The Struggle Against The Normal Life

 

Within the Christianity of our time, the great spiritual conflict, unknown to almost all, is between a naturalistic/secular world of modernity and the sacramental world of classical Christianity. The first presumes that a literal take on the world is the most accurate. It tends to assume a closed system of cause and effect, ultimately explainable through science and manageable through technology. Modern Christians, quite innocently, accept this account of the world with the proviso that there is also a God who, on occasion, intervenes within this closed order. The naturalist unbeliever says, “Prove it.”

The sacramental world of classical Christianity speaks a wholly different language. It presumes that the world as we see it is an expression of a greater reality that is unseen. It presumes that everything is a continuing gift and a means of communion with the good God who created it. The meaning and purpose of things is found in that which is not seen, apart from which we can only reach false conclusions. The essential message of Christ, “The Kingdom of God is at hand,” is a proclamation of the primacy of this unseen world and its coming reign in the restoration of all things (apokatastasis, cf. Acts 3:21).

The assumptions of these two worldviews could hardly be more contradictory. The naturalistic/secular model has the advantage of sharing a worldview with contemporary culture. As such, it forms part of what most people would perceive as “common sense” and “normal.” Indeed, the larger portion of Christian believers within that model have no idea that any other Christian worldview exists.

The classical/sacramental worldview was the only Christian worldview for most of the centuries prior to the Reformation. Even then, that worldview was only displaced through revolution and state sponsorship. Nonetheless, the sacramental understanding continues within the life of the Orthodox Church, as well as many segments of Catholicism. Its abiding presence in the Scriptures guarantees that at least a suspicion of “something else” will haunt some modern Christian minds.

An assumption of the secular/naturalist worldview is that information itself is “objective” in character: it is equally accessible to everyone. The classical worldview assumes something quite different. “Blessed are the pure in heart,” Christ says, “for they shall see God.” The Kingdom of God is not an inert object that yields itself to public examination. The knowledge of God and of all spiritual things requires a different mode of seeing and understanding. St. Paul says it this way:

But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1Co 2:14)

This understanding disturbs the sensibilities of many contemporary Christians. Some go so far as to suggest that it is “gnostic” (by this they mean that the very notion of spiritual knowledge that is less than democratic is suspect). Sola Scriptura is a modern concept that posits the Scriptures as subject to objective interpretation. The Scriptures thus belong to the world of public, democratic  debate, whose meaning belongs within the marketplace of opinion. The Scriptures are “my Bible.”

The classical model is, in fact, the teaching found in the Scriptures. It utterly rejects the notion of spiritual knowledge belonging to the same category as the naturalistic/secular world. It clearly understands that the truth of things is perceived only through the heart (nous) and that an inward change is required. It is impossible to encounter the truth and remain unchanged.

The classical model, particularly as found within Orthodoxy, demands repentance and asceticism as a normative part of the spiritual life. These actions do not earn a reward, but are an inherent part of the cleansing of the heart and the possibility of perceiving the truth.

The rationalization (secular/rationalist) of the gospel has also given rise to modern “evangelism.” If no particular change is required in a human being in order to perceive the truth of the gospel, then rational argument and demonstration becomes the order of the day. Indeed, modern evangelism is largely indistinguishable from modern marketing. They were born from the same American social movements.

The classical model tends to be slower in its communication, for what is being transmitted is the fullness of the tradition and the transformation of each human life. Evangelism, in this context, has little to no relationship with marketing. The primary form for the transmission of the gospel is the community of the Church. The Christian faith, in its fullness, is properly only seen in an embodied community of believers living in sacramental union with God through Christ by the Holy Spirit. In the early Church, the catechumenate generally lasted for as much as three years. The formation that took place was seen as an essential preparation for the Christian life. “Making a decision” was almost beside the point.

The struggle between classical/sacramental Christianity and modernity (including its various Christianities) is not a battle over information. The heart of the struggle is for sacramental Christianity to simply remain faithful to what it is. That struggle is significant, simply for the fact that it takes place within a dominant culture that is largely its antithesis.

A complicating factor in this struggle is the fact that the dominant culture (naturalistic/secular) has taken up traditional Christian vocabulary and changed its meaning. This creates a situation in which classical Christianity is in constant need of defining and understanding its own language in contradistinction to the prevailing cultural mind. The most simple terms, “faith, belief, Baptism, Communion, icon, forgiveness, sin, repentance,” are among those things that have to be consistently re-defined. Every conversation outside a certain circle requires this effort, and, even within that circle, things are not always easy.

Such an effort might seem exhausting. The only position of relaxation within the culture is the effortless agreement with what the prevailing permutations tell us on any given day. Human instinct tends towards the effortless life – and the secular mentality constantly reassures us that only the effortless life is normal. Indeed, “normal, ordinary, common,” and such terms, are all words invented by modernity as a self-description. Such concepts are utterly absent from the world of Scripture. Oddly, no one lived a “normal” life until relatively recently.

That which is “normal” is nothing of the sort. It is the purblind self-assurance that all is well when nothing is well.

God have mercy on us.

78 comments:

  1. So well stated, Father. Thank you for this.

    It is also frightening; we are products of time. Shedding this skin is both difficult and painful.

  2. Thank you for this post, Father. It is refreshing and, more importantly, encouraging to read affirmations of things I have experienced and felt as our family leaves Protestantism for Orthodoxy. This measure of comfort does me so much good.

  3. My life has been so NOT normal, and my over-riding desire through all the apparent craziness has been to live a so-called normal life. I guess I can be glad that never actually happened, Lol.

  4. And interesting quote from Treasure in Earthen Vessels – by Stephen Muse which i have been reading and rereading.

    “Christians in Europe and America, increasingly adrift in deracinated post-modern relativity and rational humanism, especially appear to have lost their practical understanding, and consequently their interest, in what the Holy Fathers mean when they say Jesus Christ is both God and human and becomes flesh4 for us. In Him two natures, uncreated and created, are seamlessly wed without confusion in one person. The result has been that instead of drinking deeply from the endless noetic well of uncreated divine energies, thousands have been settling for transient emotional enthusiasms generated by technology-enhanced Hollywood style theater churches or they have left the Church to follow religions5 that offer tangible psychic experiences to fill the void left by materialism but without realizing the depth and breadth of the potential noetic Treasure they have abandoned in the process, one that is capable of bringing the whole creation and every person to life in Eucharistic reciprocity. More and more claim to be ‘spiritual’ but without interest in “organized religion.” There is for many of these seekers, a genuine search for something they find missing from churches whose life seems to be circumscribed by a social, entertainment and business atmosphere in the name of Christ, having “only the form of religion but denying its power” 6 to transform their lives. By contrast, various forms of sought-after meditation, ascetical practices and exotic ritual in other religions are appealing in their ability to provide new experiences which give respite from the banality of ordinary life stripped of the capacity to reveal God’s presence. Often this comes at the price of settling merely for experiences of psychic enhancement, emotional stimulation and increased physical vitality in place of finding a real cure for egotism and sanctification of the whole person by the uncreated divine energies in a relationship of love uniting with God, creation, tomorrow; it is here now, weighing the value of all that we have gathered and all that we are. They do not seem to realize that God the Father waits to welcome us, like the prodigal, after we have “come to our senses,” 7 in order to put on the likeness of Christ Whose life transfigures our flesh through the uncreated divine energies of the Holy Spirit. Our true life is not synonymous with the confines of time and space, nor is it satisfied by the ever-changing menu of civil religion. Rather, “hid with Christ in God,” 8 our real life is found by tasting the depth of eternal life here and now, which sets in motion the journey of prayer and worship that is fulfilled only after death in a resurrection we cannot achieve by our own human powers alone.“

