God took seeds from different worlds and sowed them on this earth, and His garden grew, and everything came up that could come up, but all growing things live and are alive only through the feeling of their contact with other mysterious worlds. If that feeling grows weak or is destroyed in you, what has grown up in you will die. Then you will become indifferent to life and even grow to hate it. That’s what I think.
The Elder Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
This small quote from the “Teachings of the Elder Zossima,” is perhaps among the stranger sounding to our 21st century ears. “Contact with other mysterious worlds” sounds like extraterrestrial stuff which would put Dostoevsky in the boat with Jules Verne. But, as it is, he is not referring to any such thing, but, rather, in an odd turn of phrase, to the fact that everything that exists does so because of its reference to God. The seed of each living thing is its grounding in God – only here Dostoevsky has put that statement into terms that make us stop and think and perhaps see something we’ve not seen before.
Especially helpful is his statement that we only live and are alive by “feeling” our contact with that “other mysterious world.” Again, it is possible to misread the novelist. Our language has so devalued the meaning of “feeling” that we risk hearing this as another trite emphasis on emotion and the like. Instead, it is a profound reminder that we can grow cold and hard and sadly unaware of the true nature of our life.
More frightening still is the warning that letting our hearts grow cold we can become indifferent to life itself and even come to hate it. This, in Orthodox terms, is a picture of hell.
In Christ’s parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, He speaks of a “great gulf that is fixed” between the Rich Man in Hades and Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom. I have read any number of metaphysical speculations on the meaning of the “great gulf.” Most venture some sort of impossible barrier between heaven and hell. The great gulf does seem to be a great barrier, but I have come to think that the barrier is nothing other than the hardness and emptiness of the rich man’s heart.
Every day the rich man passed Lazarus at his gate, and in doing so passed the entrance to paradise. Becoming cold and indifferent, the gulf of empty hate is fixed. In another place Dostoevsky’s Elder Zossima says, “Hell is the suffering of being unable to love.”
Doctrine (right teaching) is the fruit of a Divine seed (to use Dostoevsky’s imagery). To think about it is necessary, but we must do so with great caution. If we approach doctrine as something inert, a mere idea, then we risk the loss of feeling (truly knowing in an experiential manner) its connection with that other “mysterious world.” In such a way it is possible to do “theology” in hell.
Orthodox life is most properly to be found as the living expression of what Dostoevsky referred to in his “mysterious worlds.” Fr. Georges Florovsky once called doctrine a “verbal icon of Christ.” As such, even the verbal icon (like all icons) has value only because it refers to its prototype. Or, in Biblical terms, “I believed and therefore have I spoken” (2 Corinthians 4:13).
The garden of God is a wondrous place. That’s what I think.
I love the faces in this picture. Indeed icons in nature.
And thank you for these beautiful words. Icons also.
In a night now long ago, I cried out in my depths for God to help me to pray. Had He not answered me and enabled me to touch “those mysterious worlds” in prayer, I know my soul would have shriveled up and hardened, becoming unable to feel the wind of His Spirit which beckons us toward the mysteries. But He heard and did not leave me bereft. God, through Orthodoxy, opened my soul to places I had never known or imagined.
Thank you for what you’ve written.
Father, your last statement brings back to me the similar statement of Fr. Moses Berry’s grandmother. Each of the races are different flowers in God’s garden and none grow well apart from the others. Thus is the spiritual ecology that life is both particular in experience but connected to every other life (the other “mysterious worlds”) It is also, through the communion of the Saints spread throughout time and space.
The occult and paranormal nonsense only distort, darken and block our hearts ability to participate and harden them instead.
Lord Jesus Christ, mercy on us.
Thank you Father. Beautiful.
1. I agree with Dee about the faces. That is a great picture. The more you look at it the more faces you see.
2. The general sentiments, and some particulars, of your article reminded me (again) of Wordsworth’s Ode to Immortality which feels to me like an almost noetic rhapsody. Some possibly relevant lines :
“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.
Thou, whose exterior semblance doth belie
Thy Soul’s immensity;
Thou best Philosopher, who yet dost keep
Thy heritage, thou Eye among the blind,
That, deaf and silent, read’st the eternal deep,
Haunted for ever by the eternal mind,—
Mighty Prophet! Seer blest!
On whom those truths do rest,
Which we are toiling all our lives to find,
In darkness lost, the darkness of the grave;
Thou, over whom thy Immortality
Broods like the Day, a Master o’er a Slave,
A Presence which is not to be put by;
Thou little Child, yet glorious in the might
Of heaven-born freedom on thy being’s height,
Why with such earnest pains dost thou provoke
The years to bring the inevitable yoke,
Thus blindly with thy blessedness at strife?
Full soon thy Soul shall have her earthly freight,
And custom lie upon thee with a weight,
Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life!
