There are aspects of the Orthodox faith that require that we reach beyond what we think we know and dig more deeply into the writings of the Fathers. This is particularly the case when Orthodoxy uses similar language to Western theological models. We see a word (in this case, “providence,”) and think we know what it means, supplying that meaning from our inherited Western theological/cultural vocabulary. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to correct such meanings. So – I’m going to dig a bit into the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite, a major touchstone in Orthodox thought and, interestingly, important for certain writers in the West as well. My primary source in this article will be the work, Mystagogy: A Monastic Reading of Dionysius Areopagita, by Archbishop Alexander Golitzin. I do not know of a better work on Dionysius.
Here is the passage I want to explore (be patient and keep reading):
But still, Dionysius asks, how is it possible for us to ascribe names to God given the impossibility of conceiving the Trinity? It is possible, he answers a few chapters later, precisely because it is not the divine essence that is in question, but “the divine names revelatory of Providence,” of “Providence the creator of good that has revealed itself,” and is therefore justly celebrated as “the cause of all good things.” Providence, God in extension, is God as revealed, and God as revealed is revealed as “the reality of goodness, the cause of everything which is;” therefore, “one must celebrate the Providence of God as source of good in all its effects.” Cause and ground of all, Providence embraces everything, and everything may therefore be seen as in some sense expressive of it. God may thus be called by any of the names of his creation. His name is every name and no name. [from Golitzin]
Ok, it’s a thick read. But, before giving up on this article, think through this next paragraph with me.
In popular theological thought, when the word “providence” is used, people assume it means “God somehow guiding history to make things turn out right.” This way of thinking is filled with problems. Most people think of history as a series of cause-and-effect events. We were taught to write history papers like this: “Describe and discuss the causes of the War of the Roses…” When this is our notion of history, then we have a very difficult time figuring out where God fits in to things. Does He work by making this king think and do one thing, and another king think and do another (multiply it out to include everybody and everything in the whole world and you come close to seeing God as a giant puppet master)? If you have fled from puppet master theology – you have done well.
A somewhat sneaky way of saying the same thing is found in the mouths of many modern thinkers (including a number of the Orthodox). It goes like this: God is utterly committed to working in and through history. He has done this in choosing Abraham and creating the chosen people, and from the chosen people, taking a pure virgin, and from her He becomes man and dwells among us. Then He gave us the Church which is now God’s means of acting in history, and the Church is now “building the Kingdom of God in this world.” Any challenge to this is sometimes attacked as a denial of the Incarnation. You can get labeled a Gnostic (been there, got labeled).
So what is it? We turn to Dionysius.
Abp. Alexander describes Providence as “God in extension.” In Dionysius, Providence is the primary manner in which the Divine Energies interact with all of creation. Dionysius worked with many major categories and terms from Greek philosophy, something that was already part of the Orthodox theological tradition. However, his work “Christianized” those categories and terms and gave us perhaps the most mature presentation of the faith up to that time. A strong theme in his work is our “going forth” from God and our “return.” God’s intentions for us existed “in Him” from before our creation (think of Jeremiah the Prophet – “before I formed you in the womb I knew you”). Those intentions continue with us and in us – they are the “Divine Energies” that uphold, sustain, and work within all of creation. Those energies are “God in extension.”
This is in no way a form of pantheism. The divine energies are, indeed, God Himself. That is Orthodox dogma. But the divine energies are not the divine essence. We may know and participate in the life of God in His energies, but we do not know nor participate in God in His essence. There is both immanence and transcendence.
Dionysius explores much of this in his treatise, On the Divine Names. We see (and know in varying measures) the names of God – Goodness, Being, Truth, Beauty, Kindness, Mercy, etc. We would quickly have to say (as regarding God’s essence) that He is Goodness beyond Goodness, Being beyond Being, Truth beyond Truth, Beauty beyond Beauty, etc. This kind of language is heard repeatedly in the liturgical life of the Church. It reflects the reality both of God’s unknowableness together with the mystery of His energies, everywhere present, filling all things, and making Him known.
All of this “God in extension” is summed up in the word “Providence.” Our story is not primarily historical – it is eternal. The existence of this historical universe shimmers with the brilliance of the eternal Providence of God that makes it possible. Its purpose is not defined by its history, as such, but by the will of God: “…that He might gather into one all things in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 1:10) What we experience and call history is the movement of the goodwill of God, the love of God, unrelentingly creating and drawing all things towards Him. That is our daily drama and the proper focus of our attention.
The secularization of Christian thought begins primarily through the shift towards a self-contained history in which God is limited in His relationship to us by certain chosen actors. He becomes a player among players. But this is not the God who is everywhere present and filling all things. One of the many lies of modernity is to center our existence in the historical process, and then to focus on that process as “that which can be discussed on the news cycle.” The Church becomes captive to the political process through the fetish of history (and then brag that you’re focusing on the Incarnation).
To say this is not to diminish the Incarnation. Indeed, the fetishization of history reduces the Incarnation to an event among events – God’s horse in the race – but only one horse among many. What is often missed in this diminishment is the extravagant and overwhelming greatness of God Incarnate. The One from whom all things come, the source of being, goodness, beauty, truth, became a creature among creatures. It is the promise and foretaste of our union with God. He is the revelation of Providence and Image that directs our attention to see the world properly (and to give Him thanks and worship).
Our cultural masters seek to direct our attention to the petty narratives of their faux history. It is like looking in a toilet bowl trying to discern the mystery of existence.
History – whatever the term might mean – is seen best and rightly through the lens of Providence. St. Paul says:
“whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are noble, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)
Christ is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praiseworthy. In God’s Providence, the Incarnation is seen reflected in all such things – the “names” of all good things. “For He is every name and no name.” He is above every name and everything receives its name in Him.
Glory to God for all things!
P.S. I look forward to our conversations about this.
Good morning Fr Stephen
(Well it’s morning here in NZ! 🙂 )
What a post! Such food for contemplation
If I might offer a suggestion of our problem, it is that we understand ‘history’ linearly, and under the ‘temporal’ line of ‘causality’ – ‘this leads to that’. This is problematic when you consider it carefully, for ‘what leads to this that leads to this that leads to that?’ ‘And what is the that that it leads to?’ For time doesn’t stop but ‘that leads to . . .’
Understanding Providence in this way reduces God to the Watchmaker of the Deists, and I suggest implicitly most Western Christian ‘thought’ but more importantly ‘our Practice!’
If however we understand Time vertically- rooted in ‘the Lamb slain before the foundation of the earth’, or it’s humble seed underlying the vertical growth ‘from God to God’ then lying in the dust with eyes uplifted, we Behold Gods Love, Mercy, Beauty in and through all things.
Looking down – to the Slain Lamb – or up to The Risen One, – all that we behold is God as we might Know Him
Vertical Temporality if you will?
Just a thought on this summer morning
God Bless you!
Providence if you will
Fr. Stephen, you said you were looking forward to conversations. What I have to offer might suggest I’m missing the point entirely…but you asked for it!
When I consider the providence of God, I typically think of “provision,” as in “God knows you have need of these things even before you ask.” But I think you’re discussing something deeper than that — the providence of God in maintaining everything and bring everything to His desired fulfillment. The shorthand might be summed up in the phrase “God’s will.”
Is this crazy? When I think about God’s will — His actions in our world — I think of it like this: God, being outside of time, sees our entire history, beginning to end. Having seen it, He determines how He will work through it to achieve His ends. In this way, we are free and God is as well.
This is not a great explanation, because there is no history without God’s actions within it, along with our cooperation in (or resistance of) His actions. So what God is really seeing when he “sees our entire history, beginning to end,” is much more complex, with so many moving parts (God and each of us). There may be no human way to adequately explain this. My using the past tense (“having seen it”) may be problematic as well. But I use it to say that God’s knowledge is complete; He’s not surprised by anything, nor needs to “rethink” or “recalculate” anything.
I suppose my main concern is avoiding determinism — I’m trying to retain the freedom of God and the freedom (and responsibility) of man. I’m also trying to avoid blaming God for history; e.g., God didn’t crash the airplane; such an event is due to man’s flawed interaction with nature, physics, what have you. But God knew it would crash and He will use the event in the fulfillment of His will, if there is anything in it that He can use.
Now that my mind is twisted into a pretzel, I will stop.
I’ll pose a question that many might unconsciously have.
So do sentient, time-bound beings chiefly ‘participate in’ – or to be more precise, ‘perceive’ – God’s providence to the extent they come into touch with the Eternal, through that Divine Grace that, as a kind of “in-breaking” of the Kingdom, transcends the here and now?
And then, how come, saints that have repeatedly and intensely experienced such states, seem to also have the most robust ‘faith’ that things will also turn out well historically due to God’s management, despite them continuously deteriorating due to man’s.
From one pretzel to another…
Yes, I think there are lots of ways to think about this that twist us into all kinds of unhelpful shapes. It was one reason I went after the over-historical approach to the question. Here’s an interesting example:
1. Bolsheviks take over Russia (bad)
2. Bolsheviks attack and oppress the Church (bad)
3. Lots of people flee, including much the the Russian intelligentsia (probably bad)
4. Fleeing refugees establish the Church in many other lands (good)
5. A flowering of Orthodox Church begins to occur in these newly founded places (good)
6. I wouldn’t be Orthodox (likely) if the Bolsheviks hadn’t driven these people out… (pretzel)
And on and on. The simple statement in Scripture (in Genesis): “You meant it to me for evil, the Lord meant it to me for good.”
It is always the case when we try to discuss history that we have selected a tiny, tiny sliver, the most minute slivers, as causes and attributed to them vast effects. It’s just too little as thoughts go.
Rather – it is the contemplation (the Tradition calls it “Theoria” – and generally means by this the contemplation of Providence) of the whole wondrous thing – the Divine Energies – God working in everything (down to the least Higgs-Boson particle or whatever) for the purpose of gathering all things together in Christ. Returning creation to its Creator. It should properly leave us speechless (I said as I speak).
We describe Orthodox theology as “mystical theology” (and it was Dionysius, I think, who first used that term). We should learn to take this up as a practice rather than a slogan.
There is also this thought. It becomes problematic to think of God as “seeing” or “looking at creation.” There is nothing good that is not sustained by the Good. Though the created good is not the same thing as the Uncreated Good – it can never exist at any moment apart from it. God knows creation in a manner that is more analogous to how I know my body – but with the distinction that He is not creation itself but permeates it and sustains it.
There is a synergy. We are free. But my freedom is not a self-existing freedom. I am not free, for example, to become a stalk of brocoli. I am free to become truly what I am. And if I deny and ignore what I truly am, the goodness of the Good continually wars with me, in love, drawing me towards the truth of my existence. Relentlessly loving me.
I am reminded of the book I’ve mentioned previously here: Dorothy Sayers’ “The Mind of the Maker.” For me (as a lover of language) the specificity of the metaphor she uses to describe these same ideas–the creative act of writing–just works, and I can get a handle on your meaning, Father Stephen, despite my paltry knowledge of Orthodox theology, Tradition, and the Fathers. When you write about the same concepts as Sayers, I do not perceive any contradictions between your explanation and her laywoman’s analogy. So when the terrain gets “thick,” as you say, I fall back on that familiar ground as a help.
In fact we ultimately are all in the same boat with each other as with comprehending the workings of Providence because of the constraints our tools of communication force upon us. That is, if your post contains your mind’s energies, I can read it and try to understand you through it, but I can’t do a “Vulcan mind meld” with your essential person.
Vulcan mind meld. 🙂
I am wondering about the connection between this concept and the incarnation. The incarnation as, perhaps, the ultimate expression of this reality. And similarly the Eucharist. God is present in his Body and Blood, God is also present in ordinary wine and bread, but there is a difference. It was because I could perceive this difference, that I became christian, but I can’t find a way to explain it.
Choosing between the edition of St Dionyius’ writings published by Paulist Press (RC) and St Anthony’s Monastery (EO), which might be the winner? The latter doesn’t have Celestial Hierarchy, but it looks so good (hehehe).
Father, thank you for a fascinating piece that I do not fully understand, but that makes me want to understand more… as do all of your comments. “I am free to become truly what I am. And if I deny and ignore what I truly am, the goodness of the Good continually wars with me, in love, drawing me towards the truth of my existence. Relentlessly loving me.” Would you kindly elaborate on this? I think it’s filled with mystery and it interests me greatly, but its full meaning eludes me… I would appreciate your further insights into this, or metaphors or analogies you find helpful. Most of my life, I have lived “at random” (I was not raised in the church and only recently came to the church after… an experience I haven’t talked about much). So, this speaks to me… thank you, I am indeed grateful.
A quote from C. S. Lewis
What ever you do you will fulfill God’s purpose. It matters greatly to you whether you fulfill His purpose as did Judas Iscariot or as did John, the apostle.
I just want to mention a distinction I’ve noticed for a long time now. If I had two people up on stage – one possessing a mystical Orthodox mind and the other a practical Western mind – and I asked each of them to define and explain a word like Providence…
The Orthodox mind is going to go on and on about lots of ethereal-sounding concepts. It will sound a lot like poetry, like St. Simeon the New Theologian, and it will be all flowery with lots of repetition lilting tones of celebration and awe. And at the end there will be a huge applause.
