming suspect for me.

    Im glad the physicist found what he really wanted to do.

  58. Simon
    “I hope I didn’t imply science and Orthodoxy are incompatible.”
    Not so much that, but your stated “uncomfortableness”.
    The Hieromonk says (briefly. For some reason on that website you can not copy and paste…meh!): “I do not reject science, but as time passes I realize the spiritual life can not be compared to anything”.

  59. Simon,
    I think a pure, mechanistic view of the world comes up short and cannot begin to describe the fullness of human experience. I think what feels superior about it for you is probably its security (or a perceived security). You’re concerned about false claims, or claims that are not falsifiable. Of course, a statement like, “I love you,” doesn’t fit in a mechanistic view.

    A good, pretty thorough read on some of the issues in all of this is David Bentley Hart’s Experience of God. I suggest it with enthusiasm.

    But, every reason you can give for preferring a mechanistic account cannot be validated by a mechanistic account.

  60. Im pretty sure mechanism is validated by a well-defined pragmatism. If it couldn’t be, the your wall switches wouldnt work. And Im not saying that mechanism captures the fulness of human experience, but that doesnt justify a leap into metaphysics or declaring someone a heretic because of the way they speculate about metaphysics. There is plenty of uncertainty to go around in science. But science doesnt have a subjective component like noesis to make sense of it.

  61. Simon,
    Many hard core mechanistic thinkers have become saints. There’s nothing wrong with that outlook, as long as answers are sought sincerely –as is obviously the case with you and I think is comes across clearly in what you have said– (rather than for the purpose of reinforcing one’s persistence in unbelief – which some noted atheists tend to do, asking the usual difficult questions and yet never having time for the answers (which do exist and we can get access to when sincerely seeking like you do – even if some of them are noetic).

    Hard core mechanistic thinking is extremely limited once examined accurately though. There’s a very far-reaching underpinning of such a worldview that is founded upon the supposed scientific inerrancy of what has gone before, and yet adherents fail to see the intrinsic element of pure faith/trust active therein. {Many modern theories (quantum mechanics or Heisenber’s uncertainty principle for example) have somewhat upset this kind of traditional trust in traditional scientific inerrancy.}
    By the way, I cannot help but remember here how some scientists (of the persistently unbelieving flavour) would rather ‘believe’ [you cannot really use another word here no matter how many ‘supporting’ equations one can come up with] in the existence of infinite eternal multiverses in order to not accept an uncreated First Cause. I don’t know which is more of a mechanistic thinking and which is more ‘poetic’ when considering such stuff…!
    On a very different note, faith in God, with Grace, can eventually lead to such a knowledge (first hand) even of of the created order, that can make the greatest scientific minds pale in comparison even to unlettered peasants who have been granted such vision. A glaring example is Saint Porphyrios, who could more or less travel back and forth in time and space and we have many miraculous undisputable verifications [stronger than any equations] of this in his life. (Do you know how he rescued Apollo 13 for instance?)

  62. Let me hopefully correct the above: “So Saint Porphyrios’ subjective noesis essentially has an objective proof”

  63. Dino!! Maaan! Saint Porphyrios travelling back and forth in time got my attention, only to see your reference to Apollo 13…well, there’s an article on the same website I posted to Simon earlier…
    http://www.bio-orthodoxy.com/2015/04/saint-porphyrios-and-apollo-13.html

    Ahhh boy….these Saints….!!!

    Dino…I take what I said earlier back and rephrase….by God’s Grace 99% of what you say is right!! (I hesitate to say 100%, though God gives 100% + 🙂 )

  64. Simon,
    You have inspired me to engage with your reflections on the two wills & natures of Christ. We frequently encounter paradox in nature. But depending on the source of information, we may readily allow the paradox to pass under the radar without careful observation. We see ‘’two natures’—one substance—phenomenon’ in substances that are molecular mixtures, such as sea water or natural oils. In our daily experience we don’t dwell on the constitution of the substance unless there’s some occasion to force us to do it, such as trying to explain to ourselves why tap water can carry a charge but di-water does not. When I encounter the paradoxes in Orthodox Tradition or theology, it is often helpful (at least for me) to consider a possible model (icon) in science to help open my inquisitive mind to the ‘Bread’ I seek.

  65. Simon,
    I’m not suggesting a leap into metaphysics, or ignoring the mechanics of our world. Much of pragmatism, however, makes a lot of unexamined borrowings from a prior metaphysics, pretending that it is not.

    Let’s say we’re building a house. There is most lots of mechanistic things going on: nails, boards, electrical, etc. But where does the form of the house come from? How do we make it beautiful? It only dodges the question when we use the word “subjective.” The mechanistic part of things is, to a large extent, secondary in our lives. When we’re most comfortable, the mechanistic things are very natural and do not draw all of our attention. We are happiest when we are pursuing interests that are served by the mechanics of our lives.

    Thinking about those things – the things that make us most human – moves us out of a mechanistic world-view. Thinking well about it is not easy.

    Back to Christ and the doctrine of the two wills (and such things). There are certain fundamental matters within the grammar of the faith. Most primarily, that Christ is fully God and fully man. Everything else (like person, nature, wills, etc.) was secondary to that, and only came as the careful details of that were discussed. If the discussion had begun with the topic, “What is the human will?” I think it would have gone any number of ways. But it is Christ the God/Man that serves as the controlling grammar in the discussion. Christ as God/Man is one of less than a half-dozen fundamental assumptions of the faith from which everything else flows.

    Last: Noesis.
    Noetic experience is not actually the same as subjective. It has more substance than that.

