The Essential Goodness of All Things

There are certain foundational matters within the Orthodox teaching of the faith that should be settled in our hearts as we think about the faith, or even as we go through our day. Among those is the simple affirmation that all of creation is inherently and essentially good. We hear this first from the lips of God as He creates all things:

Gen. 1:4 And God saw that the light was good.

Gen. 1:10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

Gen. 1:12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Gen. 1:18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.

Gen. 1:21 So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Gen. 1:25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Gen. 1:31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

This essential goodness was constantly affirmed by the Fathers, particularly in the face of some heretical claims that the material world was inherently evil. All that God created is very good.

But what about the fall?

There is a common mistaken notion about the fall (the sin of Adam and Eve). That mistake is to think that the fall somehow changed all of creation and human beings from a state of original innocence into an altered state of evil and corruption. This is not the teaching of the Scriptures or of the Tradition.

Occasionally you hear the term “fallen nature” which is another inaccurate term. “Nature,” in theological terms, is synonymous with “essence,” or “ousia.” It is the very “thing” that something is. What is understood, theologically, is that the fall has brought death into the world. What is different about human beings is not our nature, but our inability to actually fulfill our nature. The bondage that comes into our lives through death is what we term “sin.” But this is not our “nature” causing the problem.

The same is true of creation itself. St. Paul’s language is clarifying. In Romans 8, he describes nature as being “subjected to futility.”

“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Ro. 8:20-23)

The death (bondage to corruption) that afflicts us all is not a bondage of our nature, but a bondage contrary to our nature. By the same token, we can describe this as a bondage that seeks to impact our “goodness.”

Here, I think, it is important to see not just the bondage, but the “groaning” as well. What St. Paul describes is not a creation locked in passivity, quietly embracing its bondage to corruption and death. At every moment, creation resists this bondage. It groans and labors to bring forth the good, despite every limitation set upon it.

This struggle and groaning is where I would draw our attention. It is a sign and testament to the essential goodness of God’s creation that has not been, nor ever can be erased. Creation pushes back against our feeble efforts to control it. Asphalt and conrete yield to tiny sprigs of grass whose groaning has overcome the weight of our technology. Every Spring, what cycles of weather have suppressed comes back with a vengeance of life.

Even within our human life and culture, the drive towards the good is renewed day-by-day. Our bodies repair themselves, and, despite the battles we encounter with illness, our bodies drive relentlessly towards health. Many people grow frustrated when they see loved ones who are dying linger on week after week. Our bodies were not created to die and they do so reluctantly.

I take great comfort in this drive towards goodness that is inherent in all of creation. The various forms of madness in our modern world that demand things contrary to nature, even writing them into law, cannot actually re-write nature. Cultural madness comes and remains for a time, but it is engaged in a losing argument. Inasmuch as gender is written into creation, so much will it eventually manifest itself despite modernity’s efforts to re-imagine itself. The same is true of other mere ideologies. Ideas come and go with fleeting significance. Creation is a force of divine tradition – it has been handed down as a goodness that will not be erased.

There is a battle that rages within creation. Death has entered the world and we groan together with the whole of the created order. Christ has also entered our world and plunged Himself even into the midst of death. There we see the true principle of all creation (the Logos Himself) defeating death and setting creation free. It is Christ’s resurrection that answers the groaning of all creation.

In the course of our day, we tend to pay the most attention to those times and moments in which goodness has been diminished in some manner – whether by our own sins or by the circumstances of our lives. Such moments, of course, are surrounded by countless others in which goodness triumphs and life abounds. That we take most of our time for granted is itself a comment on the dominance of goodness, while being an equally sad comment on our thanklessness.

The groaning of creation is the root of a song – an ison that undergirds the melodic hymns of noetic beings. It is a song of thanksgiving, the sound of our being, the voice of created goodness offered to the Source of all goodness.

Glory to Him!

60 comments:

  1. “Even within our human life and culture, the drive towards the good is renewed day-by-day. Our bodies repair themselves, and, despite the battles we encounter with illness, our bodies drive relentlessly towards health. Many people grow frustrated when they see loved ones who are dying linger on week after week. Our bodies were not created to die and they do so reluctantly.”