The Western mind will get all serious, break the word down, talk about its roots, give examples of how it’s used and (if we’re lucky) even provide one or two analogies so people have mental pictures to better understand. Everyone will consider the message seriously back and give affirming nods here and there.
In some situations I have seen bystanders or even the facilitator himself try to decide which of the two minds is correct. But that’s ludicrous because right now one is speaking in apples and the other in oranges. There is no comparison without some translation. However, the answer isn’t to create a third language where both fruits are combined, but rather to appreciate each for what it is.
Fr. Stephen’s description of divine energies vs. divine essence starts to make my eyes glaze over and static to fill my ears, but I have hung around people who talk & write like this just long enough to get the gist of what he’s saying. To be clear, I don’t actually speak “apple” but I can stand around with drink in hand at party circles and understand enough to get the joke and laugh at the right moment.
My point is that there will always be a group talking in apples and another talking in oranges. And not only is that okay, it is part of the way God created us to be. Thanks for listening as I worked that out. (grin)
Thank you for this article, Fr Stephen.
I’ll first say Happy New Year to you and all reading this.
I read Dyonisius quite a few years back when I was doing my Masters in Architecture and chose to focus on Orthodox iconography – those writings are simply awe-some; one can barely scratch the surface when reading them the first time, so thanks for the reminder to going back to them.
As a visual person, along with being trained as an architect, I’m imagining God sees Creation both from above and from within (the closest imagery would be a Möbius strip?) We, being created in His image and likeness, have the freedom to decide and thus rearrange an immense multidimensional puzzle which God is constantly re-arranging back (as it where) into His divine scheme. That is not to say that our freedom is fake (as why would I make a decision if God turns things back to what He knows works!) But the more I parent my children, the more I understand that God gave us the freedom to decide precisely so we can learn, via our experiences, to discern what’s good from what’s bad. In a way, life is like a game, at times serious, at other times easy-going, and then everything in-between. Our experiences are what matters – what we do with each situation, with our hearts and minds, with our beings here on earth so we can be truly like God and inherit the kingdom. Children who do not grow up into REAL adults (so so many!!) are a burden: to parents, to their own children, to people around them, and of course to God.
Please forgive my limited interpretation, I speak from the perspective of a 50 year old parent. Of course, others are not parents, or are (still) younger , or simply have different experiences and perspectives. And that’s what’s beautiful about Creation: it is SO varied and encompassing!
Anyway – does the multi-dimensional puzzle imagery helps?
In reading Dionysius it is good to have a guide. I recommend starting with Vladyka Alexander’s book referenced in the article – then go out to any particular edition of Dionysius. I recently got the Mystical Theology edition by William Riordan (RC). It has excellent articles (commentaries) with the Greek and English on facing pages. Dionysius was a word-smith (for example, he invented the word “hierarchy”). Riordan does an amazing job of showing the reader some of the depth of D’s words. It’s quite astonishing. St. Gregory the Theologian has this quality as well – particularly in his poetry – most of which has not been translated into English.
I am not familiar with the St. Anthony’s edition.
Your comment was playful. I also found it dismissive. I was sorry for that.
Eric, I have studied history my entire adult life. My principle teachers were my parents who each had a unique and compelling vision of man’s place in the Cosmos. Not two dimensional. My high school history teacher who, extra-curicularly introduced me to Hegel; my college history and theater experience which seriously challenged the linearity of history and my own reading.
That study, combined with a living encounter with Jesus my sophomore year demanded that I reject most philosophies of history. The question of Providence never really came up despite the fact I was living in the middle of it. I pretty well dismissed the western Protestant version just from reading history in light of what I had learned from my parents and my encouter.
These discussions have made me suddenly realize that I needed more.
My first step, which I had taken long ago, was that whatever Providence is, the west, particularly western history, had it wrong.
Then Fr. Stephen brings it up and I must go deeper. I am finding that the west is not just wrong but have ended up with a total inversion of Providence. I suspected that for decades but it became clear.
Providence is NOT us asking and God providing. Providence is God, through the Incarnation, the Cross, the Ressurection and Ascension etc. Providing us with the way to know Him. That results in us having all good things but having all good things is not the purpose.
It is historical in the sense He took on flesh but not historical under most philosophies of history which have become political and misoriented.
In the west ‘Providence’ has become God doing man’s will.
That it is not. Providence is God’s condescension to become Man so that we can know Him. The main mechanism of Providence for me at this stage is repentance and a limited amount of obedience.
I think we are essentially agreeing here at least I hope so.
Submit yourselves all ye nations for God is with us!.
In my experience, many of us have never been given some of the most basic understandings of what it means to be human from a Christian point-of-view. Going into it sounds “mystical” at first – but it’s simply explaining the nature of how things actually are.
I’ll give some thought – there’s one or two articles of mine that I’ll point out and then we’ll pick the conversation back up on this post.
Here’s a couple:
At the end of my comment I felt like I was just realizing something everyone else had already figured out, thus the embarrassed grin. Otherwise there was no play intended. I have seen these two very different modes of thoughts for a long time now, having spent much time around Orthodox theology and yet being raised in the West.
I had no intention of dismissing anyone. Though it may sound like it when apples and oranges are brought in to demonstrate my point, the goal was to show that one is not ultimately better than another, but in fact that they are both quite necessary. People as a whole can’t live all in the clouds nor all on earth. They can’t live and breath all poetry or all logic. It can’t be all esoteric concepts or all mental pictures that even a toddler can understand. It’s a both/and situation again. It takes all kinds. That was my intent.
Wow. Maybe I have misunderstood (likely), or understand only a few things (possible), but Father, allow me to ask. Are you saying in some sense that really Providence, or all the energies which we call grace, is always at work through the Incarnation? Because in some way this makes sense to me. I mean, if we call the Incarnation the centerpoint of history, it means that everything fans out in all directions from there. It makes sense to me because indeed, to be incarnate of the Holy Spirit is somehow the point of everything, of all of us bearing that fruit through our own faith, bearing His light in the ways we are able.
I am reminded of the declaration: “Behold, I [am always making] all things new”
Does this make some sense? It’s just so huge really.p
Greetings, and Blessed Feast of Theophany to you all.
I have, for some time, wrestled with the concept of providence, knowing full well that modern concepts seep into my thoughts and, at times, engage my consciousness despite my best effort to remain grounded in the teachings of the Church. There is no doubt that goodness has come from some serious life struggles, and yet I can’t say I’ve developed a deeper understanding of God’s Will vs. my will. When the two don’t seem to parallel each other, life can “feel” empty, leaving me wondering if I’m missing something He is trying to show me. Likewise, I pray for some pretty sick people, one of whom has been ravaged by cancer from a young age. Reading her unfolding horrors and their (her and her husband) agony is beyond heartbreaking. Despite the prayers of many, many, people, they are feeling alone, scared, bewildered and even angry. It’s so very difficult to bear the unknown in the face of such suffering. I suppose this is the age old question “why do bad things happen to good people”, but I look at it with a self-critical lens that asks what am I doing (or not doing) to block my ability to connect with the Lord that is everywhere present and filling all things?
Michael B said “…Providing us with the way to know Him. That results in us having all good things but having all good things is not the purpose.” I recently started a prayer group to intentionally pray for the people asking to be placed on our church’s prayer list throughout the week. As I set up the structure, the one goal I offered the group was to look at this ministry as an opportunity to grow closer to Christ by doing the work of the Church, praying in faith and love. It seems like we should all be able to uphold each other through the trials of life as we make this journey, but our abilities are often stunted by lack of understanding and fortitude. May our loving Lord have mercy on us all.
Janine, if you are wrong, then so am I. Much of modern western thought historical/philosophical /theological tends to remove the immenence and Energies of God as a reality. It also tends to move knowing God into a cranial experience rather than a inner one of the soul and the heart still living and present in all things. Even me.
His Mercy and Grace are not just concepts but reality. Takes a lot of both for we fallen folks to recognize it even more to enter it as the saints.
God forgive us.
I get the point. However, to equate serious Orthodox thought with esoterica or mere poetry is to have simply not understood it. I am sorry that my own powers of expression have failed so far – but this is not actually a both/and. It is a matter of perceiving the truth or not. I understand hanging around and taking a look at this or that. But, in the long run it’s like watching people ride bicycles but never getting on long enough to learn to ride. Or watching people swim but never getting wet.
When I became Orthodox some 25 years ago, there was much I did not understand, much I feared. But my heart (poetry?) knew the truth – and I jumped in the water, with my family and every penny I had in the world. I fell off the bicycle any number of times and continue to do so. But what I have tasted of the truth in the depths of Orthodoxy – with my own tongue and lips – tell me that my heart was correct. Often enough, the outrageous behavior within the boundaries of Orthodoxy drive me to despair, but for the depths I have tasted and would never turn away.
My invitation to readers in the topic set forth is to drink – to discuss – to get on the bike and ride. What you are describing, or offering as a description, is from such a distance that it does no justice to the topic.
“One is not ultimately better than another…” that is a sad statement to me – and untrue. I had the one. I abandoned it and would do so again in a heartbeat. I don’t know if I’ve gained the other as yet…but I will pursue it so long as my heart beats.
Forgive me. My words are just inadequate.
The poetic is necessary, never to obfuscate, but because when we speak of God and the things of God, we speak of the Poetic. “Man is a musical composition,” St. Gregory of Nyssa said. The modern world thinks we’re a sausage or worse. Modernity crucifies God on a Cross of practicality – which is generally just a very poor excuse for sin.
But, I’m impatient with both/and. It seems like a cop-out to me, a way to live at arm’s length. I’m too old to manage that.
Quite – it is what sense is.
My heart goes out to you. I served for two years as a Hospice Chaplain here in the rural mountains of East Tennessee. Most were cancer patients, Black Lung, etc. Extreme poverty to boot. There was great faith among them – rural Baptists and Pentecostals – none with a preacher educated beyond high school. They taught me a lot. Jesus was everything to them – and those they loved. Most had always been surrounded with various forms of suffering – such is the lot of the poor in my region. They also had a quiet joy. I recall the bedside of a lung patient as she whispered her last prayers – they word words of transcendent praise! I knew I was standing in the Holy of Holies.
The most important aspect of Providence is Jesus Himself. Christ in all things. Christ even in the cancer where He is crucified (as always) and where we are crucified with Him. “If we suffer with Him with shall also reign with Him,” St. Paul said. He said it because He knew it. He even cried out, in Philippians to know the sufferings of Christ yet more fully!
The reason He could say such an outlandish thing was because He knew Christ. Christ had been formed in him. Providence itself (Himself) flowed in his veins and breathed with his mouth and beat in his heart. So, to know Providence, is to know Christ, and to lose ourselves in Him and to Him. The going out from God and our return to God is a singular journey of the love of God. Every moment, every step.
It is as we lose ourselves in Christ that we find ourselves in Christ. This is a love story.
I believe that coming to know Christ in the fullness of His goodness – in the depths of every situation (even those things we hate the most and fear the most) is the very heart of the faith. In that sense, my Baptist and Pentecostal mountain friends were more “Orthodox” than most within the canonical bounds of the Church that I have met. They were easy to pray with – they often taught me to pray.
All things in which Christ is present are good – because He is good. Everything seen apart from Him will, in the end, be less than good because we did not seek the Good within it.
I am writing passionately tonight – forgive me.
Father, thank you for your reply to Cindy. Not too passionate; truthful.
Michael, thank you. You make more sense of what it means to live our faith.
Cindy, on the previous post of Father’s, I mentioned that I felt metanoia/repentance (“change of mind”) was also an important process for sins *done* to us, not just the ones we’ve done. You now have brought up an example of what we might call the fallenness of the world that is not necessarily anybody’s fault, but is in some sense a legacy of evil or sin in a cumulative and theological sense. So what that means is our action in responding to how we understand God’s will or grace also fits such a circumstance, what we inherit in the world. It is bringing light into what is in some sense evil or fallen, suffering and pain, even if no one’s “fault” we can point to. I think that also makes sense of how providence works this way. Your idea that you will all grow through prayer is very much reflective of the Incarnation in my opinion. We can bring everything to God, through the Incarnation, and it will change us too, and call us to change /grow
This was excellent, Father Freeman.
I worked for Providence Healthcare here in Washington state for five years, retiring in 2017. In many of their historical materials i found this quote: “All of know of tomorrow is that Providence will rise before the sun.” Jean Lacordaire. I had to really think about that and then it dawned on me that Providence, was God. It has been a continual reminder that He goes before me every day. My tomorrows are His yesterdays. There is nothing that I need that he has not “already” provided. It is a reminder of His calling, His love, His continuing presence and care. Thank you for this reminder!
You are most welcome, Dixie!
“we can bring everything to God , through the Incarnation and it will change us too, and call us to change/grow” For me, what is hard to let go is the pestering feeling / thought that I need to “help” , “make things better” for those in desparate situations. It is difficult to sit with, not have answers to give, to just bear with the suffering and listen. Perhaps it is that I have a long way to go in learning to pray, and to trust that prayer to God. I have a hard enough time trusting my own life with it’s dilemnas to God , let alone anothers; though I continue anew each day. So much gratefulness for your words fr. F and for the conversation here.