  66. Father Stephen and Simon,
    As someone in his 60’s who has spent his entire life in science (biology and ecology), I have come to feel strongly that an over-attachment to ‘mechanistic’ thought, and ‘valuing the research over anything else’ (let’s call it what it is – Scientism) is really a clinging to dreams of control, a kind of primal fear of the incredibly complex and ultimiately unpredictable reality of Nature.
    Simon, I believe you are confusing the results of this year’s ‘research’ with ‘fact’. It will be different next year. No one will be able to replicate the experiment, and there will be wailing an gnashing of teeth.
    One can also use ‘Science’ as an excuse to simply not believe in stuff they don’t really want to believe in. This I know intimately. So it goes.
    Be careful to distinguish between Science the cognitive tool and Science the religion and idol. It is useful for some things, for sure, but…

  67. Simon,

    My Dad would have loved to debate you about the veracity of research. He was trained in statistics. HE loved to prove that all research shows false results. A paraphrase (my statistics are rusty at this point) is that if we use the 5% confidence interval, and researchers at 20 different universities are doing the same research, only one of the 20 studies will fall in the 5%, the one disproving the hypothesis. So 19 researchers will say, no results, and one will say, “I got results,” and they will publish, but it will be false.

  68. Dee: I don’t disagree with you on any particular point. All I am saying is that it is not at all clear to me that pointing to human nature as the source of the will is important or necessary. If you assume a metaphysic where the will is anchored in human nature (whatever that is) and if you assume that God became fully human, then, given those assumptions, Christ has two wills. But, how do we know that the will isn’t a facet of the mind or the soul? Did Christ have two souls? And if your beginning metaphysic isn’t Neoplatonic, then your assumptions regarding the will may be different. But why does it matter so much? Why are Christians condemning other Christians as heretics for what is clearly nothing more than the speculation of Greek philosophers?? And for that matter why do we act like it is so obvious what we mean by the term ‘will’? Because that isn’t obvious to me at all what I mean by my own will. I’m glad that these metaphysical, speculative, and immaterial dimensions are so easily accepted by everyone else. For me they are extremely problematic especially considering that other people have suffered for disagreeing. As for the emergent properties that you speak of, these are observable. They’re measurable. They’re quantifiable. We may not understand how it falls out of the system, but we know that it does and that it does in a predictable fashion. You don’t want to commit the fallacy of arguing from ignorance.

    Sgage and Lynne: I am not nearly as naive as you might suppose when it comes to science. I understand what well-constructed research should look like. Let’s just leave it at that.

    Fr: It isn’t clear to me at all how pragmatism assumes a metaphysic of any kind at all. The singular assumption on which all research is hinged is this: The world behaves deterministically. And it doesn’t have to be an ad hoc assumption. There are many obseravtions a person can make in a short span that will yield the conclusion ‘The world behaves predictably.’ Determinism implies a mechanism and mechanism implies a pragmatism (does it work?). So, at the very least, if you don’t assume that, then there’s no light bulbs and no AC, right? All of this from the first assumption to constructing the Large Hadron Collider can be addressed objectively, i.e. among the consensus of multiple observers. From this perspective of objectivity, nothing is more subjective than the idea of noesis. Perhaps it is the case that noesis is the most meaningful knowledge a human can experience. But nonetheless noesis is always subjective never objective, never testable. How could it be? It is still within the domain of that person’s subjectivity.

    Lastly regarding Dino and Paula’s ideas about Porphyrios traveling back and forth in time…this is what scares me about religion. With all due respect to Paula and Dino…I mean that sincerely with all my heart. BUT…this is why religiosity is scary. It makes a person susceptible to the irrational and absurd. Here’s why it is scary: If I ask you for proof that that had happened, to those who truly believe it the demand for proof will seem more irrational and more absurd than the story itself. That to me is scary. Is that not fair to say?

  69. Simon….I can not keep up with the “hard science” (so to speak) discussions, so you will have to excuse me! It is foreign to my brain. I’m just not there. And that is probably the exact reason I find absolutely no problem with believing the “supernatural” or other-worldly. Not that scientists do not believe. We know many that do. But for those who have not sought to study these sciences, who are just not talented in those areas and so have no desire or interest in knowing its depth…seem not to be so challenged with mysteries of life.
    Besides, I have always been drawn to that side of things.
    My aunt…she was blind since birth…and she was clairvoyant. She assisted the local police investigators with the Son of Sam murders. Most of my cousins were scared to talk with her. I sat at her feet.

    I am more inclined to the social sciences. I have a psych and nursing degree…and one of my first psych classes, which I couldn’t wait to take, was Abnormal Psych !! No surprise….

    You know…we’re cut from a different cloth…but come together like a very neatly made quilt. Wouldn’t want it any other way!
    Meanwhile, I’m “there” listening to you all. I like to be part of the conversation because your conversation is interesting, and maybe, just maybe I’ll learn something!

    As for St. Porphyrios time travelling…I find that no more difficult than icons that weep, relics that exude fragrance, prayers that are answered, visions, apparitions, fulfilled prophesy…and the miracle of miracles…Our Indescribable God becoming Man. Yeah…St. Porphyrios…he traveled, alright. I have no doubt!

    (no wonder you made that joke about cleaning up the messes of the horses in heaven!)