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen!

  2. Fr. Freeman

    Thank you so much for this wonderful post. I understand and agree wholeheartedly with your thoughts. I am, however, confused about what St. Paul means by a “sin nature”. Is this a propensity without any essence in itself? The term is confusing to me.

  3. I have been pondering Life, and how Jesus came to give Life, lately. This is truly a balm, Father! Many thanks for it!

  4. Love this Father…thank you. Even as a Protestant I love the Romans 8 passage…of even Creations anticipated victory over sin and death per the Incarnation and Resurrection.
    Coming as I do from the Ref. Camp of Protestantism, how would you coach me to answer old friends who’d sneer at this article, and quote Eph. 2: “…and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others” — ie the notion that sin and death (adam’s fall) caused men to fall into a total and absolute depravity…per a changed nature that suppressing the “good” in unrighteousness?
    Thank you so much for your help.

  5. One slightly peculiar thing about the ‘misuse’ of the term ‘nature’, as in the expression ‘fallen nature’, is that it is often used like (or almost like this) by the great theologians who clearly know about this problem, like Basil, Symeon and Maximus themselves. Albeit, it is worth noting that this idiosyncratic use is always in more of a prayerful -rather than a philosophical or didactic setting-, and if one pays attention its use by them, it is exactly as you describe it –‘subjected to sin’– (as in the first communion prayer by St Basil “our nature which had been marred by sin“). This makes a lot of sense in Greek where the need to express to the Lord that ‘sinfulness seems to have become second nature to me’ (an unceasing torturous proclivity), is most succinctly expressed just like this.
    And this is not just the experience of those who have painful vices, passions and addictions, but lurking in everyone.
    The freedom to say yes or no to God is more often than not misused. It is perhaps the key reason why God hides so respectfully. His respect of our freedom is the most central. He also knows that if He were to impose His presence upon us, (before we have freely come to yearn for it with our entire being), we are liable to want to hide from Him at some point, in order to once again sin freely.
    I remember being fascinated by the patristic notion that describes Christ’s Ascension in this light of Christ’s respect for man’s freedom which currently tends to want to try saying no to God rather than yes. Thisdesription of the reason for the Ascension goes that if He were to actually linger, say, in Jerusalem (after the Resurrection), once all people come to know like the apostles that He never dies, He goes through walls, needs no food other than to prove to us he is not a mirage, knows all thoughts of all people (without need for technology) wherever they are on Earth, and if he lingered for 2000 years in Jerusalem etc, people would come to say this is utterly discourteous and disrespectful to their God-given freedom to live their lives!, so He ascends and hides awaiting magnanimously man’s free turn to His loving liberating care. He could never ‘do an antichrist’ imposing His will to all, enthroned-in-the-Temple-of-Solomon-sort –of-thing and offering bread, miracles and worship (reversing the three temptations in disregard for freedom, as the “Grand Inquisitor” seems to put it). In the knowledge of both our true nature as well as our marred-from-egotism-‘second-nature’, He patiently waits in inconceivable humility, hidden providence and love: the only way to freely become a King of man’s heart. And indeed it is the perception of this respectfulness that births the greatest humility and gratitude in a believer.

  6. Thank you. I had a chance to listen to a special done on Ancient Faith Radio about Beauty, Goodness and Truth. That …it was good” in Genesis is actually “beautiful” in Greek. In the podcast, they say things must flow in the right order of beauty, Goodnesses and Truth. Have you ever thought about this concept?

    https://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/the_climacus_conference_2015/beauty_and_being

    https://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/owhm/beauty_goodness_truth

    Blessings
    Jonas

  7. David,
    It is, I think, about the only place such a phrase is used. I would suggest that it is used in a “colloquial” sense, rather than in a technical, metaphysical sense. But, it is impossible, I think to reason with people who have created false narratives out of Scripture and have rejected the mind of the Church as expressed in the great Fathers such as Nyssa, Basil, Gregory, etc.

