“That Which is Lacking” – Is Jesus Enough?

The average Christian, reading his Bible in happy devotion, stumbles across this passage:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church… (Col 1:24)

The passage is particularly disturbing for a certain strain of Protestant thought that emphasizes Christ’s sufficiency for all things. Christ has accomplished all things necessary to our salvation and we are thus able to “rest” in His completed work. For many, this is at the heart of grace. God has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves. What remains is for us to trust that this is so. Christ declares, “It is finished.” There is nothing left for us but trust.

This sentiment recently came crashing into a discussion of the Russian novel, Laurus. I attended (and spoke) at the Eighth Day Symposium in Wichita, Kansas. The presenter, Jessica Hooten Wilson, had spoken on the Russian novel, Laurus, in which the lead character enters the long, arduous life of a holy fool following the death of a woman and her child, a result of his own inaction. Wilson made mention of a review by Alan Jacobs (Baylor University) that described its spirituality as “Hindu,” and castigated its approach to Christianity. He wrote:

…though I know that Eugene Vodolazkin is a Christian, I remain uncertain about just what vision of the Christian life is being held out to me in this book…. In Laurus…long, hard spiritual labor pays for sins, as it does for the world…1

Vodolazkin nowhere characterizes Laurus’ labors as a payment for sin. Indeed, the concept is foreign to Orthodox thought. It is an absence that is so profound that a Protestant professor of literature felt the need to supply it, and with it, distort a beautifully Orthodox novel. In the discussion at the conference, a Protestant participant agreed that the novel seemed strangely unable to “rest” in Christ. Inasmuch as I am often not in dialog with Protestant Christians, I was caught off-guard by these observations. I forgot how foreign all of this is. Happily, it is also foreign to the New Testament.

Whatever one might think of grace, the work of Christ on the Cross in no way removes the work of the Cross from the lives of believers. We are baptized into the death of Christ, and continue to say throughout our lives: “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live” (Gal. 2:20). It is Christ who taught that we ourselves must take up the Cross and follow Him. There is no “resting” Christianity made available by a substitutionary work of Christ. The work of Christ is a matter of participation (koinonia) – we are baptized into it, live through its presence in us, and do not cease to share in that work, ever.

It is always difficult to listen to what is actually being said and not try to hear a conversation that is not taking place. Salvation, in Latin Christianity, was made captive, rather early on, to the language of “grace” and “works.” Within what would become a dominantly juridical framework, grace and works were easily externalized, raising questions about who was doing the “saving.”

When St. Paul says that he is filling up “that which is lacking” in Christ’s afflictions, he is either subscribing to some form of Pelagianism, or he simply has no notion of a juridical salvation. No doubt, the latter is the actual case. When he says that he is crucified with Christ, St. Paul means precisely what he is saying. Indeed, it is the deepest cry of his heart:

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him –  the power of his resurrection, and the communion of His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:8-11)

This has nothing of the language of earning, much less external grace and works. It is the language of the most intimate, mystical communion.

We know a little bit about this experience, for it is common in relationships marked by intense love. The coldness of a conversation regarding who did what, or what is owed to whom, has no place in such intimacy. Love speaks in terms of union. It wants to share in the deepest manner possible the life of the beloved.

There appeared a rift in Protestantism within its first two to three centuries. That rift, to a large extent, represented a deep dissatisfaction with a cold, sterile presentation of the life of grace. Early Protestants almost universally held to a doctrine of “cessationism,” teaching that miracles ended when the New Testament was completed. What remained were the rather mechanical/intellectual doctrines that assured of salvation. Dry as dust.

The reaction to this was the birth of Pietism, in a variety of forms and places. At its worst, Pietism’s emotionalism led to extremes of belief and practice. At its best, it produced holy lives and gave heart to what would have been little more than a dry death to Western Christianity. Inasmuch as Western Christianity survives our present difficulties, it will be the heart born in Pietism that saves it (or so I think).

The transformation of the Pietist conversion experience into the doctrine of being “born-again” has tended to confuse Pietism and classical Protestantism, framing the experience of the heart in the rigid language of doctrinal necessity. Like many aspects of Protestantism(s), fragmentation in doctrine and experience has been a continuing and dominant feature.

Classical Christianity, in its Orthodox form, is very rich in its vocabulary and stories of the human experience of God. It is always “ontological” in its approach to doctrine, meaning that doctrine is always about “something-that-is” and not about a theory, or a juridical arrangement. Because “something-that-is” is capable of being experienced, it is always seen as quite natural that the work of God has a describable, experiential component. If I am being crucified with Christ, it is inherently the case that such a thing is experienced in some manner. In the case of a holy fool, it might look a lot like the Laurus character. He must be contrasted with the middle-class American who sings happy songs on Sunday, perhaps even moved to tears, satisfied and assured that Jesus has taken care of everything such that he can safely return to the banalities of his life. Isn’t Jesus wonderful!

The simple truth is that the Kingdom of God “suffers violence, and the violent bear it away.” (Matt. 11:12) The gospel engages the whole person and assumes that we will love God “with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind.” That such an engagement might be described by some as “works righteousness” is merely indicative of a bifurcated Christianity that has placed God in a second-storey doctrinal reality, while the secular party rages here below.

Thank God for the Lauruses sprinkled across the historical landscape. The unity of faith and experience exemplified in their sometimes stormy lives whispers hope that God dwells among us and loves us, willing Himself into the messiness of our crucified existence, ever-straining Himself into the depths of our being, while we strain to respond in kind, enduring “that which is lacking in the afflictions of Christ” – our own response to His love.

Footnotes for this article

  1. “Russian Brahmin,” First Things, April 2016.


  1. Coming from a Protestant background myself, I will have to add Laurus to my reading list. It sounds like I could learn a great deal from it.

  2. Stranger still on the Jacobs review: he originally used the term Brahman, not Brahmin suggesting he is not particularly familiar with Hinduism, let alone (historical) Christianity: works vs faith aside, the model of purification, illumination, theosis is fairly hard to miss in the Greek tradition.

  3. Thank you for this, Father.

    Obviously, I have a long way to go and easily–even without my noticing–fall into the trap of pitting works against faith, law against grace, etc. I often feel trapped by my Protestant theological training, which sees everything as coming from some system of thought, but Orthodoxy can’t be systematized, as you show, only lived.

    Excuse me, I have some living to do.

  4. I read Laurus a few months ago and found it nothing but wonderful. As an ordained Lutheran, I have always found Prof. Jacobs brand of Christianity foreign.

  5. Fr. Freeman,
    I love this! Thanks so much for this article! It really gets to the heart of Christ in me and I in Christ, I think.

  6. I believe this, Father, yet he has showered me with so many blessings I cannot begin to count. I must learn to obey and sacrifice more. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

  7. Yes, we look like Holy Fools to others…..however just a few short phrases in your article tell me the meaning and worth of this manner of living in Christ.
    *Something that IS
    *Being experienced
    *I am crucified with Christ
    *Happy songs; moved to tears
    *Kingdom of God suffers violence and the violent BEAR IT AWAY
    *Endurance is our own response to His love

    Thankyou and God bless!

  8. Thanks, Fr. Freeman for this teaching. I’m still carrying a lot of Protestanism inside, and sometimes my mind gets clouded with these false concepts, all of which I must die to. This helps to understand where I’m going in my following Christ.

  9. Thank you, Fr. Stephen.
    A couple of months back I had requested that you look at Col. 1:24 from an Eastern Orthodox perspective. I was so pleased to see what you have written here. When I was a Protestant, I sometimes felt like I was living Peggy Lee’s song, “Is That All There Is?”
    Lately I’ve been acutely aware of Phil. 3 and Mt. 11 which you quote. In these Christ calls us to a deep mystical union with Himself, as well as in many other places in the NT…”that they may be one, as you Father are in me and I in you, that they also may be one in us….” Jn.17. I have memorized these passages…still somewhat reticent to pray the Phil. 3:10 passage. Yet I do pray that I may, like St. Paul, count all things loss so that I may more fully realize the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ.
    Yes, experiential knowledge of the Beloved. Thank you again, Father. Your words expand my heart and yearning.

  10. Father, you were the delight for me at the conference, Jessica Hooten Wilson was amazing as well but you enlarged my heart. She fed my mind. Good food but not quite the same. Thank you.

  11. Father your post also reminds me that whatever intellectual and even experiential templates I have there is always more to the truth.

  12. Fr. Stephan, Meeting you again in person, and sharing the time we did and the talks you gave last weekend, made this post even more significant. We must at times appear as fools, when we reject so much of what so many believe to be absolute truth. In my 72 yrs, I have gone to, studied, or been a part of – a great many religions or belief systems. From Quaker to New Age – looking for what I knew of God to be true. I was raised Episcopal; became Catholic in college; and was a part of many protestant churches. I even taught Sunday School in a small town Methodist church when my kids were young. I found something lacking that somehow inside myself I just knew I needed to find. I was told, when discussing what I knew and believed to be true – “You are Orthodox, you just don’t know it!”. This happened several times, and I always felt drawn to St. George Orthodox Cathedral, but never knew anyone there, so I never entered. God intervened in 2009 and sent me an Orthodox husband, who attended St. George. The first time I went inside the narthex and looked into the sanctuary, I felt the most wonderful sense that I was finally HOME! The Jesus I met as a young child – was depicted exactly as I saw Him – above the sanctuary. Mary was there too, and the icons of her reflected the loving mother who appeared to this grieving mother in 1971 – holding my baby son. I knew I had found where I belonged. My grown children think it is odd, and still worry a bit that I have joined some kind of cult. They had seen me go to many places thru the years, so trying to explain to them the difference has become a long term project. They expected that I would change again to something else – but becoming Orthodox is not like joining a protestant church. When you are chrismated – you are transformed. You are changed. I did not join the Orthodox faith, I AM Orthodox now. My faith is a part of me forever. It was a surprise, to discover how much wrong information I had been taught thru the years. My husband Michael is a very learned and well read Orthodox, who has been my mentor. God loves us beyond anything we can understand, and asks things of us sometimes that I suppose do make us look foolish to some, but there is always a reason. I believe that strongly. It is both a blessing and very humbling. My comfort zone is frequently breached. Thank you for sharing so much wisdom with us!

  13. Robert, et al
    I have not meant here to be overly critical of Protestantism – it is what it is – and most of what it is came about in a largely unintentional manner. The sterile Protestantism, exemplified in the extreme of Cessationism, has almost disappeared. What remains is a wide spectrum that is very hard to quantify. There was a very critical comment that I did not post that seemed both defensive of Protestantism, as well as critical of the Orthodox experience.

    I have no doubt that the Orthodox deserve all the criticism we receive. We’re a mess and frequently get messier. But what I have written is not to be understood as some sort of comparison between Protestantism and Orthodoxy – except to describe Orthodoxy in its classically stated form. That classical form is, and should be, a highly integrated reality of doctrine and experience.

    At present, what exists (particularly in the internet versions so many people encounter) is a highly immature Orthodoxy, necessarily the case when Orthodoxy has only spoken English since about 1970. We think too much, talk too much, and pray too little. As such, we fit right in to the American scene!

    We are all very impatient. God is saving us – glory to His name.

  14. Aware your comment is not addressed to me, I would like to respond though, saying that perhaps it is best to remain within the Orthodox topic and not make comparisons although they can be helpful at times, they might still offend those who have transitioned from another denomination to Orthodoxy. I have heard in my own personal life, comments about my former denomination that are so entirely incorrect and it was offensive to me even though I was in the midst of conversion and I took the steps to correct it as well as prove it. We have to remember (and I am not saying you are doing this,) that just because one converts, does not mean he or she is in total disagreement with all of the teachings of his or her former denomination. I am only mentioning this, because I have seen this happen before where offense is taken – not taking sides – merely an observation from my own experiences. God bless!

  15. ““that which is lacking in the afflictions of Christ” – our own response to His love.”
    Thanks so much, Father.
    Never heard this teaching back in the days of “Is That All There Is”. And the tying in of Mt 11:12…now I see what is meant… the afflictions that are inevitable with our response to participate. Yes Father, it is “something-that-is” experienced.

    Still thinking about that “intense love” you spoke of. That it can only speak in terms of union. Surely this kind of love finds its eternity in God.

  16. Maria,
    Given that we live in a culture that has been largely formed and shaped in the world of Protestant thought and practice, it is impossible to speak of Orthodoxy without reference to that context – without shrinking the topic to a level that no longer speaks to our lives. I served 20 years as an ordained Protestant minister and did professional theological writing in that context. I don’t write with uninformed opinions, nor as a mere polemicist. Most Protestants, in my experience, have very little knowledge of Protestant history, even the origins of their own denominations.

    I try to write responsibly on those topics when a subject requires it – as does this topic.

    Given the very brittle nature of everybody’s feelings these days – it’s also impossible to write in a manner that avoids offense. So, I just do the best I can. I will note only that I have a fair number of very loyal Protestant readers who find my work to be helpful to them. Not a few are themselves in positions of leadership and ministry.

    Thanks for the advice and observations.

  17. In Orthodox America, where the majority are converts, it would be kind of hard not to make comparisons of ‘before and now’. Conversations would be insincere and quite dull if you couldn’t share your experiences unless you use just the right words so as to not offend. I’m talking about a reasonable conversation. But reasonable is relative now, isn’t it…
    Sorry Father. You just finished saying “we are all very impatient”. Yes, I am.

  18. In my journey toward union with Jesus I have been immeasurably helped by many Protestants because of their love of Jesus. Protestant theology is, forgive me, deeply flawed in many ways. Yet, I have met many Protestants who shine with His presence. Those are the people I remember with Thanksgiving and joy even as I continue to object strenuously to how that is described. I came to Christ experientially long before I came to the Church knowingly but every true encounter with our risen Lord is of and through the Church.

    That is why my wife and countless others feel at home when they first enter an Orthodox Temple. It is why I did. The theology I have learned since then has served to give substance and context and understanding to what I have seen.

    If formal theology gets in the way of that put it aside.

  19. We think too much, talk too much, and pray too little.
    This is sadly true. Coming from a traditionally Orthodox environment I must say we often take it for granted that our faith is the true one but unfortunately do very little to endeavor to participate in God’s grace. In a way, we lack the violence of the prayerful manner. Our arguments are abundant in human logic We seem to be neglecting the foolishness as well.

  20. God is with us and loves us. That’s what the Laurus’es, in their holy foolishness, impart to us.
    Where’s the Laurus’es today?
    Are we filling that which is lacking?
    Father…what can we glean from this unexpected turn of conversation?

  21. I personally have been surrounded by Protestants in both my personal life and social life as I was growing up. However the topic of their faith never came up although some did attend Church. I was raised Roman Catholic and coming into Orthodoxy was a deepening and straightening of the path I was already on. I already knew before my conversion to Orthodoxy that some things were misinterpreted even in prayers and rituals, as well as being cut out altogether. In Orthodoxy, this was not going on and I cherished what they seemed to cherish – the faith and Tradition as handed down from Jesus to the Apostles. These are the only 2 influences I had in my life in terms of denominations and in speaking with a Monk not that long ago, he said, “When we have found the Truth, why do we need to compare?” Getting on a path we trust as Truth and staying on it is important – the old paths can become challenges and a distraction and that takes us away from the H Spirit because it can cause confusion. I realize my experience may not be someone else’s – but God does call us each in His own way for His own purpose. God bless…..