O joy! that in our embers
Is something that doth live,
That Nature yet remembers
What was so fugitive!
The thought of our past years in me doth breed
Perpetual benediction: not indeed
For that which is most worthy to be blest;
Delight and liberty, the simple creed
Of Childhood, whether busy or at rest,
With new-fledged hope still fluttering in his breast:—
Not for these I raise
The song of thanks and praise
But for those obstinate questionings
Of sense and outward things,
Fallings from us, vanishings;
Blank misgivings of a Creature
Moving about in worlds not realised,
High instincts before which our mortal Nature
Did tremble like a guilty thing surprised:
But for those first affections,
Those shadowy recollections,
Which, be they what they may
Are yet the fountain-light of all our day,
Are yet a master-light of all our seeing;
Uphold us, cherish, and have power to make
Our noisy years seem moments in the being
Of the eternal Silence: truths that wake,
To perish never;
Which neither listlessness, nor mad endeavour,
Nor Man nor Boy,
Nor all that is at enmity with joy,
Can utterly abolish or destroy!
Hence in a season of calm weather
Though inland far we be,
Our Souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither,
Can in a moment travel thither,
And see the Children sport upon the shore,
And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.
And O, ye Fountains, Meadows, Hills, and Groves,
Forebode not any severing of our loves!
Yet in my heart of hearts I feel your might;
I only have relinquished one delight
To live beneath your more habitual sway.
I love the Brooks which down their channels fret,
Even more than when I tripped lightly as they;
The innocent brightness of a new-born Day
Is lovely yet;
The Clouds that gather round the setting sun
Do take a sober colouring from an eye
That hath kept watch o’er man’s mortality;
Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”
IMO worth it, even if only for that justly famous last line. That, at least, is a Christian sentiment.
3. Thank you for your thoughts on the Rich Man and Lazarus. Of all Jesus’ parables, it is the one that bothers me personally the most. I have no doubt that I frequently walk past people completely oblivious to their needs. Not nasty necessarily, just cut off. Your reflections are helpful, if still troubling. That second Elder Zosima quote “Hell is the suffering of being unable to love.” bothers me a lot both because it has the ring of truth to it, and I am not entirely sure what to do with it … I suppose I mainly hope that Christ can dig me out of the hot mess …
Fabulous!.. the great gulf is the coldness of his heart. Yes. Thank you.
It has slowly occurred to me that learning to love properly (as God loves and not according to our desires) is a very large part of our lives. It is made more difficult by thinking that we already know how to love as we should; we just need to “do” it. I have lately begun to think that statement is not only false but a major stumbling block in my own life. I also find that when I practice forgiveness of all, love flows naturally.
How do you understand some other mysterious world as not being the two story universe? Is this other universe part of this universe?
Thanks Byron. Simple but deep and helpful. More chewing coming up.
Good question. Fr. Freeman hopefully will give a fuller answer.
In God we live and move and have our being. He is everywhere and fills all things. God is not impinged upon by time, His creation. So when I used Dostoevsky’s “mysterious worlds” I was thinking of the kingdom of God within us, or even among us. And since we “see through a glass darkly,” it is still mystery, not yet “face to face.” Yet even knowing this to be true, still Orthodoxy opened up an entire new world to me of wonder, beauty, truth and light. In my Christianity I was no longer stuck in the prosaic, banal and mundane. I was given spiritual wings the likes of which I had never before dreamed. Glory to God!
Laurie, every part of creation, seen and unseen, in and out of time are interconnected as all comes from and is in God. There are no stories as nothing is separated. If you have ever seen an M C Escher print they approximate it a bit.
Laurie, it’s funny you should mention that, but when I first read the article my immediate thought was of C.S. Lewis’ “The Magicians Nephew” (kind of the prequel to ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’) where the two children keep on moving through to other worlds (and back to this one) via other mysterious places, including ones with interesting vegetation. I like that one, which includes towards the end Aslan’s creation of Narnia.
I rather suspect there are many ways the Elder Zosima idea might be worked out, even without evoking modern physics and multiverses and so on, or more esoteric philosophical schemes …
Thank you, Father Stephen! You caused me to remember a moment from a past discussion of “The Brothers Karamazov” when at the very beginning of the conversation it was pointed out to us that as the main persons in the family dispute make their way to the elders cell, flowers are there, “evidently tended by a skillful hand. “[Garnett translation].
As I looked up the passage, I found that it is the disreputable Father Fyodor Karamazov who points out:
“”…just look…what a vale of roses they live in!” Indeed, though there were no roses, there were many rare and beautiful autumn flowers, wherever there was room for them. They were obviously tended by an experienced hand. There were flowerbeds within the church fences and between the graves. The little house where the elder had his cell, wooden, one storied, with a front porch, was also surrounded with flowers…” [Pevear translation]
What I had remembered, and quoted from one translator, was enhanced when I read just now the complete passage from a later translation (in my own memory it had been ‘an unseen hand’ like the hand in icons reaching down from heaven.) And of course, too, the timing is right – it is, after all, autumn. Time to re-read and savor this amazing novel.