    They misuse that single occurence in order to justify their own non-Scriptural concepts such as total depravity. There is, as Dino notes, a colloquial use and a precise use. The language of the Councils is precise (as in 2 natures in Christ). It is in this sort of precise sense that I’m writing in this article.

    When it comes to St. Paul – he seems to be far more aware of the Hebrew notion of the “Yetzer ha ra,” and the “Yetzer ha tov,” the “bad impulse,” and the “good impulse.” Those concepts had about 200 or more years of rabbinical discussion. Romans 7 seems to be working within that language tradition.

    The misuse of the term “nature” in Western traditions – created human beings (and a creation) that were essentially evil. The result of that heresy has been a great deal of misery and suffering. I think it is a breeding ground for atheism. If that were the teaching of Christianity – I would be tempted by unbelief myself.

    But, as it is, when “nature” is being discussed in a precise manner, for the purpose of careful theological consideration – it is inherently good. This deeply colors the heart of Orthodoxy which is quite optimisitic and kind towards human beings, including non-believers. I have found the opposite to be the case in the Reform tradition.

  8. Fr. Freeman

    Thank you for the very “Socratic question”. After a brief check of Romans 7:18 and 7:25 in the NRSV, NIV and a Greek Interlinear it appears the only place St Paul used this term was in the NIV 🙂

    I did not realize this mistranslation of SARX in the NIV was still rattling around in my head after all these years.

    Thanks!!!!!!!

  9. Of late I have been pondering those wonderful few lines that follow the Great Doxology on Sundays: “Salvation to the world has come today, let us sing to Him who is risen from the dead and the Author of our lives. For He has conquered death by death. This victory He has given us, and His great mercy.” They say so much. And are so joyful and hopeful and encouraging and comforting . . . Your post today brought them to mind.

  10. Father,
    For whatever it’s worth, I’m grateful that you point out these meanings carefully. Because the philosophy of modernity shapes so much of our thinking, it colors so much of western theology. And whether they realize it or not, even cradle Orthodox (elders too) have been influenced, as this cultural trait has infused itself everywhere, with very few exceptions. For this reason it is good to talk about these things.

    Thank you for your ministry!

  11. Also I’d like to point out to our Protestant brothers and sisters, that the language the Orthodox use (in the technical sense that Father indicates), is that the meaning of sin is death. In other words death is not a sequential consequence or punishment for sin. Sin = Death

  12. I suppose I could be more precise myself in the use of “nature” (“physis”). Sometimes it is used interchangeable with “essence” (“ousia”) which is the sense that I am using it in the article. “Physis” – “nature” – can have a loose, colloquial meaning of “propensity” or “tendency” which, upon exploration would turn up to be a problem within the will of a person (“prosopon”). As Dino notes, both uses can be found in the Fathers, and you have to look to context to see which way it is being used.

    Nothing in all creation has an evil (or fallen) “ousia.” Inasmuch as something exists – it is good. Of course, there are things (like demons) that are “next-to-nothing” on the scale of existence.

  13. Gregory,
    It is quite telling how that Evangelical translation inadvertently sticks a basically Calvinist metaphysic into the Scriptures when it simply was never there. But it tells you how they were comfortably reading a verse and understanding it. Translations are very, very problematic inasmuch as they are largely Protestant productions in English.

  14. Jonas,
    Yes. I have. The podcast is following some of the work of Timothy Patitsas (The Ethics of Beauty). It is most useful to follow that suggested order. It is also the case that the words are interchangeable.

    But, as for the Greek. The word is “kalos” which means both “good” and “beautiful.” It is incorrect to say that it only means “beautiful.” The Hebrew, “tov,” that it translates, primarily means “good,” but carries some connotations of “beautiful” as well. In contemporary Greek, the typical greeting is “kali imera” which comes out “kalimera.” It means “good day.”

    The instinct of both Hebrew and Greek that goodness and beauty are much the same thing is important. Modern English, following a very long development, has developed words that break meanings down into tiny fragments. It allows for great precision, and is thus good for technology. But it loses many insights by leeching much of the original meaning out of its words.