  22. I personally have been surrounded by Protestants in both my personal life and social life as I was growing up. However the topic of their faith never came up although some did attend Church. I was raised Roman Catholic and coming into Orthodoxy was a deepening and straightening of the path I was already on. I already knew before my conversion to Orthodoxy that some things were misinterpreted even in prayers and rituals, as well as being cut out altogether. In Orthodoxy, this was not going on and I cherished what they seemed to cherish – the faith and Tradition as handed down from Jesus to the Apostles. These are the only 2 influences I had in my life in terms of denominations and in speaking with a Monk not that long ago, he said, “When we have found the Truth, why do we need to compare?” Getting on a path we trust as Truth and staying on it is important – the old paths can become challenges and a distraction and that takes us away from the H Spirit because it can cause confusion. I realize my experience may not be someone else’s – God does call us each in His own way for His own purpose. God bless…..

  23. “When we have found the Truth, why do we need to compare?”
    Because it helps identify our journey, the many facets that impact our lives.
    Father’s works on modernity point out to us the effect of Protestant ethic. We swim in it and do not realize its depth. Several comments reflect this realization.
    There is no need to censure this type of dialogue. That is why we come here Maria, to grow in the Faith and to have our eyes opened to reality.

    You give advice to Fr Stephen on how you think he should write? You think that’s needful? I find that quite presumptuous and disrespectful.
    That, Maria, was my initial reaction and what fuels my thoughts.
    Lastly, the monk’s statement you quote should not be taken as a universal “rule”. It does not fit well with this discussion. We need to talk…and we need to know when not to. It’s a process.

  24. I too have had relatives whom I love very much who are/were Protestants or Roman Catholics.

    Nevertheless the theology from these Christian groups is heretical.

    In addition to this, most encounters in my life with people (mostly from Protestant persuasions) who attempted to evangelize others did and said reprehensible things. A extremely few of these many and varied experiences of my 65 years were helpful toward bringing me to Christ (and actually was unintentional on their part).

    Fr Stephen’s blog is helpful as a teaching source for catechumens coming into the Orthodox Church. There isn’t a way to clarify the Way than to point out the problems with these pre-conceived understandings, especially for those who enter from these backgrounds.

  25. Father Stephen,
    This topic on faith and ‘works’ is something that I’ve encountered in my own conversations with catechumens. It goes back to an understanding of what sin is ontologically and what the cross is in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.

    What does ‘take up the cross’ (Matthew 16: 24) mean ontologically? The non-Orthodox translation I have heard is that Christ ‘takes up the cross’ so that others don’t have to.

  26. Maria,
    Comparison, as such, is of no use. Comparison as a means of clarifying and teaching is not only useful, but necessary. Indeed, pretty much every theological writing of the fathers is filled with comparisons. Not only is the truth declared, but what is not true is demonstrated as false. When we raise children we do the same.

    I’m glad you seem to be having a peaceful journey, untroubled by surrounding errors. As you note – there are a variety of experiences.

  27. Dee,
    The notion that what Christ does is done so that we don’t have to is pretty much a pernicious lie – at the very least, a great delusion. All that Christ does in and through Himself is done so that it might be done in us and with us as well. He died, so that we might die with Him, so that we might live with Him. Secularism, to a certain extent, is born out of the notion that Christ has done it all so that I don’t have to.

    If we removed every verse from the NT that described our shared work in and through Christ, there would be almost nothing left.

  28. I am not saying the topics should be censured; only that there will be different views on it with people coming from a variety of backgrounds and personal experiences. Their personal experiences are also what they thrive on more than a written article – at times. When one writes articles publicly, of course there will be comments that are liked and at times not liked. Sometimes digging and searching or re-searching, can be draining and meaningless – for some. I personally am very happy in the Orthodox Church and know why – I don’t need to rehash anything else and find the articles on Orthodoxy, feed and deepen my faith. If the Protestant topic fits well for some, so be it – but it might not for all – we have to understand that. God bless!

  29. Yes of course Fr Stephen we need to compare to get to the Truth. I am pretty sure when the Monk said to me, “When we have found the Truth, why do we need to compare?” – he is referring to becoming obsessed and once you learn or know or come to understand, let it go. Someone instructing or earning degrees will of course be more aware of these differences and speaking of them more often. One who is living a simple faith day to day, may not be thinking that way – it really isn’t part of their life. Now, this is not to say – one should never read or listen to something with comparison if they so desire – but it does mean, they might not feel the need to know it – they have already reached a point in their faith journey and receiving grace, to know what they need to know and continue living it. Sometimes God will lead and give us what we need to know in a very profound way too, for our own safety and precaution as well as deepening our faith. God bless…..

  30. Maria,
    Good point. More than once I’ve seen people get stuck in various intellectual pursuits – trying to figure out where civilization went wrong is a common example. In the long run, at some point, all of us have to come to a place in which we are simply going deeper into the truth without distraction. It is a great blessing if someone has made their way to such a place.

  31. Yes indeed, Father, and with that mindset exists an intentional blindness to the delusions that lie in our own hearts. I’d rather have open eyes to my own delusions. But peeling back these layers off my eyes is hard work. This culture and it’s religions make such endeavors a hard work. Hence the ‘violence’ that is referenced.

  32. You see Father – even with all this added chatter, something good came out of it – it was all a learning experience for me and I believe we found a common ground! It helps one to know themself.

    Thankyou and God bless…..

  33. An excellent presentation on the application of Grace, the Pauline teaching on the individual persons unity with the atonement of Christ is rightly presented as a mystical union with the Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints and Angels as well as the Holy Souls in Purgatory and the Faithful. Far from any quid pro quo (pelagianism) or merit system on the one hand or faith alone on the other, grace as described by Saint Peter in the New Testament is a “…participation in the divine nature of God who is love.”

  34. Father,
    The fact that many get stuck, as you say, in various intellectual pursuits – the example you reference (trying to figure out where civilization went wrong) is good illustration of yet another distraction impersonating a spiritually respectable pursuit.
    But the blessing “to be going deeper into the truth without distraction” is so infrequent, that I can think of but a handful of people, mightily exhibiting this; and to complicate things further, they are primarily monastics.
    The quintessential specimen for me would be Aimilianos of Simonopetra.
    Due to his unceasing and exclusive remembrance of God, as well as his relentless vigil, was observably blessed from a youthful age with a “pillar of cloud to guide him on his way by day, and a pillar of fire to give him light by night” (Exodus 13:21).
    This can, of course, be considered from the outside as a ‘no-win’ situation. Equally it can be seen as quite the opposite: a ‘win-win’ one, as well.
    As an expression we say in Greek (often to kids disinterested in food) goes: “the eating generates the appetite” (when clearly, we all know that the appetite is what drives you to eat)…
    What I mean is that it can seem like a frustrating catch-22 that the Elder’s (and by extension our own) daytime and nigh-time undistracted appetite for God alone, comes from a daytime and nigh-time undistracted appetite for God alone…
    I assume this frustration (of seeing the ‘no-win’ in the situation) is felt when we’re prompted without desiring to be prompted, while when something, somehow touches us and inspires us, we easily see it as a ‘win-win’.

  35. Dino,
    I don’t think anyone, whether monastic or not doesn’t struggle to the very end (at least from within their own perspective). Wouldn’t you agree? The dwelling in the Truth ‘without distraction’ involves a persistent ‘violence’, I believe.

    Father please correct me if I’m off target. I just don’t think the path gets any easier as we grow, in fact I think it becomes more difficult.

  36. I certainly wouldn’t know if a ‘plane sailing’ spiritual life can be achieved on those levels. Certainly, even the living saints who entered the spiritual sabbath still had struggles until the very end.
    However, despite their continual ascent involving continual struggle, what I see in those spiritually supersonic souls is that once they broke the spiritual sound barrier, they don’t so much struggle with distractions… as we do, but have a struggle we know little of, namely the struggle of going deeper into the Truth.

  37. Loud laughter! “Where did civilization go wrong”. Easy, when Adam and Eve hid from God. Nothing has changed. Everything falls apart and the center does not hold when we hide from God, or worse worship the idol of our own mind as God.

    Each time my heart breaks and tears are brought forth in my contemplation of God, He is there. Each time I think to myself how clever I am, He is not as close.

    I had a moment of tears this last weekend. My mind has no remberance of what induced the tears but I know that healing is occuring because if it.

    The practice of repentance and celebration of the Lord’s Holiness is what the Orthodox Church has. I have encountered nothing else like it anywhere else in my journey through the New Age; the Reformation and the Church of the Papacy.

    Of course, the Orthodox Church quite often looks like a tumbling down shack full of strange things and stranger people. Why would anyone enter such a place? Only if Jesus Christ Himself invites you and blesses your presence. He does that in myriad ways usually quite intimate and often hidden. Frequently in the midst of great personal pain.

    If He does that strange decrepit shack will open out into a glorious home where He can be known to the degree that each of us can handle. Be forewarned however, He does not leave you as He found you. There is always an opportunity to go higher up and further in. Fortunately He has provided us with wise and knowledgeable guides.

  38. Dino, indeed for therein lies the struggle to make it to at least the foot of the Cross and perhaps, by Grace, enter into the Bridal Chamber with a new garment worthy of the feast to which we, the maimed, the halt and the lame from the highways and by ways are invited.

    May His mercy be on all of us.

  39. “In the long run, at some point, all of us have to come to a place in which we are simply going deeper into the truth without distraction. It is a great blessing if someone has made their way to such a place.”

    I find as a catechumen of the Orthodox Church, this idea seems difficult to find support for. I have had no lack in theology, which I do love, and liturgical services, which are wonderful, but rarely have a chance to talk with clergy about how to interpret personal experiences in an Orthodox context to understand how to move forward(inward?/apperception). I have been a catechumen over 6 months now and have only had this sort of conversation once with a priest. It seems like the ontological message of the church sometimes is, ‘sink or swim!’, which is probably a little cynical on my part, but it’s hard to sort out my internal divisions on theology and liturgical services alone. At least for me.

    I most likely don’t have proper expectations, but those have been hard to determine as well. How often should I expect to speak with a priest regarding my inner life at the church? Are catechumens given less consideration because, who knows if they will stay? In many ways it’s the friends we have met that keeps me going, not the fact that I have learned much about how to integrate Orthodoxy into my being. I would say my catechumenate has been harder than I had anticipated in this regard. That might be normal, but I am not sure on that point either.

    Thank you Fr Stephen for your blog. It has been continually helpful

  40. Fr Keebler,
    You come to an Orthodox blog and speak of Purgatory. You know we do not believe in Purgatory. And I suspect there would be disagreement on your view of atonement as well. What is on your mind?

  41. Michael, it was not until I was had been Chrismated for about 14 years that I began to get some Orthodox understanding of my experiences. Time in the Church is quite different than outside the Church.

    My dear wife frequently describes her entrance into the Church as being thrown into the deep end of the pool but contrary to what it seems at times there is always someone (seen or unseen) looking after you. The saints are quick to respond if you call upon them as is our Mother, the Theotokos.

  42. Michael,
    Hang in there. Part of the difficulty lies with the distinction between the Orthodox life way and the modernist life way (which is nearly invisible to us). When I was a catechumen I did ask lots of questions. Nevertheless worshiping in the liturgical services on a weekly basis provides experiential learning, which is quite hard to describe. I was a catechumen for about a year and a half before my baptism. But still ever learning and yes still find distractions hinder my prayer life, though I persist to return my focus to Christ and His mercy.

  43. I remember listening to Fr. Thomas Hopko in a podcast where he was telling his story of struggling with this quote and going to ask one of his professors what is lacking in the suffering of Christ. The answer has stuck with me: “what is lacking is your participation in it.”

  44. Paula, wow. I appreciate Fr. Keebler posting his comments regardless of their inclusion of Purgatory or not which I am sure he knows is not accepted by the Orthodox Church.

  45. “The notion that what Christ does is done so that we don’t have to is pretty much a pernicious lie – at the very least, a great delusion. All that Christ does in and through Himself is done so that it might be done in us and with us as well. He died, so that we might die with Him, so that we might live with Him. Secularism, to a certain extent, is born out of the notion that Christ has done it all so that I don’t have to.

    If we removed every verse from the NT that described our shared work in and through Christ, there would be almost nothing left.”

    The above comments that you wrote Father are pure gold. Thank you!

  46. Michael
    What I have learnt is that those personal experiences in an Orthodox context of moving forward and inward require a vivid ‘personal life’. This term makes no sense in its own in English (apart from the wrong one) I guess. However, what it means is the vivid face-to-face with the Lord in the loneliness of the quiet night/morning, as opposed to the communal services or the more active life of the day. If we want to sincerely know what is within our own power the most, (so as to do it) it is this: regularly putting oneself under His gaze like this, it has the greatest transformative power in one’s spiritual life of going inwards, forwards and upwards.

  47. Dee, Michael, and Dino thanks for the replies. They are all helpful.

    Dino I have been trying this for some months now, getting up earlier and trying to make that connection in my prayer corner. This has been when I have had the most striking moments of consciousness, usually during repetitions of the Jesus Prayer, that are difficult for me to understand. I have felt both anger and hopelessness there in morning hours. It is hard for me to understand what I am to do with that. I still don’t know. But I keep going back every morning. I try to keep an evening prayer rule too but sometimes I am weak and fall asleep.

    Thanks again.

  48. Response to Paula. Dear Paula, Both the Catholic and Orthodox funeral services pray for the repose of the souls of the departed. Before churches/fixed altars existed Masses were said over the tomb of the martyrs thus the unity of the Church with the communion of saints, meaning we do not pray for the Saints, rather we ask for their prayers. The point of a funeral is to pray for the repose of the soul of a deceased person which is applied to one who is on the way to Heaven accelerate their entrance into the communion of Saints. The term Purgatory is simply a description of the temporary state of the soul on its journey to Heaven.

  49. Michael,
    Have no expectations.
    It is not your time.
    It’s God’s time.
    Let Him have some expectations (of your childlike appearance before Him and nothing else) even though He needs nothing.
    Just ‘be there’.
    Good human fathers have unimaginable patience and understanding with their little kids’ frustrations.
    How much more does our Father in Heaven?
    Although a hope-full hopelessness is good, a healthy dose of praise and thankfulness can inject more of the hopefulness in place of the hopelessness in your Jesus prayer. Freely intersperse these in there…!
    May God bless you.

  50. Fr. William,
    I understand this description of Purgatory. It has not always been described in this manner – cf. the debates at the council of Florence in which St. Mark of Ephesus opposed the union and was highly critical of Purgatory. What you’re describing is not unlike an Orthodox understanding. Catholic teaching (from an Orthodox perspective) often seems like a moving target. 🙂

    Interestingly, Orthodoxy will pray for the souls in hell (and does so on the day of Pentecost). The mechanics (to use an awful term) of life after death have very different language between East and West – even when the intention agrees from time to time.


  51. Dear Michael. In my thirty years as a priest I would guess when one adds it up I haven’t spent thirty minutes talking about the papacy or the pope. People around here (Central Illinois) are parish focused. If the pope wanted to show up around here (he did! St. Louis 1999) people then talk about him and actually go see him, otherwise he isn’t a single thought in people’s minds.