And if you haven’t yet read it — how lucky you are to be reading it for the first time!
Yes – though I think I would say that this universe is part of that other one. The “One-Storey Universe” is a fullness that encompasses the whole of God’s creation, seen and unseen, known and unknown. The modern world has become “disenchanted” in the words of Max Weber, one of the fathers of sociology. He thought it meant that we no longer believed there to be anything other than the empty, secularized world of the modern landscape. I think, rather, it is the heart that has become “disenchanted” in that it has hardened itself in its practicality so that it only sees flatness.
Dean, reading your words again this morning my heart lifted with joy. Thank you.
Thank you Michael.
You always hope your words can help another in one’s walk with Christ.
I believe you expressed it well, Father, that ‘this’ universe is part of ‘that‘ one. Notwithstanding physics, there is more going on that is immediately available to see and experience, which we are inculcated to ignore.
This is one reason why I love this picture. If we say there are ‘only‘ rocks and trees, it becomes ever more difficult to see the faces, to see the depths, beauty and multifacetedness of our reality.
One of my favorite books growing up was “The Microbe Hunters” about the 19th century medical pioneers that hunted down germs and other pathogens. The world view then seemed much more broad than “just the facts”. There was room still for a healthy mystery in a sacramental sense then that seems to have been ruthlessly exterminated. Instead of questing for knowledge it seems to have turned into a quest for power and control.. Deeply sad.
Thank you for your insightful reflection. Indeed, “the garden of God is a wondrous place”! In the novel, Dostoyevsky writes in the paragraph before your quotation the following words of the Elder Zossima:
“Indeed, many of the strongest feelings and movements of our nature we cannot comprehend on earth. Let not that be a stumbling-block, and think not that it may serve as a justification to you for anything. For the Eternal Judge asks of you what you can comprehend and not what you cannot. You will know that yourself hereafter, for you will behold all things truly then and will not dispute them.” It will be truly refreshing to “behold all things truly”!
I also find the statement that “the Eternal Judge asks of you what you can comprehend and not what you cannot.” Does this mean that God just accepts as we are? I doubt it. This may be a good take off for another reflection.
I also found the name Zossima interesting. My limited knowledge of Ukrainian tells me that its root is in the Old Slavonic phrase “in all” or “for all”. If anyone one has another understanding, it would be nice to get your interpretation.
In the article, when you say, ‘In such a way it is possible to do “theology” in hell,’ I was reminded of that passage from The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis where the Episcopal Ghost spouts theological language effortlessly but just will not even realise it needs to repent, and even explains with a terrifying vacuousness the Theological Society they have got up and running in the “gray town,” the paper he plans to read at the upcoming meeting.
Protestants lack an authentic spirituality so they inevitably make an idol of theology. Would anyone else agree with that sentiment?
Anonymo, it can certainly seem that way when many Protestants spent a lifetime carefully parsing the minutest details of their theology.
And on that note, Father Stephen I covet your prayers this week & those of your readers as mentally I go another round with Calvinism, after quite a few months of peace. Please pray that the Lord himself will make me a path through difficult thoughts. I long to be someone who has the peace of a Church tradition that has an authoritative interpretation of the Scriptures, but have to do it honestly.
I will certainly prayer for you! In many ways going from Calvinism to Orthodoxy is quite a leap. I had to do it myself so I came across many great resources, message me if your looking some information on a certain topic or have a certain question.
I don’t know that it is helpful to paint Protestants with such a large brush. I have known Protestants whose faithfulness to Christ puts me to shame. I am adding this note: I see that your background was among the Calvinists – where they were alien to my Protestant experience. The Reform movement has many elements and faults that are absent in other parts of Protestantism. I suspect that my heart would be much more bitter had that been part of my experience. But, that said, whatever one has suffered should be united with the sufferings of Christ that it might be healed – or transformed.
Thankyou Father, for your rebuke. While there may be some truth to it in the sense of a general pattern, it is only one thread of many conflicting forces, and not particularly helpful to focus on when looking at individuals. I did not mean to paint individual Protestants with my sentiment but in hindsight I realise it could come across like that.
If you would like to share some specific ways that Calvinism would have made your heart more bitter, like things removed or added from the faith I would be interested to hear that.
Didn’t mean to make it a “rebuke,” but how kind of you to take it so well! In my experience with folks coming from the Reformed direction, I have encountered some serious damage in their ideas of God, an inability to believe He is good and such. If you will, it seems to me that it “makes little children stumble.” I’ve had a number of conversations with folks who were committed Calvinists, whose ideas of God would have sent me running in the other direction had they been my first encounter with Christianity.