    A brilliant treatment of this problem can be found in the works by Owen Barfield, something of a mentor philosophically to both CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. His book, Poetic Diction, is a masterful discussion of this problem.

  15. As Dino alludes to the seeming captivity of the will to sin despite the active Grace and presence of God is confounding and a bad witness to those who do not believe or have turned away.

  16. The will is deceived by death (sin) and drawn into a kind of captivity. Grace is always active and working for our healing and salvation. Among the most commonly overlooked aspects of our life is the constant work of providence that preserves us, despite the terrible decisions and mistakes of the will. We focus on the dangers or the darkness when we are constantly surrounded by an over-arching providence and light.

    The moralists often see only the darkness and overlook the simple miracle of provident goodness that sustains us and has sustained us. How have we not destroyed the world and everything in it? How is there still love? even among those who don’t believe? How is there kindness and generosity. These things continue – because grace sustains them and us in them.

  17. After a brief check of Romans 7:18 and 7:25 in the NRSV, NIV and a Greek Interlinear it appears the only place St Paul used this term was in the NIV 🙂

    I did not realize this mistranslation of SARX in the NIV was still rattling around in my head after all these years.

    I still remember how excited I (and everyone I knew) was when the NIV first came out. It was highly touted and everyone couldn’t wait to buy it! After I became Orthodox, I came home one day to find my French Bulldog had gotten a hold of it and I only found it in “many” pieces. I have since jokingly thought that, perhaps, she was seized by the Holy Spirit to do what she did! 😀

  18. Father, thank you for your answer, it is easy to forget both the fact that it is a life time battle AND how much help I get–despite abundant evidence to both. I am a stubborn man even in the face of abundant gifts that I in no way deserve. If God was just….

  19. Byron,
    In 1971-73 I was living in a Christian commune. I remember one of the brothers (my best and closest friend) came home from his college class in Greek. I was looking at his books with fascination. He told me, “The gospel of John has a vocabulary of only 600 words in Greek.” When I started college myself, the one thing I was certain of was studying Greek (I wound up majoring in it). I was so eager to read the Scriptures in the original, and have never looked back.

    I felt the same way when I began studying Hebrew in seminary – but with a far greater challenge in front of me. Hebrew is a very different kettle of fish. Greek is great of writing and expressing the highest and loftiest thoughts. Hebrew is really good for telling stories – especially if they are about cows, sheep, and goats.

  20. Byron,
    Hilarious brother!
    I still rely on my RSV of 1952. I bought a newer edition and wasted my money. I hadn’t realized that it used gender inclusive language. Ugh!

  21. “Cultural madness comes and remains for a time, but it is engaged in a losing argument. Inasmuch as gender is written into creation, so much will it eventually manifest itself despite modernity’s efforts to re-imagine itself. ”

    Father, my oldest child suffers in many ways, one of which is his belief that he is transgender. Your words here are such a balm to my broken heart. They give such hope. Thank you.

  22. Sadly, Father, I took Greek in Seminary and, while finding it enjoyable, never had much interest in really studying it. Hebrew (also taken in Seminary) was a complete mystery to me! LoL! Most of it, of course, was my outlook at the time.

    I use the Holy Apostles Convent or New EOB translations for the New Testament. I’m never sure what to use for the OT. I truly wish someone Orthodox would put out a proper translation of the Septuagint in a form one could carry about (I have Brenton’s, which is very large and lacks footnotes, etc.). Oh well.

    Dean, also a great story! Oh my, what a thing to realize late! Hahaha! I too have an RSV of 1952 (OT) with 1971 (NT) as well. It was the first bible I ever received.

  23. I have encountered many mistranslations of the original texts. They suddenly pop out in an otherwise beautifully translated passage and despite being deeply misleading, one even encounters defenders of said mistranslations. This is understandably more shocking. (Brings to mind those powerful news factions that claim to abhor fake news yet are themselves the greatest propagators of fake news) .
    And though I rarely have the opportunity to read scripture in English (and to then go down the rabbit-hole of the various translations/interpretations), – almost always reading in Greek (as a native speaker)-, it bothers me to ponder how profound a problem this can be at times. Especially considering the primacy of the fact that man is essentially an interpretative being.