  52. I am glad to see the theme of clarifying how Orthodoxy is not at all Hinduism

    Another gentle reflection on what saddens me about what I have noticed within Hinduism, as many of my family members are Hindu:

    It is like there is no anticipation that within a struggle a greater unexpected good might occur

    It is like each moment is a p.h. test, a strip of paper dipped into time, and if there is pleasure then you are good and if there is pain you are bad

    In Ravi Zacharrius’ book ‘Walking from East to West’ he describes an experience as a teenager, seeing an older man on a bike fall from the bike, hit his head and immediately die. He saw the crowd of people spread out around the body and no one touched the dead man and hours later, as he was on his trip back home, the same scene. No one had touched the man. Mr. Zacharius describes how this gave him the sense that ‘life is cheap.’ In India today there is no 911 for car accidents. I was told ‘the best you can hope for’ is for someone to locate your cell phone and call your relatives.

    Years ago I broached the question ‘why do we have bodies?’ with a group of teenage members of the Pure Love Club at a Catholic High School. One of the kids, a young man, answered perfectly. I remember my own heart lighting up when he responded. He said it was like a candle, and it was so that we could have something to direct our love towards.

    When I saw the selected picture above I had to look twice. It looked a bit Hindu to me and I just base that on an episode of a TV show where there was a rather emaciated and not sane looking Hindu priest interviewed.

    But when I think of St Julianna sharing with the poor it is very much an attitude of ‘I would rather you have it than me’ that I see in the saint. Love directed towards other. The vulnerability of the recipient, who is sick or poor, becomes an opportunity to know God’s providence and love.

  53. Fr Keebler,
    Thank you very much for your explanation. That was very helpful…and thoughtful.
    Fr Stephen, interesting reply you gave.
    I have learned a lot today. Thank you both.

  54. Nicole,
    Interesting thoughts. I had heard similar things – and it makes sense within what I know of Hindu thought – but I would hesitate to say them because it is really outside of my personal experience. The painting, btw, is Russian, and depicts St. Basil the Fool (St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow is named for him – not St. Basil the Great).

  55. Fr. William,
    The culture of Central Illinois Catholicism seems quite different than that in East TN. Here Catholicism is a minority and tends to have to think of itself in a challenging religious context. That’s true for Orthodoxy as well.

    In Orthodox lands, there are doubtless many things that are taken for granted that we in America give a lot of thought to. Context.

  56. Father. No doubt. I am from North Florida and I suspect the culture isn’t altogether different from East Tennessee. I was in third grade when President Kennedy was shot and remember the baby sitter coming over and asked why we were home from school and when my mother told her she clapped and said, “ Good! Serves him right.” I will never forget that. Also the little Catholic church was built in 1913 and the priest came from Saint Monica’s in Palatka; definitely a minority.

  57. Michael,

    Some thoughts on the catechumenate….

    In the parish in which I was received, my catechumenate was rather unstructured as well. The Priest just asked me to attend as many services as I could and when he saw after several months I wasn’t going anywhere, and knew I had done a lot of reading and study on my own, eventually asked me when I would like to be Chrismated. (Our backgrounds were also similar.) This approach would have been fine in a healthy parish, but that one had some issues, so the lack of specificity and direction left me feeling insecure and overly concerned about “correctness”, not sure if I was fitting in.

    My present parish now has monthly adult education and Bible study classes as well as inquirers’ classes from time to time on request.

    If I were a catechumen now and no regular classes were offered in my parish, I might try to schedule more regular meetings with my Priest or a catechist (one of our Deacons serves in this way) to ask questions as they come up. Your Priest may just be waiting for you to ask. On the other hand, it is probably often the case those of us coming from Evangelical backgrounds need to do less studying and rational exploration and more participating to get a real feel for Orthodoxy. I hope you are able to get to vespers/vigil and/or orthros/matins in your parish. A lot of the theological interpretation is in those hymns.

    I’ve found there’s no substitute for actually becoming Orthodox—the learning process is lifelong (12 years for me). I can’t tell you how helpful it is that all the Feasts and Fasts keep going through their annual cycle again and again. It doesn’t get old. There’s always something more to notice and contemplate….

  58. Father, your article nicely, and perhaps too gently, points us to the central deficiency in post-Anselm Western Christian thought (it’s not just some Protestants) – the greatly devalued notion of what salvation means. If one thinks it is just, or even mainly, a binary decision about whether or not we go to hell in a devalued notion of linear time, and indeed that this is the main thing that matters, then it’s not surprising that all the rest of the theological mess arises. While many serious Christians in the West personally, and even corporately, can’t help but develop or have broader notions, this particular thorn of ‘narrow’ salvation continues to cause almost nothing but trouble on a wide range of fronts. It really is a pity that the protestant Reformers did not throw out that notion of salvation at the same time as they were taking on “works”, but I suppose it is hard to win an ideological battle without a simple (if dangerous and simplisitic) idea (heresy – which then sprang other heresies?).

    I can’t help but think if we can help realign the eschatological landscape that shaped those ideas, then real salvation may then start to flow – like a river in a dry land even … Stories like Laurus are great, but do you know of a pithy and compelling explanation of the broader Orthodox notion of salvation that might be of use both in clarifying these matters for ourselves, and/or in talking with our Western Christian brothers and sisters?

  59. Ziton,

    You might try the video by Steve Robinson titled “Orthodox View of Salvation” (YouTube).

  60. Father Stephen…I have an odd question regarding the painting of St Basil. Do you know anything about the contents in the basket the man to his right is holding? It looks like miniature animals. But still hard to make out when the picture is enlarged. If it is animals, do you know what that is all about?

  61. Paula,
    I’m afraid I can’t help. The painting is by Vitaly Grafov. The woman on the left is selling pretzels (of a sort). The man on the right is selling some sort of food (I doubt it’s animals). It’s unclear.

  62. Oh, pretzels. I was wondering about that too.
    Thanks Father. It figures I would imagine and see animals in the basket!
    I’ll see if I can find anything further…thanks for the artist’s name.

  63. Ziton,
    I’m glad I managed to be gentle! I’m sometimes tempted in the other direction.

    I was thinking about this at the end of the day, yesterday. What I was pondering was the question of hell as the controlling idea within the narrative of salvation. Did Jesus die on the Cross to save us from hell?

    I think, given the narrative of Pascha, that I would want to say “Yes.” But, that only makes sense when hell is understood in a Pascha/Passover context. When hell is switched over into a juridical narrative, the sense of things changes radically.

    Imagine Pharoah’s Egypt as a penal colony to which various Israelites (but not all) have been sent for violating the Law. That changes everything. Pharoah can’t even be cast as the bad guy – just a manager of the Gulag. “Just doin’ his job.” In the PSA, hell has been changed into just such an image.

    The “mechanics” of hell and heaven that seem to fascinate so many people are simply lost on me. They either baffle me with imponderables or disgust me with toleration for the intolerable.

    I work hard within myself (and in my writing) to maintain a discipline that, I suppose, is a sort of “agnosticism.” I refuse to go where those questions want to take us. I stop at Pascha itself and try to think, pray, and live within that image, drawing on the texts and hymns of the Queen of Feasts. I remain willfully ignorant of what hasn’t not been told to me.

    Now, it is the case that plenty of fathers did not remain silent on this (one way or another). But what little they have said is quite tiny indeed when compared to the rivers of ink (or its digital form) that have issued from lesser lights.

    In a culture with the largest prison system in the world – in which the daily lives of its inmates are a living hell – it’s hard to expect anything different in the religious imagination of its people. We like punishment. We like it a lot. As I listen, I think most people seem to think that we haven’t punished nearly enough people.

    When I look at what seems an abject failure in cultural terms, it seems to me that such a construct would be woefully worse if were extended into an eschatological landscape. And, of course, it is. Middle-Class America is pretty much heaven for most of us.

    All of that is to say that I think this imagery and narrative are horribly wrong. However, I do not, and cannot make the leap into a narrative that contains more than I know, or more than I can say with full conscience. So, I say what I can – repeating the refrains of Pascha – and suggest that others do the same.

    The problem then, in talking to others, is how to have the conversation when they are fascinated with what they do not know, and cannot know?

    I think some who write and speak about the apokatastasis are trying to talk back to the stupidity and banality of the dominant Western narrative. But, I find that they say more and speak more than I can, and that I cannot join the chorus.

    There are a couple of moments in Scripture that remind me of how I feel (and how I try to feel). One is Christ’s answer to the disciples who asked if he would (at the time, after the resurrection) restore the Kingdom to Israel. He basically told them that it was none of their business. The other is His answer to St. Peter when queried concerning St. John: “What shall this man do?” Again, Jesus says, “What’s it to you?”

  64. Father
    That ‘what is it to you’ is often hard not to protest, especially when our hearts are typically governed by deep attachments masquerading as pure loves.
    Just recently in the comments of another article, a quirky quote of St Paisios (which basically describes the overwhelming light of the eternal Sun eclipsing the other stars in our full eschatological perception of the afterlife) was misunderstood (very understandably so) as but a ‘blessed lobotomy’.
    So our Lord’s word to St Peter is certainly one of the hard sayings in many ways.

  65. Dear Fr Stephen and Ziton,
    I sincerely appreciate your conversation. Ziton, I’m grateful your comment elicited Fr Stephen’s response and agree wholeheartedly with you.

    Father, your response to Paula Jan 30, 4:32: “Easy does it”, could have just as easily been said to me, because I too rankled that someone couched a Roman Catholic doctrine into a compliment to your writing. My priest rightly accuses me of being almost ‘over protective’ of you, so I held back and expressed gratitude to God that Paula spoke up.

    Then the conversation took an interesting turn in which the notion that purgatory, a word historically used to represent a doctrine that the Orthodox do not believe, now represents something similar to that the Orthodox do believe. I’ve also seen similar treatments among the Roman Catholic writers on the Filioque. And even more recently, I’m hearing claims that Orthodox iconography and it’s history has always belonged to Roman Catholic worship, and that the meaning of the Eucharist is the same. I’m even hearing that the Roman Catholic and Orthodox history is the same, ignoring everything post 1054.

    All of this seems to be an easy way to make an argument that the Orthodox and Roman Catholic have more in common than what they have different. In my parts of the world, they are even claiming (last couple hundred years) Orthodox history in the US as their own.

    None of these obvious acts to obfuscate differences (sometimes described as acts of “peace”) is helpful for describing the Orthodox life way, whether to catechumens, or to someone I love who is not Christian, and from what he hears (apart from me) ‘they’re all the same’.

    Indeed we are all the same. We’re all sinners.

    Fr Stephen, please forgive me. You indeed have a gentle heart. God bless you in your work!!

  66. Dee,
    I appreciate the instinct towards protection. It’s a kindness.

    I mentioned to Fr. William that Roman Catholicism often presents a “moving target.” There has been a quiet revisionism in popular Catholicism – about which I don’t know enough to write authoritatively. It’s just something I see. Fr. William’s example – a sort of “kinder, gentler” purgatory without much of the legal baggage that surrounded it for so long, is an example.

    In truth, many of the arguments and points that Orthodox (and some Protestants) have made for years have quietly influenced popular Catholicism, and even magisterial Catholicism to a certain extent. More than that, I think, there has also been a bit of influence from modernity itself that has smoothed some of the edges, etc.

    That said, it’s very difficult to discuss anything with moving targets. A softening and a smoothing (and such) are not at all the same thing as officially renouncing certain false ideas. It’s more like becoming fuzzy enough that co-existence becomes ever more attractive. That is a thoroughly modern approach.

    The ecumenical movement masks a very dangerous set of ideas. If the doctrinal differences do not matter so much – what does matter so much? What is the point of unity if it is not a unity in the truth? There is an answer to that question and the answer is where the danger lies. The false unity creates a toothless, rather meaningless institution, that ultimate serves the dominant powers of this world.

    Orthodoxy has, in a number of official documents, condemned globalization for a variety of reasons. I wish these would be better fleshed out. If we were to forget the fictions of the nation states and just look at the global economy – we are very close to a one-world government that many have wrung their hands over for so long. I believe that such global arrangements are exceedingly dangerous and vulnerable to the demonic. I will add that I’ve become increasingly interested in the ideas associated with Distributism – When Tolkien, Solzhenitsyn, and Chesterton all think something is a good idea – I tend to want to listen!

    The truth is never fuzzy. Sometimes its so particular that it is impossible to articulate. God is the least fuzzy thing of all. He is transcendently particular – which is why He is ineffable. Modernity wants Him to be ineffable because He’s so general and fuzzy.

    All that’s to say that I prefer not to engage fuzzy versions of Catholicism, or Protestantism, or Orthodoxy, for that matter. Nothing is all the same, btw. We all sin in very unique ways.

  67. Thank you Father Stephen! Your kind words have helped smooth the bristles. And your last words about sin made me smile. Indeed we do sin in very unique ways. Please forgive me.

  68. At the risk of over stepping: we and the RCC agree on almost nothing these days especially when like words are used. The rift is getting wider not narrower. That being said, I think it is critical to separate the person from the doctrine and dogma.
    I have gained respect here for the actual piety held by RC believers who have posted here.
    Purgatory is one of those concepts that fit into the unknown that Fr. Stephen wisely brefuses to speak about. The RCC version rather over defines the mystery and mercy of our Lord as we approach the Dread Judgement Seat. It is as much a juridical metaphor as PSA. It is massively linear. Talking about it tends to drive the conversation into a juridical/managerial mode which is not fruitful.

    Jesus’ mercy is not our mercy. I do not comprehend His mercy but I am grateful for it. That is why we pray: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me, a sinner. Especially the best of us. A complimentary pray is: “Fmather forgive them, for they know not what they do” which can be prayed for me pretty much any time. I am an unfruitful servant of my Lord. I suspect, thelogy aside, that Fr. Keebler is much more fruitful.

  69. Father Stephen I hesitate to ask more questions. I don’t want to go off topic.

    Since I haven’t read all the authors you mention, do they all speak favorably about Distributism? I ask only because I know very little and don’t pay enough attention to the global scene, which you describe. I’m grateful for your pointing to these larger influences which play into the discourse between RC and Orthodox. The context you bring to this discussion is very helpful.

    Michael Bauman, you give others the benefit of the doubt, which is a good thing. Obviously I’m not so inclined and I do pray about this. I do separate the person from the doctrine. But I don’t know the people who contribute here, and much less those whose contributions are new or rare. My ‘witness’ if it can be called that, involves behavior not words. And for me, behavior speaks much louder than words.

  70. Dee,
    The authors mention all champion the local over the larger, more distant. I’m not an economist or political theorist, so I don’t write on this stuff. But, essentially, the theory of Distributism favors ownership – lots of it – everybody – and more localized economies rather than national/global economies. There’s something fundamentally wrong about going to a grocery store and all of the fish you find being from China (that happened to me a few years ago). That’s nothing about China – but the further removed from the local anything is, the more power is concentrated at higher levels (and wealth, etc.). It can, indeed, produce an abundance of cheaper goods – but it also masks a lot of things. What can I possibly know about fish in China?

    Of course, all of this is far removed from anything I (or any of us) have power over. I suspect the time for this sort of thing has passed (at least for a time). But it might be something to bear in mind for future generations. As God wills.