  70. Simon,
    The quantifiable, verifiable, sometimes even repeatable (although not at will) nature of miracles is the reason that traditionally they have been called ‘signs’. They are the foundation of our faith! and the original witnesses to the greatest of them (the apostles) are the ‘pillars’ of it.
    As Paula said, St Porphyrios’ rescuing of the Apollo 13 crew (verifiable) or some other elder’s prophecy of what would come to pass in my life, might be “scary”, and human witnesses to such amazing miracles might seem “susceptible to the irrational and absurd” to others. The proof that these things had happened however is not based on belief – it’s a fact of one’s life, like the birth of their child or the healing of their illness (it’s utterly verified, e.g.: one has it “in front of them” {being healed, or rescued because an unknown Elder in some cave informed a worker in NASA who had him as spiritual Father what needs to be done} and you have “them” as the witness). Those who truly believe others about such, needn’t be irrational (due to the fact of the far-fetchedness of ‘signs’ either). Science has the same belief in the witness of others.
    Take the apostles for instance (as witnessing to the greatest ‘sign’). Here’s an excerpt from a real conversation:
    Atheist:
    Did you see all of this? How can you believe it?
    Elder:
    No, I didn’t see any of it, but others did: the Apostles. They in turn made this known to others, and they actually “signed” their testimony with their own blood. And, as everyone acknowledges, a testimony of one’s life is the supreme form of testimony.
    Why don’t you likewise bring me someone, who will tell me that Marx died and was resurrected, and that he is willing to sacrifice his life in order to testify it? I, as an honest man, will believe him.
    Marxist Atheist:
    I will tell you. Thousands of communists were tortured and died for their ideology. Why don’t you embrace communism in the same way?
    Elder:
    You said it yourself. Communists died for their ideology. They didn’t die for real events. In an ideology, it is very easy for deception to seep through; and because it is a characteristic of the human soul to sacrifice itself for something it believes in, this explains why so many communists died for their ideology. But that doesn’t compel us to accept this ideology as something true.
    It is one thing to die for ideas, and another to die for events. The Apostles didn’t die for any ideas. Not even for the “Love one another”, or any of the other moral teachings of Christianity. The Apostles died for their testimony of supernatural events. And when we say ‘event’, we mean that which is captured by our physical senses, and is comprehended through them.
    The Apostles suffered martyrdom for “that which they heard”, “that which they saw with their own eyes”, “that which they observed and their hands touched” (John I, 1)
    Just like the clever speculation by Pascal, we say that one of the three following things happened to the Apostles: either they were deceived, or, they deceived us, or, they told us the truth.
    Let’s take the first case. It is not possible for the Apostles to have been deceived, because everything that they reported, was not reported to them by others. They themselves were eye and ear witnesses of all those things. Besides, none of them were imaginative characters, nor did they have any psychological inclination that made them accept the event of the Resurrection. Quite the contrary – they were terribly distrustful. The Gospels are extremely revealing, in their narrations of their spiritual dispositions: they even disbelieved the reassurances that some people had actually seen Him, resurrected.
    And one other thing. What were the Apostles, before Christ called them? Were they perhaps ambitious politicians or visionaries of philosophical and social systems, who were longing to conquer mankind and thus satisfy their fantasies? Not at all. They were illiterate fishermen. The only thing that interested them was to catch a few fish to feed their families. That is why, even after the Lord’s Crucifixion, and despite everything that they had heard and seen, they returned to their fishing boats and their nets. In other words, there was not a single trace of disposition in these men for the things that were to follow. It was only after the day of the Pentecost, “when they received strength from on high”, that they became the teachers of the universe.
    The second case: Did they deceive us? Did they lie to us? But then, why would they deceive us? What would they gain by lying? Was it money? Was it status? Was it glory? For someone to tell a lie, he must be expecting some sort of gain. The Apostles though, by preaching Christ – and in fact Christ crucified and resurrected – the only things that they secured for themselves were: hardships, labours, lashings, stonings, shipwrecks, hunger, thirst, nakedness, attacks from robbers, beatings, incarcerations and finally, death. And all this, for a lie? It would be undoubtedly foolish for anyone to even consider it.
    Consequently, the Apostles were neither deceived, nor did they deceive us. This leaves us with the third choice: that they told us the truth.
    I should also stress something else here: The Evangelists are the only ones who recorded true historical events. They describe the events, and only the events. They do not resort to any personal judgments. They praise no-one, and they criticize no-one. They make no attempt to exaggerate an event, nor eliminate or underestimate another. They let the events speak for themselves.
    Atheist:
    Are you excluding the possibility that in Christ’s case, it was just an incident of apparent death? The other day, the newspapers had written about someone in India whom they buried and three days later they exhumed him and he was still alive.
    Elder:
    My poor child! I will recall the words of the blessed Augustine again: “O faithless ones, you are not actually mistrustful; indeed, you are the most gullible of all. You accept the most improbable things, and the most irrational, the most contradictory, in order to deny a miracle!”
    No, my child. It was not a case of apparent death with Christ. First of all, we have the testimony of the Roman centurion, who reassured Pilate that Christ’s death was a certainty.
    Then, our Gospel informs us that on the same day of His Resurrection, the Lord was seen talking with two of His disciples, walking towards Emmaus, which was more than ten kilometers away from Jerusalem.
    Can you imagine someone, who could go through all the tortures that Christ underwent, and three days after His “apparent death”, spring back again? If anything, he would have to be fed chicken soup for forty days, in order to be able to open his eyes, let alone walk and talk as though nothing had happened!
    As for the Hindu, bring him here to be flogged with a scourge – do you know what a scourge is? It is a whip, whose lashes each have a lead chunk or a piece of broken bone or sharp nails attached to their end – bring him here, so we can flog him, then force a crown of thorns on his head, crucify him, give him bile and vinegar to drink, then pierce his side with a spear, put him in a tomb, and then, if he comes back from the dead, then we can talk.
    Atheist:
    Even so, but all the testimonies that you have invoked belong to Christ’s Disciples. Is there any testimony on this matter, that doesn’t come from the circle of His Disciples? Are there any historians for example, who can certify Christ’s Resurrection? If so, then I will also believe what you say.
    Elder:
    You poor child! You don’t know what you’re saying now! If there had been such historians who had witnessed Christ resurrected, they would have been compelled to believe in His Resurrection and would have recorded it as believers, in which case, you would again have rejected their testimony, just like you rejected Peter’s testimony, John’s testimony, etc. How can it be possible, for someone to actually witness the Resurrection and yet, NOT become a Christian? You are asking for a roasted fowl, on a waxen skewer, that also sings! It just can’t be done !

  71. Simon,

    The quantifiable, verifiable, sometimes even repeatable (although not at will) nature of miracles is the reason that traditionally they have been called ‘signs’. They are the foundation of our faith! and the original witnesses to the greatest of them (the apostles) are the ‘pillars’ of it.