    Sorry it’s a long quote but something that speaks very loudly to me…

  5. I am reminded of St. John of Shanghai and San Fransisco. It is said he would enter a Church or home and venerate the Saints in their icons, first, even before others in the room….the Saints, his true friends, God’s true friends….and that he would look up the troparions of the Saints of a new place before visiting there so that he could properly greet them.

    I think one of the most beneficial pieces of advice I have ever received from this blog, years ago before I was a catechumen, was to simply sit in silence before an icon of the Theotokos and Christ.

    I was also profoundly moved when readers and commenters openly spoke of the Saints as their friends…that if they needed to, they would go talk to the Saints in their icons…it was just moving to me, as I approached the Church at that time in my life. Years later, I thank you.

  6. Fr. Stephen,
    Your comment on “making a decision ” reminded me of Billy Graham and his “decisions for Christ” he called for at the end of each of his sermons. I have a soft spot for him since I made my first adult movement toward Christ after reading one of his books. Toward the end of his life he made this poignant observation, upon seeing the maelstrom of our society crumbling about him. He said he believed that his crusades and all the decisions for Christ had made no lasting impact on our culture….I can see why since each person making such a decision was left alone trying his/her best to live life adrift from the Church…Billy’s ecclesiology being so weak he only suggested, “finding a good church.”
    As to struggle in our spiritual life. Without asceticism my inner life would resemble an amoeba. As I grow older I see the same in my body. I have to struggle against its deterioration just to do daily tasks. So, thank God for His Church, asceticism as seen in fasting, prayer, confession, etc., for His Mother, the sacraments and all the saints. These truly bouy up my spirit.

  7. Wonderful, wonderful post, Fr. Stephen,

    “The knowledge of God and of all spiritual things requires a different mode of seeing and understanding.” This is so very true. It also means that we often find ourselves speaking a different language from the people around us and yet, for us to say so, might sound pretentious. Without this different mode of understanding, almost anything I say can be answered with, “That’s just your opinion.”

    “It is impossible to encounter the truth and remain unchanged.” Absolutely. But in a culture that is increasingly denies that there is any Truth (only provable “truths” and opinions), this statement can be discounted to the point where people stop searching for Truth.

    “The Christian faith, in its fullness, is properly only seen in an embodied community of believers living in sacramental union with God through Christ by the Holy Spirit.” That “organized religion” has gotten such a bad name is deeply troubling as increasingly people have lost awareness of how important community and sacramental life are to spiritual survival and growth. To search alone is unnecessarily difficult and frequently unfruitful. To minimize or forego the grace of the sacraments seems nothing short of tragic. I do not blame people for being lost in our secular world but I feel I cannot pray enough or do enough to draw them to the Home they are longing for (even if they don’t know they are longing for it).

    “The heart of the struggle is for sacramental Christianity to simply remain faithful to what it is.” This is such a profound statement and yet not so easily lived. I fear that too often we lose sight of what it is we have been given and so do not notice when we have watered it down or taken it for granted to the point that we no longer experience awe in its light.

    Thank you again, Fr. Stephen, for proving so much for us to think and pray about.

  8. I find myself very intrigued by the Orthodox church even though I know almost nothing about it. It all started through the Jordan Peterson phenomenon which led to Jonathan Pageau, an orthodox icon carver in Quebec and Paul Vanderklay and people on his site who are leaning towards the Orthodox path.
    Years ago, I read Anthony Bloom’s book on Prayer and was very impressed. I guess I’ve also thought of the Eastern Orthodox church as an impossibility if not from one of those ethnic backgrounds, Greek, Russian, etc. Am reading Everywhere Present, recommended by someone on PVK’s YouTube channel.
    Any suggestions for further reading for a beginner. I will check out Stephen Muse.

  9. Thank you for this, Father. This article, along with others that you write, will hopefully, as I write my second book, keep me true to Christ’s teaching on what it means to be fully human. God bless you.

  10. Dear Fr. Stephen:
    I’m not even surprised anymore when your posts anticipate my concerns. Many thanks again.
    This one brings up a question. I’m trying to understand Orthodox Christian ways of reading literature/culture of the naturalistic/secular world of modernity. It’s easy to find material on Orthodox reading of scripture and it’s not all that difficult to find generally Christian interpretive frames of literature, but up to now most Orthodox approaches to literature (e.g. Paul Evdokimov) read clearly Christian-inspired literature (e.g. Dostoyevsky) and show how it corresponds to Christian theological principles. This is fine, but it doesn’t help a reader who is interested in an Orthodox reading of the mass of cultural productions out there. Do you know of anything? The one text I have so far, Andrew Louth’s _Discerning the Mystery_ , is excellent but I’m almost finished with it.

  11. Ken,
    I just recently ran across an author, James Matthew Wilson. He teaches at Villanova. His works (which include some poetry) offer some very classical insights into stuff. I am finding him quite compatible (he’s a Catholic).

  12. Jan,
    There’s a lot of good books that would be useful – depending on where you’re starting from. The classical work of introduction is Timothy Ware’s, The Orthodox Church. Others might have good suggestions as well.

  13. Dear Jan,
    When I was discovering the Orthodox Church, I remember books by Frederica Mathewes-Green to be helpful and enjoyable to read. She has written a book called “Welcome to the Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity” that I know many have benefitted from.

  14. and the secular mentality constantly reassures us that only the effortless life is normal. Indeed, “normal, ordinary, common,” and such terms, are all words invented by modernity as a self-description. Such concepts are utterly absent from the world of Scripture. Oddly, no one lived a “normal” life until relatively recently.

    That which is “normal” is nothing of the sort. It is the purblind self-assurance that all is well when nothing is well.

    I’m constantly telling my kids – normal is not what everyone is doing. Normal is sometimes what only one person is doing.

    What’s taught in our faith, in Scripture, tbrough tradition and the sacraments – that is normal – where’s our barometer for normal often hovers over what the majority of people do.