As it was, the Protestants I grew up with were well-meaning, rather bland Baptists, who were cultural Christians as much as anything. But, among them, I also occasionally met genuine piety that simply loved Jesus. I could never bring myself to rail against such simple, good souls. I like Pentecostals in their own way. They have a strange affinity with some within Orthodoxy, though they don’t know it (either of them). They taught me to wonder.
Of course, I spent time with and among the Anglicans, who, at their best were like CS Lewis, and, at their worst, like that Episcopal ghost of his in The Great Divorce. They were often deeply mired in upper-class sensibility to their great detriment. I might very well have been rescued, all things considered, by a combination of my blue-collar background and the wonderment of the Pentecostals. But, that’s a very confused-sounding bit of autobiographical musing!
There are a number of very dear Protestant souls who read the blog and I was, if anything, protecting them from censure. We must celebrate the good things we have in common – even if they are all deeply rooted in an Orthodoxy that all of us can only aspire to.
The theological speculations of Reformed theology demonstrate scholasticism at its worst (it had deadly effects elsewhere). Thinking is good, but only when done rightly. It’s closer to riding a bicycle than it is to physics.
Thank-you Father for your interesting response.
I took it as constructive criticism, maybe rebuke is too strong a word for your clarification. Now I am going to reflect on your words and my journey. Apologies if it gets too long.
I love that you went straight to the heart of the matter. My experience also was that I had damage in my ideas of God, but more than that as it lead to emotional angst and cognitive dissonance. I was a perceptive child so many of my thoughts stemmed from my youth. For a significant period of time I entertained a ‘neutral’ assessing of the many apologetical arguments for God existence and Christianity, in the end my doubts were resolved, my mind tired and my soul revitalised to live in faith. I consider myself to be in some ways a double-minded man but more than that I grew in faith by assessing rather than dismissing doubts. It seems to me that it was a Protestant line of thinking to believe that my increased intellectual certitude was a sign of greater faith. Now I seek to grow in Noetic awareness of God, and intellectual doubts are rare and don’t phase me. For whatever reasons God led me down other paths (I am glad he did I had personal problems of importance to confront and educate myself on) before I came back to my doubts about Calvinism one random day when I was planning to write an article about God sovereignty and man’s free will. Yes thats another thorny topic that troubled me. Came across this very helpful series by Robin Philips: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/orthodoxyandheterodoxy/2014/01/09/why-i-stopped-being-a-calvinist-part-1-calvinism-presents-a-dehistoricized-bible/ which articulated many of my ill-developed thoughts but reminded me of the many problems I saw in Calvinism. I really struggled with penal substitutionary atonement and the theory of double-predestination. After deciding that I would no longer be Calvinist I ran into the issue of deciding which Church to join. Discovered some convincing arguments against Sola scriptura then discovered the Orthodox church to be a continuation of the early church, and hence with my anti-catholic bias still intact, I breathed a sigh of relief as I realised that I did not have to spend my whole life ‘developing my theology’ and instead could join a Church claiming to be one, holy, catholic, apostolic. It also seemed incredulous that God would require everyone to start from scratch so to say, this in part was because of my immersion with the work of Jordan Peterson with his emphasis on tradition. I was almost finished his book Maps of Meaning which was helpful in understanding the dis-integration and reintegration of my paradigm, and maybe more than JP’s ideas it was who he was a person that was integral to my journey to Orthodoxy. Emotionally I was ready to join then, but first I wanted to intellectually assess the competing claims of orthodoxy, catholicism and protestantism. I describe my key mindset shift as looking for the true church to find the true gospel, instead of looking for the true gospel to find the true church. In some ways there is a heavy historical and philosophical aspect for a journey to orthodoxy, hence a high proportion of Orthodox being educated?
When you say you might have run the other way, might that be because the God of Calvinism is so similar to the God of Islam? Found this article: https://faithalone.org/grace-in-focus-articles/islam-and-calvinism/ , and it resonated particularly with my early understanding and relationship with God which I had previously ascribed only to the impact of my neglectful father. I think I got hit with a double whammy there, many people would have much less distortions if they only had one of the two problems.
I know a little about Progressive Christianity, while there surely are many errors, there seems to me to be a return to some Orthodox understandings, particularly the rejection of penal substitutionary atonement and the emphasis on God’s love. Would you agree? Also I would guess have that same spirit you mention here: “But, among them, I also occasionally met genuine piety that simply loved Jesus. I could never bring myself to rail against such simple, good souls” as well as having a healthy sense of wonder and maybe more of an open-mindedness and rational skepticism. Funny you mention the upper-class sensibility of the Anglicans, I know next to nothing about them but that was part of my impression of them.
“But, that’s a very confused-sounding bit of autobiographical musing!” I sympathise, the more I consider the more I realise the complexity of my religious/intellectual/spiritual journey.