    As Paula said, St Porphyrios’ rescuing of the Apollo 13 crew (verifiable) or some other elder’s prophecy of what would come to pass in my life, might be “scary”, and human witnesses to such amazing miracles might seem “susceptible to the irrational and absurd” to others. The proof that these things had happened however is not based on belief – it’s a fact of one’s life, like the birth of their child or the healing of their illness (it’s utterly verified, e.g.: one has it “in front of them” {being healed, or rescued because an unknown Elder in some cave informed a worker in NASA who had him as spiritual Father what needs to be done} and you have “them” as the witness). Those who truly believe others about such, needn’t be irrational (due to the fact of the far-fetchedness of ‘signs’ either). Science has the same belief in the witness of others.

    Take the apostles for instance (as witnessing to the greatest ‘sign’). Here’s an excerpt from a real conversation:

    Atheist:

    Did you see all of this? How can you believe it?

    Elder:

    No, I didn’t see any of it, but others did: the Apostles. They in turn made this known to others, and they actually “signed” their testimony with their own blood. And, as everyone acknowledges, a testimony of one’s life is the supreme form of testimony.

    Why don’t you likewise bring me someone, who will tell me that Marx died and was resurrected, and that he is willing to sacrifice his life in order to testify it? I, as an honest man, will believe him.

    Marxist Atheist:

    I will tell you. Thousands of communists were tortured and died for their ideology. Why don’t you embrace communism in the same way?

    Elder:

    You said it yourself. Communists died for their ideology. They didn’t die for real events. In an ideology, it is very easy for deception to seep through; and because it is a characteristic of the human soul to sacrifice itself for something it believes in, this explains why so many communists died for their ideology. But that doesn’t compel us to accept this ideology as something true.

    It is one thing to die for ideas, and another to die for events. The Apostles didn’t die for any ideas. Not even for the “Love one another”, or any of the other moral teachings of Christianity. The Apostles died for their testimony of supernatural events. And when we say ‘event’, we mean that which is captured by our physical senses, and is comprehended through them.

    The Apostles suffered martyrdom for “that which they heard”, “that which they saw with their own eyes”, “that which they observed and their hands touched” (John I, 1)

    Just like the clever speculation by Pascal, we say that one of the three following things happened to the Apostles: either they were deceived, or, they deceived us, or, they told us the truth.

    Let’s take the first case. It is not possible for the Apostles to have been deceived, because everything that they reported, was not reported to them by others. They themselves were eye and ear witnesses of all those things. Besides, none of them were imaginative characters, nor did they have any psychological inclination that made them accept the event of the Resurrection. Quite the contrary – they were terribly distrustful. The Gospels are extremely revealing, in their narrations of their spiritual dispositions: they even disbelieved the reassurances that some people had actually seen Him, resurrected.

    And one other thing. What were the Apostles, before Christ called them? Were they perhaps ambitious politicians or visionaries of philosophical and social systems, who were longing to conquer mankind and thus satisfy their fantasies? Not at all. They were illiterate fishermen. The only thing that interested them was to catch a few fish to feed their families. That is why, even after the Lord’s Crucifixion, and despite everything that they had heard and seen, they returned to their fishing boats and their nets. In other words, there was not a single trace of disposition in these men for the things that were to follow. It was only after the day of the Pentecost, “when they received strength from on high”, that they became the teachers of the universe.

    The second case: Did they deceive us? Did they lie to us? But then, why would they deceive us? What would they gain by lying? Was it money? Was it status? Was it glory? For someone to tell a lie, he must be expecting some sort of gain. The Apostles though, by preaching Christ – and in fact Christ crucified and resurrected – the only things that they secured for themselves were: hardships, labours, lashings, stonings, shipwrecks, hunger, thirst, nakedness, attacks from robbers, beatings, incarcerations and finally, death. And all this, for a lie? It would be undoubtedly foolish for anyone to even consider it.

    Consequently, the Apostles were neither deceived, nor did they deceive us. This leaves us with the third choice: that they told us the truth.

  72. Thank you, Father. That was a very helpful explanation regarding human will verses Divine Will. Orthodoxy is so deep. The more I learn and am able to understand, the more it’s beauty and complexity are revealed to me.

  73. To build on what Father in his last post said about our nature:

    ” All I am saying is that it is not at all clear to me that pointing to human nature as the source of the will is important or necessary.”

    The other option is the Greek one, the philosophical separation of what we are into two halves: 1) the “stuff” (i.e. the dust) of our materialism, and the 2) soul/spirit, which is asserted as what we truly are, and the source of our personhood (our “will”, our love, our conscious, etc.). This is the split of the two story universe that Father Stephen wrote a book about 😉

    “…if your beginning metaphysic isn’t Neoplatonic…Why are Christians condemning other Christians as heretics for what is clearly nothing more than the speculation of Greek philosophers??”

    The belief that the will is not part of nature, but is rather part of (disembodied, non-material) a spiritualized “self”, IS neoplatonic and the norm in Greek philosophy as well as most of the (post)Christendom of the last 500 years.

    To put it in stark terms, if dyotheletism is not true then Christ died in vain. There can be no Christian monothelitism, otherwise the bodily resurrection is a mere metaphor for a spiritualized resurrection or a spiritualized Self (something explicitly rejected by Christ in the Gospels). If montheletism is true, then Christ had no need of being in-carnated, made flesh.