No doubt, we are called to help: we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc. There is a subtle mistake, however, in our desire to end suffering. There will always be suffering – and some of it will be beyond our reach. In the name of compassion, some are driven to do wrong things. An example is euthanasia. In the name of compassion we end suffering – but by killing. This is not compassion.
In some cases we have to be a community who can make it possible for people to live with their legitimate suffering. The hardest thing in suffering is to do it alone. I think as parents we learn, over time, that our children will have to endure suffering. Loving them means helping them learn the hardest things as well as the other things. And these things – in my experience – are the hardest for parents. In this, prayer and trust in God’s providence, help. God did not ask us to do this alone – but together as Church. May He give us grace to find each other.
O Father Stephen, how your last comment touched this old man’s heart. Over 20 years ago I listened to an audio tape of Fr. Tom Hopko, I think on the glory of Christ. In the first part he repeatedly said something like, “Jesus, Jesus crucified and glorified!” He just kept on emphasizing Jesus’ name. And he continued in this vein for several minutes. My heart stirred. What a preacher. I’ve heard you, Father, say in your podcasts that if we have Jesus, we have everything. If we do not have Him, we have nothing. Many of those poor mountain people knew Christ Jesus intimately in their suffering. I hope/ pray we do too. When praying to Christ about my wife’s lymphoma, I say, “Lord Jesus, you know my (our) hearts cry. And that’s for healing. Yet even more, we want your will, whatever may be needed for our salvation. (If honest, I sometimes quail before these words I pray). But we must have You.” …or similar words from our hearts’ depth. Lord Jesus have mercy.
I’m writing on my phone and cannot say much at this time. But I’ll say this much: thank God for your passionate commitment to write from the heart.
Father, I believe I understand what you’re saying. And I believe my first taste of understanding Providence was in my praxis of science—even before I became Christian. But it was indeed that first taste that glimmer of illumination that drove me to become an Orthodox Christian.
This is just my first reflection on your writing but please continue to help us to grasp, taste and with your help understand.
“But we must have You” Yes. that is the prayer. God is with us….but we remain in alone, in disappointment, in agony because we do not recognize Him. My idea of what is Gods goodness is prone to error. God IS WITH us
Janine, by God’s Grace. I am thankful we connected.
I have been deeply blessed by our Lord. Give Him the Praise. (getting your positive feedback though is a blessing too).
Dear Father, thank you for your reply, and for the posts you kindly pointed out to me. I have read them with great interest, and they are beautiful. I found in them a depth that makes me want to come back for more. I was particularly drawn to this quote: “And so if we will live in such communion we will struggle to pray, not as a moral duty, but as the very means of our existence. We pray, we fast, we give alms, we confess, we commune, not in order to be better people, but because if we neglect these things we will die. And the death will be slow and marked by the increasing dissolution of who and what we are.” Staying close to Christ is our lifeline, then… and that which is accomplished outside of this relationship (even things we deemed “valuable” or “important” at various points in our lives) will be scattered in the wind… I struggle with church practices, as they have not been my routine growing up; I feel that I often do things haphazardly, now more, now less (usually less rather than more)… when I talk to family it’s as though I am split between two worlds, and have to seek and find my lifeline again. And yet I come back to the life of faith and the church, because it appears to me like a deep, profound well filled with fresh water compared to the chimeras I was chasing in the past. Call it middle age 🙂 Thank you for your words, and for your kind willingness to share your thoughts. I am immensely thankful.
As someone going through difficulties right now, (allowed by God, and out of my hands), I think of providence as “finding God”…in the mystery of the Cross, in the Divine Liturgy, in the dark cloud (Elder Aimilianos describes being God hidden in the dark cloud when we are going through sickness and suffering), in His love. But so much is beyond our understanding. “For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then shall I know, even as I am known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12. We cannot know God fully now, nor His ways fully, but we know He is “everywhere present fulfilling all things”. He is always present with us, and we find Him in the hidden mystery. I found wonder and still sacredness in reading a part in Dr. Patitsa’s book, “The Ethics of Beauty”, where he talks about God gives each of us a stone when we are in Heaven with Him, with our new name on it, and no one else knows this name that is a hidden gem between ourselves and God. I found your last paragraph in this article, about receiving a name in Him beautiful. Thank you Father. I ask your prayers.
The issue of Providence is very related to theodicy. I remember sitting in my car one day thinking about how if God was to prevent one evil deed from happening, it would result in the control of basically everything when you think about it causally. Causal links are endless, and every time you multiply the number of wills by the number of bad decisions the exponent becomes unimaginably large. So, I get that thinking causally if you don’t have some monergism is a real problem. I don’t discount all monergism, just the puppet master sort.
If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.” ― R.C. Sproul,
This is the other end of the spectrum, but there is some truth to it. Then you get people like Leibniz which most Calvinists accept in his Best of All Possible Worlds theodicy that is really a mathematical solution. I believe the multiverse is Leibniz on steroids because in one of those worlds there is a perfect you and a perfect world. Reincarnation follows in a similar vein, as does purgatory.
In each case, it’s the multiplicity of causality that opens the door to perfection. It’s the number of the rolls of the dice, or God has already rolled the dice in His mind such that, this is the world He makes. It’s as good as it gets when you factor in a measure of human freedom.
Here’s what’s missing for me: human freedom is usually factored in, but almost never is the demonic factored in.
Historical causality, and God’s causality within time, are necessary to know God is faithful. If God makes promises He does not keep, He is not righteous. Righteous is defined primarily as keeping promises, that happen in time, and if they did not, God would not be righteous.
Providence can’t be isolated from causal events, of our or God’s choosing, since the immanent and transcendent meet. If the way we know God is through His energies, and those energies are Providence, and if revelation/promises are energies, how can we avoid saying that causality is part of Providence? Causality is not all there is, and it may be overemphasized, and the I AM-ness of God forgotten. If God did not keep His promise to Abraham, Christ would never have been born for example. But that doesn’t mean that all Providence is causally concerned, I mean, Christ does uphold all existence and it is permeated with God’s presence. I remember trying to explain this poorly to my kids. It’s like a snow globe. God is both inside and outside the snow globe. We are inside and can’t get outside. God is both. If He’d always remained outside, never revealing Himself, we wouldn’t have the issue of combining eternality and temporality or how causality is related or not related to eternality. He creates the conundrum, which might be instructive towards humility. Again, if Christ never returns, the promise is null. If Christ did not rise, we are to be pitied above all, to avoid this pitiful state of affairs, Christ must return, and it will have many causal effects. I can’t help but say, that Providence when revealed or apprehended is causal, but even when it is not revealed or apprehended, it is still causal. And now I realize we’re back in the realm of progress. Causality is motion towards something, yet God is unchanging: He has no progress.
But maybe you’re only saying that that’s not what Providence is, it is more the I AM of God’s existence/energies touching us, and that we make the mistake of thinking of that, totally in relation to God’s will, and the relation of that, to time and causation?
Thank you, thank you.
It’s impossible for me to explain to you what a (very specific) balm this is for my soul this morning. May God bless you for your work in Him.
Can you elaborate on what you mean by this?
“Here’s what’s missing for me: human freedom is usually factored in, but almost never is the demonic factored in.”
I do think that our common notions of causality create problems when thinking about Providence. It makes of God a “player among players” (unless you do away with freedom in the manner of the Sproul quote you gave).
I used a phrase years ago that I continue to find helpful: God “causelessly causes.” It’s a small application of apophatic language – which is always a useful antidote when what you’re saying results in diminishing God.
Your last paragraph is closer to my meaning:
I’m not a great fan of models that center on the will – it’s been problematic ever since St. Augustine made it his center piece and generally got it wrong. Someone needed to clean his blackboard.
You can talk about the will/freedom, etc. without reference to Goodness, Truth, Beauty, for example. That’s truly problematic. It exalts things like law, obedience, causation, etc. to the fulcrum of the spiritual life.
In Dionysius, eros (desire), is far more prominent with Truth, Beauty, Goodness, etc. inexhaustibly drawing us towards them (God). More than that, inasmuch as the Divine Energies are the abiding and ever-present source of all good things everywhere and always, the bulk of our being and of all things around us are always being drawn towards God.
Jesus says to St. Paul on the road to Damascus, “It is hard to kick against the pricks.” St. Paul is “willing” to do one thing – but is being constantly goaded towards Christ. Everyone of us is on the road to Damascus.
As to the demons. I take a bit of a “phenomenological” approach on that subject. I only know what I know from where they “touch upon” our struggles. I don’t really know much about their back story – we’re given very, very little of it. I assume this is because, as of yet, we do not need to know it. Someday we will – because we will “judge the angels.” That’s a very pregnant statement and may hide within it things we dare not imagine. So, I don’t go there.
But, just as “all creation groans awaiting the manifestation of the Sons of God,” so every beautiful, good, lovely, gracious, wonderful, outlandishly loving fiber of our being, indeed our being itself, groans as well. We groan for God. We long for God. We have no rest apart from Him. Sometimes we listen to the wrong music and think we’re groaning for something else. But when we finally hear the Song that all of creation sings (and our hearts as well), then we can begin to rush into the flow of all things being gathered together in one in Christ Jesus. The more clearly we hear that Song in our heart, the more we can begin to discover that we are part of a vast chorus of the universe.
“Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim and who sing the thrice-holy hymn, now lay aside all earthly cares…”
The universe is a liturgy.
These sorts of images and categories are far more useful than the Augustinian non-starters. I work to erase that blackboard within me. It got me nowhere.
Matthew, forgive me brother but your solution is complicated. Math has never been my friend.
People living and doing by and within God’s Providence, that I can.
Since there is energy involved I assume there is a possible quantum description but the number of variables involved would be nearly infinite if only humanity were factored in (not the rest of matter and non-human consciousness including the demonic and angelic consciousness.
My Dad on the back of a horse on the eastern New Mexico prairie at sunset over 100 years ago intuited the solution because of the beauty. Providentially, all life is interconnected. What I or any other part of creation that has energy–all is interconnected. Even God, the uncreated One is but as the personal interactive source.
That is why I have always gravitated toward the experiential side of the equation. All made even more simple to me by the Sacramental Life initiated and maintained by God out of Love and Mercy.
Once I told Jesus that, if He were real, I needed Him, I was hooked up to Providence in a deeply personal way. The rest is either history or yet for me to experience. My experience of Him is extraordinarily multifaceted but all is within the scope of God’s Providence. Remember, we get to experience Him Sacramentally in all things and all other life. That, in essence, was what was shown to him.
For instance the last prayers offered for one dying by the Church, open the Gates of Heaven. All those praying are part of it My late wife passed into eternal life in that mercy and did not reject Him at the Gates. (she repented).
Remember, God’s Energies are Personal, revealed in the connection of Love, Thanksgiving and Mercy. Infinite. (Insert symbol).
I may be wrong but I have never been able to see the personal in math or Infinity — Even through Donald in Mathemagic Land.
Glory to God in the Highest. By His Mercy.
Thinking in terms of the sacraments (rather than math, etc.) is useful in this. Fr. Alexander Schmemann famously said that in the sacraments, we do not make things to be what they are not, but reveal them to be what they truly are. The whole world is a sacrament.
Thank you Father. Sacramentally is the only way I can approach the Mystery. Just a bit ago my wife and I were offering our prayers to some of the Holy Angels to help us.
My lovely wife has a good connection to angels. They seem more than ready to assist in pretty much every endeavor and circumstance. If we ask. Quite specific and personal situations with which we need help. The Saints and the angels are part of the Sacramental Order of things too and while angels are not human, they are Personal as well — as one or many.
“There is more to Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than is dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Ah uncle Will. So many nuggets expressing the human condition. Reading him and remembering the joy of speaking his words in inside my head…… Wow.
Matthew may your Guardian Angel watch over you body and soul today in all your deeds, hopes, plans and prayers. Especially where there is a struggle of some kind.
I don’t believe in a mathematical model; I’m criticizing it as a necessary outgrowth of Western theology. I am very sensitive to any model of Providence that is deterministic, deistic, or pantheistic. Thank you for your prayers.
Matthew, Thank you for clarification. May the Joy of the Lord continue with you.
Eric, history is NOT linear. History is a record of the Creation’s encounter with our Creator and a record of our sins.
Do the Maori give presentations of their tribal dance? Tribal dances the world over are prayers that partake of a sacramental element (a gift of knowledge from my dancing mother).
They sometimes contain elements quite similar to Genesis.
History is participatory and is part of every level of the human being–including our need to repent.
Lord have Mercy
Thank you. I read Ecclesiastes after reading the post and came upon this:
NET 3:11 God has made everything fit beautifully in its appropriate time,
but he has also placed ignorance in the human heart
so that people cannot discover what God has ordained,
from the beginning to the end[s] of their lives.
7:3 I have examined all this by wisdom;
I said, “I am determined to comprehend this”—but it was beyond my grasp.
24 Whatever has happened is beyond human understanding;
it is far deeper than anyone can fathom.