    But, there is a sort of “Distributism” in our daily lives worth considering. Live local as much as possible. Pay attention to what and who are around you. Try to resist the temptation to think about larger things (that is things that are far away and such).

    We get stirred up about political things as they are made known to us – but the information is filtered and spun so that we think only about stuff that someone wants us to think about – and not of our own choosing. At the same time, a bill will pass congress with over a thousand pages, creating laws you never hear about (until it’s too late). The system is too large and removed to even be spoken of in the same breath as democracy or republic.

    But, Christians have lived, and thrived(!), in much worse circumstances. What matters – for real – cannot be touched by the hands of these sinful people.

  71. Thank you Father Stephen for your explanation. Indeed you describe my sense of things but I really find it difficult to speak about it, lacking the vocabulary, etc. I should read these authors.

    But your mentioning the influences of globalization also provides a helpful context for the drive to obfuscate the differences between RC and Orthodoxy. The bigger picture is helpful.

  72. Dee, you are too kind. If I “give others the benefit of the doubt” it is simply because when I frequently don’t I end up with a hard fast boomerang to the face. I tend not to like that very much. Just the other day a gentleman opined to me that he felt I was hard core. I do try to give others the courtesy of expression of opinion as I really like the same. Fact is, what anybody who believes in Purgatory or PSA is irrelevant to me. I am less inclined to be accepting of ideas and beliefs within the Church that go against the grain of the faith delivered to me. Mostly, I try to be obedient to the rules of the blog.

  73. Dee, I love the theory of Distributionism but the problem with it is the greed that lies in our hearts. In practice it would require a lot of regulation. There is the rub. It also tends to ignore the historical reality of even tribal societies seeking to expand trade and influence over larger and larger areas.
    There is something about it that simply will not work as a system. Nevertheless what Fr. Stephen says that each of us can practice a sort of personal Distributionism. It is not easy.

  74. That said, it’s very difficult to discuss anything with moving targets. A softening and a smoothing (and such) are not at all the same thing as officially renouncing certain false ideas. It’s more like becoming fuzzy enough that co-existence becomes ever more attractive. That is a thoroughly modern approach.

    This was the first thing I thought of when I was reading this conversation. The “smoothing of the edges” is not a good thing; it is a thoroughly modern thing that is about conformity (within a Nominalist approach) and “equality”.

  75. Father, Dee, Michael, etc….
    Well, wow. Talk about an unexpected turn of events. I wanted so much to forget about yesterday that this morning I commented on miniature animals and pretzels in St Basil’s picture!
    Father…it must be the protective mothering of the woman that causes us to protect that which we love. I’m not sure, but I think Dee would go to the extremes that I am famous for…that is, to protect at all costs and with all the risks and repercussions. It is like a whirlwind. I knew I was overstepping my bounds in my comment to Fr Keebler, but call it what you want, I couldn’t let it go, for the reasons Dee so eloquently said. Even after I apologized I asked God to forgive me, but not for what I said, but because I really wasn’t sorry! I was miffed way before I saw Fr Keebler’s comment. Mercy!
    Michael, my comment was not meant to be a personal attack. I can and I do separate the theology from the person. I have said similar things in the past, in an SSA discussion. And regarding ‘face to face’, person to person, communication.

    Father…you are a gem. And this blog community is like none other. Thank you for telling me to take it easy. I will listen. But I can not guarantee it won’t happen again. I try my best to tone it down, but sometimes…..

    Dee, your comment and Father’s response about ‘particulars’ is so very true. Many thanks! In turn, I can so much better understand your defense of Orthodoxy (incl the blog) in light of your instruction to catachumens, as your students. I can understand your challenge – how to properly teach ‘exclusion’ (hard word, isn’t it), while at the same time everyone begs for total common ground. It’s the same issue with closed communion. And imagine if all non-baptized had to leave the Liturgy at the exclamation “The Doors The Doors”!

    Thanks Dee. Yesterday was pretty tough. When I read your comment my first reaction was to simultaneously laugh and cry. Talk about healing the passions.

    Father…I learned a new word. Distributism. Briefly, it sounds much like globalization. Another ‘ism’ I will look into. What you said about the one world govt and all, is that not what is referred to in Revelation. As a Protestant, we covered every inch of those teachings. What you said sounds familiar.
    I’ve learned a lot from you on this blog, Father. You have the patience of Job, as they say!

    Thank you all. Very interesting day. God is good.

  76. Michael,
    You’re, no doubt, right. Oddly, I was thinking about all of this in light of the latest virus to come out of China. AIDS came out of Africa and largely spread first, through a human vector who worked as an airplane steward, and therefore traveled a great deal, as well as through the bath house culture within the Gay community that encouraged thousands of sex partners – ridiculous levels of promiscuity. The result was millions of needless deaths – from a virus that, under earlier circumstances, would have likely never left its obscure corner in Africa.

    Of course, the Black Death is thought to have originated in China as well, and to have traveled along trade routes until it reached the West – killing 1/3 of the population at its height.

    China, and some of the peculiar circumstances of its culture, has been a breeding ground for new flu strains. They have been on-guard about these things because they have been expected. The world is poised for a world-wide epidemic at some point – as an inevitability. Time will tell.

    Those virus stories are simply tiny examples of the effects of global trade – and, I know someone could write at length about the benefits of global trade. Historically, many things such as the expense of infrastructure and such, tended to keep capital in its place. Now it is nothing for foreign capital to buy up local things. Good? Bad? I’m not sure.

    I do respect the notion in Scripture that God has set the people “within boundaries” and that boundaries are, on the whole, good rather than bad. Of course, I do not suggest that as an absolute.

    I minor thing – I feel very good about the fact that I live and serve in a part of the world to which I am native – Appalachia. It means I’m tuned in, somewhat, to local needs in a way I could not be in, say, the Northwest. Those lessons can be transferred – but not absolutely.

    Southern culture has been seriously diluted over the past 4-5 decades – perhaps for the better – I don’t know. But it does matter. Just thinking out loud a little today.

  77. Hello everyone. 🙂 New reader here. Fuzzy protestant and not offended. 🙂
    The martyr’s story in A Hidden Life shows us the path of suffering for Jesus. His wife and family also suffered. That is one kind of suffering for us to bear up under. And then there are those sufferings we cause upon our own heads (Laurus losing Justina), the sufferings others cause to us (Like Laurus walking away from the widow and her son who so desperately loved and needed him) and then the sufferings we don’t choose (perhaps a terrible cancer or a virus; Laurus losing his friend Abrogio to the thives) and then there is just the banal sufferings of being in relationship with other humans. We know this as the nagging spouse who makes it better to live on the rooftop, the 11 year old sister who calls older brother a jerk and the tattling brother, the overtired toddlers who cry for no real reason, the husband who is gone for work for days on end and leaves the tired mama of many children at home alone. If we were willing to take on suffering, even for these banal, everyday, unavoidable things, what would that look like?
    I’ve been thinking about suffering differently since reading Kristin Lavransdatter and Laurus, reading the Brothers Karamazov, the Eighth Day symposium and watching A Hidden Life. This teaching about suffering has to impact how I look at the small irritations and big stresses of my life. It has to impact how I help my children learn how to bear up under the things that bother them.
    I’m just wondering if there are others who’ve thought about bearing up under the weight of ordinary daily struggles.

  78. Paula, G K Chesterton wrote about it. It is also often called The Third Way. Lots of different approaches and ideas about. There is a bit of global Distributionism going on if that is not an oxymoron with mircoloans and the various businesses that week out locally crafted items and agricultural goods to sell world wide.

    Like all economic systems it is filled with many internal inconsistencies and external hypocrisies and dreams. All economies get messy really quickly in practice. All economic systems are pretty irrevocably paired with a particular form of government too. That is why the study of them is often called political economy.

    Distributionism in practice would require a stable and dynamic confederation. Few historic examples of such. The Iriquois Confederation is one of the longer lasting ones. Matriarchal by the way. That is not irrelevant.

  79. Andrea,
    “Fuzzy” can sometimes be endearing. Good to hear from you.

    St. Therese of Lisieux wrote about her “little way,” which consisted of precisely suffering with patience the little things. It is she who said, “If you can bear serenely the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a place of refuge…” one of my favorites.

    Her book, The Diary of a Soul, is a great spiritual classic.

    Since I’m not a martyr – I only get the daily irritations, most of which are inside my head. Oddly, my most displeasing thing is the noise of my ADHD. I still struggle to bear it serenely. It causes embarrassment from time to time, even though I probably would not be who I am without it. The children are all grown and gone, so I don’t get to have them torturing me (smile). And, now that I’m “Pastor Emeritus,” I am even somewhat removed from the normal irritations of parish responsibility.

    Of course, when life becomes to calm, I can turn on the TV for about 5 minutes, or look at a page of news on the computer and find enough irritation to save a monastery full of monks!

    Do you know Fr. Tom Hopko’s 55 maxims? They are priceless gems for the little life:

    Here’s a link: https://holycrossoca.org/newslet/0907.html

  80. Michael
    in a sense there’s a kind of localised Distributionism with a stable and dynamic central confederation on Athos for centuries.

  81. “do you know of a pithy and compelling explanation of the broader Orthodox notion of salvation”

    I’m also looking for this. But I also think there’s merit to “understanding through obedience” per George MacDonald.

    The problem in modern society is that most people’s basic needs are met, so religion gets focused on “what comes next?”. My life is under control, but what about the afterlife? I want a model I can manipulate and end up in a good place.

    Maybe Christianity makes more sense as a way of life only if you’re poor. At a homeless encampment or prison for example, sharing things in common and forgiving your enemies isn’t for Sunday only. The poor’s choices have more import. The widow’s mite is greater than the burgher’s tithe.

  82. Dino,
    “Just be there.” So simple….so true. Thank you! Reminds me of a great line Fr. John Oliver wrote in his great book “Touching Heaven”: “Don’t just do something, stand there!”

  83. Michael…ok, the Third Way, trying to enliven the dying smaller towns. I do believe I’ve witnessed some of that in my small town. What I have seen is the ‘town counsel’ wants very much for the town to grow. They try to promote new businesses, but they can not thrive in this economy. There is no insulation from big govt. There are more empty storefronts than there are local stores. The exception is the two large corporations…Safeway and Walmart. Then you have the locals (like me) who do not want the town to “grow” because we moved to a small town for that very purpose. Yet, if you live simply, you can buy what you need locally. Rarely do I go to the city for an item I need.
    Another thing you see is that the counsel members are very eager for the construction of new homes. So these developments are built (by out of town developers) and the luxury homes barely sell. In the meantime, there is a substantial number of houses that have been foreclosed or are simply for sale that can be bought at a lower price. And even if the new homes were to sell, where would they shop for their home furnishings? Not here. This is largely a ‘yard sale/thrift store’ town. They will arrive from the city, and continue to work in the city, and buy in the city.
    So if that’s what you mean by some of the inconsistencies, I understand!

  84. Welcome Andrea! The Symposium was a wonder (to me)! I very much hope to make the entire weekend next year.

    Maybe Christianity makes more sense as a way of life only if you’re poor. At a homeless encampment or prison for example, sharing things in common and forgiving your enemies isn’t for Sunday only. The poor’s choices have more import. The widow’s mite is greater than the burgher’s tithe.

    There is much to this thought, Scott. The world thinks of itself as rich because of material possessions and (arguable) economic stability. Christ and His Church tend to consider those things somewhat unimportant (I don’t want to say, or imply, “absolutely”, as that is not correct). Poverty is “desirable” (as far as that word goes) only in the sense that it furthers communion, which is the greater of our needs. Just my thoughts.

  85. Paula,

    I will recommend the blog “Granola Shotgun” for insight into why the economy you’ve described is set up in that manner (build new, etc.). It is an interesting, and bizarre, economic system we live within. And it is not healthy.

  86. Thinking about poverty, maybe it’s Grace that makes you smaller against your will so you can turn more easily. The Rich Young Ruler was too big to turn.

  87. Scott,
    I would think that the difficulty of getting a rich man through the eye of a needle (proverbially) is based not on his past actions so much than his present state of mind (heart). Of course, living in a culture where most people are rich by any traditional measure means that very, very few can reach the place where they can speak reliably about the Kingdom (since they are not there yet).

    I’ve been pondering, the last several days, how many people are quite comfortable with the abortion of babies – indeed, many of them believing that it’s a good and compassionate thing to do. What astonishes me is that these are often “good” people by American cultural measures. I would suggest that anyone capable of reaching the conclusion that these are not really human lives and that they are disposable is capable of believing almost anything that makes our way of life more convenient – if they are told it often enough by the right people.

    That means I have very little trust in anything in our culture at all – because there’s not much that separates the anti-abortion folks from the pro-abortion folks – not much more than a tweak, here and there. That’s sort of alarming.

    On the whole, the poorer nations of the world value high birth-rates and see children as a gift from God – while the wealthy see it as a danger.

    The poor have the gospel preached to them. The rich are sent away empty. The lessons in all this are pretty obvious – and pretty easy to find in the gospel. We fear poverty. We should fear wealth.

  88. Thanks Byron. I will definitely check out “Granola Shotgun”. I do recall you and Drewster mentioning that site.

  89. “The poor have the gospel preached to them. The rich are sent away empty.”
    Father, you’ve quoted those words recently in another post. They are similar to the beginning lines of a mealtime prayer in the Ancient Faith Prayer Book:
    “The rich have been sent away poor and hungry, while those who seek the Lord will not be deprived of any good thing”…..
    So few words but so rich (!) because it is true. It is one of my favorite prayers.

  90. Stanley Hauerwas, theology professor at Duke whom I quote a fair amount, was once invited to the richest Southern Baptist Church in Texas. He was asked to speak on “business ethics.” He shocked them when he said that there could be no possible “business ethics” within that congregation’s membership, unless and until everyone there declared publicly how much he was worth.

    Made me smile.

  91. All riches, material, intellectual, emotional etc, tend to become tremendous obstructions to our heavenly ascent. It is always a sobering thought.

  92. Andrea…Hello! Cute intro you give!
    I like what you said about how to look at small irritations and big stresses. As a compliment to our Christian lives, we are provided with books and films that skillfully present the subject of suffering where we have the opportunity to consider what it is all about. You mention the suffering that is bound to happen in close relationships, such as family, as well as that which we cause “on our own heads”.
    Now it is strange, but you’d think that someone who has been single (like, forever), who has not had to deal with the fracas (fracas? 🙂 ) of those daily family irritations you describe, would be at an advantage in peaceful and quiet surroundings. But I have found that not so. Because since you are the only one around, you find the ‘self-caused’ suffering amplified ten times over. It is true, and I think our monastics can attest to this, that the war as well as the peace largely…I’d say…exclusively exists, within the soul. You have a troubled soul, you will be troubled in the most joyous place among the most joyous people…and visa versa.
    The quote Father gave from St St. Therese of Lisieux…”If you can bear serenely the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a place of refuge…” ,
    would be a monumental achievement ! Serene? When I sleep, maybe. But seriously, St Therese speaks the truth.

    Glad you commented here, Andrea. I will remember to consider….
    Thank you!

    Father…very witty, Mr Hauerwas!