    All this is difficult because the dominant reading in our western heritage IS the two story universe – two story humanity: The creation of Man(anthropos) in Genesis being dust “breathed into” with spirit. As Father Stephen is always at pains to point out, the modern “literalist” reading of man’s nature in Genesis assumes the non-analogical literalism of the modern mind. The modern mind is this schizophrenic and non-paradoxical thing (thus it can’t really “get” paradox, irony, etc.) that is on the one hand Cartesian/Kantian (the disembodied “spirit” and “mind”) and a Baconian materialism (the “mechanistic” or “determination” of “Science”) on the other. In the modern two story universe, man’s fall IS a fall *into* materiality. Christianity on the other hand preserves ALL of creation as “good”, both our material dust and our spirit breathed into us, which is to say these distinctions are a descriptive grammar of the same thing and not the “metaphysical” difference of neoplatonic monothelitism…

  74. “To put it in stark terms, if dyotheletism is not true then Christ died in vain. There can be no Christian monothelitism, otherwise the bodily resurrection is a mere metaphor for a spiritualized resurrection or a spiritualized Self (something explicitly rejected by Christ in the Gospels). If montheletism is true, then Christ had no need of being in-carnated, made flesh.”

    That statement is based entirely in speculation. It is entirely and completely speculative. It isnt even hypothetical. It is speculative. And for that reason I give it no value whatsoever. I have more to say, but Im not sure I want to spend my time thinking about how arguments were constructed 1700 years ago about imaginary quantities.

  75. I liked this post very much. Father’s conversion story is essentially the same as every conversion story I have heard from both Orthodox and Catholics alike, nothing really different, but, I enjoyed reading it.

    However, I will admit that the conversation in the comments has my head hurting a little.

    Simon said: ” All I am saying is that it is not at all clear to me that pointing to human nature as the source of the will is important or necessary.”

    In order to understand the necessity of nature being the source of will, we need to define what we mean by “nature” and what we mean by “will”.

    The Church, and many other religions, define a human person as consisting of body and soul. A human body without a soul is a zombie; a human soul without a body is a ghost: both are terrifying and neither are fully human. Therefore, the nature of humans is necessarily corporeal and spiritual. As a human, I am a distinct person, but my nature is the same as other humans. The will, as I understand it, is the power to move /act; so “want”,“decide”, “choose”, are all terms proper to it. A person wills/acts according to his nature and what is appropriate to it. Thus it can be said that the will is a faculty of nature. The persons of the Trinity each possess the One divine nature; God’s will flows from his nature, perfectly free and undivided. It seems necessary that a Will (movement) must belong to a Nature (mover).

    Regarding the Divine will and human will of Christ, the reason why the 6th Council held at Constantinople (Act. 18) decreed that there are two wills in Christ, is because Christ wouldn’t be fully human without a human will, since “the will pertains to the perfection of human nature, being one of its natural powers, even as the intellect.” It is that simple. To deny the human will of Christ is to deny His human nature. “Hence we must say that the Son of God assumed a human will together with human nature. Now by the assumption of human nature the Son of God suffered no diminution of what pertains to His Divine Nature to which it belongs to have a will…Hence it must be said that there are two wills in Christ, i.e. one human, the other Divine.”

    Basically, to deny either the human or the Divine will of Christ is to also deny either Christ’s human or Divine nature.

    But, listen, after reading and pondering all of the comments last night on this topic, my evening prayers contained this verse which pertains to everyone of us:

    “Brother and Sisters: Knowledge inflates with pride, but love builds up. If anyone supposes he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if one loves God, one is known by him.” 1 Cor. 8:1-3

  76. I think that it’s interesting how people think they are saying something profound by making metaphysical arguments and then using those arguments to make the charge of HERESY against other people whose philosophical assumptions and weights are just different from theirs. I don’t care that my knowledge of metaphysics is superficial. I wish I could forget what little I knew to free up space for something that actually matters and makes a difference. I have heard and read Orthodox say that Orthodoxy is messy because it doesn’t need to explain or pigeonhole every little thing. Not true. They have done plenty of pigeonholing, just not as much as others have.

  77. ” …arguments were constructed 1700 years…”

    Ah, progress and all that – no reason to listen to the mythological thinking of our ignorant forbearers….

    Doctrine is the *the telling of* the empirical “Christ is Risen” (in the form of an “explanation”)into the ‘contemporary’ situation which is itself religious because it is full of people. Christianity is the opposite of “speculation”, it is an anti-speculation…

  78. Also there is no human nature. There is just nature. There aren’t a multiplicity of natures. All talk of a human nature that is qualitatively different from anything else in the universe is just speculation. We are composed of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphate and sulfur along with some others minerals and metals. The mind may very well be a quantum phenomena…who knows. But, one thing is for sure, no brain, then no mind.

    By the way, the same spirit or breath of life that God breathed into the nostrils of Adam in Genesis 2 [“God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being”] is the same spirit or breath of life mentioned in Genesis 7 [And everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died].

  79. “I think that it’s interesting how people think they are saying something profound by making metaphysical arguments and then using those arguments to make the charge of HERESY against other people whose philosophical assumptions and weights are just different from theirs…”

    This is not what doctrine is. Doctrine is the statement of empirical physics (in this context, what man is) over against either another false physics or “metaphysics”. In the case of the doctrine of two wills in Christ, it is the statement of Christ being a real physical man over against a metaphysical (specifically a neoplatonic) statement. Sue summed it up quite nicely.

    Sue,

    Your quoting 1Cor8 had me going to the greek. I had sort of hoped that St. Paul was juxtaposing “gnosis” with “communion” but no. To a modern mind, Knowledge is a priori (Kantian, or “categorical”, self existing and self evident). To St. Paul, Judaism, Christianity, etc. gnosis is not a thing-of-itself. A person has *a relationship* with knowledge. Without a proper relationship (one of agape, which implies Grace, asceticism, etc.) then knowledge is destructive…

  80. “Also there is no human nature. There is just nature…”

    That is a metaphysical statement

    “Genesis 2 [“God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being”] is the same spirit or breath of life mentioned in Genesis 7 [And everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died].”

    Right. Christianity is not two story. That is why death really is death and the tragedy of tragedies, the enemy of enemies…and why the Christ in his incarnation (he really became a man with a natural will), and overcoming of death by death is not “metaphysical” – on the contrary…

  81. “You’re right: the Church’s teaching *is* metaphysical/speculative (“faith is the evidence of things not seen”). I don’t have any answers at all.”