Father, Providence and our salvation? Is there an articulation in the Fathers how they interrelate in the Light of the Sacraments and a person’s prayer life?
Providence also contains our free will teleologically does it not?
Our free will plays a part. It’s just that it should not be treated simplistically as some do in which the will is everything. We do not understand our own will, oftentimes. So we get that strange statement in the morning prayers, “Save me whether I want it or not…”
Providence can be seen as a word that describes everything God is doing in our lives and in the world. It is God “extending Himself” towards everything in creation. If you will, to see something sacramentally is to recognize its providential character. In the Eucharist – we see Bread and Wine saving us. In Baptism, we see water saving us. But we should also see the air we breathe saving us, etc.Ultimately, everything bears the saving grace of God towards us.
Was just looking up some commentaries on Ecclesiastes and came across the idea that Ecclesiastes was originally a heretical text that was edited to show us how not to think. It’s like a debate between an atheist and a Christian and a deist, and the point is to show, “Uh, no, that’s not how we think.” This by Tremper Longman, long time respected OT scholar. That’s how it feels when you read it, it’s incredibly modern the pessimist in the dialogue. Regardless, it captures some of the angst with a bad view of Providence.
I love your ministry. You are a gift to so many of us. God has obviously blessed you with this role. Because of all these things I have no desire to argue about differences or detract from what you do. May God grant you many wonderful years.
If the bulk of the Protestant converts to Orthodoxy came from this community, I sincerely believe the Orthodox Church would become ever stronger in the faith. But unfortunately, as far as I know, most do not come from this community. The Christian people you describe would have a firm understanding what God’s righteousness meant in Christ’s words, “unrighteous mammon”. But it seems the bulk of the converts to Orthodoxy attempt to dodge and reinterpret such words such as those and the words “eye of the needle” and the “narrow gate”.
I thank God for your ministry and for God’s Providence. He let me be born into a kind of cultural bubble, which brought significant pain and shame but now I can see His Glory in it all.
Dear Father, you were in the Protestant churches for a long time, and I know you struggled mightily within them, but you held fast to Christ, and here you are, a beacon to many.
First, let me apologize. I appreciate your kind and supportive words. I was too strident and defensive in my comments last night. FWIW, I’m in the middle of a prednisone taper, treating a pinched nerve in my neck. It’s relieving the pain, but it’s a bit of an emotional roller coaster – my body’s riding the prezel-like waves of Providence, Lord have mercy!
Those people of the mountains are American “peasants.” I love a “political” discussion I had with one a few years back. He prefaced his thoughts on the matter (he was 65 years old) with, “Well, I ain’t ever voted…but”
If such people were in an Orthodox land, they would be Orthodox. Many of their most natural instincts were quite Orthodox (which taught me a lot about Orthodoxy). Most people experience Protestantism in a much more middle-class, mainstream cultural form, where is has developed many bad and egregious tendencies. At the same time, I think many of the things that afflict the Orthodox in America come from the same cultural tides that drive the middle-class in our country. There are sometimes issues among our immigrant community, though most of them have received their faith in a more “natural” peasant-like form. It’s not sophisticated – but endures hard times very well.
One of the blessings of working at a university is having an astonishing library steps from my office. (Although the knowledge contained there is less impressive since the advent of the WWW, the library’s ambience still has a Google search box beat.) Today at lunch I popped over and checked out “Mystagogy” and began reading.
Just from the introduction, I have two questions:
1) What are your thoughts about the argument that Dionysius is Neo-Platoinism dressed up in Christian clothing?
2) More broadly, what is your take on pseudonymity in sacred texts?
Good questions – both of which I’ve thought a lot about and explored – both of which you’ll find well-adressed in the pages of Mystagogy. But, in a nutshell, here’s my take:
Though Dionysius draws heavily on Neo-Platonist language and themes – he dramatically and clearly reworks them in a profoundly Christian manner. This is perhaps more clear to Orthodox scholarship (and even a lot of Catholic scholarship). German scholars (mostly Protestant) in the 19th-20th centuries really gave him a drubbing and largely dismissed him as a Platonizer. Indeed, many of them wrote Orthodoxy off as just Platonized Christianity. When it was clear to them that Jesus was a German, liberal Protestant (probably Lutheran).
There’s a nice 35 minute video lecture by Abp. Alexander on his personal journey with Dionysius that I highly enjoyed and recommend: https://youtu.be/D1CplHXmFyU
He describes how he got past the German problem.
It should be noted that it was the Germans who tagged Dionysius as “Pseudo-Dionysius.” Golitzin does not use that term.
Though, I think the evidence is overwhelming and undeniable that the Dionysius who wrote the Dionysian Corpus not a first-century companion of St. Paul. It’s a pious thought – even held my some modern saints – but I think it is demonstrably incorrect.
What is the case is twofold. First, it is an act of humility that the author does not reveal his identity. It is not an act of deception. Second, much is revealed by his choice of pseudonym. He takes up the persona of St. Dionysius, because the saint was a Greek philosopher. And it is Greek philosophy that Dionysius is re-working, appropriating, and making serve the purpose of the Christian faith. There is nothing wrong in this, I think, and we should just accept it.
Overwhelming evidence includes things like language and ideas. He is a wordsmith. He clearly coined the word “hierarchy.” It does not occur in the any writings prior to his use. And within decades it starts appearing everywhere. There are other such examples. He was tremendously influential – but only starting at a certain point, i.e. the writings did not exist prior to that.
Abp. Alexander thinks that the author is likely a Hellenistic Syrian, but I’m not really qualified to have an opinion on that.
As to the use of pseudonymity in ancient texts in general – it’s obviously something that had a different cultural place than in modern times.
Dear Father and Mark,
I hope to hear more exchange between you (Mark) and Father Stephen, on your readings. It is fruitful for us all to hear Mark’s questions and reflections as a person entering Orthodoxy and reading Mystogogy. At present, I’ve decided to not read it (yet). I have walked an interesting road in my life, and I’m aware that there have been an abundant number of influences that have the potential to distract my walk following Christ. I love reading, and I suspect I do too much of it. In my twenties, I finished my first degree in philosophy with a concentration on ancient Greek and Jewish philosophy. And I had learned Hebrew to read the Jewish texts directly. In my thirties, I entered a science program at a university and subsequently earned degrees in Chemistry. All of these threads including my childhood inculcation into Seminole culture God wove providentially into each other and brought me to Orthodoxy. As a result, I have a special appreciation of the seeming paradoxical words non-causal causality.
But there is an Achieles heel I have in walking on such a road. It’s as if I could be something by reading it or watching it on a screen. One thing Chemistry taught me is that I only really began to understand it by doing it. ‘Doing’ authentic Christian Orthodoxy is not my forte. I wish it was and I’m working on it. Communion in prayer life, repentance and love are so important but I usually miss that target. It’s easier for me to love God’s creation, but much harder for me to love people.
There is much wisdom in what you’ve described. I have spent a lot of time through the years reading things where the “coin did not drop.” It didn’t drop, I think, because “it was not my question.” There are questions of the deep heart that recognize the answers when they come. There is a resonance. Dionysius was largely off my charts for example. I’d sample him and get nothing. Not my question.
But several years ago, God brought Abp. Alexander into my life (he’s my archbishop). He shared his story about his journey and Dionysius’ role in it, and, frankly, I saw him (the Archbishop), and loved him. Since then, it’s like my heart has been finding questions and answers within Dionysius (and Maximos, as well, who was deeply devoted to those writings). It seems to be time in my life for those questions.
Generally, when things unfold like that for me, it seems to be my lot to digest and share them. So, I’m working with it now, a bit at a time. But things have their time. Time and space.
“It’s easier for me to love God’s creation, but much harder for me to love people.”
Hear Hear, Dee! Your statement reminds me of a joke I’ve heard in the service sector more than once: “I love the job; it’s the people I can’t stand!” (grin)
I resonate with your struggle. May God give us both the grace to work with them. May He use them for our salvation and we not resent Him for it. (wink)
Some second thoughts. It is important that we not underestimate the place of Greek philosophical thought and vocabulary in the Christian faith. God chose the specific time and place in history in which Hellenism (late Greco-Roman culture) was the dominant form of the culture in the Mediterranean Western world, as well as much of the Middle East and North Africa. It provided a common vocabulary (which Hebrew could not have done) and certain forms of thought capable of bearing the heavy weight of Christian doctrine.
The Nicene Creed required that language, as did all subsequent Councils of the Church. The great doctors of the faith, the Cappadocians, St. John Chrysostom, St. Irenaeus, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Athanasius, and on and on, all worked in that language and thought form. What we have in St. Dionysius is an example of that thought form in one of its most mature development. And there is widespread agreement that St. Maximus the Confessor might hold the singular position of its truly most mature development – but he is unthinkable without the shoulders of Dionysius.
Those (such as late German scholarship) who sought to deride Orthodoxy as a Platonizing of Christianity – must be recognized as among those who helped destroy modern Christianity. Orthodoxy – in its Eastern form – simply is the bedrock and touchstone of Christianity. Those who might call themselves “orthodox” (with a little “o”) are only orthodox insofar as they share in the thought and teaching of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Where they deviate – they are not orthodox. That can, I think, pretty much be demonstrated historically if need be.
Dee, one if the crucial steps for me in my journey is almost brand new: In order to comprehend the incredible difference that Christianity is, I had to begin to come to terms with humanity–my own first of all. My wife Merry (married 13 years) has been essential to me there. The fact that she was going to a Christian Church that was primarily Cherokee and Sioux converts to the faith. People whose families have been Christian for generations.
Quite a journey
Thank you for your words and prayer. Indeed my comment reveals the wounds that have not healed. I pray that the Lord might heal my (and our) soul. Meanwhile the Lord has set me in the Orthodox Church. And He lets me have the strength of heart be able to give glory to Him while it is unequivocally not a better church. And therein, I believe, paradoxically might be my healing.
Your comment brings to mind a few memories. The Seminole people had been missionized fairly early on in American history. Yet there were some cultural features of their practice that were sufficiently different that in among ‘white’ Protestant churches they were called devils and devil worshipers (including myself).
My earliest memory in a Seminole church was a place in Oklahoma (we were visiting my uncle, my mother’s brother). I was very young possibly five years or younger and in the service a conch shell was blown. It was very exciting for me as a child. Later I related to a Rabbi some of the Christian practices I had remembered and he was completely convinced that among the Spanish who missionized the Seminoles were Marranos, formerly Jewish people who had converted to Christianity. He believed that the conch shell blowing was related to the shofar in Jewish services.
My mother eventually (I was eight) stopped going to church because of the harassment. I too got harrassed but not when I was with my white father. I clung to him for dear life in that environment.
There were very sad chapters in our history…may God give us grace and may His Providence redeem us all.
If I may, as one married to a native Greek, I have always had the impression that for the early Christians — of all persuasions, but for this commentary particularly for the Greeks — saw Christ precisely as we have been discussing. He transfigured what came before. What came before was not necessarily bad or evil, but since Christ is the Person who is truth, whatever served truth served Christ. It is my impression that for the early Christians from every country, Christianity became the transfiguring power of enlightenment that did not just reject the past but rather illumined it, including whatever of the past was also a search for goodness, truth, beauty. And, if I may add a rather “chauvinistic” note, but along the lines of what Father has said, this meeting of the Hellenic philosophical tradition and Christianity gave us theology. Those early Fathers such as Basil, Chrysostom, and Gregory were the flower of Hellenistic education. They had been groomed in the best schools for service to the state, the best and most brilliant students of their generation. They chose instead to serve the Church, and their tremendous intellect, education, insight, and faith combined to give us the gifts of patristics. At any rate, this is my understanding. I’m sure this is a story among a very complex set of stories and traditions, even of the time. But nonetheless it is a central part of our collective heritage of faith.
Many years ago , I was stunned by reading the autobiography of Black Elk. It impressed me that he was a true mystic and true faithful Christian; his own experiences and tradition did not impede but fed his faith in Christ. I do not think he felt a contradiction. At least, this was my impression when I was much younger and his personality and character touched me deeply.
The Russian mission to Alaska and its native peoples is, by and large, a good example of Orthodox missions. May God preserve us in that practice, even as we missionize Western civilization itself.
St. Patrick of Ireland, was a “Brit” – a British Celt. He was captured by pagan Irish “pirates” and made a slave. He escaped, later returned, after becoming a monk and a bishop. He preached the gospel to his former captors, and brought the Irish to Christianity in pretty much a single generation…without bloodshed or violence…or the support of an army. He preached and worked miracles.
The history of the Church, however, including its modern splinters, is marked by many sins committed in the name of Christ. Bad theology, or even inadequate theology, nurtures bad practice. It has also always been the case that within the Church, including its modern splinters, there have remained many good and simple hearts. People who read the gospels and practiced the commandments of Christ. Unknowingly, we all long for the day when the commandments of Christ are written on the hearts of all and we are gathered together into Christ. There He will wipe away our tears.
May God teach our hearts to long for it – for ourselves and for all.