    Forgiving your enemies – that is normal

    Not judging others – that is normal

    Keeping Christ in my mind, my heart and my mouth – that is normal

    Giving to the poor – that is normal

    Living Liturgucally – that is normal

    Confessing my sins – that is normal

    Seeing Christ in all people – that is normal

    Living a life of repentance – that is normal

    All of that normalcy is our work, our task, our life – and normal. It’s hard work – in any century – but in our times it is particularly hard work (that I fail at often … but strive toward nonetheless)

  15. Jan,
    It is hard to pick from the many good books out there! A great deal of my selection has come from Father’s recommendations here on the blog.
    In addition to the books you purchase, reading through the archives here, including the comments, is an excellent source of information on the Orthodox faith. And lots of practical application as well. You can click on an area of interest or use the search box.
    Another book recommendation, if you’re background is, or has been influenced by, Protestant theology, particularly the teachings on Christ’s atonement, I highly recommend Reclaiming the Atonement by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon. Here’s a link, so you check and see if it is right for you:
    https://www.amazon.com/Reclaiming-Atonement-1-Incarnate-Word/dp/1936270498/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

  16. Jan,

    I will second the recommendation of Frederica Mathewes-Green’s books. Generally speaking, they are easy reads but very informative in a kind sort of way. One of the first books I read, upon becoming Orthodox, was At the Corner of East and Now: A Modern Life in Ancient Christian Orthodoxy. You can find it here, if you like:
    https://www.eighthdaybooks.com/?CLSN_4775=1563481873477561ed69c221627a8ba6&keyword=At+the+Corner+of+East+and+Now%3A+A+Modern+Life+in+Ancient+Christian+Orthodoxy&searchby=title&page=shop%2Fbrowse&fsb=1&Search=Search

  17. Jan – The book that brought me to Orthodoxy was “The Mountain of Silence” and it’s successor volume “Gifts of the Deser”t by Kyriacos Markides. I wasn’t a Christian and I wasn’t consciously looking for Christ at the time, but He was obviously looking for me! I believe God will guide you in your reading selections.

  18. Life in this, “normal” world can overwhelm our best intentions, but the struggle to remain focussed is SO worth it! Thank you Father, this was yet another inspiring and grace filled gift from your heart.

  19. Thanks, Esmee. I’ve just ordered it on Amazon along with another one.
    I was raised in a fundamentalist church, rebelled, left the church and religion for a lifetime and now at age 77, intrigued … well, more than intrigued. Compelled.

  20. Thanks, Byron and Anonymous for the recommendation.

    Just ordered on Amazon. The reviews are amazing.

    I look forward to reading it.

  21. Jan,
    So good hearing a little about you. I have a friend (now deceased) who visited Russia once too often. In his late 60’s he came into the Orthodox Church because of what he had seen of it in Russia. It’s never too late. Three weeks ago we just buried a dear Orthodox friend, Jan (Mary). She had served Christ all her life and reposed at just 68. It is a complete mystery to us as to how God’s grace works through all of this and in us, wooing us by His Spirit. But thank Him in Christ for, late in life, drawing you to Himself and to His holy Church. You have my prayers.

  22. I find those caught up in the secular mind always demand proof, but in the same breath reject anything from the Sacramental reality as “not proof”.

    I recently saw a video clip in which an earnest and self-important young man was demanding of an unknown speaker proof that Jesus existed from a source other than the Bible but quickly added “O by the way, I consider Josephus to be a forgery”.
    Despite their obvious personalistic approach they also reject the remarkably coherent testimony of ordinary and not so ordinary people over the centuries who have encountered Jesus Christ, “in the flesh”, so to speak. They deny the empirical reality of the creation partly because we isolate ourselves from it every chance we get.

    Life and death, renewal and decay go on somewhere else. Food comes from the store or in a box. It is perhaps why the Orthodox funeral service is such a powerful witness. The Divine Liturgy with the centrality of bread and wine transformed into the Body and Blood so we can taste and see just another piety without meaning or significance.

    We are so afraid of being deluded we tend to create our own delusion to protect ourselves.

  23. I am sorry, but I cannot resist. The difference between Eighth Day Books and Amazon is the very difference talked about here. An actual bookstore loved into existence and curated out of that love that is a fountain of life, peace and joy — indeed a living icon of the Church vs a marketing channel that seeks to dominate and dictate every aspect of our buying lives (and what greater life can there be). A desert of egalitarian delights and good reviews.

    Bryon I commend you for linking to Eighth Day Books. A truly Orthodox Christian bookstore full of quality books in all manner of types: fiction, philosophy, history, faith, spiritual classics and fun for children in the Hobbit Hole. If they do not have it, they will get it for you. Interestingly enough it is also a bit of a pilgrimage sight. People come to Wichita just to experience the wonder of the place. A place where you can touch, smell and even taste real books and be knowledgeably guided by real people, not fancy algorithms that predict your every whim and desire. They also answer their phones if you have a question as well as maintaining an excellent web site.

    While it is a money making enterprise (barely) it is primarily a sacramental offering , a true ministry. Frederica Matthews Green has also been there.

  24. Many thanks, Fr Stephen, for recommending James Matthew Wilson. And I should have thanked you, too, for writing Everywhere Present, which launched me on the trajectory of Orthodox writings on contemporary culture.

  25. Michael,
    My sentiments toward Amazon are the same as yours. It is not so much Amazon itself but what it represents…ultimate globalization, ultimate consumerism, ultimate power where it doesn’t know any boundaries or where to stop. It is oppressive and in its quest it subversively consumes us.
    Example: when I get off the interstate in Tucson, the exit is on the outskirts of town. For several miles it was a straight shot to near-midtown before you reached the first traffic light. Now, over the past year, Amazon has arrived. The entirety of the land on both sides of the road and the road itself is under construction. For miles! Three more traffic lights added. Buildings on the right and the left. New street names that reflect this business district. I will not tell you the thoughts that go through my head.

    So you have taken a stand and for many reasons use Eight Day Books instead. That’s good Michael. Though they are on the (global) internet, they are a local connection for you. But I still use the monster, Amazon. And I am not under any delusion. I do not see it any different than shopping at Walmart, or giving my money any one of the cell phone carriers, or…what else?….they are all global corporations.
    I do not see your conviction as taking a political stand, but it can easily be seen that way. It reminds me of boycotting. There is not a darn thing we can do about the corporate take over. If I were to avoid it completely I would have to get a windmill to access energy, or use solar panels (which themselves are over-priced so all the hands in the pie can make a buck), build my own house out of the local natural materials, have all manner of farm animals, grow my own food, make my own gasoline, grow the plants to get the fiber to make my own clothes….you see what I’m getting at here?

    This is not to say we do nothing. That is not my point. My point is to do what we can do to lessen the “pollution”. If for you that means to support Eight Day books, then all well and good. Most of us have no idea about and no connection to Eight Day Books. But we do have our own local connections. And I think we are very cognizant of our loss of connection with one another in all this.
    What most of us do who are conscious of the craziness out there is to consume less. Live simply. Support your local stores by purchasing from them when you can. That’s it. Keep it simple. Life brings many challenges. Go to Church. Pray. Live the Faith.
    Lord have mercy….