    Putting aside any subversive intent 😉 , faith does not fit into the dialect of the real vs. unreal that underlies Simon’s philosophical dilemma at all, not in a Christian context. In the modern context faith is unreal – it is a mere psychosomatic phenomenon of a bio/chemical brain…

  82. Fr. Stephen, this piece brings to mind the passage I recently read in “Orthodoxy” by GK Chesterton, in which pessimism and optimism are compared and contrasted, and finally rejected as neither being full or radical enough. The pessimist accepts the faults, and the optimist denies & justifies. GKC says that we should rather love a thing prior to it’s loveliness, in order that the faults may be eradicated and something beautiful may be made. His example is that Rome was built because it was loved, not loved because it was built. And I don’t believe this utopianism any more than almsgiving is utopianism.

    The temptation is there for Orthodox Christians to either accept these faults of our churches, or to justify them or pretend they aren’t there, or at least aren’t really all that bad. Per Chesterton, the salvific work happens somewhere between and beyond these two options. Neither option is motivated by love, but by self-concern. Love drives us to accept the whole Orthodox package, as you have said, without shame (or rather, while accepting whatever shame may come)

  83. I hear noise being made about divine nature and human nature, I hear noise being made about a divine will and a human will. What about persohood? Was Christ a divine or human person or both. He had a divine will and a human will…he had a divine nature and a human nature…so did he have a divine persnhood and a human personhood??

  84. Christopher, I dont have a dilemma. Im not confused. I dont have a metaphysic. When the church engages in speculation it is engaging in fantasy. And unless there is evidence that can be observed there is no reason to think of the fantasies and metaphysics of philosophers and theologians as having any value because there is no reason to believe these are real. Im sorry, but its too much fantasy land for my comfort.

  85. Simon, while the term “nature” may be incorrect, each created thing has it’s own specfic logos or identity. Our human logos has been assumed into the Logos. It is different than the other created things/animals. Our creation is different.

    As a result we have access to a mind that is beyond our creator mind and MAY not require our brain to be the sole intermediary. Certainly the nous, whatever it may be, is the locus of our connectedness with the Person of Jesus Christ … At least in it’s fullness.

    It may be just a pious hope but I think there is a significant possibility for a knowing and genuine commuionn with our Lord even when the brain is empirically and existentially not functioning in a normal cognitive manner.

  86. I love the confession said out loud by all during the Orthodoxy liturgy “….sinners, of whom I am chief”
    I must reconcile that it truly applies to me, and literally so. This is the good news of the Gospel.

  87. That’s quite a few valuable comments gone Father!
    There were some real ‘gems’ (of stunted life-span) in there, and am also concerned that such volatility can dissuade meaty comments in future.
    I’m sure there’ll be many chances again for both, as always though…

  88. I’m grateful for your mediation Father. Blessed feast day of the Elevation of the Cross. You bind our wounds and broken hearts. Thank you so much. Have a wonderful rest and in the mean time, we’ll do our best to behave ourselves. 😊

  89. It is only natural that the Church reflects our disorder. A “perfect” Church would be inhuman I think. The Church must also have the vital core of Divine life to prevent our disorder from overwhelming everything

  90. Fr. To me the only thing that allows the Church to continue is the reality of the Incarnation. Otherwise she would be just another human institution. Unfortunately that is how she is thought of most of the time.

  91. E.C. Not to be contentious but is not a bumper sticker a mainstay of Anglo-Bourgeoisr piety, especially secular piety?

  92. To all, to Simon and Christopher,
    Yesterday was an example of raging Orthodox incompetence – with me as the exemplar! I was traveling, tired and unable to comment. I got frustrated and deleted a conversation-string. And then I called it “hijacking.”

    I apologize to all. I have restored the conversation.

    The passions are terrible masters. I am particularly sorry if I gave offense to any of you – it was unwarranted. Generally, I like to mess up in quiet and unobtrusive ways. But the occasional screw up in public is good for the soul – though frustrating for those involved. God give us grace.

  93. We are most grateful for your ministry Father, for your many insightful clarifications, for this blessed “platform”.
    May we all, (rather than bring God into our turmoil), continuously bring ourselves into God’s inconceviable peace.

  94. Good rule of thumb: never blog when you’re agitated.We were driving through Atlanta traffic and its insanity. My wife was driving, and I started reading the blog on my phone. Not a good combination! Being cutoff by an 18 wheeler and friends…does wonders for my edginess.

  95. Oh Dear Father! God love you! We love you!
    As one who is very passionate, I understand….!!!
    You and this blog and the people here are a high blessing….thank you so very much for all you do…and endure!

  96. Paula AZ,
    I should make it clear that writing the articles and participating in the comments is not a chore for me. It is something I enjoy for the most part. It has all the limitations of my own abilities and personality. But, like the whole of my priesthood, it is a joy.

  97. Understood!
    That it is a joy is most evident.
    That you are humble enough to admit to your readers you share the same basic afflictions is strangely comforting.
    It sustains our unity.

    In much appreciation, Father……

  98. Father,

    Truly, I understand. It really is frustrating when the conversation goes off on an unrelated tangent to the topic, particularly one that most would not find relevant or understand. Sue said in one comment everything that needed to be said so if you want to delete my multi-post-meandering with Simon and just leave hers I would get it, really! I am that strange character that is ‘energized’ by conflict and disagreement (it turns most folks off) and this can come out as a tendency to get bogged down in a back and forth dialectic without noticing the futility or effect on the majority. Limitations and personality and all that. Thank God, we are all given a little Grace and are adept at tolerating each others foibles, and perhaps even loving the sinful character behind them. As you have done before, you can just say “this tangent/tread is off topic and/or frustrating, time to move on…” and I will, or at most leave one more petulant “summary” 😉

  99. If we are being honest. I cant hijack the blog without the cooperation of others…but oddly enough, for some weird reason. I end up hijacking most conversations Im in. I recognize that. My sincerest apologies to the group for my inflammatory behavior.