  24. … amd where does that leave hopeless idiots like me who struggle with all languages but English?

  25. “Holy, holy, holy, Lord Sabaoth, Heaven and earth are full of your glory.” God foresaw everything, even this cynical and diseased moment, and still he found it good, καλός. The darkness has not overcome .

  26. Thank you for a fresh perspective! It is fresh for me at least, a lifelong Baptist. I have been so negative my whole life. It is as you say, foundational to the faith and especially in every day life to understand that everything is essentially good . . . even people. May God forgive my outlook on life over the years, and grant me the repentance to see things and people the way that he intended them to be seen.

  27. Father Stephen,

    Thank you so much for this, particularly your explanation that , “The death (bondage to corruption) that afflicts us all is not a bondage of our nature, but a bondage contrary to our nature.” I am wondering if Article IX in the Book of Common Prayer which speaks of sin as a corruption of nature/ infection of nature from which we suffer is consistent with this teaching?

    Blessings and thanks!

  28. Claude,
    In my understanding of the Anglican 39 Articles, they are largely Calvinist in origin and intent (at least a mildly moderated Calvinism). Article IX is a good example of this sort of Reform thought – speaking of a nature that is inclined always to evil and is deserving of wrath and condemnation. The original prayer of confession said, “And there is no health in us.” It is the doctrine of total depravity.

    I’ve often had the sense from some within the Reform movement that if even a tiny glimmer of goodness or righteousness could be seen in the unbaptized, the entire scheme of salvation would fall apart. At least, it’s an impression that I get, such that St. Paul’s personal confession that “all of his righteousness is as filthy rags” is taken into a dogmatic position.

    It’s just bad theology – built on false premises that can only lead to false conclusions.

    We do indeed speak in a poetic manner about such things (cf. my article The Erotic Language of Prayer). We speak of being the “chief of sinners” and such – but these are not dogmatic confessions. I find Calvinism to be soul-crushing.

    Interestingly, the 39 Articles have a varying degree of acceptance among contemporary Anglicans. The Episcopal Church USA long since quit requiring any acceptance of them and treats them as a “historical document.” Of course, they also condemn the veneration of saints, icons, and relics. I would suggest that anyone who entertains the fantasy that Anglicanism represents the historic orthodox church of the English-speaking people, and that it is not a Protestant denomination, should read and consider the 39 Articles – they make it quite clear that this is simply one more Reform denomination.

  29. Thank you so much for this memorable essay, Fr. Stephen. I will continue to ponder on it and the beautiful struggle of the groaning of all creation!

    Michael, your heart and the One there leads you … don’t forget the greatest prayers are that groaning of the Spirit in us “which cannot be uttered”

    Father, I am just a little bit perplexed about something in the text. Just who subjected us to futility? And what does “subject to futility” mean exactly? I mean, I read some texts where it says vanity, or false religion, or emptiness. But at this point I think I need a bit of clarification on this. Help! 🙂

  30. Janine,
    In Romans 8, it is clear that it is God who made creation subject to futility. Human beings, on the other hand, got there by our own sin (viz. Genesis 2). And creation was made subject to futility so that it would await our freedom in order to have its own. This need not be a sequential thing (I do not think of it that way).

    Adam and Eve are describe as being in “paradise” which seems to exist somehow distinct from the world in which we live. It is like a “parenthesis” in creation. Note, that in Genesis, they are driven out of paradise into this world. St. Basil uses that exact language in his Eucharistic prayer. So, it would seem that this world already was made subject to futility in anticipation of our fall.

    This, I think, also refutes the silliness of many who misread the Scriptures and assume that there must have been a historical point in time when the very laws of the universe changed on account of the Fall. There is nothing in Scripture that suggests this. Instead their misreading assumes that though creation was created good – it is no longer so. That is not true. Creation continues to be “good,” though subject to futility (death and corruption).

    Our sin is described in the story of Adam and Eve. How we are to think about that historically is not known to me, and I’ve never felt the need to know it.