Saint Herman’s example of Russian Christianity among indigenous peoples is what gave me hope that my conversion to the Orthodox Church might be truly sanctioned by Christ. Without his example in the early days of my conversion I was fairly low in trust and fearful that I was only kidding myself about the Orthodox Church being what it said it was, the Church founded by Christ.
By the way I also have Roman Catholic relatives who are in denial that St Patrick was Orthodox.
Our collective memory has a tendency to be rather short. May God have mercy.
Janine I also read about Black Elk when I was young. But when I read about him I wasn’t ready to adopt a forgiving attitude toward Christians. At that point in my life there were few Christians that gained my trust. If I had met him in person, his thoughts would likely had changed my way of thinking. He was Catholic if I remember correctly.
My closest association to an authentic Christian in my personal life at that time was an RC priest who ministered to me in ER in a hospital. When you meet a true holy person it is indeed unmistakable. His light gave me hope much later in life that Christ is real.
Dee, forgive me for my arrogance if I have offended you in any way. I just love the intersection of traditional tribal faith and prayer practices and The Church. Both my mother and my work in the dramatic arts gave me some wonderful tidbits. Both were instrumental in my conversion to Orthodox. Lots of ways and I am grateful for that mercy.
One of the practices in the congregation I still remember in a moving way was when one of the elders prayed in Sioux language for those who were ill. Praying to each of the cardinal points of the compass invoking the Creater of all AND the angelic spirits of each part of the Creation. Evocative in so many ways–truly a work of Providence. I did not understand a word yet the humility demonstrated by the elder, the minister and the rest of us will always be in my heart–a treasure.
God forgive us, we have not been back. We are trying to help them raise money to re-gravel their parking lot.
A lot of Providence goin’ on. Much for me to learn by His Grace and mercy
Dee, yes Black Elk was Catholic. I believe that as an elder he tried to teach Lakota tradition and faith in Christ as complementary, with an emphasis on what we’re talking about, the renewal of creation. Apparently according to something I read, he loved the Latin mass.
Thank you Dee for your testimony
Thank you for your answers. Archbishop Golitzin does address my questions in the introduction (and will likely continue to do so throughout), but I was naturally curious as to your personal views. As you mentioned in a previous comment you were contemplating writing a book involving Dionysius, I didn’t think you’d mind answering too much 🙂
My own undergraduate life I remember finding much in Plato that was appealing. (The poorest ideas, at least, one would hope do not continue to be studied in universities millennia later.) It’s not, therefore, that I read Neo-Platoinism as a pejorative and immediately tossed the book aside. Nevertheless, the description of some wording being identical to a Platonic scholar’s work, the element of pseudonymity, and Luther’s virulent advice together raised my eyebrow. So I asked a priest!
When I was young and trying to figure out exactly what I believed, what deterred me from exploring Orthodoxy more deeply was (if I can remember correctly) a conception that Orthodoxy described man not just returning to God, being drawn to God by God, but becoming God. Reading Kallistos Ware’s works almost a year ago now, I could more clearly see the Orthodox distinction and thus a theology that comported with what I personally read in the words of Christ and the Apostles.
Dee is right, however, that Divine Liturgy (and subsequent participation in the Church) were and are necessary to complement the intellectual understanding that comes about from reading and reasoning.
To go back to your previous interchange with Drew, I think that dual experience of heart and mind is more the two necessities than something like apples and oranges. Or perhaps we are like blind men trying to describe a divine “elephant.” It is not (in my opinion) that Christian believers most often disagree because of having exactly contrarian beliefs or a belief in one thing and not another. Rather, we emphasize the part of Christ’s message that most speaks to us in our separate personalities. (In writing that, I wonder whether there is a portion of the Beatitudes, for example, that when we listen each of us most identifies with or yearns to be included in. My aspiration would be pure in heart.)
I like the phrase about Orthodoxy I read often that it allows the fullest experience of the faith; that description seems wholly positive and offered most in a spirit of peace.
Janine thank you! I should reread his writing.
Dear Michael I took no offense and sincerely apologize if my comment seemed to suggest that.
Dee, My deepest apologies to you. I’ve very sorry and ask your forgiveness.
Father Stephen, maybe this was addressed already in the comments, so forgive me if I’m repeating something already hashed out above, but I was pondering something you said early on:
“1. Bolsheviks take over Russia (bad)
2. Bolsheviks attack and oppress the Church (bad)
3. Lots of people flee, including much the the Russian intelligentsia (probably bad)
4. Fleeing refugees establish the Church in many other lands (good)
5. A flowering of Orthodox Church begins to occur in these newly founded places (good)
6. I wouldn’t be Orthodox (likely) if the Bolsheviks hadn’t driven these people out… (pretzel)
And on and on. The simple statement in Scripture (in Genesis): “You meant it to me for evil, the Lord meant it to me for good.””
This put me in mind of the notion (one I think some Fathers discussed) that even absent the Fall, Christ would have become incarnate among us, but *because* of the Fall, both how this was accomplished and what it meant for us changed. The Incarnation was part of the “plan” (for lack of a better word) regardless, but due to all of the consequences and patterns of sin from the Fall, it is different, and we can never know what might have been.
So too I think your “pretzel” expresses a similar working out of providence: absent the Bolshevik Revolution (and absent the Turkish pograms of the late 1800s too, which sent many of the Middle Eastern Orthodox here too), we might not have the Orthodox presence here that we do, but also absent those horrors we might have the Orthodox presence here in a different (and perhaps less disunited) form. I cannot help but ponder that at this time now, where Christianity in the cultural West is in such a crisis, that Orthodoxy offers a return to the right path*, and so was perhaps always part of God’s providence, but the path there has been unexpected (by us anyway).
*An Evangelical pastor I know, who 2 years ago was utterly unfamiliar with Orthodoxy, told me the other day that many in his circle are now seeing and hearing about the Orthodox church rather frequently.
Mark, you said…
“Or perhaps we are like blind men trying to describe a divine “elephant.” It is not (in my opinion) that Christian believers most often disagree because of having exactly contrarian beliefs or a belief in one thing and not another. Rather, we emphasize the part of Christ’s message that most speaks to us in our separate personalities.”
I think you said much more eloquently was I was trying to get at with apples and oranges. Just the other day I heard someone comment that Orthodox tend to emphasize the divinity of Christ while Catholics dwell more on His humanity. I feel safe in saying that both His humanity and divinity are essential and important for us. And I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that it is almost impossible for one person or group to hold both of those in balance without eventually favoring one over the other – due to all kinds of factors.
I don’t think there’s anything to do about this reality, nothing needing to be fixed at the day (beyond the salvation of the whole world of course). It just it was it is, but realizing that things are this way helps me to be aware of my need for the perspective and understanding of others. It encourages humility on my part. It causes me to trust God more and more often. As Fr. Stephen has said, this life is messy. In chaos I learn that I am not enough and that I must reach out to Him and others much more than I would like. That’s not me in a state of failure; that’s simply our path to salvation in this life.
Much of 2022 I spent with a mystery illness. Only recently are diagnoses and remedies being found. For the first few months my nightly routine was to wake up at midnight, take lots of pain killer, get into an ice cold shower (the only thing which would touch the headache), and then wait until I could finally fall asleep again. The doctors were clueless, friends and family couldn’t do anything, and so what’s left? I sat in the dark until I finally understood that I was there to reach out to God above all things – and to understand just how little I know or can control.
As one church father explained, first nothing matters. Then you find God and put Him first – and then everything else falls into its proper place. I would add – you still have no control over those things, but now at least you can love and appreciate them as you should.
And as Fr. Stephen has said many times, it is through the cross – our weakness and failure – that we find our salvation. It is found in the dark of night and not the light of day.
I understand the points both of you are making and know what you’re working to express (I think). On the one hand, there’s the desire to say something valuable about two different things, without devaluing either. And, I admit that I’m resistant to that (I happen to think it’s a habit born of modernity).
I did want to comment on the distinction of the West focusing on the humanity of Christ and the East on the divinity. The reason is because this is a trope that one hears now and again – it’s actually false and misleading. What can be said of Orthodoxy is that it is decidedly “Chalcedonian.” Perhaps the apex of Orthodox thought is best expressed in the work of St. Maximus the Confessor, who took everything into the fullness expressed in the Council of Chalcedon (5th Ecumenical). It’s fairly complex in that in considers both the humanity and the divinity but in the most complete possible expression.
The West, particularly through the lens of later developments in sacramental thought, in which versions of the Penal Substitution and a piety of the pain of the Cross found an ascendancy, created a focus on the humanity. “Christ as perfect man pays the price demanded by the justice of the Father,” etc. And, it has continued and found other more compatible expressions in the modern period because the divinity has all of that dogmatic baggage that modernity would rather do without – it’s less problematic. Thus Christ is increasingly viewed as a moral figure. Very soon, our culture we judge Him to be morally problematic and will seek to sweep him away with the last vestiges of Christianity itself.
I maintain that the West is losing its way – particularly in that it no longer “sings” in the fullness of a Chalcedonian faith. It’s well intentioned, but the melody has become quite thin. It cannot serve as a “balance” when talking about two things for at least the reason that it doesn’t have anything near the weight of what it seeks to balance. You cannot sing the Western theology without making the East sing very softly. Thus, they both suffer.
It interests me how many Catholics I know who are “fleeing” to the Eastern Rite within Catholicism, looking for more meat.
Not an argument – just my thoughts.
Dear Alan thank you for your kind words and courage. May God bless you with great blessings on this day of Theophany.
I ask you for your prayers concerning my wounds and words. May God hear our prayers for healing.
as a former Roman Catholic I can say that they do not focus more on the humanity of Jesus. They keep the tension of theology from above and theology from below; fully God and fully man.
Thank you very much Dee. I appreciate your graciousness. We’ll pray for each other and I echo your words, May God hear our prayers for healing.
Drew, Thank you for the openness and vulnerability in your expression above. Whether or not you think you communicate “eloquently,” I have no difficulty understanding your meaning (perhaps because of standing near your same position on the elephant so that I can easily feel with my own hands what you wish to describe).
Father Stephen, I also mean no argument with you regarding the position(s) of the West versus Orthodoxy (which we would both agree have to be simplified to be even discussed: you have referenced your own heartache over the current global crisis roiling Orthodoxy).
To be clear, if I had to be binary, I consider myself wanting to be Orthodox in my outlook and sympathies. I agree that the West has made mistakes that Orthodoxy has experienced to a lesser degree (and that the fraction of those errors, both subtle and egregious, I am aware of would be tiny to what you could recite).
It is not so much that I want to describe something of value about each, but to emphasize that what is important is, “In trying to learn with one another, are we wanting the elephant fit into what we would like to believe about the elephant…or can we all agree that, working together (in communion, to use perhaps the best word), our goal is to get at the elephant as He truly is?”
CS Lewis was not Orthodox. The Baptists and Pentecostals you described above as having “taught me a lot”…that’s more what I’m trying to say: the idea that sometimes labels may make Christians believe they are farther apart from one another than, in the essentials, they truly are.
I appreciate all the effort you put in here for all of us. If there is any doubt, I do come here to learn and not to argue, regardless of how my inquiring may sometimes communicate itself. Your work always conveys that exact quality I value, of seeking after God’s truth wherever the seeking leads.
The elephant is a denial of truth and is especially used to encourage syncretism and that no one believe system/religion has the monopoly/fullness of truth. It has been especially used in new age spirituality. We are all clutching at straws. Which I would say is a denial of Jesus, being the way, the truth and the life; of God’s self Revelation as Trinity.
It is a metaphor that has a very poor history and track-record, indeed.
‘Glory to you who have shown us the light.’ We no longer have to stumble about in the darkness of ignorance and demonic delusion (although we still have to struggle against them); we have truly seen a great light, the light of the world, the truth of all things. Thanks be to God for our Lord Jesus Christ.
I do not think any mortal Christian has the “fullness of truth” (cf. Matthew 24:36). (That each blind man does not grasp the entire elephant, however, does not imply the elephant is not real or that, indeed, the elephant’s nature is changed by human misconceptions.) The treasure of infinite truth is apportioned in our discrete and finite vessels of clay. We may no longer be stumbling in complete darkness, but we yet see through a glass darkly.
Father Stephen described, for example, years of the “coin not dropping for him” regarding Dionysius. My long ago, first attempted engagement with Orthodoxy, I, unfortunately, was not in the right position to see or perhaps there was not yet enough access to Orthodoxy in East Tennessee to get a true picture. (Even now St. Anne is a 50 minute drive for me.)
This real-life circumstance was a limit, even as I all those years ago very much was looking for what I found the first time I participated in Divine Liturgy. For most of my life, Christ-seeking Protestants have sustained me and provided Christ-like examples. And so I think it is important always to have empathy and find ways of embracing those struggling toward the light, wherever they are in that struggle, rather than assuming that our own eyes (based on the label on our jar) have become completely mote free.
For what it’s worth, I have never had the slightest interest in new age spiritualism, so whatever “dog whistle” the metaphor has among those folk is coincidental from my ignorance of the same.
You’re right about the “dog whistle” thing. The metaphor originated in a Hindu story and was quite popular starting in the 60’s or so. It sends off fire alarms for many – particularly if they’ve had to battle they’re way through the morass of new-age-like confusions.