    I want to say with all sincerity has taught me more about myself than probably any other group Ive been in spare one. But certainly this group has revealed myself to me…which I genuinely needed. Forgive me for working my issues out here. As Fr Stephen said he’s been very patient with my behavior.

    Forgive me. I meant no harm.

  100. On topic I think and related to Hieronymus observations, I have just started listening to Fr. John Stricklands “Paradise and Utopia” podcast series here on Ancient Faith. In the first one titled “The Post-Christendom of Our Time” he makes the distinction between Christendom (I think he puts our current Secular Age inside Christendom and this makes sense) and the Faith as summed up in Acts 2:40-43 . Too often (most of the time I think) there is a fundamental confusion in our thinking between “Church” and “Christendom”. We often say one when we really mean the other, and there is much internal conflict in each of us centered around the grey area which is ‘in between’ and where each of us stands to one extent or another.

    What just living in history (even if you are not a historian) teaches us is the tendency of “the world” in whatever form including Christendom, to dissipate the Church (St. Paul’s letters would not have been written if this were not so). Whole cultures and “churches” have moved away from “the” Church in time and this is everywhere to be seen around us. The visible ecclesia of “Orthodoxy”, where is it in this continuum? How is Orthodoxy itself (and not the decaying Christendom into secularism around us) doing? I personally don’t think the regular schisms in Orthodoxy (currently over the Ukraine, next year it will be fill_in_the_blank) tells us much other than the inherent problematic of stretching a canonical structure designed for an Empire over modern nation states. I think the deeper “secularization” of the mind and habits of the heart of *everyone*, lay and clergy, is the much more important and pressing question. Here I am not talking about Church vs. Culture (or Christendom or whatever) but the disposition of the Church internally. I believe it is evident that Orthodoxy’s encounter with Secularism-with-a-capital-S is both fairly new (about a 100 years) and our resultant disposition is “mixed” at best…

    Fr. original post and Hieronymus’s got me thinking of where do we stand in this “in between” of a “pure” Church of Acts and Christendom/culture. What does our love do with this situation? It strikes me that we are largely stuck on “pessimism” and because secularism leads to a kind of reformist “activism” (most obvious on the intellectual and academic levels, less so among the rest of the ecclesia) the passive pessimists get dissipated and reformed eventually…

  101. Christopher,
    To my mind, pessimism and optimism are both modern problems. Our narrative is that things should get better. When they do – we’re optimistic. When they don’t, we’re pessimistic.

    My point within the article would be that both are part of a false consciousness. Things simply are what they are – and history is not on an improvement/worsening trajectory. Neither is true.

    The same is largely the case with regard to our lives. But our lives can be lived, and lived well – sometimes even in the “worst” of circumstances – consider someone like “Father Arseny.”

    Our false consciousness makes us think in very crazy ways about ourselves and the Church. Learning to live with the messiness of history – whether within an ancient empire, or within the modern empires – is required in order to rightly live as Christians. The comparison game is built on false assumptions.

  102. Christopher
    There are a couple of points you make in the beginning of your comment that, in my thinking, creates further problems for me with what follows. In other words, you lost me from the start!
    I am not sure what you mean by “there is a fundamental confusion in our thinking between “Church” and “Christendom”. We often say one when we really mean the other…”
    Despite our internal conflict and inconsistencies I think we know the difference between “Church”as the Body of Christ, and “Christendom” as a nebulous term for Christianity throughout the world. (maybe if I had listened to the podcast…?)

    In what follows you say ” history…teaches us… the tendency of “the world”… to dissipate the Church… Whole cultures and “churches” have moved away from “the” Church in time”. I’m not sure what you mean by “dissipate”. The Church has been scattered. spread apart, dissolved, swallowed up, by the world? But in reality, has not the Church always existed, eternally, and can not be considered historical in that sense. So although to the eye She appears scattered or dissolved, the Church is and always has been One. That we live in, swim in, and are affected by secularism, that we are fragmented and inconsistent, does not mean we can not “know” this, by God’s grace, about the Church.
    I reference Father’s words about Reality of the Kingdom and how I think it applies to the Church: “If we see something of it in part, it is not because [the Church] is in part, but only that the fullness has not been made manifest.” I do not think this eschatological reality is so hard to understand…and live by.
    You ask “how is Orthodoxy doing?” The answer is: She is doing! Always was and will be, doing! Built up, torn down, rejoicing in unity, grieving in schism, exacting in councils, appointing, dethroning, ruling and reigning…She is, doing! She is/we are Christ’s mystical Body, His Bride…we look to our High Priest, Chief Shepard for His Grace to enable us through this age of modernity/secularism, inconsistencies notwithstanding. To answer your question “what does our love do in this situation”, we look after each other and share the burden of “our original incompetency”.
    (thought I’d better have a sure reference to the original post!)

    See…I admitted Christopher, you lost me from the beginning! Different frame of reference I guess…

  103. I have never posted but have been reading since 2008. God bless all of you. I am a broken person, sometimes feeling damaged beyond repair….and I so appreciate this blog and the encoragement and reality and transparency. I am not Orthodox but drawn more and more to the reality that here is truth. Thank you. Esme, I am so sorry for the loss of your beloved dog and why. Your faith and sharing has been very encouraging. Paula, I am also so sorry for your loss of your beloved horse.

  104. Paula,

    I thought of you and Fr. Stephen’s mention of the Cross being the seat of God’s Judgment when I was reviewing the Matins Gospel from yesterday for the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross and read this in John 12:

    31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. 32 And I, if I am [e]lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.”

    The context is Jesus foretelling of his death on the Cross. The Cross is the world’s judgment.