  26. On our way to Wisconsin from Texas for a family reunion, we made our pilgrimage to Eighth Day Books! Could have stayed much longer, but bought the Hobbit for a granddaughter and had help finding her an appropriate young adult fantasy. Husband found The Pilgrimage of Egeria (4th -5th century nun’s diary of her trip to the Holy Lands). I found a good translation of the Didache (first century catechism well worth reading by inquirers).

  27. Fr. Freeman,

    I want to help explain some of what you are describing. There are two prevailing forms of apologetical method within Christianity. The “classical” method – that’s what the proponents call it though it is only “classical” within their tradition, and the presuppositional method. The classical method assumes the rational faculty, while faulty because of sin, inherited depravity – is still a point of contact between a believer and a non-believer. The presuppositionalist assumes the rational faculty is not a point of contact, that argumentation will not work because the person is dead in sin. So a transcendental method is used. The P method assumes with Scripture that until a person is born again they will not perceive the things of God. This is much more in line with Orthodoxy except it is based on inherent depravity. In this way a person must be born again – born again meaning coming to repentance and faith – which they were predestined to do according to the means God has chosen to effect this. And usually the faith required is faith that Christ bore the wrath of God in their place, that Christ worked a perfect righteousness on their behalf, and that in union with Christ they are forever safe as forgiven, justified, etc.

    The “classical” method of sylogisms and proofs still assumes people are inherently depraved but does not appreciate the “noetic” effects of the fall.

    It’s easy to see,that both of these systems of presenting the faith are flawed because of their dependence on Original Sin. But the P method is correct, provided born again means baptism. This is exactly why catcheumens would not be present for large portions of the liturgy, why the Gospel of John, the Spiritual Gospel doesn’t start being read regularly until Pascha, after baptism – the whole general expectation that without baptism and chrismation the nous will remain in a place of inability to receive the things of God.

    So there is a real point of contact between us and the Reformed on this issue, at least the Presuppositionalists within the Reformed camp – maybe your brother? The point of contact is the effect of the fall, of sin on the nous. We both are in a similar agreement, though one is based on Total Depravity and the other is based on death, sin, Satan – and this is where our apologetic stands out as much more coherent and Biblical – because as it relates to death’s, and Satan’s effect on the nous – the Reformed tradition, while not totally silent, would operate fine without death or Satan and yet there they are all over the Bible. Sometime ask your brother, if you get into these conversations, how different would your soteriology be if death was natural – not an effect of the fall, and if Satan never existed. It would be the same.

    This is why is previous posts to you I have talked about the role of exorcism in baptism regarding free will. It seems to me, quite clearly, that exorcism (or freedom from Satan/demonic forces) in addition to baptism and chrismation are all intended to free the nous, free the will, to perceieve the things of God.

    It seems the focus on the soul/mind/nous in theology outside of Orthodoxy makes salvation into a thing mainly happening in the mind/heart/will – and not in the body, and not as it relates to the unseen world. The dualism this sets up makes asceticism and knowing through action unintelligible because the body has no real role except that with it you can sin, but as to positively affecting your salvation that is impossible because “Christ alone” saves us – and this would be true if Original Sin were true, He would have to. But if not, and the nous were illumined, we would walk in synergy with Christ and the body would participate in our salvation.

    God bless you,
    Matthew

  28. I have been taught that the heart can follow the body in salvation…that in a prostration to Christ, the heart can be transformed in response to the body. I believe this is very true in fasting.

  29. Anonymous
    It’s what the monastics say …. the soul follows the body and I have always heard this said in conjunction with prostrations in particular but it applies I think to all we do (movements toward and away from our relationship with God) in a deep way which is also a mystery.

  30. Matthew,
    I do not try to explain the mechanism(s) involved – and think that doing too much of that gets us into trouble. Grace is required for all things because it is the very life of God and it is union with God that we need. BTW (it’s a brother-in-law that is Reformed).

    We pray, we teach, we listen, etc. But I’ll let God worry about the mechanics behind it. Again, I don’t give much attention to the devil and his minions. Prayer is sufficient for all things.

  31. Jan – As others have said, it’s definitely never too late to become Orthodox. The mother of one of my priests was baptized at age 80!

  32. Thanks to everyone for reaching out to me. I am overwhelmed by your kindness.
    I will let you know how I’m doing as I continue on this newly discovered path.

  33. Books that I have found helpful and which might be helpful for enquirers (in no particular order):

    Father Arseny; The Orthodox Church (Ware); Sayings of the Desert Fathers ; Great Lent; The Winter Pascha; Year of Grace of the Lord; Being as Communion ; Deification in Christ; The Freedom of Morality; God with Us; The Ascetic of Love; Blessed Surgeon; Christ is in our Midst; Communion of Love; Diary of a Russian Priest; Saints Barsanuphius and John; Letters to Spiritual Children, Light in the Darkness, Monk of Mount Athos, Wisdom from Mount Athos; The Orthodox Way; For the Life of the World; The Faith We Hold, (Archbishop Paul of Finland);
    The Orthodox Faith 4 v. (Fr Thomas Hopko) and any of Fr Tom’s podcasts, especially The Names of Jesus (Ancient Faith Radio)
    Conciliar Press booklets
    The Bible and the Holy Fathers (daily readings with patristic commentaries)

  34. Fr Stephen,
    I was reading this passage in the bible this morning and I heard within the words a meaning that I believe is related to this post: (John 10: 9 NKJ)

    I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.

    The in and out I perceive as in and out of our parish churches. And pasture is that life which Christ creates not that which we create.

  35. And indeed, western culture accepts the idea of “pasture” going in. Not so much the “pasture” that is going out. That pasture belongs to the culture, society, academic/scientific/theological scholasticism and the political nation. The politics and arguments of that existence, if it should be called that, is not life. Most of us participate in that life. Few of us perceive its trappings and vice. Many of us bask in the so called “glow” it would bestow upon us. We “own” it’s labels and take privileges when it provides, while disparaging those whom we categorize “beneath” (‘beneath’ in all it’s forms) us.

    Purity of heart. Do we know what it is? Do we discern when we are not pure of heart? Most of us, I suspect, believe we are pure of heart. This belief may not necessarily be of God. How would we know the difference? In this society it is indeed difficult, with the appropriation of Christian words and some “Christian” forms of behavior. Trust in Christ is indeed obedience and humility in all behavioral forms and in all places; and loving neighbor and enemies as one’s benefactors. These may seem “pat” statements but how do we live them without the grace of God and the Holy Spirit? It is impossible.

  36. I just thought of one other book that had a profound impact on me as I was entering the Church…
    “Acquisition of the Holy Spirit” by St. Seraphim of Sarov is also very good, to the point that I would call it life changing for me.