I do not think it is right that we claim that we individually have the “fullness of the truth.” Rather, we say that the Church is the “fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:23). In that sense, we can say that the “fullness of the truth” has me, or something like that.
I am also reminded frequently of the gentleness of the late Abp. Dmitri, my spiritual father, who urged us converts not to speak ill of where we came from, inasmuch as it was quite likely the place where we first met Christ. There are many stories and experiences of what a mixed bag that might have been. After all, most converts have “left” something. My own experience has taught me, though, that if the primary drive in our lives is what we were leaving, then we’re heading for trouble. Rather, it is what we are gaining that matters. I had plenty of issues as an Episcopal priest – but my conversion to Orthodoxy was not about fleeing – it was about coming home.
At the very time of my conversion, there were terrible problems going on here in the S.E. between the OCA and ROCOR (who was out of communion with everyone other than Serbia at the time, I think). It was a mess and directed affected me, my family, and the initial beginning of St. Anne. I had no honeymoon, or time of blessed peace with my conversion. It was obvious to me for a number of months before being received that I was heading into a mess and that it would be difficult. I suspect that Providence was very much at work in that – though I had to overcome any amount of resentment over that first decade. I think, on the other hand, that it was an accurate reflection of Orthodoxy.
Orthodoxy, in its struggle to maintain true, authentic ecclesiology, has always been a place where difficulties and strife have occurred. The constant schisms and re-inventions of the Church that occur in denominationalism create make-believe scenarios or false ecclesiologies (“we’re all one”). There’s a brutal honesty in Orthodoxy that probably scandalizes others. I have dubbed it the “ecclesiology of the Cross.”
“I am also reminded frequently of the gentleness of the late Abp. Dmitri, my spiritual father, who urged us converts not to speak ill of where we came from, inasmuch as it was quite likely the place where we first met Christ. There are many stories and experiences of what a mixed bag that might have been. After all, most converts have “left” something. My own experience has taught me, though, that if the primary drive in our lives is what we were leaving, then we’re heading for trouble. Rather, it is what we are gaining that matters. I had plenty of issues as an Episcopal priest – but my conversion to Orthodoxy was not about fleeing – it was about coming home.”
Father, this is so very true. I left my Protestant church feeling disappointment and some degree of anger, but the longer I have been in the Orthodox church, the more I have been able to recapitulate everything that was right and true and good where I came from, and so have been able to actually find more and more in common, through Christ, with other Christians, Protestant and Roman Catholic alike. I’ve tried to express this to others by saying (and realizing this is an incomplete thing to say, as this is something not easily expressed) that it has been in the Orthodox Church where I finally learned the beginnings of what it is to even be a Christian, and thereby see in my Protestant friends how they are themselves already living that out. Even saying this, however, feels clumsy. Put another way, in the Church I think I’ve finally been confronted by Christ, and having seen Him, been taught to see Him elsewhere too. But I had to be in the Church first to even see Him at all (which is really a lesson on my own blindness).
Thank you Mark,
I was not implying that any mortal had the fullness of truth; perhaps I wasn’t clear in what I was saying.
However incomplete our understanding and our seeing through a glass darkly is, I do find the elephant metaphor unhelpful in a Christian context, due to its origins and purpose and therefore would not accept the elephant as being real in a true sense; having more to do with the imaginings of men than the Revelation of God.
And I have been helped myself by clergy, monastics and lay people when I was a Roman Catholic; good, decent people. What is at issue, is not other people’s goodness or faith; I have met atheists who are kinder than I am.
I am not Orthodox, but am hoping God is leading me and will make it possible for me. Is the Orthodox Church the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church, or not? And if by God’s mercy I can become Orthodox, will I receive the healing I need? Or is the Branch Theory true? Should I have therefore remained within the Roman Catholic Church, even though I had come to reject some of its teaching, which basically put me out of communion it. The label on the jar, to use your metaphor, may not be important for you, but it is for me.
Thank you again for your counsel. I remember reading the story as a kid…probably pre 4th grade 🙂
“My own experience has taught me, though, that if the primary drive in our lives is what we were leaving, then we’re heading for trouble. Rather, it is what we are gaining that matters. I had plenty of issues as an Episcopal priest – but my conversion to Orthodoxy was not about fleeing – it was about coming home.”
Same here. I am not fleeing Protestantism but my own sense of having let my faith become hollowed out. In contrast, I did experience the sense at that first Divine Liturgy of timelessness and perhaps this was a glimpse into heaven.
Also, I began watching some of your YouTube videos before even knowing you were “you.” I’ve told your wife that the first couple of times in church that I saw you (and the long beard) I thought you were likely some priest who had come over from Eastern Europe somewhere, not the guy in the Protecting the Veil series that I had found so accessible and sincere.
One Sunday you filled in for Father Daniel, and the scales fell from my eyes. Talk about seeing through a glass darkly! Your homily asked us whether we lived like God was real. And that was what I needed to hear, and what I do think is missing in most of the flailing churches. To try to summarize it, you were unabashed about knocking down the wall between the heavenly and earthly house (as is the subject of your book).
Anyway, I do not have bad church experiences like many commenters here have written of. It does trouble me, however, that so often I read and see Christians focused on areas of disagreement (sometimes being manipulated into the same by those with completely non-Christian agendas).
I’m old (and perhaps inconsequential ) enough that I can’t say I have felt anything external like what you must have as a priest converting, but I don’t expect the same benign neglect from others regarding my daughter’s future path. (My son, while indulging me in attending St. Anne when here, has already told me that he’s a “Protestant boy.”)
How sweet to be mistaken for an old immigrant priest!
On parishioner at St. Anne, perhaps 10 years ago, said that he had attended the parish for months until one Sunday he realized that I was “that Fr. Stephen.” At the time, I actually worked hard to keep something of a wall between my blogging and my parish ministry. I did not want the notariety of the blogging stuff to interfere (and would have stopped had it been a problem). Eventually, the parish council confronted me and wondered why I did things as I did – they saw my internet work as a parish asset. So, we changed things up a bit (as in, putting a link to the blog on the parish website, etc.).
Funny how all those things go. The truth is, St. Anne, over the years, has been a place of sanity for me. It’s where I live. People see me for who and what I am – which helps keep the hypocrisy reduced somewhat. It’s interesting now to be the retired priest – who isn’t even always in attendance – who fills in from time-to-time, and doesn’t even know the names of all the catechumens (of course there’s so many of them!).
I am also wonderfully blessed in the support and patience of our parish priest. It’s a joy to watch the work go on “without” me – kind of like being in heaven among the “crowd of witnesses.”
In my book (due out in February) on shame – I have a chapter on “the shame of conversion.” It looks both at the experiences of converts coming into the Church (where there are many experiences that will trigger various shame reactions) as well as the experiences of those who are receiving the converts and sometimes being chagrined by what they see. One of my observations is that Orthodox in America (though it has been here for over 200 years) is only just beginning to confront America (over the past 30-40 years) with the influx of converts. In 1960 or so, Orthodox conversation really didn’t need to include R.C’s, much less Protestants. I know many ethnic clergy who have no idea what various Protestants think or believe, for example.
But today, in the current context, there is a real need to know more, to engage more, etc. And that is a new experience – filled with all kinds of new problems. It is exasperated sometimes by behaviors that are less than helpful – too strident – too riddled with unidentified shame and such. But, the NT is actually filled with references to a situation that is not all that different. Surprise! It’s a book that is relevant to our lives!
I am not fleeing the Roman Catholic Church, by rejecting certain must be believed dogmas, to actually be a Roman Catholic and to be in communion, I put myself outside of said communion. I could of course have just carried on going to Mass and receiving communion and not saying anything about what I did or did not accept. I believe it was the right thing to do, instead of pleasing myself and becoming an even worse hypocrite and at least hang on to some honest integrity.
Having known very little about Orthodoxy and having been praying the Jesus Prayer for some time, I decided to delve into what Orthodoxy was about. This led me to change my perspective on Roman Catholicism and led me to rejecting some RC dogmas and accepting Orthodoxy in a limited way and seeing as there is no Orthodox presence anywhere near me, I’ve gone out on a bit of a limb and ended up in a bit of a limbo.
I apologise if some of my posts are not clear enough. I take the comments section at face value and comment from time to time, but have no interest in giving lengthy academic type or too biographical comments.
Andrew, may God continue to bless your journey and bring you fully home.
I came out of a “New Age” group with a longing for Christ. As we came closer to the Church, the new age stuff became less and less relevant. Those that preferred the occult went their way.
No question that Jesus and Mary were both with us despite how we twisted things.
When I attended my first Divine Liturgy, both Jesus and Mary welcomed me and I knew I was home.
It has not always been an easy homecoming but I am still here 36 years later, by God’s grace.
What has helped most is participation in the Sacraments. Especially the Divine Liturgy and Confession..
“Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
That has become a door to go more deeply into the life of the Church (seen and unseen).
Glory be to God
Thank you Michael,
your getting to point always welcome.
A last thought. Blind Bartemaeus? God became man, not elephant.
I just wanted to say a few words of my appreciation for your participation here. By way of contrast, I am rich with having several Orthodox Churches within driving distance. But such richness in proximity is no guarantee of righteousness or the possibility of it, even if one such as myself should participate in Orthodoxy Liturgical services. I sincerely believe that it is the condition of the heart that matters. As Christ said, blessed is the poor in spirit. I have no doubt that your prayers are heard by our Lord and in such authentic prayer is communion.
On the elephant analogy:
I first heard its use in science circles, often used as a model teaching students chemistry. I’ve used it myself, but while feeling deeply disturbed by model’s inadequacy ontologically. But it apply describes what scientists think they are doing when they conduct their experiments and then share their results. They believe that they will eventually get to some point where they can extrapolate successfully the ‘rest of’ the elephant. And then they will go about testing their hypothesis. The problem with the model is that with all of our science and technology that we have so far, the elephant that we can hardly barely grasp only constitutes about 5% of what is “out there”.
I should add that it is probably hubris to think that we might grasp 5%.
I look forward to the book and reading it! I believe it will indeed be relevant because in your brief descriptions a coin has dropped in my understanding regarding my own conversion.
I have no desire to be upsetting to others in these words I’m about to say. I’m not sure whether such words will be helpful or not. And since I’m not sure, Father, please delete as you see fit.
I have not liked Christians by and large for most of my life while keeping my awareness of those Christians I have also always loved and at the same time having not met Orthodox Christians. Obviously there is internal conflict with what I have just said. It has been very painful for me to become Christian. It is very painful to become Christian and to see much of the same behaviors they have, that I have always hated in them, I find in me. While in catechism I had a dream in my sleep in which I committed the same atrocities that had been committed against my family. Those atrocities included the ultimate death of my grandfather and rape of children including I belive my mother (she wouldn’t talk about it).
This dream continues to haunt me. But it enables me to say the last pre-communion prayer in truth: I am indeed the first (chiefest) of sinners.
One of the Protecting Veil videos I watched that featured Father Stephen before coming to know him in person was this:
Around 2:20 he begins talking about forgiveness and the upcoming Vespers that this year I think occur on February 26. To be sure, I have very little to forgive others for, nothing comparable to what you describe. But I can attest that even slight, almost insignificant offenses are difficult for me to forgive without practice and asking God’s help. Nothing else in my experience is better relief for the soul, however, and makes me feel instantly that I am aligned as I should be with God’s will.
Dee, what you say saddens my heart, not just because of your pain, but the larger pain of humanity, fallen. We each share in that, not impersonally either. We inflict darkness on each other. Forgive me. Jesus loves each of us in away I cannot fathom. He loves sufficiently to take my sins upon Himself and transform.
As the priest says in the absolution: “having no further care for the sins you have confessed.. .”
I often find that the hardest part of the Sacrament followed by “… arise and go forth and sin no more. ”
That is a call to me to repent and forgive– very hard for me.
… and yet there is Joy somehow. Afar off the avenue of joy looks intimidating as there is such turmoil all around that path. We can look and turn back in fear, as I have often done. Or “take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them.” The turmoil is in my heart — ended by walking past and entering Joy anyway.
It is the opposition of the Cross though. Both internally and externally.
When I have partaken of the voice of the drums gathered with others, it the rhythm of the human heart accelerating and bringing us all closer to ourselves, each other and God Himself.
I often sin against myself as well as others. I have that of which to repent as well.
Dee, you are part of the prayers my wife and I say each day. God bless you and clear your way and be at peace with Him who shines His Joy within each heart who turns to Him. Even sometimes in the very midst of our storms.
This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Thank you Dee. I appreciate your insight.
Each of us carries within us various wounds – some lesser, some greater. That Christ gave us words from the Cross is such a precious gift. To endure all that took place on that day (which gathered the whole of days) and to say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” are not just a gift, but a promise that the voice that spoke them abides within us as well, and can, over time, speak them and mean them as well.
I found this quote from St. Maximus early this morning: “Only love overcomes the fragmentation of human nature.” God grant it to us – day by day.
Indeed Father, I believe only love gives us the capacity to forgive. And it is love that I pray for.