Thank-you for the reminder: “There are a number of very dear Protestant souls who read the blog and I was, if anything, protecting them from censure. We must celebrate the good things we have in common – even if they are all deeply rooted in an Orthodoxy that all of us can only aspire to.”
I am aware of that the scholasticism of Rome prepared the place for the spark of the Reformation. I heard someone say that the great harlot spawned many mini-harlots, and it does seem that Rome’s errors progressively lead to Protestantism.
“Thinking is good, but only when done rightly. It’s closer to riding a bicycle than it is to physics.” makes sense to me if you consider that God has got the bike going by divine revelation and if we steer wrongly than those speculation quickly leads to damage. And while many Protestant scholars might consider that they are scientists working with raw theological data constructing their grand theory of the universe, they in fact swap in and out of paradigms over time just like their like-minded physicists, supposedly by a the scientific method getting ever closer to the truth. I found my thoughts above to be amusing, would like to hear what you mean by the phrase.
Anonymo: thanks for those links. I share a lot of those questions with you, & the God of the Calvinists makes my soul hurt, & seems so unlike Jesus. They are exceptionally well-educated though & seem to have an answer for everything. Please pray that if God is not that God, He will give me what I need to leave that behind.
Yes very important to remember that we know the Father by Son. Matthew 11:27: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
Intellectual gymnastics can be intimidating and deceptive. Remember that if you don’t think for yourself, others will think for you without thinking of you, quote from Henry David Thoreau. One must look beyond mere evidence to the paradigmatic level, as such I would recommend focusing on understanding the Orthodox paradigm from the inside, (Orthodox sources not protestant caricatures). There are well educated people all over the religious, and spiritual map, one must do the best they can with what God has given them.
Have you checked out reddit/ExReformed? While many there are no longer Christians I found many common frustrations.
May I ask how old you are and if you where raised Calvinist?
Anonymo, thanks for this. I’m now in my 50’s & was actually raised Catholic but never believed as a child.
I first came across Reformed ideas in a book by James White, if I remember rightly, at L’Abri about 30 yrs ago. I ended up going to L’Abri in a series of odd coincidences after asking God if he was there to help me answer questions I had about him. I read that book at a peculiarly vulnerable time, & didn’t know that the Schaeffers themselves actually held far more moderate views, but its presentation hit me with a force that I’ve been unable as yet to undo. I often wonder why God allowed it, or if in time I’ll see it as the work of an enemy.
I feel a bit stuck with it all, but will certainly look at the stuff you’ve posted. I only discovered Orthodoxy even existed about 4 years ago & that it has very different ideas about such things.
I know a little about Progressive Christianity, while there surely are many errors, there seems to me to be a return to some Orthodox understandings, particularly the rejection of penal substitutionary atonement and the emphasis on God’s love.
As an aside, I am always a bit wary of declarations of love from Progressive Christianity. The love they declare typically is quite generic and excuses all things, especially sin. They lack, and actually despise, the particularity of God’s love and the restraint and obedience in life that is required by it. That has been my observation, anyway.
That’s been my observation as well.
Thanks Byron for your input, I am inclined to agree. More and more I am coming to understand that Orthodoxy takes sin very seriously just not in the way I was previously taught. Theological errors beget more errors, and in the case of Progressive Christianity it appears to be a pendulum swung to an opposite extreme from my previous vantage point. That is of course just my opinion based on my limited understanding.
Beaker, I have watched some of James White, and I must acknowledge he is both very intelligent and very persuasive.
Anonymo – so what was it that persuaded you otherwise?
James White hasn’t had much interaction with Eastern Orthodoxy to my knowledge I just know he is a good debater in general.
I will try to give you the best resources that helped persuade me of Orthodoxy.
For me and I would guess for many others it is a three-step process. First be unsatisfied with the church you are at for appropriate reasons, second be persuaded that Protestantism is untenable, third be convinced that orthodoxy is the true church instead of Rome.
I assume you have checked out Orthodoxy and Reformed Bridge, that is a great place to start.
Protestantism is built on Sola Scriptura, and I found that it was an unjustifiable presupposition via the following resources:
Refutation of Reformed Sola Scriptura book by Keith Mathison 4part series: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/orthodoxbridge/contra-sola-scriptura-1-of-4/
Orthodox information centre: SOLA SCRIPTURA REFUTED
Debate between a Calvinist and an Orthodox on sola scriptura: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIZauoPCtRs
There is a debate review on that youtube channel also.