  37. Am I a tourist or a pilgrim? In a wonderful book about St. John of the Cross, The Impact of God, Father Iain Matthew writes,
    “Tourism is great for a break but it is a sad way of life …The trouble is that there is a mesmeric fascination in keeping moving …. and a growing fear of having to stop. It takes courage to stay with it, not to move on when I don’t like it anymore but to stay with it and to let what is no longer novel disclose its unsuspected depth. To live on likes and dislikes keeps one a tourist, doing more and more, experiencing less and less.” John of the Cross wrote: To come to what you know not, you must go by a way where you know not.” Am I a tourist or a pilgrim?

  38. Michael,

    I too have been to EDB several times and offer up a hearty “second” to everything you wrote. It’s worth making a trip to Wichita simply to visit EDB.

  39. Paula, you wrote: “most of us have no idea about and no connection to EDB.” True, but it doesn’t have to be that way. EDB is owned by a devout and pious Orthodox Christian. I guess I wonder why, when ordering Orthodox books in particular (although EDB carries tons of books from many other fields of study), one would order from the evil empire as opposed to ordering from EDB?

  40. Alan,
    Your question evokes a defensive response, and I wish not to go there. I made my point in my response to Michael. It has nothing to do with the mission of Eighth Day Books, or their devoutness or piety.

  41. Alan,
    I think the point Paula has is to do what we can. Some books I’ve bought at EDB some from monasteries, some from abroad. I often, for budgetary reasons, need to buy used. For various reasons good and bad, Amazon is a source of used materials. I’ve been making quite an investment in an Orthodox library at home, despite limited means, thanks to the availability of used materials. Last but not least, there is still a non-corporate locally owned used bookstore near my home and I make sure I ‘give them my business’ every time an Orthodox book ends up there, too .

  42. Thanks Dee.
    Alan, sorry, I was taken off guard.
    How do I say this… to me the question was framed as if confronted with a moral choice. But in making that choice I am none the better for it. Neither will it change the mission of EDB. Moral choices such as the one you present are externals. To me, what we do in extending ourselves to those around us, face to face, is the means to cultivate an inner change of heart for all involved, as it is real tangible contact. It fosters unity and love of neighbor. Thus, as Dee mentioned earlier, a reflection of love and obedience to God. He gives us everything around us right where we live to use to His glory. It is a good place to start!
    I hope that helps, Alan. Forgive me for being so short before.

  43. Going to Wichita and visiting EDB is a wonderful, one-day, “pilgrimage”. It is wonderful because of the Orthodox focus of the store, the kindness of the staff, the “Inkling Oktoberfest”, and the like. It’s a great place and supporting them is, to me, a good thing.

    That said, I am very happy that I live within a few hours drive (Tulsa OK) of them. It’s not too hard to go up and back the same day. Otherwise, I can order online, as needed.

    Concerning Amazon and its blob-like (as in the movie monster) qualities: I was on a phone meeting yesterday and, while we were waiting for everyone to arrive, someone asked the group, “So, what did everyone order for “Amazon Day”?”. I didn’t even know what he was talking about but I figured it out. Amazon is now competing with Christmas for the hearts of all the good consumers out there…. Feed the Blob. Egads.

  44. Driving behind a big rig today it had this sign….Don’t like trucks? Stop buying stuff! Problem solved.
    Imagine no Amazon Prime, Fed-Ex or UPS trucks on the road.😏

  45. Dear Fr Stephen,

    You wrote “The naturalistic/secular model has the advantage of sharing a worldview with contemporary culture. As such, it forms part of what most people would perceive as ‘common sense’ and ‘normal.'”

    This reminds me of George Marsden’s explanation of the rise of fundamentalism in the US in the early 20th century (Fundamentalism and American Culture). Protestants in the US shared a worldview with their contemporary culture influenced by Scottish Common Sense Realism. When the cultural foundation shifted toward modernism (unacceptable to many Protestants) some reacted like a rejected lover — turned inward and retreated from outside contact. The uncritical acceptance of a worldview shared with the surrounding culture — has a downside.

    Thank you for this readable article.

    Harold, my 2nd attempt at replying

  46. Harold,
    But – from an Orthodox perspective (classical Christianity), Scottish Realism was already a verion of modernism – simply the “common sense” of the 18th century. It’s assumptions about the nature of knowledge are not really any different from that of later modernism – only a great disgust with new “facts” as they arose. But the Scottish Rationalists taught Modernity how to think.

    There is always a downside in drinking something other than what everyone else is having. Unless, of course, everyone else is drinking poison. I watch the dead continue to pile up in the streets. As difficult and inconvenient as its is – what the mainstream culture offers is not truly potable. Isaiah 55 comes to mind.

    Also, to close my thought on this – the world view of modernity is simply not true. Where it is true – it is not modern. But it likes to point to things like technological prowess (as if modernity invented technology – and it did not) as proof of its validity. Then goes on to make assertions about things (such as the theory of progress and human nature, etc.) that have no basis in technology at all. Modernity is pure mythology – propaganda – a vast sells gimick that has enriched a few and created one of the saddest excuses for culture ever to grace the planet. Such wealth! Such emptiness!

    Marsden was at Duke when I was there. Good scholar. I saw what your problem was in posting. Your first attempt had a slight variation in its email address – so the blog program read it as a first-time posting – all of which go into moderation. Once you have a cleared post, no more moderating (unless there are other problems). You have posted 4 times previously (it says) and recognized your second attempt. Sorry for the bother.

  47. Paula, you are correct. I have, through my wife, used Amazon too. I use it when I really want something and it is available no where else that I know of. But that is part of it too–I really want something

    However I absolutely refuse to use it for books on the faith. Yes, I have a deep and abiding connection to Eighth Day. It is a significant part of the Christian community here in Wichita– not just the Orthodox. The owner, Warren Farha, is a friend of many years. Many special moments for me have occured there. Putting aside my zeal for it, it is a special place unlike any other place I have been. It is good for people to hear of such places even if they seem far off and a bit unreal.

    I am heartened by the fact that, as solid and as ubiquitous as Amazon, et. al. seem “this too will pass away” while the various wardrobe closets that we come upon here and there that give us access to strange and fascinating realms are far more enduring. There are probably some such things there in Arizona.

    I am sorry if my enthusiasm for Eighth Day makes you or anyone else uncomfortable. I mean to shame no one, merely to say unequivocally that it is the best bookstore in the world. Warren is a humble enough man to put up my expostulations often chuckling and shaking his head at such ideas. God be praised.

  48. Thank you Michael. A kind and thoughtful response.
    I already knew Eight Day Books, the place and the people, are very dear to you, as they are to many others. So I understand your gratefulness when people support those whom you hold in high regard.
    I was not offended in your enthusiasm for them, but reacted to the comparison to Amazon. Really, what I heard was “buying from Amazon (global corp’s) is ___(wrong, bad, etc)”. So I went off…
    Sorry Michael. Forgive me. I sure would like to put this conversation to rest.
    I also had the thought, as you, that Amazon is going to be gone with the wind some day. But at my age I may be gone first. Puts a whole new perspective on the things that matter.
    Thanks again Michael. Appreciate you.