  93. Dino, your are correct I suspect. Unfortunately, Athos is far from my awareness. It is both stable and has controlled access and an active sense of sacramental Providence which is a core virtue necessary for Distributionism of any kind to work. Traditional monasteries are all a bit like that.

    Paula, you are experiencing more anti-distributionism I fear. But your story does illustrate some of the difficulties. Without a common and dedicated love of God it is not possible. The Amish also come to mind but they are slowly being crushed.

  94. Thank you Father for your long reply to my post, and for your subsequent elaborations, particularly in your response to Dee. There is much there to chew on.

    I get that salvation is a deep mystery and that great care needs to be taken around it. In addition to the examples you and Dino gave, I often come back to that conversation at the last supper between Our Lord and Thomas and Philip in John 14. I feel a great deal of sympathy with them both : “but we do not know the way” and “show us the Father and we will be satisfied”. To which the enigmatic but also mysteriously detailed response seems to be variations on “I am in the Father and the Father is in me”. Yes, it’s a mystery and I can see why the pondering of Pascha, and attempting to re-imagine for people the eschatological landscape, is the safer and probably more personally appropriate strategy. I also have great admiration for the man born blind in John 9 who when put on trial (twice, like Jesus) was simply to describe what he knew, and avoid attempts to be drawn by the pharisees to talk about other stuff. Of course he was cast out of his community, but did meet his Lord whom eventually he was now able recognize …

    It’s also unfortunate, though, in terms of the matters raised in your post. To the extent salvation is a central idea but not clear as to details the temptation is always to add stuff in. Doctrinal mysteries that are explicitly paradoxical in their formulation like the Trinity and Incarnation have an inbuilt resistance to that, even if they need to be fought for sometimes. Salvation seems particularly prone to slipping and being degraded, and in the west has not only done that, but moved it to the center.

    Its utter centrality to western Christian thought is perhaps most evident when the thing some modern evangelical protestants seem to be most interested in finding out when talking to other Christians (including any of the historical denominations talking of divine mysteries) is some version of “but are you saved?” They see this as the only thing that really matters, and if you don’t know the answer to that, then your religion is perhaps not of much worth or interest to them. The fact that it the question is parsed in that way that it is underlines the way that they really do see salvation as a binary thing (saved/not saved) and it is something that happens once – for many of them at the time of initial conversion and/or baptism, or for some having had a “rebirth” experience. I rather suspect many evangelicals do regard this as “ontological” in the sense that that notion of salvation comprises an (almost) irreversible change of state of being. But as the main work has been done, lots of the rest of traditional Christianity (notably sacraments) just falls away as so much magical thinking, or (heaven forfend!) “works”, That notion of salvation is such a strong distortion field that almost every other Christian idea gets warped and distorted by it, a bit as if a smallish black hole had replaced the sun in the solar system. Suddenly everything gets moved out of place to circle the salvation theory e.g. sin, saints, Pascha (salvation was achieved on the cross .. ), the nature of ‘God’ even – a point to which I think your article was alluding. And theologically if anything goes to close to it, it just gets sucked in.

    And it gets worse as the Good News of Jesus Christ gets reduced to “you were going to hell and you deserved to because your ancestors 6000 years ate some fruit they were told not to, but now you don’t need to as long as you truly believe in and accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior”. (That is a caricature, but not much.) And then the modern society who increasingly has no real contact with Christianity or Christian stories any more thinks that is what the religion is about. It is not just evangelicals who do that, of course. The western church has been doing it since the high middle ages. Fear of hell (and its avoidance) has indeed been the principal reason offered up as to why people should embrace Christianity being the “good news”. What a travesty.

    As it is, in conversations on the rare times when things come up I tend to improvise based on personal experience. To earnest evangelicals asking me the “but are you saved question?” I hope I would be able to say something like : “I think I am both saved, but also in the process of being saved. I am on a journey with Jesus who is my way and my light and is leading my to the Father – salvation is an active process in which my poor sick soul needs to become free of its many shackles, become enlightened and see clearly, and learn to love. I am, as St Peter said, like a new born infant who is suckling on milk so that I might grow into salvation (his words). But salvation is also ultimately a mystery. I hope to participate in a deep peace that passes all understanding and an indescribable joy when I arrive at the father shore and see my Lord face to face.” I might also draw on the Exodus story too, as being the correct big picture allegorical model, as I think you were alluding to in your reply (?)

    My hope would be in such a conversation not so much as to try and defend the faith (which surely needs no “defending” in that sense, least of all by me?) or, worse, to attack their position, but rather to find ways of broadening the conversation and offering another perspective on what true religion might look like, recognizing of course that any real movements are from the Spirit. While something like that may have some good points if actually true (personal integrity being the key factor – o alas my behaviour …), Of course I worry about unintentionally misleading people into error, and/or misrepresenting the gospel – or even just being “fuzzy” (!!!). Hence my desire for something else that is good and authoritative I can point people to.

    I apologize for that very long piece, but as I hope you can sense this topic is both very interesting and personally important to me, and I felt a need to explain my earlier request. I hope it has been sufficiently on topic. You can blame your good article, and your thoughtful and caring follow ups if you like (“no good deed goes unpunished” as the saying goes 🙂 )

  95. Ziton,
    Sometimes, I get a bit “naughty” in my responses to the “are you saved” conversations. Jesus does this – He ignores the question and asks The Question. The Question will vary from person to person and it’s fairly rare that we get to know it – sort of a prophetic insight when we do. I suspect that every other response is pretty useless.

    A fruitful meditation: “Jesus, what is the Question of my life?”

    I know a priest who met St. Sophrony back when the priest was a college student. He had a brief conversation with the saint. I don’t recall what it was, but St. Sophrony gave him a “word” – said something to him that has guided the whole of his life since. He later became Orthodox and a priest.

    I had a woman do this to me – I was a young Anglican priest and met her. She had been an Anglican nun but had become Orthodox. I met her and was curious about her conversion. Then, I babbled on and on with my confused thoughts viz. Orthodoxy. She finally, quietly, looked at me and said, “Fr. Stephen. You think a lot. Someday you’ll think with your heart. Then you’ll be Orthodox.” I remember it like it was just today.

    I met her years later when I was with my family visiting an Orthodox Church during our conversion. I reminded her of the story. She had no memory of it. I have never forgotten it. It was a word from God – such a rare thing.

    I still think too much.

  96. And I talk too much!

    Father, for a minute there I suspected you were that man who spoke to St Sophrony. (?)

    Ziton…What you describe I can not argue. Because I was an Evangelical Protestant for 12 years…whole hog into it. You are pretty accurate in your descriptions. But if I may, please, I’d like to say one thing that may or may not mean anything to your conclusions. That Evangelical church was the very place I fell in love with Jesus. And I never stopped. It was there my life changed and took a turn onto a different path. I need not say more, except – there are many many others in those churches who’d be shaking their heads “Yes!” “Amen…me too”. Many. I am very grateful for that time of my life.

    God is in control…as we used to say. He is….

    That’s it. Thank you. I do appreciate your comment, Ziton.

  97. “salvation is an active process in which my poor sick soul needs to become free of its many shackles, become enlightened and see clearly, and learn to love. I am, as St Peter said, like a new born infant who is suckling on milk so that I might grow into salvation (his words). But salvation is also ultimately a mystery.”

    Yes, but for Evangelicals (I was one), Hell isn’t a mystery, so how to avoid it better not be a mystery either. Hell looms so large that it’s taken out of their hands except for a confession of belief, then the rest of the work is done inside an inter-Trinitarian accounting transaction. The way the trade is set up, no finite being could be a party to it. Good works then become after-the-fact evidence that your confession was genuine, which explains away the works stuff in the book of James.

    Everything hangs on belief. Still sinning the same as before? Maybe you lack gratitude because your belief isn’t genuine, so go down the aisle again and start over. Altar calls feel like a second, third, or Nth baptism. Like a sleepy trucker who pops a benny. Zing!

    I’m not criticizing altar calls. It’s really the only form of Evangelical confession, since you have to get off your fundament and walk up past everyone. It’s not like you admit the details, “I pocketed some Chiclets at the TG&Y without paying”, but you’re admitting in front of everyone you fell short and want to do better. The walk of shame that leads to glory.

  98. This quote by Elder Aimilianos spoke to me tonight. I think after living life in the Orthodox Church a few years in, one tends to find an abiding peace in simply letting God come and be. One comes to Church “feeling” God’s presence. Our minds enter our hearts. Hearts uniting to Christ. It’s not so much about decisions, knowledge, or our thoughts. This is all from the neck up. It’s deeper, entering our hearts, allowing Christ to arise. It’s being and being in His presence, with Him.

    “When we are coming to church, what are we looking for? Fish in a desert? No, we are looking for that hidden “inward meditation” of the heart which unites us to Christ….The same thing happens in the church where you are mystically and sacramentally united with Christ. In and through your inward meditation on these things they will become a reality….In order to find Him strive to enter into that hidden, inner meditation and you’ll see that He’ll come of His own accord. You’ll see the heavy stone roll away from your heart and He Himself will rise!”
    ~Elder Aimilianos, The Way of the Spirit

  99. Thank you Father for another lovely reply, which nicely cuts through all the other stuff, including my pretentions. Your encounter story is delightful, as is the nun’s Word to you. It speaks to me too, even though I wasn’t there. (As you can probably tell, I suffer from the same affliction.)

    I shall take your suggested meditation to heart and see where it goes. I rather think I’ll be coming back to it a few times.

    That said, I do have a favorite question. I was pondering it again and circumstances when – almost too remarkably – up popped the Elder Aimilianos quotation from Anonymous so please allow me to share in case the coincidences and resonances mean something.

    I have always found it remarkable that Jesus’ first words in John’s Gospel (1:35) is a question – and what a question – to two would-be disciples : “what are you looking for”. The circumstances are that two would-be disciples are hanging around with the Forerunner (at least they had started hanging around with wise people), on what is a new morning when Jesus walks by. Unlike the synoptic accounts, Jesus does not come up to them, or call them out. He just walks by. I rather think this is the way many real truths work : they are often around for some time before we notice them, and even then it takes a wise person to point them out, as indeed the Forerunner does as he tells them “there is the Lamb of God” (an appellation that presumably does not mean much to them at this stage) but, we are specifically told “they heard him say this”, and start to follow. It is at this point that Jesus turns around and asks them “what are you looking for?”. Very first words. Deepest teaching ever in my books. It’s a total arrow question that pierces layer after layer of our (my at least) armor, and the answers to which change as I walk the path. I could go on and on about it, but I’ll leave it.

    Given the Elder Aimilianos quotation though, it is perhaps worth noting that the disciples response – which is first to name Jesus as their teacher (the first proper relationship) and then immediately ask him a rather impertinent counter question without having directly answered his – which is “where are you staying?” While impertinent, it is what any real interested student will want to know.

    To cut to Elder Aimilianos : When we come to church what indeed are we looking for? Isn’t it indeed to find out where the Way, the Truth and the true Life of things dwells? “Come and See”, He says (this is not an answer I can easily just tell you about, you need to experience it …?) “And then they stayed with him the rest of the day.” Thus begins Jesus ministry of redemption.
    AND going to your point Father, in this here is indeed a near a perfect model of real evangelisation I rather think. The Question is the thing!

    Apologies for another long post but, as I said, the coincidence was just too spooky to leave alone.

  100. I first read Laurus in the winter of 2016 and count it among my very favorite books. There is so much I could say about it, but the most important thing is that while reading it, my heart burned with recognition.

    I hope it’s okay to share some of what Evegeny Vodolazkin said in various interviews about writing Laurus. These quotes echo much of what Fr. Stephen and others have been discussing:

    Vodolazkin described Laurus as, “The history of a man’s soul”, yet the book’s subtitle is, intriguingly, “a non-historical novel”. It is ultimately “a book about absence,” he said, “a book about modernity.”
    “There are two ways to write about modernity: the first is by writing about the things we have; the second, by writing about those things we no longer have.”

    Vodolazkin says that in modernity the human being is at the top of the hierarchy. In the Middle Ages, at the top of the hierarchy was God. “In our post-Christian society, God very often is not present in our life at all.”

    “The massacres we have seen in the 20th century, no one in the Middle Ages could have imagined. Despite what you might have heard, a human life was estimated very highly in the Middle Ages. When they say that humanism appeared only in modernity, it is not true.”

    “I don’t do politics. If a journalist asks me for my political views, I answer normally that I have no political views. As a Christian, I deal with each event separately, and I try to judge it from a Christian point of view, of right and wrong.

    “I have a theory – well, theory sounds too serious, but I have an idea. Each phenomenon has different dimensions or, better, levels, and the political level is not the highest one. I am certain that the reasons of social events lie in the human soul. It is a concrete soul, where grows aggression, and this aggression echoes with the aggression in other souls.

    “I suppose nobody believes that Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s death in Sarajevo is the reason for the First World War. Everything was ready for the explosion; the assassination was the spark. Or, consider the Russian Revolution in 1917. Normally, history books tell us that it was a very difficult situation in Russia – there was hunger, starvation, and so forth. But we had much more difficult situations than that [before] in Russia, and did not have a revolution.

    “The reason of these events is the united energy of individuals. … We have to work with individual human beings, and their souls. My position is one of Christian personalism. The main thing we can do to fight this evil is to pray… To do something politically is not so effective. Politics is a result of the situation we have in our souls.”

    (It is important to underscore that Vodolazkin’s Christian “personalism” is very different from modern “individualism”. )

    Except for what he describes as “the gathering of the Holy Spirit”, culture is for Vodolazkin the second most important work that we can do. He cites one of his teachers, the historian and scholar, Dmitri Sergeyevich Likhachov, who wrote that the main thing that justifies the existence of a nation is its culture:
    “Every day is an eternity in the church, and all that surrounded these people. Eternity made time very long, and very interesting. Their life was very long because they had as part of daily life this vertical connection, the connection to the divine realm, a connection that most of us in modernity have lost.”

    (Most of these quotes were taken from two posts on the blog Garvan Hill: https://garvan.co/2016/03/08/modernity-laid-bare-i-the-history-of-a-mans-soul/ and https://garvan.co/2016/03/08/modernity-laid-bare-ii-the-beetle-on-the-road-to-munich/

    In a comment above Fr. Stephen wrote:
    “…it is impossible to speak of Orthodoxy without reference to that context (i.e. western forms of Christianity) – without shrinking the topic to a level that no longer speaks to our lives.”
    And yet, that is exactly what Vodolazkin did in Laurus. Vodolazkin shows us the Way with a story about a person on a journey that is in stark contrast to our modern lives and the “journey’s” people talk about today. Here is Arseny, who is set apart from the world he wanders even while immersed in it, whose wandering appears to be aimless even while it is guided by sorrow, mystery, love.
    Vodolazkin: “I tried to say with (Laurus) that there is another way to live: the way of the saints. It is not an easy way to walk, but maybe we can walk alongside it.”

    Thank you and God bless!