  31. Wow, thank you Father! Okay, maybe I am writing this too quickly in reply due to my enthusiasm, but I hope you (and everybody else) will tolerate me. So, here is my (first?) follow up: Does “subject to futility” just indicate a possibility? A vulnerability? That would make sense out of seeming dualism — but I confess I share your sense that history is not applicable in the conventional sense of time. If that is so, it seems a testament to our fallibility as a deliberate potential, and linked to free will. Does that make sense?

    Thanks for your patience!

  32. Janine,
    I take it to mean that death has entered the world and all of creation is subject to it. Consider the passage in Romans 8

    “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hopethat the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
    (Romans 8:18–25)

    It is clear that St. Paul is describing creation as being subject to suffering and death (as are we). It was “not willingly,” meaning that creation had done nothing wrong so as to deserve its subjection to “corruption” (the Greek meaning of corruption is best translated in English as “rot.” Creation dies and rots – as do we). St. Paul goes on to describe the freedom for which we hope as “the redemption of our bodies” – i.e. the resurrection. What we see in creation is also happening in us and, by God’s own gracious providence, is happening to creation for our sake.

    Our suffering and death is not there in order to torture us or to make us pay or any such thing. Rather, St. Paul will elsewhere describe it as working within us “an eternal weight of glory” (2Cor. 4:17). This is, no doubt, mysterious to us – that our suffering has a benefit. But it does so, not inherently, but because of the Cross. It is because our suffering is the suffering of Christ (He has made it so). And not only us, but all of creation has been drawn into His Cross. The universe, in Christ, is revealed as “cruciform.”

    The little insight I have into this tells me that I (we) am learning love, and being transformed into love, that I might be conformed to the image of the Crucified God, who is Love.

    As we unite ourselves to Christ, when we do so truly and fully, we unite ourselves to Him in His love – and this is cruciform. We have mercy on our fellow sufferers, including the suffering creation. When we reflect on that, we begin to see why we have been just the sort of commandments that we have from Christ.

    It is why, in the stories of saints, we read of them weeping for animals as well as humans, and so forth.

    I hope this is of use.

  33. Janine,
    I understand. That, however, is St. Paul’s clear indication. One explanation that I’m familiar with understands this action to be symptomatic of our union with all of creation. Humanity is called, by St. Maximos, a “microcosm,” basically, the “little universe.” We are the “head” of creation (remember Adam is set in charge of creation – to tend it). Thus, it would not be proper for human beings to be subject to futility (death and corruption) while running around in an incorruptible creation. We simply would not belong here. It would be inhospitable.

    As it is, creation’s future is married utterly to our future. If we are to be resurrected, so is creation itself. There are already small signs of such a thing. The unique relationship between saints and animals is an example. Christ’s relationship with the wind and the sea is another (they obeyed Him – that’s not normal “futility” behavior).

    St. Paul also reminds us that what we now endure does not begin to compare with what shall be (of a glorious character). I once had a dream that included what seemed to be “resurrected” trees. It has stayed with me for about 50 years now. I cannot easily describe what I saw other than to say that, compared to them, no tree you’ve ever seen was alive. These trees were brimming with Life of an eternal sort. I cannot say more, but I have never forgotten it (nor could I).

  34. Oh thank you again. So, I think I am beginning to see … please bear with me and I will try to paraphrase to make certain I “get it.” You are saying that the creation, as separate from “us” — that is, we who found our own way into this futility somehow — was subjected to futility so that we and creation might be saved together, so to speak. Hmmm, I will have to ponder that! Once again, my gratitude!

    Your dream, and also its unforgettable nature, both make a lot of sense to me. It reminds me of CS Lewis’ descriptions of the much denser and richer life and experience of everything (esp nature) in The Great Divorce.

  35. What a beautiful dream, Father! It reminded me of the Wood between Worlds, from C. S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew. That image has stayed with me–the rich green world (“rich as plum cake”) where trees are so alive one can almost see them growing. I love your article and the fresh perspective it offers on the world around us. In talking to my family, what I usually hear is that nature is filled with violence and that usually is mentioned as a way to cast doubt on the goodness of the world. I’m not sure how you would respond to this, but I certainly have enjoyed your reflection. Thank you! It brought me a lot of joy to see things in a fresh light!