Now TULIP refuted:
Stories of people who made the journey together with their reasons for doing so:
Journey to Orthodoxy: Robert Aroskia story: https://journeytoorthodoxy.com/2013/01/crossing-the-bosphorus/
Three part series (highly recommended): https://journeytoorthodoxy.com/2014/12/why-im-becoming-orthodox-2-of-3/
Journey to Orthodoxy Calvnisit converting stories:
Also understanding the Orthodox position on salvation:
Orthodox understanding of salvation (part 1): http://orthochristian.com/46463.html
Part 2 critique of Protestantism and Catholicism: http://orthochristian.com/46465.html
How to know the true church:
Fr Josiah Trenham on his book rock and sand: part 1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=piVdrtgo7Xw
part 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xs0ExgnRMqc
Helpful youtube channel with short clips: Insitum verbum:
Reason and Theology has some debates on Orthodoxy vs Rome
Ubi Petrus has some heavy stuff on orthodox vs rome, he was at rome for the first half of his life.
Anonymo, impressive list. It points out to me what a burden bad theology can be.
I was raised a deep understanding that God is real, He is in His creation, He can be known. My mother exposed me to a number of different belief systems. When I was getting ready to go away to college, she gave me a copy of Huston Smith’s “Religions of Man” told me God is real, He is in the book somewhere. I needed to find Him.
Two years later (1968) on a windy hill in northern Illinois, I cried out “Jesus, if you are real, I need to know it.” He came. Much like He came to Met. Anthony Bloom.
The next 12 years were a spiritual adventure that I shared with my brother. He is now an Orthodox priest Emeritus at the parish he led into the Church. I am a longtime parishoner in St. George Cathedral in Wichita, Ks.
I was blessed, while professing some weird and heretical theology along the way I always have come back to the Person of Jesus Christ. Surprisingly easy to loose track of no matter how often He reminds me.
The only reason I can do that is His mercy and forbearance. Certainly I am the most unworthy servant.
God leads us where we will go. Just trust in Him and He will get you where you need to he.
The theology of the Orthodox allows Him to be present and allows us to approach and experience Him in any way needed. It acts as a fence to keep us safe not as a prison to our mind, heart and soul. It is a vast expanse of unending riches, most of it far beyond me. Yet, He is real and present in the Church in ways He is not anywhere else despite all of our faults, betrayals and machinations.
May He continue to bless and keep you guiding you into all Truth. He is with you.
I have a rather short reflection on theological arguments. They can illuminate the mind, but not as much the heart.
It took quite awhile to live within Orthodoxy to be able to receive the teachings of the Church in my heart. And when this did begin to happen it seemed to be more of the work of the Holy Spirit. The best that I could do was to have an open heart to God’s work.
Theological arguments have their place but I continue to reflect on the distinction in the history of Orthodox theology to have unfolded outside of scholasticism. I’ve never received training in such theology of the west. But it seems to this outsider that arguments for or against Orthodoxy fall within the field of scholasticism. If this is accurate, I’m not trying to knock it, but reflect on the fact that it has never been my path into the Life.
Dee, good point. I think too it is quite easy for our heads to race well ahead of our hearts. In fact I think that is one of the reasons for disunity and tumult in the Church. Real obedience is hard. It is solely a matter of the heart as it quite literally makes no sense. My head at least thinks many things about obedience, none of them salutary.
Real obedience can only come in response to an actual encounter with the Risen Christ
That encounter can be quite subtle or not but it is always life changing. It frequently throws one’s head into confusion.
Michael, Dee, Anonymo, et al,
There are some who have made theological argument into a kind of cottage industry (if you know what you’re doing, it can even provide a living!). It is evident, for example, in some who seem to have argued themselves into Orthodoxy and are still doing and arguing in the same manner as they were before when they were something other than Orthodox. That is to say, the only thing that seems to have changed is the words of the arguments, but nothing about themselves.
Good, healthy theology should produce good, healthy people (or at least manifest itself in healing people towards that goal). If the ideas and arguments are most producing more ideas and arguments – then it’s just nurturing more neurosis. Neurosis in an Orthodox key is just as sick as it is in Protestant, Catholic, or otherwise. It’s always been a question for me (one that I recall being asked repeatedly during debates with Stanley Hauerwas): “How is that displayed?” If the ideas do not manifest health – then there’s something wrong. It’s a good principle for any of us.
Father can you give me an example of what you mean by ‘If the ideas do not manifest health’ – what does that look like in practice compared to one that does?
One example would be the doctrine of original sin interpreted as total depravity. In practice, it can often look like a belief in an angry God who, in fact, hates us (despite all the words of love that might be used). It can make you profoundly sick and nurture a neurosis that makes those around you sick as well. Understanding the fundamental goodness of all that God has made, as well as the radical nature of His love and grace can, on the other hand, nurture healing and cultivate a generosity of heart and thanksgiving in all things. The former notion, in my experience, often nurtures a callous heart and a meanness towards those who are failing (“because it’s their fault”). There’s any number of ways to play that out – but, it’s a familiar pattern.
Thanks, I get what you mean, I understand that one from the inside. I wish I’d had very different experiences than the ones I have had, & yes, for sure, my reaction to things like this would be seen as a sign that I don’t have God’s favour.