Love is the essence of Mercy. Just sitting in my parish hall for our annual Pancake Breakfast to benefit Christ, the Savior Academy our K-12 school. 10 years now. Sitting next to my lovely wife who is beaming her gorgeous smile. Such a diversity of people. Still mostly of Lebanese ancestry. Most of the people have no clue who I am but if I needed something any of them would help.
Thank you for your prayers and words of encouragement. I suppose we all struggle on our path with Christ. May He hear our prayers and comfort us.
Mark thank you for your comment as well. I have enjoyed listening to “Under the Protecting Veil” YouTube channel as well. One of the great things about Father Stephen’s talks is that one can relisten to his talks and become edified each time. I listen to these and other podcasts for the company and comfort of hearing people talk who live in the Orthodox Way. I suppose I read the lives of the saints and the words of the saints for similar reasons.
I have been grieving regarding my writing in this blog stream. Sometimes it helps to read St Sophrony’s words for comfort. And Saturday night, I returned to listen to him again in his book, “His Life is Mine” and randomly opened and came upon these words that I have copied below.
On the cover of the latest printing of his book is a picture of a tree in a mosaic form. At first, I was dismissive of the picture, not in any purposeful sense–just not paying attention to detail. I missed a couple of aspects of the tree in the picture, and it didn’t really mean much initially other than the usual association of the ‘tree of life’. Having seen that in so many forms in modern culture, I had become numb to the image and its capacity to speak in an Orthodox way. The roots are shown in detail, and they lie underground, where the foundational ground is shaped in a semi-circle form indicative of a kind of halo. The rest of the tree is above the ground and within a halo-like circle. But I only noticed this, actually paying attention to it after finding this passage below Saturday night.
Inside is a chapter on the “experience of eternity through prayer”. I randomly started reading the last paragraph that started on the last page. He describes the experience as that of a great tree:
First off, I’m so very sorry for all that you’ve had to go through. Lord have mercy and may He continue to bring you healing.
Secondly, you wrote:
“I just wanted to say a few words of my appreciation for your participation here. By way of contrast, I am rich with having several Orthodox Churches within driving distance. But such richness in proximity is no guarantee of righteousness or the possibility of it, even if one such as myself should participate in Orthodoxy Liturgical services. I sincerely believe that it is the condition of the heart that matters. As Christ said, blessed is the poor in spirit. I have no doubt that your prayers are heard by our Lord and in such authentic prayer is communion.”
It’s so odd that you wrote these words, and that I just read them. I’ve been chewing on something for a while, and what you wrote here was THE answer I needed: “….it is the condition of the heart that matters.” So simple but so true.
Thank you for your kind words. They mean a lot to me. I’m uncomfortable with exposing so much of my heart as I have done on this blog. It isn’t the best thing to do generally. But I’m sincerely grateful for your response and it helps me to bear my shame.
Dear Dee, “exposing your heart” here, nourished by the holy faith and true teachings, is truly a balm on my own hardened heart and it is a life-giving communion, a invigorating stimulation…. Thank you !
(forgive me the bad English)
Your English is great…don’t worry!
Yes, Dee, thank you for sharing from your heart. We hear enough “head” stuff, don’t we? Keep the balm coming.
I understand, at least partially, your experience. I had converted to Calvinist soteriology then to conservative Presbyterianism. I was devoted to and still am, to the defense of the Faith. I hold as a basic presupposition that piety follows soteriology. I tried very hard – very hard – when realizing that my beliefs were foreign to the early Church (this they admitted, and it caused no alarm – a great video of this is Ligon Duncan’s, Did the Church Fathers Know the Gospel – something like that – you can find it on YouTube) – to continue to defend my position after coming into contact with some very smart Catholics that had converted from our denomination. You can find them on Called to Communion. I debated there for months, then started buying Catholic theology books by people like Hahn, various Popes, Kreeft, Baron, Jimmy Akin, etc. In the middle of debating, and realizing, there was never going to be a resolution because there were too many ways Catholic theology could pivot by appealing to an immense range of theological thinkers, that and they try and appeal to Protestants and Orthodox by essentially giving them a pass on various issues (Justification especially) – and I don’t dislike these people – but in the process some Orthodox arm-chair apologists popped in. That was off the radar. And I realized why, eventually, Reformed Protestants (from which Evangelicals were birthed) and Catholics have more in common than say Orthodox and Protestants, and it’s all due to Original Sin. So, they agree basically on Original Sin and Guilt, predestination (or it creates debates about it), Providence as meticulous determinism, Penal Substitution where Christ is tortured by God for us in love (which I do not caricature, I know it’s real love to them, and it was to me at one time), and several other doctrines.
To me, and I’m sure some will disagree, the fast track to understanding the logic (which is different from doing Orthodox life), is to imagine the Bible all over again without Original Sin, and without an Originally Perfect Adam. If you just take seriously death, Satan (that figure that makes no sense in a deterministic system, and leads to a Yin Yang in my opinion), and that people were never originally perfect, but made to become perfect through union with God and His purposes, with Christ, towards the goal of becoming/attaining to, mature manhood, the logic of Orthodoxy to me, would be clear. Then you ask yourself, was this preserved anywhere in Christian history, especially after you’re convinced, which everyone should be, that death, Satan, idolatry (recourse to demons for survival purposes), and theosis/pursuit of union with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit following your adoption, etc… And the answer is yes, in Orthodoxy.
But, before I got this far, I realized, I couldn’t be honest and just tag along in my Presbyterian church. It’s a big deal moving your whole family out of a church setting they’ve known for 10 years. But I was darn positive that I could never return to that, not out of offense, I was never offended by it (the determinism, election, etc.), but by realizing, Jesus and St. Paul never taught this stuff, neither did the NT. The respect my youth and the Reformed gave me for the Bible, led to me respecting the Bible more than their tradition, then I found, the Bible in Orthodox Tradition, did not contradict the Bible, it protected its interpretation against bad interpreters.
Hoping for you to get from what I would describe for myself as dissonance, to, a relaxed prayer.
To add, the Branch Theory, I personally entertained it for a while. The draw, especially if you read smart people like Peter Leithart, emotionally, feels like it is a result of asking the question, “What do I make of my Christian experience before Orthodoxy?”. Or, “What would I make of my Christian friends who are not Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, etc.?”, if one of these Traditions were correct. Or, even more a fix, what if the Progressive Revelation/Doctrinal Development (both follow a sort of evolutionary view, which is part true if you’re talking OT, and not true if you believe in a Faith once delivered) is moving us all toward an eschatological end of union among Christians, and we’re in a waiting period?
All of these have an emotional and ecumenical appeal. I don’t disagree with the emotional or ecumenical desire, it should be there, but not at the expense of Jesus’s own teachings and those of the Apostles. We should feel saddened, while realizing, the way to union is to embrace the theology of Jesus and the Apostles. But everyone claims to do this. But which one actually does? I had gotten to the point of looking for Reformed Episcopal churches (new denomination), thinking about Anglicanism (they are off the rails as to keeping the Faith), a High-Church Presbyterianism (this doesn’t exist, nor is it really historical), being a Mere-Christian, and just forgetting about distinctions that divide Christians (but that’s a huge forfeiture and not easy to live out as you’re little better than a New-Age guru unfortunately), etc. Quite the time of life those 3-5 years. Because, you can’t help but feel like, especially if you came from a background with a high emphasis on Providence (the kind not talked about here on this page), why did God not make it more obvious? Why, if Orthodoxy is true, am I just finding out about it? Why are most of them continents away? And the answer to the question for me, was/is, free will, which I never appreciated due to my view of Providence which was just determinism. But that doesn’t mean He left us with nothing in the meantime.
I think, and I know Catholics and others do this as well, that we are moving towards a time where Orthodoxy is vindicated on a large scale. This because, the best Biblical scholarship shows, the Gospel in Orthodoxy is what was preached in the 1st Century. And this is becoming more and more well known. This cannot happen for Protestants or Catholics, they must move toward us theologically. It will be completely disingenuous if they claim what has been discovered 2000 years after the fact as their own, when it existed all along. It’s like taking credit for a discovery while the thing has existed for 2000 years. Our brothers and sisters outside Orthodoxy are moving our way theologically, without making the ecclesiological connection. I think, in a large way, this what should be pointed out.
My sense of confidence is not pride or wishful thinking. Nor I am naive about imagining a church who kept the Gospel as meaning, that this automates Orthodox living. It’s just the blessing of knowing, what Jesus preached, is dogmatically preserved in the worship of Him, His Father, and the Holy Spirit.
Forgive me since that was unsolicited, can’t help but sympathize with being in-between knowing and unknowing, and how that impacts day to day life. The only reason I can think of why God lets us stay there for a while, is to prove our persistence in looking for Him.
thank you for your comments and sharing some of your experience. I had a generally good experience of Roman Catholicism and had no axe to grind or any reason for leaving, had no intention of leaving. It was a desire to learn more about the Jesus Prayer, that led me to read more about the Orthodox Church and was I surprised, challenged and encouraged to find out more,
On the surface Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism can look very similar, but their inner cores; besides theological difference; the ascetic life is very different; more so the prayer, heavy use of imagination and considerations in some aspects of RC spirituality, which I couldn’t get used to, too busy and distractive. I much preferred the Divine Office and later also the Jesus Prayer, which a priest advised me to pray. Orthodox prayer while no means easy, is sober and reverent and physical and given to imagination,
It took me two years of reading praying and struggling internally, before I faced the fact that I was no longer RC, due to my rejection of the Filioque, Papal supremacy and infalliblity (which I was never fully convinced of), the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Mary, amongst other things, and to the degree that it was possible in my situation to accept Orthodoxy. Even though I had nowhere to go. To remain RC became untenable and it would have dishonest and hypocritical.
Yeah, I think I get it. Indulge me (no pun) for a second. The reason I believe that you get the Jesus Prayer as a method of tuning the heart/aligning the heart/bringing the heart and mind into constant awareness – is the Gospel in Orthodoxy. It’s therapeutic because our real problem is that our hearts and minds and bodies are in conflict. This is all St. Paul’s Gospel. What I don’t want to do, I do, the good I want to do, I find extremely difficult and almost impossible. What to do? Relax and trust God or purge/purgate myself. Protestants chose the former and Catholics the latter in one simplistic sense. You end up with infused righteousness with some self-inflicted punishments or imputed righteousness with more mental stress than anything else. I’m being simplistic I know, but to make this short. Orthodoxy is over there saying, “Your systems are busted. You can’t merit anything. You can only put to death the deeds of the flesh by the Spirit.” How do you get the Spirit? Don’t I already have the Spirit? I do, but I can increase in remembrance, I can work with God’s energies, I can subject my body to my mind, etc. And you see a mixture of these in all Traditions, but they usually take on a relaxed approach, because Christ is punished according to them, or, a yes, He was punished, but I need a little additional punishment, or I need to withdraw some virtue from the Treasury of Merits. And Paul’s talking asceticism, faith versus fear, faith as love, never giving up, fighting to the end. And, you end up later, with the Jesus Prayer. This is my assumption. The Jesus Prayer follows the Gospel of Jesus, Paul, Orthodoxy. That’s why you don’t find it elsewhere. I could go quite long, but I believe it’s very defensible.
In my previous post I missed out- ‘not.’
Orthodox prayer is not given to imagination.
the Jesus Prayer is simple, not easy and as you say, I do think it follows the Gospel of Jesus, Paul and Orthodoxy. It is full of theology, in its truest sense. By praying it with faith, you are doing theology, even though the mind is focused on the words. The dogmas and other teachings are also important, in that we understand to whom we are praying to and why. It’s not a mantra, nor magical formula; could it be said it is the faith of the Church in miniature? it has a Trinitarian aspect, and repent and believe the Gospel.
Andrew, Matthew, et al
Just a word of mercy here. The current fragmented state of modern Christianity is not of our own making. It is the work of many centuries of sinful thoughts, actions, reactions, etc. It is not unlike human history – and the “fractal” of human history – our own lives. It calls for lots of mercy and kindness.
I appreciated Dee’s comments on the heart – for it is only in the heart that we can begin to know and heal the fragmentation of our lives and of the world around us.
The answers to any of this are ontological – they are not arguments, but truly living into the healing that Christ gives us in the fullness of the faith. Fr. Georges Florovsky famously wrote:
It’s a very wordy way of saying that we must take the “tragedy” of Christian history into ourselves – “re-endure” it, relive it, and “cleanse it” (catharsis) in the fullness of the experience of the Church and the lived Christian tradition. We cannot think of this in historical terms (none of us will live anywhere near long enough to see how any of this plays out). We think of this only in terms of Christ and His Cross.
If God has brought you into Orthodoxy – it’s because He’s inviting you to share in His Cross. That same Cross is at work everywhere – in all suffering – gathering all things into Himself. God give us grace.
I appreciate what your saying and if I am taking you out context, please forgive me and point where I have been argumentative in what I have posted today.