    I have to say I was so very tired yesterday morning, I could barely drag myself out of bed. My boss had given me the morning off to attend the Liturgy. I was fighting the hoards of hell to get there. I was also feeling very overwhelmed and discouraged by the chaos and evil in this world and beat down by my own failings–then those two lines from the Gospel jumped out at me when I read them and realized, “the ruler of this world has already been cast out!” I was reminded the enemy only has authority because we give it to him, not because it is rightfully his–Jesus by the Cross toppled him from his illegitimate rule over the earth. It was a heartening thought. Yes, Christ’s kingdom is not yet fully manifest, but nevertheless, it is a done deal! Glory to God! Well, that got me back in the “saddle”! 🙂

  105. Karen…I smiled big at your words… “Well, that got me back in the “saddle”! ” One horse lover to another!
    Thanks so much for your thoughts, bringing to mind these gems Father gives us. I’ll never forget…the altar the Priest serves at, the altar of Christ’s sacrifice, is also called the Throne, the seat of Judgement. Ahhh…Mercy!

    How very amazing how when exhausted and just plain spent that a little dose of the Good News got you right back in gear! There is no doubt that we are troubled by these evil powers. And it is very distressing when the battle is both within and without. I’m so glad you were gladdened (!) by the reminder of Christ’s victory. So yes indeed it is a done deal…and a solid guarantee of it fullness the coming age.
    Oh that Precious and Life Giving Cross!
    Glory to Jesus Christ!

  106. This morning I read the following passage by Father Raniero Cantalamessa in my prayer book. His thoughts brought to mind what Karen said in her last comment: “The Cross is the world’s judgment”. I hope it’s okay to share the passage here:

    “If we were going to stay close to the cross of Jesus with Mary, we must constantly increase our knowledge of the mystery of the cross…
    The cross is, above all, what divides and separates. In fact, it separates what belongs to the spirit from what is of the flesh (see Gal. 5:24), what belongs to faith from what is of the law (see Gal. 5:11), the old self from the new one (see Rom. 6:6), believers from nonbelievers, Christians from Jews and Greeks (see 1 Cor. 1:18 ff.), and the Christian himself from the world…
    The cross is what unites, what breaks down the wall of hostility, reconciles people among themselves and with God…
    Thanks to the cross of Christ those who were far off have been brought near, the dividing wall has been broken down, all are united…
    The cross is both these things together. It distinguishes in order to unite. It separates from the world to unite to God; it rescues from corruption and unites all those who accept being crucified with Christ. It overcomes all differences, revealing their relative secondary nature before the new radical difference, which distinguishes the friends from the enemies of the cross of Christ (Phil. 3:18). ..
    The cross separates and divides. This is true: it is the tool God uses to prune the shoots of the great vine of the Body of Christ so that they may bear fruit…
    But above all the cross unites. It unites us one to the other: It makes us understanding and caring…he is no longer impervious to compassion. ..the cross unites us especially to God. “

  107. Erin,
    Your words touched my heart. From one broken person to another, I thought of you tonight as I read this older post, as I can relate to the story myself :
    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2008/08/03/solzhenitsyn-has-died-memory-eternal/
    You may remember it, being one of Father’s long time readers.

    In our brokenness, Christ, The Ruler Over All, takes it all upon Himself and heals.
    May God bless and keep you, Erin.

    So glad you were moved to comment. Thank you for your kind words.

  108. Father,

    As usual you have pulled the rug from out underneath. I had to ruminate on your September 15, 2018 at 1:18 pm post for a couple of days. Not so much around “optimist” and “pessimist” as I think in this context those are placeholder terms and not inherently descriptive, but on “comparison’. Am I doing comparative religion when I think deeply, and more importantly act deeply, on Church? Is the Body of Christ subjectable to a comparison of this sort? The answer is no – not deeply and not “essentially” (to twist a term) because of course the Body is the source of all such comparisons and is not itself a subject thereof – its life simply is as you say and is the ground upon which any and all comparisons occur.

    On the other hand, what then is the ground upon which we judge our life in it? How do we make distinctions between “living well” in the Body or living poorly? How do we know if we are living “rightly” as you put it in this our given empire (this empire of Secularism)?

    Thankfully my time in the institutional Church I have only run across a handful of wolves. However, I have suffered many fools. I am convinced that almost all this foolishness, or rather the foolishness that I am concerned about because it *hurts* me and those closest to me, is a Secularism *from within*. This suffering is NOT the Cross because it is the very thing that leads a person away from the Cross. I don’t know if this is a new thing or simply the latest expression of the original incompetency, but in the end I don’t think it matters because I do not believe this “is what salvation looks like”. IF a secularized Church “is what salvation looks like”, then why not return to the original incompancy of secularism? What does secularization in Christianized outer form really add?

    So in the end I stand on my “comparison”. I don’t know what else to do as I perceive this space between “Orthodoxy” as actually lived, at least here in NA, and the Church. That’s not quite it (too strong with connotations I don’t mean) but nevertheless I perceive this “space”. Am I standing on a secular “construal” (as Taylor would say) when I perceive this space? No, for to see a thing one has to have a perspective outside the thing itself obviously. The point is to know the light and to live by it, not to get comfortable with the dark.

  109. Paula, thank you from responding. I lay myself bare and you alone respond. Thank you. I appreciate your link and those such as him keep me going as otherwise I would give up. Again, thank you.

  110. @ Dean (Re: your comment from Sep 12 @ 9:26 AM)…..

    What are some of the other places where this is happening, besides the location in Dunlap, CA ?

  111. @ Lynne,

    I absolutely loved your comment. Thank you. As one who loves statistics….one of my all time favorite quotes is this: “There are lies, there are damned lies, and then there are statistics.” 🙂

  112. Alan,
    Agata just directed me to your question. I know of two others personally, both in Arizona. You’d have to like the desert! St. Anthony’s is a very large men’s Greek monastery near Florence, Az. There are many families who have moved close to form quite a community. Another monastery is St. Paisius, a women’s monastery under the Serbian jurisdiction. All services are in English. Some families have also moved there to be in close proximity. Hope this helps some.

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