Were those ideas not in the Episcopal world you were in?
You could find almost any idea among Episcopalians. I do not exaggerate. “My” ideas (which is all that holding a traditional Christian orthodoxy would be considered) was welcome, so long as I didn’t suggest that it was somehow required. “Orthodoxy” that is not “ortho” is just “doxy.” It was the ortho part that bothered them and made trouble for me. I learned, in time, that I needed to be Orthodox – for real. Also, that I needed a Church that saved me instead of me saving the Church.
Father, I am so gratetful for you and your message. It is leaven. Especially right now. So many it seems want to save the Church. Is that not the root of much mischief?
I understand that Calvinism can nurture neuroses, but I get a similar feeling from the link above “Orthodox understanding of salvation (part 1)”. There is a neurosis that comes from making salvation quantitative, a marathon where the finish line is hidden in a fog bank. How far have I gone? If I stumble ten feet before the finish line, have I failed? What if there’s no finish line? No matter how far I run, the marathon Organizer can decide it wasn’t far enough.
Really, the problem is inherent in the structure of all salvation theologies. To be saved, a creature needs to be in jeopardy. How does the creature of an omnipotent being get into jeopardy unless the Creator allows or directs it? And then, to solve this jeopardy, whether it be judicial guilt or ontological dissolution, there has to be a trade of some kind: a substitution of punishment, a ransom, a defeat of Death, whatever. This still makes no logical sense, just narrative sense.
No Supreme Being needs to make a trade. He says it and it’s done. Fiat salus. But this is an unsatisfying story. Stories need a trade, or plot advancements are unearned. But reality doesn’t need to make narrative sense, only logical sense. A God whose creatures are jeopardized then saved is the narrative equivalent of the fireman who sets fires then douses them to be a hero.
Free will is not an apology or excuse. Will happens only in a context which includes circumstances outside the agent’s control. Does the child of a drug-addled mother have “free” will? The child of sexual abuse? Some neglected Romanian orphan who had little physical contact and grew up to be sociopathic? What is the Good News for these people? The road away from the burning trash heap is narrow and few find it. Is it not Jesus’ own schizoid statements that gave birth to these neuroses? Will you get a pat on the head or the belt? For each parable of love there is a parable of threats.
I agree that it’s possible to make an account of salvation in Orthodox terms that becomes neurotic as well – which is to say that not all information is equally well-worked out. I’m not a fan of a number of these links. The internet is such a grab bag.
You’re defining “saved” as “saved from jeopardy.” I would suggest returning to the root meaning of the word. To be saved is to be healed. If you think in those terms and in that metaphor, you’ll be on much more “sane” ground. The “danger” and “jeopardy” imagery is problematic and unhelpful.
Father, it’s such a different picture & I still have trouble grasping it. Can you think of any other of your articles or lectures that expand on this? I understand exactly what Scott is saying, I feel it with my heart, but want to move away from it.
I deeply sympathize! On occasion through the years, I’ve thought that some might need to be atheists before they become Christians – I do not mean that literally – but the “forgetting” of false images from certain corners of Christianity is a difficult thing. These false images are like wounds – even when they heal they can leave scars. My experience is that some people can speak of these images and not “feel” them in a way that seems to damage them – though I marvel at that – or at least wonder if they’re actually paying attention.
It’s not unusual in certain Fathers (such as St. Isaac of Syria) to see these images explained in a manner that changes their inner nature or simply dismised. My own thoughts about these images is that our own theological/religious history has so colored out hearts that it is very difficult for us to hear this stuff in any manner that is helpful and that it is often very damaging. I see it all the time.
For myself, my own heart process, was to sort of wipe the slate clean. I simply confessed myself to be agnostic regarding everything (everything), and began with Christ Himself. “I do not know God except as He has made Himself known to me in Christ Jesus,” became a sort of mantra. Frankly, I still run everything past the “Jesus test.” “Does this teaching or thought or idea seem consistent with the Jesus whom I know?” I also find it handy to remain ignorant on some things.
Also, stay away from those who then want to take the cleansing of the temple incident and ride it all the way into their false image of Christ. Put brackets around it and let it be. Stay at the foot of the Cross and discuss all theology with Christ in that position. Try not to theologize too much. Just talk to Him. Also, notice who is with you – St. John and the Mother of God. Talk to them as well. They are sure and certain guides into the Kingdom.
Scott, you are correct only if salvation is a linear process. It is, IMO, neither. Although the descriptions of it even in Orthodox literature often makes it seem that way. Salvation 8s relational, even interrelational. It is both deeply personal and cosmic. Sin rears at the very fabric of creation and being. It is not just death as we normally think of but tends to dissolution. Thus the need for the Incarnation which alone sets things aright.