  101. ScotttTX
    Perhaps an issue with the evengelical reductionism vs Orthodoxy (I could be wrong, just thinking out loud) is that the first has a smallish view of Man and a large one of hell. Orthodoxy has a large one of man, [who in his participation to Christ becomes universal – encompassing (as St Sophrony says) , deep roots in hell and high branches in heaven- and a small one of hell (CS Lewis shares this ontological view in his Great Divorce).]
    This clearly affects how we perceive salvation /theosis. It is an increasing intimacy and even ontological Union with the One who encompasses absolutely all including Hades, yet does not get swallowed up by it, rather he offers Life abundant even to those utterly dead and deeply buried, (as He did in a more concealed form when he came down to those who often ‘loved their darkness more than light’ because of their works.)

  102. Yes Ziton. He comes to us right where we’re at. Just like the disciples. Plain fisherman. Blue collar workers who knew their sacred writings (what we now call the OT- whatever parts they had back then), but not a thing about the psychological, philosophical, sociological analyzing we do now in our modern minds. Yet, it doesn’t matter.
    We change, as frequently as the world turns (like the old soap opera), but Jesus is the same, yesterday today and forever.
    I can not speak for anyone else. I only know what I know. If it was “from the head up”, a complete emotional reaction back in my evangelical days, so be it. That is exactly where Christ met me. He knew what I was looking for. I didn’t. I was too busy trying to climb out of the pit. I’m still climbing.
    Christ arrives in the depths of hell, and like the harrowing of Hades icon, lifts you out. The healing begins in such an encounter. Every day a beginning.

    One thing I’ll say. My analysing as an Evangelical was miniscule compared to the analyzing I find myself doing now! It gets exhausting sometimes. It is good to take a break and give a lot of thanks. It is like a washing of the Water.

  103. Paula, I encountered Christ to a degree too, in the Evangelical church–I believe through meditating on the Scriptures. I am learning experientially, as St. Dionysius the Aeropagite taught, that the Divine Liturgy is higher than the Scriptures. I believe this pertains to entering the heart. I used to love to spend time with God in His Word privately, but I remember so often how I would feel frustrated, often finding the church services distracting from meditating on a heart level. Now I thank God everyday for bringing me to His beautiful Church: a sacramental life that washes, cleanses, unites….the Saints who help us come closer to God…..the beautiful iconography and hymnography…..one truly has to begin to experience as words are so limited in conveyance……but yes, I am so thankful too. So thankful.

  104. Sue,
    Thank you for these wonderful quotes. Vodolazhkin is an amazing writer and his thoughts seem very much on the mark. Considering them, I would, no doubt, revise my statement regarding Western forms of Christianity. However, I offer this observation: the soul in modernity is, to a large extent, the soul of Western Christianity. It is the cultural starting point of modernity. As we live out the struggle of salvation, it is (in Orthodox terms) the salvation of the West.

    Fr. Georges Florovsky had, I think, amazing insight into our present time. I have a couple of quotes in mind from his Ways of Russian Thought:

    The entire western experience of temptation and fall must be creatively examined and transformed; all that “European melancholy” (as Dostoevsky termed it) and all those long centuries of creative history must be borne. Only such a compassionate co-experience provides a reliable path toward the reunification of the fractured Christian world and the embrace and recovery of departed brothers. It is not enough to refute or reject western errors or mistakes – they must be overcome and surpassed through a new creative act. This will be the best antidote in Orthodox thought against any secret and undiagnosed poisoning. Orthodox theology has been called upon to answer non-Orthodox questions from the depths of its catholic and unbroken experience and to confront western non-Orthodoxy not with accusations but with testimony: the truth of Orthodoxy.

    and this:

    Orthodoxy is summoned to witness. Now more than ever the Christian West stands before divergent prospects, a living question addressed also to the Orthodox world. Therein lies the entire significance of the so-called “ecumenical movement.” Orthodox theology is called to show that this “ecumenical question” can only be decided through the consummation of the Church in the fulness of a catholic tradition that is unpolluted and inviolable, yet constantly renewing itself and growing. Again, return is possible only through “crisis,” for the path to Christian recovery is critical, not irenical. The old “polemical theology” has long ago lost its inner connection with any reality. Such theology was an academic discipline, and was always elaborated according to the same western “textbooks.” A historiosophical exegesis of the western religious tragedy must become the new “polemical theology.” But this tragedy must be reendured and relived, precisely as one’s own, and its potential catharsis must be demonstrated in the fulness of the experience of the Church and patristic tradition. In this newly sought Orthodox synthesis, the centuries-old experience of the Catholic West must be studied and diagnosed by Orthodox theology with greater care and sympathy than has been the case up to now.

    For a time in my life, as I looked at Orthodoxy from an Anglican perspective, I imagined and longed for an ecclesiastical reunion of sorts. There had been a time when such a thing was discussed by both – and a time that, for some, this seemed possible. As years went by, it became obvious that such was a delusion. The Anglican world was drifting deeper and deeper into heresies and nonsense. If there was to be a healing, it would have to begin within the souls of particular persons. None of us sees the outcome of our actions, but, by faith, I take Florovsky at his word, and see that slowly – within my own soul – this drama of the healing of the West is taking place.

  105. Father and Sue,
    Excellent quotes and reflections. Thank you.

    It just occurred to me that politicization creates a polemical-mind set that colors much of our thought. Polemics create a false impression that the means to healing the soul will occur with improvement of outer conditions. Ideals are personalized, and persons are idealized. And the soul languishes. Doctrine, cannons, scripture, patristics, the wisdom of the writings of our Saints, in the hands of a western politicized mind-set is a hindrance to the healing of a soul.
    Do I understand this correctly, Father?

    So, since we can not know the outcome of our own actions, I’m not sure how we can speak assuredly regarding ‘solutions’, apart from the perspective of Church. That is, our presence together as persons under our Head, Christ, participating in the unfolding of God’s ultimate purpose for creation, the gathering of all unto Himself. But we *can* speak assuredly in faith that it will be done, and in faith we abide, we follow. This is the means of the healing of our own self…mind, soul, and body. The is the fullness of Orthodoxy we speak about. And when we behold another face, another person, know that they are in need of that very same healing.
    And we pray…on behalf of all.

  106. Fr Stephen,
    What you write on our wealth is a reminder of Luke 14:33.

    And as Dino mentions, wealth can be many things.

    The words that stand out in the scripture is ‘forsake all’. I believe this is the story of Laurus, isn’t it.

    I am constantly reminded how far I am from this path. And for that I’m grateful for St Therese’s words you mention above.

  107. “Do you know Fr. Tom Hopko’s 55 maxims? They are priceless gems for the little life:
    Here’s a link: https://holycrossoca.org/newslet/0907.html”

    Thank you. Fr. Stephen. Do we do jokes here on this blog? Fr. Hopko left off “Make Your Bed” of Jordan Peterson fame…..however there are still some gigantic life changing disciplines…

    “Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
    Don’t defend or justify yourself.
    Be merciful with yourself and others.
    Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
    Focus exclusively on God and light, and never on darkness, temptation and sin.
    Endure the trial of yourself and your faults serenely, under God’s mercy.
    When you fall, get up immediately and start over.
    Get help when you need it, without fear or shame.”

    Thank you, Paula, for speaking to me on the challenges of living alone.
    I was trying to type this while my 11 year old and 16 year old were arguing ridiculously in the kitchen over the pumpkin muffins one of them is baking to serve at church. I really appreciate the gift of your perspective at this moment. Blessings

  108. Father

    Thank you for those Florovsky quotes. They are helpful, and hopeful, and run deep. I was wondering about this line though, and wondering whether you may be able to help explain what it means: “A historiosophical exegesis of the western religious tragedy must become the new “polemical theology.” But this tragedy must be reendured and relived, precisely as one’s own, and its potential catharsis must be demonstrated in the fulness of the experience of the Church and patristic tradition.”

    It’s maybe in that context that I have also been pondering the opening line of your comment “the soul in modernity is, to a large extent, the soul of Western Christianity. It is the cultural starting point of modernity. As we live out the struggle of salvation, it is (in Orthodox terms) the salvation of the West.” I have been thinking – partly as a result of ScottTX’s and Dino’s comments about the relative size of hell in the western imagination (which I think is right – I have that black hole metaphor in my mind) – that maybe a root cause of the whole two-storey universe problem is the particular vision of what salvation is, and then the large focus on a particularly vividly defined vision of hell. Once hell and its avoidance becomes the point of the exercise (as bogey man), and set somewhere else, at a future point of no return, then that sets up a separation, followed by a need for a system to explain how it works and might be avoided, followed by a re-alignment of theological ideas around it, followed by a growing momentum towards theological systems of thought in general, albeit with some Aristotelian fuel thrown on that fire (I’m thinking Aquinas et al), all of which presages a general move into the head. Once the abuses around the increasingly complex salvific machinery really get going based on people trying to pull levers and manipulate the said machinery and system then the critiques of that start and people propose alternative machinery which then turn violent. Then to allow for society to function given all these disputes a truce gets called in which everyone agrees to differ on their views on the machinery and co-exist with these matters all being ones of “private conscience”. Thus is secularism born. If that is true, then you are indeed right that the soul in modernity is the child of western Christianity. I think maybe that is one reason I am so interested in getting to the root of the problem – not to criticize our western brothers and sisters who are in large parts victims of all of this – and many of whom in practice (as Paula pointed out) do startlingly well despite the constraints of a distorted theology (praise be to our loving Lord indeed who works all things to good ends!), and indeed perhaps do better in quite a few areas which we could learn from. (Met. Kallistos Ware has spoken on this.)

    I also agree with other commenters that while it is useful – for everyone – to try and get the analysis right, it is then important to figure out (feel our way into?) the best way of then ‘engaging’. As I think Paula was suggesting (?) polemical approaches just risk repeating the cycle the west got itself into and dragging us down the some whirlpool. Get to close to the black hole and they start feeding … So I think Florovsky is right. Love, healing, humility (!), proper peacemaking, discernment, honoring truth, beauty and goodness all come to mind.

    Intriguingly, you suggested that you see the healing in western Christianity occurring, and referenced your own soul. I am very interested in what you meant by that.

    Florovsky also suggested that a new ‘creative act’ is needed. Any thoughts on that? Do we wait for it to be revealed, or are we being called to envision that, and what do we individually do in the meantime? Presumably it is try, with God’s grace, to be the best version of ourselves until the right kairos arrives?

    One last thought: I have always found it useful to listen to the ideas in other religions and philosophies and versions of Christianity even. Even when I don’t agree with them, I have found the action of *really* trying to understand what they are saying and why to be of great benefit to me in clarifying or deepening my own understanding of things. I say that in part as a reminder to self about the spirit of engagement – I have been very blessed by engaging with other, and with a lived past much of which was no doubt very flawed.

  109. “Once the abuses around the increasingly complex salvific machinery really get going based on people trying to pull levers and manipulate the said machinery and system then the critiques of that start and people propose alternative machinery which then turn violent. Then to allow for society to function given all these disputes a truce gets called in which everyone agrees to differ on their views on the machinery and co-exist with these matters all being ones of “private conscience”.”

    Or your local prince’s private conscience sets the creed, in which case you’ve described the path from Luther vs. indulgences to the Peace of Westphalia. And so on from nations to states, until individual freedom of conscience.

  110. On a tangent mentioned earlier in the comments- Father it’s worth reading “the human icon” re. comparing and contrasting Hinduism and Orthodox Christianity at their best.

    I really love the book, “the young man, the gurus, and the monk (saint Paisios)”, however it is clear from Mangala-Frost’s work that this encounter with ‘hinduism’ would be equivalent to a Hindu coming to know Christianity through say Benny Hinn and the worst of televanglism.
    There is hinduism and there is Hinduism so to speak. Just as there is christianity and there is Christianity. The heart- everywhere- is the true battleground. If we fail to address the best and most sympathetic in alternative faiths and philosophies, we will never speak to the best of those persons who have approached the divine within the framework “they were dealt.”
    It is hard to see very much lacking in the Hindu Gandhi for example, but the Christian regime he was oposing was ‘full’ of what is lacking.

    Just a side comment, to recommend “the human icon” for a sturdy critique of Hinduism at its best.

  111. Also many thanks to the comment and links by Sue above, on Laurus.
    Reading the author’s own comments confirms my own experience of his book which I absolutely love for just the reasons he wrote it, I now learn.

  112. Paula, thank you. It’s a good article (of course.) I think that the issue of the centrality of Christ and his Pascha may perhaps be at the root of my problem with the whole salvation business in Western Christianity. Once one adopts an eschatology about “not going to hell, but going to heaven for all eternity” and embeds it as the center of the religious solar system and even amp-ing hell up to black hole status, this has the (no doubt unintended) practical effect of demoting Christ to being a cog (albeit a big one) in the salvific system – which then what we have really done is make it about us : while yes He is our Lord, His principal role in such a system becomes as being the one who paid the sin debt, and keeps on paying it, so with that done really we no longer have to worry about much because the end result is already settled (Father put that very nicely in his article). Rather than that of course it is Christ who is, and always should in our hearts be, at the center. He is the Sun, and all the other elements really orbit him. I think Hell only makes sense as a kind of outlying planet in His system (and in my view a rather mysterious dark outlying one at that, that really we do not, and cannot, know much about). His Pascha is indeed what matters, and it’s His. Our personal salvation, whatever that truly means, is at the end of it all really just a playing out of His ongoing creation. My own suspicion is (of course I do not know) is that our salvation will be to participate in his bringing all things (including hell) to Himself in the New Creation – but in a sense that has also already happened, and is still happening. Our Rescuer was the one who entered Hades to harrow it after all, and to bring out the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, to finally break their bonds, to His glory..

    Oddly, I don’t think of the ‘hell at the center’ problem of western Christianity as a sin a such, let alone the sin of a nation. I regard it is a very unfortunate, problematic and now very deeply entrenched (it now lies deep in the Western cultural psyche) heresy, and one which has spawned other heresies. Like most such heresies, it gained traction at the time(s) it did because local conditions were supportive – and perhaps too because that particular model does have a simplicity about it, and allows for people to build their own systems, which perhaps satisfies an underlying human desire for explanations that cut through and solve, and have the illusion of controlling, a problem. The cluster of ideas was also highly convenient for people in power – which is one reason why it has so often turned into kinds of ideology. While some sin – including group sin – has no doubt happened, I tend to think Western Christians are victims in this as much as anything. The real question for 21st century me, particularly in a hyper-consumerised, post-Christian, post-modern secular culture is whether it is possible or desirable to try and engage with our Western brothers and sisters about it. That includes whether that is my job, and if so the best way to do that. Father did not seem to think scripts really work, and that trying another tack about being intuitively open to people’s situation (and pondering ‘The Question’ for them) was an alternative, which was good feedback. Then the Florovsky stuff got me thinking again about the bigger issue, albeit I am not entirely sure I understand some of what he was saying. Ah thinking – I share Father’s slight frisson of (good-natured in his case) despair on that one! 🙂

  113. The truth is that the most prophesied event of history (Christ’s incarnation, Crucifiction and Resurrection) is simultaneously the greatest prophesy af all of what will be.
    The end of history is the ‘seeing Him as He is’ (incarnated, Crucified and Resurrected) in all His Glory and partaking in it, each to different degrees.
    Now the Heaven & Hell bifurcation, understood in this light, is just a matter of gradations.