  49. Paula, I don’t consider not buying from Amazon a moral choice. I was trying to use it as a concrete example of the difference between the modern and the sacramental. Moral choices of where to buy are futile and self righteous and just as much a symptom of modernity as shopping.

    There is no purity of choice in buying decisions.

    Another instance in my life: our refrigerator went out on us yesterday. We had “choices” where to buy: Best Buy, Loews or a local store Metro Appliance. We elected to go with Metro because we heard good things about it and Best Buy gives me the creeps, literally. Lowe’s is just impersonal.

    Merry called Metro, talked to the owner on the phone who arranged everything in a cordial manner and our new refrigerator was delivered today by a hard-working young man who went out of his way to get the old one out and the new one in on a very hot day.
    From start to finish it was a human transaction that was convenient, within our budget and timely. We got a unique, quality product. Quite pleasant and joyful actually. ** Epiphany: Merry and I seem to be getting a nice network going of people who provide real services without the “blob” mentality. Hmmmm** But, sometimes the blob is necessary. Modernity is inescapable but we do not have to be assimilated by it. At the very least we can give the blob indigestion.

    Thank you for your thoughtful and honest conversation.

  50. Ok… an example of the difference between the modern (Amazon) and the sacramental (Eighth Day Books). Now I see.
    It is clear, in these real-life examples, what Father means by “The sacramental world…presumes that everything is a continuing gift and a means of communion with the good God who created it.”
    I appreciate the last example you give. I have had the same experiences and came away with the same thoughts you express in buying my appliances locally, as well as other things like the air/heating unit, plumbing, electric, etc. There is the opportunity (and joy) to encourage the younger workers in their choice of service work, that it is no less important than having a college degree (they work hard, physically, at the same time use their brains to figure out how do what they do…these are valuable skills). They tell me about their families, ask me about my animals…!
    Rarely do I purchase items out of town (with the exception of books, online!) . So I know what you and Merry mean about the joy of avoiding the blob mentality, when we can.
    Such encounters with those whom together we share the same space (town) are indeed a gift and a means of communion with God who gives us ‘all things’. Glory to God in them!!
    Michael, I wouldn’t have seen the distinction of modern vs sacramental worldview in these concrete examples we’ve mentioned, had you not taken the time to further respond. Many thanks.

  51. Michael,

    I don’t see why where to buy is futile. For example, welfare ratings for meat products, describing how the animals are raised (rating their welfare and living conditions), seem to me to mean a lot. Shopping has been a major aspect of modern life in part because it is valorized as the market’s purpose or calling, but also because it is an effort to express love, identity, and freedom. We don’t need to glamorize the capitalist market, but the sincerity of those people who believe in it indicates some deep value lies there, as in many sinful things that are originally good but misdirected and corrupted (which makes shopping similar to sex or food). I think that most of all it’s about service (to customers, society, and God), as they simply claim. A customer’s life can be changed by exceptional service, for good or ill, and so can a worker’s life be changed by exceptional shopping.

    I know shopping can feel banal and it is popular to despise malls, but the people who do retail business work hard for good reason – they make a difference in customer’s lives. I don’t want to blame corporations for broad problems that poorly regulated market economies and greed cause – corporations are a phenomena caused by excessive competition, misplaced authority, and brand idolatry, all of which are mostly universal in our society. Customers are pressured, but not forced, to participate in the shopping for status circus. Frankly, the way customers treat corporations is a forgotten problem – those who work in customer service are often abused verbally, in part because they represent a company the customer disrespects. Corporations in America are largely the same as people in America, because the corporations are mostly composed of people -people’s work activities, shopping choices, and broad agreements between the supply and demand sides of the transaction. How could corporations be worse than the people who work for and buy from them, without reifying the concept? Why does corporationhood inspire such strong emotion, unlike the hundreds of millions of customers who do business with corporations? I see the power asymmetry, but not a big difference in character .

    I briefly read some of a long booklet about a bank’s Corporate Social Responsibility yesterday while at the bank, and I saw meaningful evidence of dedication to humanity’s wellbeing, ethical understanding of the bank’s literal response-ability to influence society for the better, and overall quality of banking work. I gained a lot of appreciation for this bank, even though I generally am uncomfortable with all banks because of the usury and prosperity gospel problem. Many despised corporations sincerely do CSR and are much more ethical than they seem. There’s no benefit I can see in blaming larger companies for society’s ills, as this prevents us from solving problems ourselves while wishing the corporations would repent and save us. It’s giving power away to those who already have too much of it, like the thesis of Ralph Naders’ odd book, Only the Super Rich can Save Us. If only the super rich can save us, then only they are icons of God. If the corporations by themselves can ruin our economy, then we can’t fix it. So I prefer to believe that everyone ruined the economy together, as one large network of sinners, one community living on the same planet. And we can only heal the economy and commercial culture in community too.

  52. I may have left this link before. Anyone on a budget can find a whole lot of used books here (and some new as well, particularly print-on-demand books):

    http://www.abebooks.com

    It’s a consortium of independent booksellers, some individuals who work out of their homes, some larger concerns (like Powell’s in Portland OR). Amazon links to many of these booksellers from their site; just bypass Amazon and go directly to the seller. I’ve always found the booksellers’ descriptions of the condition of the books to be accurate and fair. My latest purchase from this source was “The Stripping of the Altars”, which Fr Stephen has recommended; excellent condition used – it was US$3, plus $5 shipping from England.

    I order from EDB when I can; some Orthodox books are only to be found there, and at the publisher.

    Dana

  53. John…yep.
    was gonna say that, but didn’t.
    (((sigh)))
    Who was it that said something about the futility of the world?
    Oh I remember…
    “”Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
    That was the beginning.
    The end:
    “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
    For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”

    In a Book, sold on Amazon….

  54. Fr. Stephen,
    “The rationalization (secular/rationalist) of the gospel has also given rise to modern “evangelism.” If no particular change is required in a human being in order to perceive the truth of the gospel, then rational argument and demonstration becomes the order of the day. Indeed, modern evangelism is largely indistinguishable from modern marketing. They were born from the same American social movements.”
    This explains what happened when I was in undergraduate school during the early 1970s.
    Thank you, Fr. Stephen

  55. I briefly read some of a long booklet about a bank’s Corporate Social Responsibility yesterday while at the bank, and I saw meaningful evidence of dedication to humanity’s wellbeing,

    Ivan, this is called “marketing”.

    I completely agree that we cannot blame all the ills of the world on corporations. But it is worthwhile to understand that few corporations are controlled by the people who work there, with the exception of a very few “at the top of the corporate ladder” (so to speak).