In a sense our own personal salvation occurs in our encounter with Jesus Christ as a real person, the Person. But, being in time and connected to other human beings and being the inheritors of a fractured reality spiritually, emotionally and physically and element of time enters.
But time is not linear either. I am beginning to suspect that there is a fractal quality to the whole thing. If I am right, Dee could explain it better.
Salvation is a dynamic recreation and healing. It somehow requires our conscious, more or less, participation.
I do not see the neurosis in that only joy. No matter the specific struggles.
Dee, is there a basic explanation of fractals you would reommend? .
Father Stephen, thank you for this. What you recommend is very close to what I was thinking anyway, I have *whispers* already started asking Mary & the saints for some help as this is frankly doing my head in & I’m close to having to give it all up. Except that if Jesus is not good, who or what is?
Precisely. Neither you nor I invented all of the noise that would deny that Jesus is good. It’s like background radiation in our modern culture. I also think it is of the devil. I cling to Christ-Crucified. His love long-ago pierced my soul such that I want nothing more. I can also say, from the depth of my soul, I know that He is good and that our faith is not in vain.
To a certain degree, on the road towards healing, it might be necessary to posit this as a matter of faith and begin to act on that basis. It’s confirmation comes in time together with the healing. It is a bit like the character Puddleglum in CSL’s The Silver Chair. He is a wonderful hero.
Remember the words of St. Sophrony, “Stand the edge of the abyss until you can bear it no longer, then take a break and have a cup of tea.”
Father your words or testimony is surely invaluable for many in the transition to Orthodoxy. I myself want to in a certain sense leave my mind at the door, and just open my heart fully to the good news of the gospel, the richness of the Orthodox faith and Jesus Christ.
Here is a quote I relate to, “It’s a most distressing affliction to have a sentimental heart and a skeptical mind.” Well I plan to leave my skepticism behind now that it has lead me to truth itself. It is not arrogance but humility to bow before and submit oneself to Christ and his Church.
Oh and if I made it sound like my journey to Orthodoxy was dry and intellectual that is not the case, my mind was just lagging behind my overjoyed heart. I also don’t know what counts as a ‘spiritual experience’ in Orthodoxy, but I probably had at least one of those.
Thank you Father Stephen. I’m sure you are but I really covet your prayers over this. I do feel under attack by these fears & not sleeping much isn’t helping. I worry that I’m going to get so sick of everything Christian due to these anxieties, & lose the will to carry on. I wish my life had taken a different trajectory.
No doubt, God is speaking to your heart. May He make smooth the journey that lies before you!
That’s a very difficult place to be in. I will be praying daily for you!
Thank you – sorry to mostly pop up when I need something. It makes me feel like a big black hole.
It makes you seem like a real human being. We are all of us only beggars of grace.
BeakerN, we all have those times. I’m learning to step into them and cry out to God in prayer instead of trying to avoid them. They are simply a part of life and we should expect them, especially as we draw near to Christ.
Fr. Thomas Hopko’s 55 maxims include this one: Endure the trial of yourself and your faults serenely, under God’s mercy. The most difficult person to forgive in our life is often ourselves. We see our own faults too clearly, when we are brave enough to look.
May God hold you close! I will add you to my prayers as well. Please add me to yours.
Thank you Byron, I will.
Father Stephen, I have one last question for now – is the Orthodox God angry with me for having these thoughts & feelings & asking these questions? As far as I know the intention of my heart is good, to know the real God & to love him with all I am. Is it okay to just put down a lot of what I think & get some distance whilst reading the Gospels & praying, as you say? I could just do with living a bit more ordinary human life rather than getting stuck in my head.
Not angry in the least. I’ll offer a brief story:
When I was a sophmore in college, I had a sort of crisis of faith, that included being hospitalized with a clinical depression (for 5 days). As I was coming out of the hospital, I found that thinking about God was virtually impossible, everything was confusion and anxiety. So, one day I prayed quite sincerely and said, “I love you but I cannot think of you just now. I’m taking a month or two off from this. Have mercy on me.”
Thing quietened down a bit. I had been in a charismatic house church and things were very intense. I had been questioning the basis of many things. Over those two months of “not thinking” I began to find a way forward. I made my way back to the Episcopal Church (which was quite different in those days). I attened a very quiet liturgy on each Sunday and appreciated the fact that no one was engaging me to talk about God. It helped.
In time, I was able to “think” again, and begin the slow process of healing. In many ways, I think of my life after that point as one long process of healing – one culmination being entering Orthodoxy – but that was not an end to the process – only getting better tools.
God is a “good God and loves mankind” (almost every Orthodox service ends with this phrase). He will uphold you and He gives us the space to get well. He does not get angry at us for struggling. What benefit would God ever derive from being angry at us? His mercy endures forever.
BeakerN bless you for asking the question sincerely. Just reading it evoked a warm grace in my heart. May you be even more greatly blessed