  114. Ziton…Your ‘Ah, thinking…’ , seems to me Christ-centered, and is admirable!
    Regarding issues like heaven, hell, salvation – Father said it nicely…the ‘argument’ becomes thin…flimsy, I think he said. And with our western mind-set, discussion eventually gets ugly. Divisions are formed. Derogatory descriptions applied – ie infernalist on one side, ‘you’re just like a Calvanist’, on the other. Both ‘camps’ can easily apply quotes to match their beliefs.
    That is what I meant about ‘politicalization’. I use the term broadly. I see this in my own form of thought…right/wrong, us/them, then to equate the ‘person’ with their ideals that I do not agree with. It is the same demonizing that we see in political accusations. It has entered into our psyche. It is too late to ‘fix’ this by not watching or listening to the news…it has already become our mind-set.
    So, I think to be aware of this is important as we ‘witness’ to others about the faith. Let me suggest, please, what I have found….I have found that you can detect at some point in the conversation (usually early on) if there is a genuine interest in Orthodoxy or if they just want to prove their point and argue. The discussion very quickly goes downhill, I think, under influence of a politicalized mind-set. Seems it is difficult to see other without seeing a wall of division.
    Please do not misunderstand my point. Truth is not relative. There is indeed absolute Truth. Christ shows us that there is indeed division in this age – sheep, goats, wheat, tares. But let’s let Him do the determining.
    It has been said, the most effective way to ‘witness’ the faith is to live it. This just naturally happens when we enter into the life of the Faith…from the day of Baptism, forward. We are Christ’s now. It is a slow transformation. Much of it hidden. But it is there.

    Again, you know when someone is divisive, out to prove a point. You can also tell if there is a genuine interest. A lot depends on your demeanor whether a fruitful conversation can take place. Respect of boundaries is important. Experience with our own mistakes, and the healing grace of forgiveness can work miracles.

    I think you know all this, Ziton. You seem to have genuine compassion and concern for the salvation of all, as well as your own. It is a reflection of the Image within. Forgive me if it seems like I am ‘teaching’ you! Really, I am sharing my experiences as I reflect back over the years. I realize now that ‘others’ play a very significant role in our lives. Our ‘meeting’ was meant to be. Nothing is by chance. And all of it is formative…for the good.
    Of course we know that the ‘end’ of things is in God’s hands. He will continue to direct us, even in times of distraction, as He is center in our heart. He may get a little off center in our much thinking. Nevertheless, His will is done (Providence), we repent and get back on track. (yes, I am simplifying…the journey is fraught with struggles…we know that)

    One last thing about being “western”. Again I speak for myself. I am western. I was born in the west. More specifically, in America. Like yourself, I am interested, and have a care for, those of different cultures. I have always had a hard time, though, understanding the ‘eastern way’, because it seems so ‘hazy’ to me. I need concrete explanations to understand the ‘hazy’. Surely this is a western trait!
    Many people think the eastern way is ‘better’, I think, because we see so plainly our western faults. But the grass is not greener ‘over there’. I think this is another form of politicizing. Comparisons. Right/wrong. Good/bad. It is a very narrow way of looking at reality. Christ comes to all…every tribe nation and tongue (one of my favorite lines in scripture). I want to see myself and others as He does. I’m not there yet, but man, I try. I stumble, eventually get up, and continue on.

    Christ is center. The Cross. His Pascha. Surely, on behalf of all and for all.

    Thanks for enduring my ‘much thinking’ too!

  115. Thank you, Dino, for your last comment. “Seeing Christ as He is” in His Glory, and partaking in it to different degrees. Very profound, again, thank you. I had these same thoughts as I was thinking about how there is tradition concerning the event on the Mount of Transfiguration: that it wasn’t the Lord who changed, it was the eyes (noetic perception) of His disciples that changed.

    Also thank you, Michael Bauman, for your comment:
    “I came to Christ experientially long before I came to the Church knowingly but every true encounter with our risen Lord is of and through the Church.”
    Also very profound for me, thank you.

  116. Paula, the difference between east and west is the difference between an engineer and an artist.

  117. Michael….such an apt contrast!
    It should come as no surprise that during my school years, my lowest grades were in the arts… scant as they were in the curriculum.

  118. My mother was a dancer and my father a medical doctor, I am not sure which was the more analytical to this day but they were both mystical in their experience of God..

    God gives light and substance and depth to everything even.the sheerest gossimer and the densest concrete. Some folks loose sight of reality in the flights of fancy some in the seeming hardness and precision of stone and steel.

    That’s not jade!

  119. Oh Michael…the densest of concrete!!! So I had to look up “jade”! 😀
    God love you! That was good….!!!

  120. Paula, God loves His rocks. They each have their own particular life in them and they endure and unlike concrete are beautiful. I do not for a moment think you are all that dense. BTW my jade comment is a reference to a favorite parable of mine I have posted here before: The young man who wants to become a jade master apprentices with one. He comes every day and sits at the Masters feet holding a piece of jade while the Master talks about little or nothing. After weeks of this the young asks when the Master will start teaching him about jade. The Master simply replies, “Come back tomorrow.”. The next morning the young man arrives, the Master gives him a piece of fake jade that looks real. As soon as the young man takes the stone in his had, he says, “That’s not jade!”

  121. Michael…you’re so kind!
    The jade story…even more beautiful after reading the parable. I must’ve missed the times you posted it. Previously, I was relating to jade’s “spiritual” qualities. Anyway, the parable reminds me of “wax on, wax off”. The boy was learning…the ‘knowing’ hidden, but it is there. So, just keep at it. Don’t despair in the banality (Andrea’s comment), even in the messiness, God is with us, ever so attentive…

  122. God is with us, ever so attentive…Michael’s reference to our being God’s beautiful rocks made me think of a rock tumbler. We are all being tumbled together, our edges becoming smoothed over time. The trials and tribulations of our lives, the grit, continues to polish us. The water, the baptismal waters, continue to cleanse and work together with the grit. Together we tumble, smooth, and shine, transforming into precious gems inside His “ark of salvation”, the tumbler…each truly special and unique to our Lord, as He lovingly, attentively, creates a beautiful mosaic….just an analogy that popped in my mind when I thought of the rocks 🙂.

  123. “.just an analogy that popped in my mind …”
    And a good one, Anonymous! As we used to say. “and the Church says, Amen!”

    What you describe…yes, the love and care of God upon His “rocks”!
    Like the ‘matter’ used to describe us…mere dirt, clay, transformed, even perfected, ever so slowly (tumbling as if being led into the ‘straits’, sometimes dire straits!), yet purposefully, into His image…all the while hidden in that mosaic 🙂
    And to think The Son put upon Himself this mere clay, and endured ‘the straits’, just for that reason.
    Amazing Love…

  124. Fr. Stephen,

    That first Florovsky quote in particular is cool water on a parched tongue. In my experience the general Orthodox reaction to the West (when they react at all) is to hole up in their bunkers, to cover their ears and hum in an attempt to not be poisoned with heretical filth. But he points out a better way, a higher way. And as you say so eloquently, it has to happen in relationships of one heart to another instead of some grand scale approach attempted on a corporate level.

    Thank you for those words.

  125. Father, I’ve decided to reply to a little hidden sentence in your comment at Jan. 31, 8:50am.

    You said:
    “I think some who write and speak about the apokatastasis are trying to talk back to the stupidity and banality of the dominant Western narrative. But, I find that they say more and speak more than I can, and that I cannot join the chorus.”

    For a while I found myself so agreeing with your sentiment here (that time frame must have been a good one for you, as your comments clustering around then were so spot on!)
    However the longer I sit with it, I cannot agree. I totally agree with the first sentence. This is why I think Hart’s work tacitly does actually only threaten the Western traditions in Christianity. There is nothing new in his thought, and nothing “prohibitted” in his his thought, from an Orthodox vantage point. There are theologumena, and a style of writing at home in the West more than (contemporary, popular) East. But nothing out of bounds

    My problem is with your second sentence. It’s not that I *would* join the chorus of apokatastasis. For the chorus so far is missing the real battle ground of the heart. It’s like a “legal fiction” read of juridical languague in scripture. Yah, we’re saved. Now what? I still have to live in this condition! With my passions and among my enemies!
    Same with Apokatastasis. Suppose all ultimately will be redeemed.
    Yah, so what? I still have to live in this condition! With my passions and among my enemies!

    So the conversation so far, being dominated by Western Christians (reacting to Hart) and Western formed Orthodox Christians (also, just, reacting to Hart), is missing this mark. So I dont want to enter that fray. So far I agree with you.
    I dont think it’s quite accurate as you have stated elsewhere, that the Fathers are silent on this out of prudence. Because, St Isaac was not silent. Was he wrong to speak clearly? And St Gregory was not silent. Was he too wrong to speak clearly? And Origen was not silent.
    And, in our age, after such a long period of diminution and oppression of Orthodox theology, yes, it is not mainstream to think and speak openly in terms of the restoration of all things. (We Orthodox are just emerging to think as Orthodox for the first time in centuries!) But in the words of my patron taken from the jacket cover of Hart’s book, Saint Basil the Great, “once observed that, in his time, most Christians believed that hell was not everlasting, and that all would eventually attain salvation.”

    While I see little profit in just holding a different opinion, I would have to disagree with your framing of this in terms of the received tradition. I am with Isaac on this: when rightly positioned within the whole Orthodox Way, we do more *good* by speaking courageously about the efficatious love of God to redeem all, than we risk in its being misunderstood.
    Context is everything.
    I would never take St John Chrysostom’s words on Hell out of context.
    Likewise, rather than remaining silent on something the Holy Spirit Himself appears to be speaking (look at the providential discovery of St Isaac’s “second part”, along with Hart’s brilliant argument, all given to a world dominated by ugly Western Christian distortions of the eschaton), I think we need to speak it rightly.
    Another brief analogy: How many times do we have to explain our doctrine of theosis, against a modern spiritualist ‘foo foo’ misunderstanding?

    Rightly speaking of Apokatastasis- not fearing the maligning and judgments of men- is the right path.
    “You are unable to be saved alone, if all others are not also saved. It is a mistake for one to pray only for oneself, for one’s own salvation. We must pray for the entire world, so that not one is lost.” – Elder Porphyrios (1906-1991)

    Love in Christ;
    -Mark Basil

  126. Mark Basil,
    Well, I speak and write in obedience. And that’s pretty much where it is for me. I don’t want to write any other way. I would also agree with St. Porphyrios and have made it clear that praying for the salvation of all is and should be a given for every Orthodox Christian.

  127. Mark Northey,
    forgive my re-visiting this subject please. In danger of being too reductionist, I think the one key element that any notion of apokatastatic inevitability fails to realise is that it makes our most God-like element (namely: utterly free eternal self-determination towards eternal Truth ) in to a façade. I repeat a quote from one of the greatest proponents of [what Saint Porphyrios says regarding] our inability to be saved alone, “if all others are not also saved”.

    …The power of love is vast and pregnant with success but it does not override. There is a domain in human life where a limit is set even to love – where love is not supreme. This domain is freedom [“προαίρεση”].
    Man’s freedom is positive, real. It concedes no determinism in his destiny, so that neither the sacrifice of Christ Himself nor the sacrifices of all those who have trodden in His footsteps lead necessarily to victory. There may be some – whether many or few, we do not know – who will meet even this perfect love, this perfect sacrifice, with a rejection, even on the eternal level, and declare, ‘I want no part in it’. It was this recognition of this abyss of freedom which prompted the Fathers of the Church to repudiate the determinist theories of the Origenists. Belief in Apocatastasis, understood as universal salvation predestined in the divine purpose, would certainly rule out the sort of prayer that we see in the Staretz [St Silouan].
    What was made known to the Staretz in his vision of Christ outweighed all doubt and hesitation. He knew that it was the Almighty God that had appeared to him. He was sure that the humility of Christ which he had come to know, and the love which filled him to the limits of his strength, were the action of God the Holy Spirit. He knew in the Holy Spirit that God is boundless love and mercy, yet knowledge of this truth did not lead him to conclude that ‘anyway, we shall all be saved’.
    The Staretz was unlettered but no one surpassed him in craving for true knowledge. The path he took was, however, quite unlike that of speculative philosophers. Knowing this, I follwed with the deepest interest the way in which the most heterogeneous problems were distilled in the alembic of his mind, to emerge in his consciousness as solutions. He could not develop a question dialectically and express it in a system of rational concepts – he was afraid of ‘erring in intellectual argument’; but the propositions he pronounced bore the imprint of exceptional profundity…

    “Saint Silouan the Athonite”

  128. Dino,
    I would echo those thoughts a bit. That we “stand at the edge of the abyss” can include these large matters – like the salvation of all – and our inability to see it clearly – though we see the love of God. The rush to proclaim the outcome – with a kind of certainty – is like getting to the abyss, and saying, “That’s interesting, now let’s move on.” The abyss disappears and we are tempted to something trivial. It’s a good thing to ponder the imponderables – good for the heart. To look, to see, to not see, and to put my hand to my mouth like Job.

  129. Dino, I read recently on another site that true universalism that all WILL be saved is just another form of Calvinist predestination seemingly more benevolent. On further examination though such an idea, as St. Silouan points out, destroys our humanity.

    Thank you for the quote.

  130. Yes, thank you all.
    Dino…I must say, I’m always learning new words here. ” Alembic”…when I read the definition, I just smiled…”An alembic [in Arabic and ancient Greek] is an alchemical still consisting of two vessels connected by a tube, used for distilling.”
    I envisioned the two vessels as the mind and the heart of St Silouan and the tube as the connectedness of the Saint to the Holy Spirit. The ‘picture’ is all one, in unity…no beginning or end. Such, I would imagine, is the existence of this Saint.
    Great word…worth a thousand words.
    I am grateful that St Porphyrios has given us these words about St Silouan, even as we are aware of “‘erring in intellectual argument’”. He has done a great service.

  131. Dino, thank you for your excellent contribution of St Sophrony’s commentary. My growing intimate love for St Sophrony ever-increases my respect for his thought. If anyone ‘stops’ at St Sophrony’s reasonings here, unwilling to accept that all shall be saved in the fullness of time, then I would be thrilled with such mercy, wisdom, and stability within our Tradition that saves.

    It remains though, that St Isaac found salvation and rose to great noetic heights holding exactly this conclusion: that all *shall* be saved. I cannot diminish my trust in Isaac’s noetic apprehension of the Truth, in order to increase my trust in Sophrony’s interpretation of the eschatological implications from his spiritual father’s prayer for all. Someone is wrong; they do not agree with each other and cant both be correct.

    So, we have to look at their reasoning in our own humble and intellectual capacity.
    I actually dont see the conclusion Saint Sophrony draws as necessary. Lookit: It is like those who might say, “well if the unbelievers aren’t going to hell for their unenlightened unbelief, why bring them the gospel at all?” Or closer to Orthodoxy, “If God is almighty and all good, then there’s no need to pray for anyone in anything, as God will do the best by them anyway.” Our lives cannot be reduced only to these “ultimate ends”. The process matters; this moment matters. God desires that all shall be saved and will in the end have his way, and we pray for it too! And closest to Orthodoxy: God is utterly merciful in all things, yet we *ask* for his mercy constantly! We pray, and we share the gospel, because it is Good! We have tasted it and wish others to know the sweetness of Christ’s love, right now! That all will be saved does not mean we dont all have to make a beginning, in our freedom. Salvation is at the end of a great effort; there is no other way. Thus we must pray for all! This reason is enough to not become complacent. This reason is enough to pray for those in hell.
    So, my very dear saint and spiritual friend Sophrony, was not correct in his reasoning here.