    The issues of the world are rooted in the heart(s) of humanity. The factors that go into shaping those hearts–from the asceticism of the Church to the shopping habits of the consumer and more–are many. Our own efforts are best directed towards our own hearts. But we all understand that as we practice our asceticism, we still interact with the world around us. Our efforts will take slightly different shape(s) and direction(s) as we do so. If some take great care to only shop at certain places, and it shaped their hearts in humility and love, then that is a good thing. I will give thanks for them and leave it there; it is not my concern beyond that.

  56. Thank you very much for this Father Stephen. It helps clarify a lot of things for me. If I may add, from my own experience, “spiritual” is one those word that often needs to be re-defined. And also, another modern word that is often taken synonymous with the spiritual life is “balanced”. Again, I am deeply grateful for this.

  57. Dear Father Stephen,

    I hope you don’t mind me posting this unrelated comment.

    Tomorrow will mark 1 year since the terrible fires in Mati, Athens in which over 100 people died. As you know, our dear friend Dino was directly involved in the fire, as were many members of his family and friends. I just want to take a moment to thank God for keeping him safe and unharmed and pray that He grants Dino many years. He is our great teacher of Elder Aimilianos, who – I suspect – had something to do with this miraculous rescue – the martyrdom of St. Aimilianos (who was a patron Saint of the Elder, and who’s feast day was last week on July 18) was related to the fire!

    I was inspired to draw this parallel by the story of Abbess Aimiliani (shared here earlier, thank you to Anonymous who posted it), it had so many themes from the Elder which Dino introduces us to. These two lines from the Abbess sound like quotes Dino could have posted (in relating the Elder):

    “So it became clear to me in my very blood and broken bones, without this being at all, ever, an analytical thought, that the prayer of a pure – purified! – heart is the most powerful thing in the cosmos”
    and
    “God prepares and provides in the life of every person a “Hyatt” that is the bridge to the new life.”.

    I also want to thank those few of your readers who generously donated to the fundraiser to help in Athens. Altogether it was about 10 people (not thousands as I hoped) who gave to the collection for the monastery and orphanage which burnt in the fire. Over the past year, I managed to raise around $8000 and I delivered every dollar directly into the hands of the Abbess. It is only recently that some of the children and the nuns were able to return. The rebuilding process will take a very long time, both for the monastery and for the neighborhood of Mati. May God help, heal and restore them, and protect them in the future…. as they struggle for the normal life

  58. Byron, thank you for your thoughtful reply.

    I think the booklet falls under Public and/or Investor Relations, not marketing. Marketing is more about selling a product. I found the booklet modest and fair even though it promotes the bank’s brand.

    I am happy to read that you locate the issues of the world in our hearts. I am reading a book written by a psychologist all about how to stop blaming others for my feelings and problems, so this topic is on my mind regularly. Anti-corporate sentiment concerns me most of all because it involves a sense of helplessness in the face of big, irredeemable enemies – which is not empowering or helpful towards reforming our economy. How people shop is not my business, but ethics and ascetic effort have a place in commerce and both must be discussed to be practiced. I do not want to miss out on ascetic efforts that shape the heart, nor do I want to make avoidable ethical mistakes. Facts and opinions about the economy are helpful. Respecting economic enemies is integral to success in mediating conflicts with them – wise warriors respect their enemies, and while I believe in non-violence the same principle of respect applies. As for criticism of corporations and their executives, when it seems too harsh I disagree automatically – I don’t like such criticism of anyone. I would rather see the good in everyone, including my enemies – this is part of blessing my enemies with praise. St. Elizabeth the New Martyr of Moscow was known to love her enemies, and I pray to her almost every day with an icon a friendly nun gave me. There is a moral need to protest corporate abuse when it happens and to advocate for more democratic, fair, and sustainable economic structures, but I don’t want reform to take the form of excessive blame.

    In my anthropological opinion, corporate and executive power are overrated and the power of the non-elite classes, the poor, and workers in general is underrated according to worldly notions of power. All people have the kind of power that God prefers – love. If I obey Jesus Christ and love everyone consistently, God will accomplish anything He wants to in my life and work – which opportunity is available to all of humanity. This greater power makes the power of executives and leaders in general somewhat secondary because all people are equally human and capable of love.

    The world idolizes executives partly out of elitism. Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote a great article that I read online about how critics of the Church objectify Her as a “power structure,” and then reduce their perception of Her into the clergy and hierarchy (what others would call the “power elite”). The OCA has enjoyed exceptional laity involvement in ecclessial governance for generations, but for any Church critic to dismiss the laity as lacking power is simply inaccurate – we have a synergistic, loving, and obedient connection to the clergy and hierarchs. A corporation is subject to the same apex fallacy where only the CEO is considered powerful. I remember something my father told me when I was a teenager – “all people are ordinary.”

    Here are two relevant quotes I read today on an Orthodox website:

    “The Creator and Ruler of the world called Himself meek and humble of heart. Therefore, to be a true Ruler of this world we must also be humble and meek in our hearts, with a deep respect for our neighbor and for all of creation.”

    “You will not labour many years, son, in search of blessed inner peace, if in the beginning you surrender yourself with all your soul to indignities. After that, perhaps God will give you glory, but this will not harm you.” Based on St. John of the Ladder.

    https://asceticexperience.com/justice-lying-patience-injustices/

    I suspect that people who achieve glory in the world, such as corporate careers, without first surrendering themselves to indigities are not ready for the big responsibility because they are afraid of loss, suffering, and especially humiliation. I hope that people who accept indignities, which can be harmless such as doing menial work, are better prepared for glory. The true Rulers are meek, especially through forgiving offenses and learning to moderate their anger. Righteous indignation is a gentle thing.

  59. Ivan,

    I think we are very much speaking in agreement, but in slightly different language.

    The Church (and any power one might assign it), from the Bishops to the Priests to the monks to the laity is rooted in Love, specifically God’s Love, and only expressed in love. This is the separation of the Church from the world; Love does not seek to wield power, it takes part in communion, with humility. The humility of the Church is, I think, that as described by Met. Anthony Bloom in Beginning to Pray:

    Humility is the situation of the earth. The earth is always there, always taken for granted, never remembered, always trodden on by everyone, somewhere we cast and pour out all our refuse, all we don’t need. It’s there, silent and accepting everything and in a miraculous way making out of all the refuse new richness in spite of corruption, transforming corruption itself into a power of life and a new possibility of creativeness, open to the sunshine, open to the rain, ready to receive any seed we sow and capable of bringing thirtyfold, sixtyfold, a hundredfold out of every seed.

    There is no power structure there; only grace rooted in Love.

  60. Wow! Thank you SO MUCH Father.

    (I post only after reading your blog post, not the comments as yet.)

  61. Father, bless. You said:

    “The Kingdom of God is not an inert object that yields itself to public examination. The knowledge of God and of all spiritual things requires a different mode of seeing and understanding.”

    “[Scripture] utterly rejects the notion of spiritual knowledge belonging to the same category as the naturalistic/secular world. It clearly understands that the truth of things is perceived only through the heart (nous) and that an inward change is required.”