  36. Thank you Father for your answers to Janine, and thank you Janine for your questions! — a wonderful discussion.

  37. Father, in thinking this morning, it seems to me all of this makes tremendous sense. We await a Resurrection not to a “reversal” of the history of the world but rather a kind of reckoning of it and a transcendence, to something yet new. The same must be true of the whole of creation. And that is indeed something brilliant to look toward.

  38. PS Father, would be interested to hear about the “small signs of such a thing” that you mentioned, if you would like to share.

  39. Dear Father,
    I’ve been rather steeped in work without much chance to write a comment. But I wanted to say that an important and endearing “embrace” that I felt coming into the Orthodox Church, was this understanding of what you have expressed here, that is, the essential goodness of all things. It seems this is the outlook that someone would embrace, if they were looking for healing in their heart and minds.

    And I suspect that if one wasn’t looking for healing of their heart, but looking for ways to justify their anger, or to perpetuate a negative outlook of our world and and of our lives (i.e. stimulated in our current circumstances by the media), then this message produces discord in the mind.

    In this latter case, the discrepant (positive) outlook is a potential learning moment, if the mind is still open to learn. Yet that openness in the heart, mind and soul, appears to be Providentially guided. In our context (a culture of modernism) I don’t know if we can attain such a thing without the Lord’s intervention. Most of my own prayers are about having an open heart, a self-emptying heart, because I have seen (with the Lord’s intervention) how I have closed it and let it be hardened.

    I have built into myself a cautious wariness of others. My first orientation is to question rather than to embrace something that seems ‘foreign’ to ‘my’ way (ie the culture’s way) of seeing things. And this ‘foreignness’ is a kind of flag now, to pay attention, to think and reflect carefully. And last but not least, to the best of my ability that God grants me, to love.

    We are approaching Lent. And I’m reading St Isaac (the Syrian). Perhaps it shouldn’t have been, but was a bit of a surprise to me that he emphasizes the importance of humility above all other potential ascetical practices (i.e. fasting). Indeed, without humility, not only do we not have a worthy practice of fasting, but, personally, I doubt we can sincerely love. He makes an interesting case that there is a distinction between Christian humility and ‘natural’ humility. At least, that’s what I have received so far in translation. I believe I’ll need to read St Isaac and perhaps the Ladder of Divine Ascent (St John Climacus), for the duration of this coming spring, God willing.

    I’m grateful for this ministry, this community, for my parish, and of our Lord’s Divine Liturgy, the Eucharist, the communion of our hearts, bodies and souls–for all things, because all things are in Christ Our Savior.

    Christ is in our midst!

  40. All the works of the Lord are good,
    And He will supply every need in its hour.
    No one can say, “This is worse than that,”
    For all things will be well pleasing in their time.
    So now sing praise with all your heart and voice,
    And bless the Name of the Lord.

    Sirach 39:33-35

  41. Esmee,
    Amen also! Our priest was just here for a house blessing. He reminded us that when one focuses on the evil in the world, that they then are not looking at Christ. And like Peter looking at the wind and waves, instead of fixing on Christ, we too begin to sink!

  42. The Way Back Machine re Total Depravity. It is amazing to me how much Calvinist perspective infects many of the political “reform” movements of our day despite the fact such folk often claim they are not religious or even “spiritual”. Case in point the racial reform movement that insists that all white folk are inherently racist and always will be. White racism is not cultural but generic. White folk are totally depraved.

    Contrast that with the Orthodox Fellowship of St Moses, the Black which follows the path of repentance and reconciliation for all.

    Any one who knows the founder, Fr. Moses Berry knows how that is reflective of his own life. He has been an inspiration to me since I first met him in 1973.

  43. Michael,

    That is because the movement is about worldly power. Any movement like that requires that one’s enemy (in this case, “white people”) be totally depraved.

    An interesting book discussing this (in a secular manner) is called Faces of the Enemy: Reflections of the Hostile Imagination (The Psychology of Enmity) by Sam Keen.

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