    I believe that our faith is not irrational, not illogical. We strive know the truth in our inner being by process of purification. But the vast majority of what you and I believe, we believe not through this striven-for noetic apprehension but through lower epistemological modes (e.g. we are taking the words of other great saints; we are reading the scriptures; we are praying prayers; we are hearing homilies; etc.). This shapes our thought on a grand scale- and so it has shaped St Sophrony’s thought. And Saint Paisios’s thought. They belonged to a milue that taught them from a young age, that the Church believes hell is eternal. They were not privy to the exegetical explication of the scriptures Hart brings us, nor to his arguments from what we know about God, about freedom, and about personhood. These times, these arguments, are given to *us*, now, in God’s providence. We must be responsible with them; working them over within our Orthodox phronema and ascetical lives.

    As I pointed out there have been times in our Church’s history when Apokatastasis was a venerable and common understanding. We should not be ‘chronologically-centric’, reasoning from our current climate of the suspicion of this traditional position- now very much a minority- to assume it must be dangerous or wrong. It was not dangerous for St. Isaac. That is enough for me to not be afraid to think it through sympathetically. We must reason together, in the communion of love and truth that we share.

    Until I see someone actually interact with Hart’s arguments, understanding them and refuting them, I will not be able to dismiss them simply because “they’re just logical.”
    St Gregory Nazianzus brilliantly argued from logic, that God must be exactly triune! (Not one, not two, not more than three, but precisely three persons is the only logical conclusion, he argues). He and many other Fathers use philosophical argument, reason, and quintessentially the law of noncontradiction (the basis of logic), to demonstrate all sorts of truths that we hold as Orthodox.

    So far, I have not seen a response to Hart’s argument from God as the Good, free creator of all that is.
    Neither have I seen anyone grasp his (patristic) understanding of human freedom, and refute his conclusion that this freedom finds it end in the Good it was created for. (indeed as I’ve said: if our freedom is as great a thing as you say, never transgressed or overrun by God, then those in hell can never be *fixed* there; they will always be free, and worthy of our loving pursuit. To the end of the ages, they *could* still turn and choose the Good).
    Further, the interconnections between us all are so pervasive that really if anyone is is hell, it is because of *my* sin. God has made us thus; we are all saved or none at all shall know salvation. (I always personalize it: if it were my daughter left in hell, where would I be except by her side? I will never forget the imperfections of my fatherhood and how I have wounded her and laid the ground for distortions in her perception of her true Father’s love. I am similarly culpible before *everyone*- just as Adam’s sin had so great an impact on every other human being, and the second Adam saved us all in his own works. We, all of humanity, really *are* inseparably one).

    I know you are fond of Lewis’s thinking on this question. Again I see it as very good indeed; he has a heart and a mind, and uses them.
    But ultimately, where he rhetorically asks, “should one in hell be able to hold all of heaven captive?” he comes to the wrong answer. The answer is YES!
    Lewis fails to grasp the depths of God’s love here (he had a poor grasp of love of enemies)- God in heaven *is* held captive to every suffering of his creatures, *while* he is impassive still. This is the mystery, the true face of free love: we in heaven will forever pursue those we love in hell, for to do so *is* heaven for freely loving beings (we see it in Christ’s pursuit of us, going to the depths of hell already and setting the captives there free, as a foretaste of the End of all things.)

    Okay, I really should leave it at this.
    Hart’s arguments are sound. I have not seen them understood and refuted by any Orthodox. Our faith includes not minor but *major* saints and fathers who explicitly taught Apokatastasis. So it is demonstrably false that this teaching is dangerous to believe and teach openly.
    As I said, we must learn to hold it and articulate it *rightly*; carefully as with all holy mysteries, alongside and within the *whole* of the Tradition (including a very real, terrifying hellfire that I myself am ever in danger of, and I may have to remain there for eternal-like duration if I do not ceaselessly repent to my last breath).

    I dont believe Orthodox need to understand this truth. It’s hard to grasp and we’re all very new at thinking like Orthodox (I mean all of us in this generation, at this junction in history). But I dont agree that it cannot be held by Orthodox as truth, that all will be saved; not for the reasons you have presented so far, or that I have heard anywhere from anyone Orthodox.
    I love you brother, and deeply appreciate how you approach these matters;
    -Mark Basil

  132. Mark,

    St Sophrony and St Silouan certainly had “tasted it and wished others to know the sweetness of Christ’s love”

    This modern Origenism has found a great impetus through the newly found Isaacian writings, (especially through their presentation via Met HiIlarion Alfeyev and DBHart) but, in Greece, some erudite Elders claim these authors confuse the Orthodox Abba Isaac of Syria (from Nineveh, born in the 6th century) with the 100-year-old subsequent pseudo-Isaac the Syrian (from Qatar, born in the 7th century), a Nestorian influenced by Origen.
    Since both Nestorianism and Origenism were refuted by ecumenical councils (3 and 5), the books which confuse the two men are perceived by these figures as misleading their readers. Many Orthodox Fathers refer to St. Isaac as the most soundly orthodox, while pseudo-Isaac’s works which were only recently discovered in an Oxford library (in a 10th-11th century manuscript) are understood by them to be heretical.
    For more (albeit in Greek), see:

  133. As a former Protestant Fundamentalist who loved proof-texting from the Bible, I find this Orthodox idea of proof-texting from the Fathers kinda fascinating. As you add more axiomatic authorities, how can you avoid adding more contradictory viewpoints?

    How do you know when a Father is speaking “ex cathedra” or giving an opinion? Or worse, when is a Father giving an opinion while mistakenly thinking it’s “ex cathedra”? Tricky.

  134. Scott, the answer is context. First there is no such thing as ex cathedra. Second the life in the Church will lead you into all Truth IF YOU LISTEN, life the life as best you can in perseverance and humility.

    I am blessed to be in a Cathedral parish who’s Bishop is often in the altar on Sunday and quote available. I live him dearly and as obedient to him as I can be. A few weeks ago I was talking with him about a serious concern that I thought was really on his level of Church polity. He told me I trusted him too much. Out of nowhere it popped out of my mouth, I don’t trust YOU at all. At that point I turned away from him and the conversation ended. I need to talk to him again to be certain that he understands what I was saying, i.e. my trust is in God alone.

    So it is in all of the Church tremendous freedom and tremendous responsibility tremendous patience to wait on the Lord even when hurt and confused. Somehow, someway the Truth is revealed. Dino’s comment is a small evidence of that.

    It sounds crazy, it looks even worse but it seems to be the way the Holy Spirit works.

    Fr. Seraphim Rose of blessed memory who is quite controversial for many in the Church said one thing that has always stuck with me which at first may see paradoxical: it is not as important to know the Fathers as it is to put on the mind of the Fathers.

    Only Jesus Christ is fully man and He is fully man because He is fully God
    His promise to us is that by following Him, we can become as He is. That means, ultimately, the Cross.

  135. …or in response to the title of this section: Jesus alone is not sufficient but without Him, nothing else matters and with Him all things are revealed. We must wait in patience and be prepared to hear Him.

  136. ScottTX;
    all I would add to Michael’s excellent response, is that it is not our ‘right ideas’ or ‘right opinions’ that save us. What saints who disagree on these things share, is submission to the Orthodox Way of Life. This way- manifest ultimately in total humility and love even of our enemies- is what saves. There can be differing opinions and ideas on some matters.
    This one, where I am championing a minority view in the Church, is a great example.
    As I said above, who cares who’s right? We all still have to live our lives here and now. We must all engage in the hard work of our spiritual lives, living according to the grace we are given and acquiring the Holy Spirit.
    We all agree God’s love is absolute and he is perfectly just. I think this means certain things for the eschaton, others (most others today) think differently.
    I dont desire to convince anyone because it will make little difference to our salvation.
    HOW I hold this view, and HOW Dino (for example) holds his view: that matters much more! And how we treat those with whom we disagree.
    I have seen some pretty unloving behaviour from the “all will be saved” camp. We are all in need of inner transformation regardless our beliefs.

    If I am wrong (and personally, I am very open to this on all sorts of beliefs and opinions), I desire correction. If my views are harmful to anyone’s salvation, I desire to see them shut out by the love of the Holy Spirit.

    We will be saved not for our right opinions on peripheral matters, but for our repentance and ascetical efforts to put on the virtues, toward love of God and love of neighbour.

    Let me lay down this topic now, and pick up my prayer rope. I certainly need it for my own sake.
    Forgive me for causing any duress.
    -Mark Basil

  137. Another thought on the flaw in universalism: repentance is not required as I understand it. Yet it is precisely in repentance that we become fully human, whole and healed and unite with our Lord. In that alone can we enter into the Joy of the Lord.

    There is an old spiritual: There is a Balm in Gilead that I have sung for a long time. It’s opening stanza is “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul”.

  138. “Another thought on the flaw in universalism: repentance is not required as I understand it.”

    In Universalism, the purpose of Gehenna is repentance for the good of the inmates until the prison is emptied and sin is defeated. The malignancy in being is cured.

    A permanent Gehenna is for the people on the outside, so they’re no longer bothered with their former neighbors who made bad choices. The malignancy in being is encysted.

  139. Scott, Dino, et al
    I watched the critique of DBH – and think that it is just that – a critique of DBH. It is not, however, an effective critique of apokatastasis. I think DBH’s problem is that he seeks to say out loud, and vehemently, even violently out loud, something which should, at best, be contemplated in silence, or near silence.

    I have long thought that Met. Kallistos’ heading of the topic, “Do We Dare Hope?” to be sufficient. My first confessor, after my conversion to Orthodoxy, said, “If you teach this (apokatastasis) you have exceeded the authority you have received (as a priest). But, if you do not hope for this, there is something wrong with your heart.

    I have tried to adhere to that, and to write in such a manner. Is it possible? Yes. Will it happen? How can I know the answer to such a question?

  140. What God will do is speculation, but what about ourselves? When we see someone bound and dragged off to outer darkness, what will the saved say? “I’M Spartacus!”? “Let me take his place.”? “Sucks to be you!”? “That’s my son, let him go!”?

    You can’t just disappear people like a Central American death squad and everything’s OK.

    When will the damned cease to be my neighbor? Do we pass over them in silence like a crazy aunt locked in a sanitarium? Will we forget them under the influence of a beatific stupor?

    Hell makes people stop thinking like people.

  141. Whether it is God’s love of the love of a neighbour, one can lways interpret it as their freedom wants to interpret it. For one that’s an internal paradise and for another an internal hell. This happens even now.

  142. Which of Jesus’ hellfire verses has any imagery of self-interpretation? You are bound, consigned, cast, nothing abstract and bloodless like having the freedom to take a negative perspective. It is done to you, you won’t like it, and it is not an interpretation. We all know where this freedom of interpretation stuff comes from- someone had an ounce of empathy and spoke against the horror of the traditionalist doctrine. When it’s torture, it’s eternal, and it’s done TO you, that’s monstrous.

    So, for example, George MacDonald said, “Hell’s not eternal”. His disciple C.S. Lewis said, “Hell’s locked from the inside.” Neither could abide the traditionalist doctrine, but chose different ways to blunt the horror. I think Lewis’ characterization of sinners and their ties to others was wholly unrealistic. The sinners in The Great Divorce are no longer people, but caricatures.

  143. Scott,
    I would say that Orthodox tradition – its vast majority – certainly reads those passages in an “interpreted” form – find the notion of an assigned eternal punishment to be repugnant to what we know and understand of God.

    It’s hard to argue with a fundamentalist, for example, who takes those verses in their most literal form, and pictures a very Calvinist God. So, it’s right to conclude that Orthodoxy traditionally does not read those passages in that manner.

    The Orthodox defense of such a practice is that we’ve been reading the Scriptures since the beginning (and the Calvinists started quite late). I have written, and believe it to be the case, that the “thrust” of Orthodox thought is towards universalism and always has been. It has, however, a sort of “mental brake” that tends to stop before such a conclusion is announced and declared. But, the “logic” of Orthodoxy is clearly towards that direction.

    I would say that Christ teaching and work, taken as a whole, run in that very direction as well. Again, it is simply that there is a “brake” that is applied short of that full position. This is not a new reading, nor a modern reading. I would suggest that anyone who attend the most important service of the Christian year (Pascha) would reach the same conclusion. Indeed, it’s almost overwhelmingly so in that service.

    The “brake” exists – and there these occasional “leaks” such as St. Isaac of Syria and St. Gregory of Nyssa, plus many others here and there, that suggest that the “brakes” are holding something back.

    This, I think, is normative Orthodoxy, 2,000 years worth of it. Even in the NT, there are verses in which the “leak” is quite evident, where there is no qualification added to soften their blatant salvation for all theme. It’s there.

    I live with the “brakes.” However, I do not number myself among the “infernalists” (as they’ve been dubbed), because I think there are very wrong things that are said when such a notion of hell is held to be true – things that I think are not Orthodox.

    And, though I know that Dino draws strongly from the tradition, I think the freedom argument is overworked and overplayed and I’m not really very comfortable with it. Doesn’t mean I have an alternative to argue, only that it does not seem truly satisfactory to me.

    I should say, as well, that, the fact that Orthodoxy (for 2,000) years has not been very literalist in the treatment of the “hellfire verses” says something about how we handle Scripture versus how modern Christians seek to handle it.

  144. Also, many translations side with the ‘locked from the outside’ exegesis, while the original, clearly has the ‘locked from the inside’ meaning (of CSLewis) contained or at least allowed within the Greek verb used {e.g. : πορεύεσθε} . So the original may say ‘go off into hellire’ or they will be ‘bound’, which can be understood as ‘I myself am given a chance to go off [or not]’ into the hellfire I choose, or I myself bind my own self (in the understanding of Kalomiros’ River of fire’ referenced on this site) . Elder Aimilianos, whose thinking on the precedence of man’s ‘inclinational freedom’ (elevating it to THE godlike element of man) I espouse (and keep repeating here) , had made a great deal of this mistake of translating these verbs discussed (albeit in Greek homilies not yet translated in English). The Judaic ”God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” style of speech, is the one that (unconsciously Calvinistic) translations seem to prefer…
    Besides, in Scripture, it is clear the the God who so loved the world brought His light but some preferred darkness.

  145. Endless speculation as each train of thought twists and turns into a complex pretzel-like mass secured by a Gordian Knot. “A contrite and humble heart O God thou will not despise”.

    Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.

  146. What God will do is speculation, but what about ourselves?

    We pray for the dead, Scott. We are told that it is beneficial, although we are not told what the benefit is. Our trust and hope is in God, who is good and loves His Creation.

    Not all things have the answers we sometimes seek but all things shape our hearts, drawing us to God (if they are good things).

  147. This was a bit of a sidenote in the comments, Mark Northey, but can you or anyone else point me to [free, English] sources for St Gregory’s use of logic and philosophy to show God must be exactly Triune? I keep coming back to his 3rd theological oration but I wonder if there is something more comprehensive that focuses on the number 3 specifically, and less so on the general thrust of arguing that trinity and unity are compatible. Thanks!

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