    My concern is that this “other way of knowing” is not a reliable means to the truth. Many faiths in the world use this same claim, and they also claim that this “different mode of seeing and understanding” will lead you to their faith. People around the world attempt to apply this method and arrive at different conclusions.

    I am discouraged by this, because I yearn to know the things of God, but I also yearn to not be deceived. If this “other way of knowing” is unreliable, how can I use it to know the things of God? If it were reliable, would not religious people all be coming to the same conclusions? Am I misunderstanding here?

    Thank you in advance.

  62. Isaac – I recently read “The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios” by Dionysios Farasiotos. The book is a spiritual autobiography of the author’s search for Truth. He explains the difference between his experiences with Eastern Religious Traditions and several of the modern occult movements that are derived from them verses his experiences with the Orthodox faith via the teachings of the Elder (now Saint) Paisios of Mount Athos. It’s a fascinating read and may help you in your quest to understand. You can purchase it from Not of This World Orthodox Bookstore in Santa Rosa, CA.

    https://notofthisworldiconsandbooks.com/products/gurus-young-man-paisios?variant=3953260625947

  63. “[Scripture] utterly rejects the notion of spiritual knowledge belonging to the same category as the naturalistic/secular world. It clearly understands that the truth of things is perceived only through the heart (nous) and that an inward change is required.”

    My concern is that this “other way of knowing” is not a reliable means to the truth.

    Isaac, I think the difference in the two ways of knowing is the difference in sitting across from a woman and sitting across from your wife. What is perceived through the heart (nous) is the love of the wife. With her, the “way of knowing” is not an intellectual endeavor but simply a way of life with her. It is much the same with God. As Father points out, the struggle is simply to remain faithful; to speak only of what we know (as it has been revealed). We can trust the He will not deceive us. Just my thoughts.

  64. Isaac,
    Fr. Stephen and others will be able to answer you much better. That you do not want to be deceived is commendable. A rationalistic/naturalistic approach to Scripture cannot yield the truth of God, especially noting all that Father mentioned above. You could take any group of 20 believers and have them study a passage of the Bible and then give its meaning. You know what the result would be. Twenty differing interpretations or at least several disparate views. I first became aware of this while in a church sponsored college. I was studying something in the book of Hebrews. I picked up several commentaries on this particular passage. The interpretations were so different it was hard to believe that they were writing about the same passage. These were learned men who had written these commentaries, all with PHDs. It was a disheartening experience but a necessary one for me. I learned that I would never reach the truth of God by treating Him as an object to study or by learning more about the Bible. Yet learning this truth and finding out about knowing Him through communion would require years of living more. You cannot and will never know God through any rationalistic approach. The Word/Logos behind the word/scripture can only be known in communion, through the heart. And this especially in the Orthodox faith. Scripture is a book of the Church. It alone is the only reliable source of truth I have found…the Church, the foundation and bulwark of truth.

  65. Isaac,
    I also commend your desire not to be deceived. That’s a very healthy instinct and is greatly valued in Orthodox Christianity. While I stand by what I’ve said viz. spiritual knowledge – or the perception and participation in the Kingdom of God – I do not mean to imply that other kinds of knowledge are of no value.

    A prime example is how St. Paul treated the matter of Christ’s resurrection (1 Cor. 15). He carefully recites the Tradition as it had been handed down to him, then adds more clear evidence number eyewitnesses and then adds his own personal experience. He doesn’t just say, “Take my word for it.” nor does he say, “Just pray about and you’ll see that I’m right.” He offers tangible evidence with good, solid reasoning.

    That is, if you will, a good starting place. God did not offer us the resurrection of Jesus as a hidden thing – or without eyewitnesses and solid evidence. But, having that evidence gives us the confidence to begin a journey that will take us into the depths of the heart/soul where pure reason cannot go.

    What we have in Orthodox Christianity is 2,000 years of an unbroken experience in which we still teach, say and practice what has always been taught, said and practiced since the beginning – without reformation or such. It simply is what it is. That living continuity includes the lives of countless saints whose very holiness is testimony to the truth of their faith.

    The resurrection is a fact. But it is a fact that opens a door that goes beyond what mere objectivity cannot fathom. What we do in avoiding deception is to follow carefully the path that has been followed before us and proven its trustworthiness. We compare our experience to that measure. Also, we do all of this not in private but in the context of the believing, Orthodox community. We make confession – which, after a fashion – is a regular health check on our various deceptions and failings. We help each other.

    If it were only ourselves alone, we would inevitably be deceived. That’s the nature of being alone. Jesus did not call us to be alone. He gave us His Body, the Church, and despite all the sins that mark our lives, it is still that place of faithfulness and grace that has survived intact without deviation from the truth for all these centuries. And this in the face of an unwithering persecution throughout many of its centuries. This is the Church of the martyrs.

    Our hearts long for more than just information (rationality). Your desire not to be deceived is a matter of the heart – a true yearning. God give you grace!

  66. Dionysios Farasiotis book supports what both Byron and Dean (and of course Fr. Stephen) have said. Truth and knowledge of God is ultimately acquired experientially, and these experience comes to us – as a gift of God’s grace – based on our faithfulness to Christ. I hope I am expressing this correctly.

  67. I read this when it was fresh, and then set a reminder to read it again – and again, and again. Today was my first re-reading.

    The first reading was, I believe, the day the obituaries for the late Justice John Paul Stephens appeared. He was noted for his first amendment religion clause opinions, in which I always noted what I thought was complete tone-deafness about the interiority of religious (specifically Christian) living. His view of religion seemed to be approximately what you describe as the naturalist/secular worldview — not unexpected from a guy I suspect was a naturalist/secularist — but beyond that and he seemed to “have no idea that any other Christian worldview exists,” including a worldview that had already (mostly) become mine somehow though I was Evangelical born and bred, and was years away from even suspecting that Orthodoxy was my true Christian home.

    The blank stares I got when I noted Stevens’ tone-deafness, even from other Christians, puzzled me. I now see, partly as a result of this wonderful blog, that in philosophical terms Stevens was Nominalist while I had become substantially Realist, and that even most professing Christians are Nominalists, too. They don’t really believe in the “things … invisible” the Creed says God created; there’s just (1) the visible and (2) God. (Or if they believe in the invisible creation, they don’t think it’s relevant. I, too, struggle with this.)

    C.S. Lewis said something to the effect that “if you can’t put it in ordinary language, you don’t really understand it.” Thank you for understanding, and giving concrete application to, the strikingly different religious eventualities of these two philosophical schools.

  68. Reader John
    Thank you for the kind words. It actually comes as a gift to me today. I’ve been involved in a conversation regarding (from my side) the relationship of the unseen to the seen (the Kingdom of God and its inbreaking in history) and was struggling with the thought that what I have written on that general subject is not understood very well, or misunderstood and that some think I’m saying something almost heretical. That last bit might just be the sound of my neurosis!

    But, your words suggest that at least something of what I’ve written makes sense and is of help.

    Thanks

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