I think that’s what I’m doing in a sense, though it doesn’t always sound like it. I’m sure I could do it better. Because, I have nothing but love for my Protestant and Catholic brothers and sisters. I don’t really blame them for anything, at least those of good will with a good heart. I want them beside me on the road home. I’ve compared it to being adopted and not knowing who your real parents are until later in life. You appreciate and love those who raised you while realizing, you have truer parents that fulfill what parent means in a fuller way. Thank you for the quote, that’s something to chew on. In the same way though, we show the contradictions in culture, show the dead-ends, show the dependence upon borrowed capital from Christianity, while mourning within ourselves the decline without losing love for the people of the world.
It’s good for you to throw these humility reminders in and hope you continue to do so. They are humbling and corrective and show other visitors that we are after humility while trying to figure out how we got here.
Yeah, I think so. I heard N.T. Wright criticize the Jesus Prayer once as not being Trinitarian enough, this from the person who practically rediscovered Orthodoxy with the New Perspectives on Paul and never gave much credit to Orthodoxy. I love him, don’t get me wrong, but how an Orthodox Christian could pray the Jesus Prayer without being cognizant of the Father and the Spirit is beyond confusing. Christ is the Son, for Whom the Creation exists, and the Spirit draws us into intimacy with Him, to the Glory of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, and back again, repeatedly, with zero boredom.
I do not see you as argumentative. I was just throwing a thought into the mix.
With all due respect to N.T. (I knew him well back in the day when he was just “Tom Wright,” and Dean of Durham Cathedral – long story), his real claim to fame was being one of the few prominent Anglicans who publicly proclaimed that Jesus was actually risen from the dead. That made of him a conservative’s darling. But – on the other hand – he’s not a theologian, per se, and I think he handles some things poorly. A difficulty with such good thinkers is that they really have no idea of how much they don’t know. They’ve lived and worked in such a shallow pool (Western thought) for so long that they simply do not have a clue about what is actually in Orthodox Christianity. It can’t be seen from the outside that easily.
Ok. Thank you Fr. Stephen. I was a little confused.
another aspect of the Jesus Prayer, that had quite an impact on me, is that it’s for everyone. No special knowledge is needed, no matter your situation or position in the world, you can turn to Jesus in a spirit of repentance.
I’m going to put in my two cents worth here (and that’s likely an over-evaluation). I believe in the strength of the Orthodox Church to overcome what has and will assail it because I believe it is indeed the Church founded by Christ. In Christ’s words, it will endure its hardships. I’m with you. Labels count. Other churches (I rather say confessions) are not what the Lord has founded. I have heard one Orthodox Archimandrite (for the sake of Fr Stephen’s rules, will remain unnamed) say that other confessions do not have “the same Jesus”. The tendency in my own heart is to agree with the Archimandrite (recognizing all the while the hardness of my heart might easily be at fault, regardless). Furthermore, I know that even the adversary, in the context of meeting up with Jesus named Him the Son of God. Therefore on account of that, I’m also disinclined to think just because someone calls Jesus God, that they actually know what they’re talking about. Such hubris concerning what we know or can know is a key quality in US culture (just look at its scientists-of which I am one!).
Some of my angst that I have expressed from time to time on this blog involves what I have witnessed among Protestant converts and their preconceived expectations of what they should and should not encounter when they attempt to enter the Orthodox Church. And when the Orthodox Church doesn’t meet their expectations, they think it should change and not them. And I really don’t know why I haven’t seen so much of this characteristic among the Catholic converts. I have met few in my own category coming in without sustained affiliations with Christianity. But all in the US have had inculcated to Protestant culture. Even spiritualists have a Protestant flavor. I attempt from time to time not to disparage Protestants specifically, and ascribe such expectations to the culture. Although admittedly I fail because of my passions.
The Protestant (also described in this blog as western and modern) culture is pervasive and not easily detected until either one lives with someone outside the culture or alternatively live outside the culture for some time. And sometimes because of globalization that too isn’t sufficient.
There is a growing movement among Catholics to adopt ‘eastern-rite’ Catholicism. Perhaps as more Catholics realize that doing ‘eastern rite’ doesn’t actually cut the mustard, they might think it should be a rather easy transition to enter the Eastern Orthodox Church from eastern rite Catholicism. And they too, will become baffled if not resentful if the ‘ease’ that they anticipate isn’t forthcoming.
What I have witnessed in catechism classes in behavior and expectations remain rather consistent. Few former Protestants, specifically as a group, come in with such humility that they have an open heart (and mind) to truly hear what the priest (or catechist) teaches. And sometimes they are unable to hear (this was my case also) because modernity has co-opted the language of faith to mean something that it does not mean in the Orthodox Church. It takes sufficient and long-term emersion in the Orthodox culture to even begin to understand implicit meanings, to be able to listen and experience what is under the surface. Nevertheless, I’ve personally encountered two Protestants who amazed me with their holiness upon entering the Orthodox Church. It was indeed as if they had always been Orthodox all along, but they were indeed exceptions to the rule that I have witnessed.
It takes time and truly an open heart to emerse in the life of Christ as it is lived in the Orthodox Church. If what I read in the saints is correct (and I believe that they are correct) even most priests and monks in the Orthodox Church have a deep struggle to attain such a goal.
Please forgive me, Andrew. I’ve rattled on. And I’m still doubtful about my words and their helpfulness when I struggle so much with my passions.
You have no opportunities to be in person within the Orthodox liturgy. But all that you have said here in this blog suggests to me (the sinner that I am–please take with a grain of salt) that the Lord abides in you.
What you say, Dee, is good for all of us to hear. Everyone comes in with preconceptions (even cradles have them). Even though I was neither when I came to the Church I had elements of both. Let us not forget The Blessed Lady Mary.
A lot of baggage for both RCs and Protestants. Big gap between them. Many RCs almost divinize Mary while Protestants can totally ignore her or be quite uncomfortable with her.
It takes time and patience.
There are actually large differences to enter into with the veneration of the saints too. There are a number of saints we venerate that the average Catholic has never heard of (like St. Raphael of Brooklyn). The Eastern and Arabic saints we have recognized after the Schism too.
thank you for your comments. I always detect authenticity in what you say here. There are so many voices in this world proclaiming to have the truth, it can be difficult to hear the authentic voice of the Good Shepherd. I do believe it is spoken through the Orthodox Church. The label is important. If I go to the shop and buy a jar of jam, I expect it contain jam and not peanut butter, or engine oil. Does it do what it says on the tin, to mix metaphors. It’s about truth, salvation and eternal life. It’s not just like changing your brand of coffee; well it’s all coffee, but this new brand tastes better than my old brand.
As you know and have so well expressed, it a difficult struggle to be conformed to Christ and overcome that of us that is conformed to the pattern of this world. The good Lord bless you and yours.
I’ve noted quite a few typos in my comments and apologize for them. Some of them are true spelling mistakes, but I tend not to check autofill as much as I should, either.
Father, I sincerely like your use of the word fragmentation to describe Christianity. Historically this is true. But I ask for your forgiveness in advance for what I’m about to say and ask for your correction.
Fragmentation suggests to me that each piece is an incomplete part of a larger whole. If this is also true, then this description applies to all humanity as potential adopted sons of God. There are commentators here who focus their use of their words of ‘brothers and sisters’ on those outside Orthodoxy who call themselves Christian. Because I’ve witnessed more “Christian behavior” among non-Christians than self-professed Christians, I’m less inclined to selectively count only Protestants and Catholics as potential sons of God and selectively hope for their salvation. As strident as this might sound, it seems to me that secularism has gone much further to fragment our connection to God than what we might be willing to admit to ourselves. Because of secularism and the prevalence of the Protestant culture (lived in Protestants and non-Protestants alike), I don’t see much difference between the belief systems among the US people outside of Orthodoxy. Strangely atheists seem to have a similar perspective of the world, while they claim not to believe in God. However, I do see differences in their willingness to be attentive to the voice of Christ in their catechism.
I ask your readers for their patience if I’m too strident. Sometimes it’s hard to hear my tone because of my passions and ask for forgiveness.
Because I’m worried about being offensive, I’m going to ask Father Stephen for an offline conversation for his correction as well.
I have so much high regard and love for your contribution here and to my growth in Christ.
Michael, Please forgive me. I belive what you’re saying is true and definitely part of the larger puzzling situation.
Thoughts for me on fragmentation.
“Wholeness” is, for me, a component of theosis – it is a reflection of God. Everybody is fragmented to some degree – many are very seriously fragmented. As brokenness goes, it’s very difficult.
There are “private” forms of brokenness – like just being neurotic. Fragmentation comes, I think, when we discover that we’re divided within ourselves – that we are of, not just two minds, but many minds on many things.
We are in a fragmented culture that has nothing even approaching a unified view of virtue and vice. One man’s hero is another man’s villain. That’s just general culture stuff – but it comes out within our faith as well. There’s even fragmentation within the wider culture of Orthodoxy (plenty of it).
God is at work in us to heal us – theosis is real. But we all live in some pretty fragmented glass houses. That doesn’t mean that there is no true integrity – but that it is God, and the faith, that have the integrity, while we’re pretty much fragmented sinners.
Be patient with one another. I am reminded that at least twice in my life, at very difficult, needy, low points – the two person whom God seem to have appointed to show me mercy and kindness and saved me from very problematic situations – were very liberal Christians whom I’m sure I would still argue with if we got into some serious conversations. I feel that both of them will likely enter the Kingdom long ahead of me.
Jesus had similar stories to tell about Samaritans. It didn’t make Samaritans right (for, as Christ said to the Samaritan Woman, “Salvation is of the Jews”). But it made the Samaritans so much other than we might expect. I do not want my heart to become such that I miss, overlook, or judge all the Samaritans that He so consistently sends my way.
If we knew the love of God – truly knew it – all of this would be so clear to us.
Dee, even though we have never met you are my friend. Each of us is exploring and trying to learn. It would take much more than I think you are capable of for me to be offended. I thought your original observation was really good and it triggered some thoughts so I added them hoping they would help. People’s religious backgrounds are incredibly diverse. I got almost no catechesis when I was coming in and felt it.
Before I came to the Church I noticed a high degree of variability with how people felt about saints even within the same transmission..
It took awhile for me to begin to grasp.
God guide us all.
Dear Father, thank you for your edifying words. Truely corrective.
I think the issue (you may have had this issue with me I don’t know) with the Protestant coming into Orthodoxy is that they grew up, many, in a milieu where the priest/pastor/theological was an equal to them. There is a Protestant principle of perspicuity to Scripture that underlies this, this and the Right of Private Judgement (look up both), the endless options in Protestantism, the fact that ordination means little in many confessions, etc. Everyone Orthodox to me, ought to at least familiarize themselves with the Westminster Confession of Faith. All the Reformed adhere to the bulk of it. The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith is almost word for word verbatim of the WCF, minus any sacramental language. The first Baptists here were Calvinists who would have been very comfortable with the wording. The bulk of non-denominational churches are Baptist, and/or SBC, and Evangelicalism grew out of both. Today, the largest US denomination, the SBC is split between Calvinists and Arminian due to Original Sin and how to interpret it. My point is debate and argumentation are inherent. The Protestant wants argued into the position, so they push back – this assumes honesty on their part. It’s welcomed, the argumentation. Part of this is democratized religion, part of it is a real desire to be convinced. But often they do not realize their presuppositions, and Orthodox often never challenge them at this level. I was the kid in Sunday School who stumped the teacher regularly, and if the pastor gave bad answers to theology questions, I was not satisfied.
In my experience, while I love the people who brought me in to Orthodoxy, I had to find my answers elsewhere to the harder questions. Not many Orthodox that I’ve encountered really understand the way a Protestant thinks or why because they’ve never thought out the implications of Original Sin and Guilt. I came from a confession that was very intent on instilling this in the people. I’d bet money that the average Reformed Protestant, even the weakest among them, are abler at defending their position that most any Evangelical. Plus, coming from a Reformed church, you get exposed to a deeper apologetic against Rome than say a Fundamentalist Baptist would offer.
Orthodox evangelism to Protestants needs to take an offensive position, and this is part why I have the approach I do. This is what is normal, respectable, and if done in love, persuasive. The kind priest who just keeps answering questions and objections without challenging deep presuppositions is likely going to have a long haul that may or may not produce any outcome. You have to know your audience.
FWIW, many of the posts I write here I end up forwarding to several Reformed friends. Not once have they thought I was unkind or unloving. If you read my posts, you’d have to wonder how that could be. It’s because, they know, my desire is that we be whole and well-suited for spiritual war, and that we do it together. Now I get more questions than I do pushback. But I went on the offensive. That’s really the only way to be respectable among this group. But you have to do it well, have to know what you’re talking about, be prepared to be patient, and actually love the other person.
I emphasize all of the time, that putting back death, Satan, a non-perfect first Adam/Eve, and theosis while dismantling Original Sin and Guilt (unlearning is as important as learning something new) is key, but rarely do I get affirmed, except among other converts. Again, unlearning is as important, and many are unprepared to lead the unlearning process while instead asking people to attend services and so forth. It won’t work for many of these people, and since I care about them, I’ve dedicated a serious effort to this.
Now, while I am still opinionated, if someone seeks to persuade and it isn’t obvious off the bat (this and I am not naive enough to believe Orthodox agree on everything) I may push back, but not without love for the other person, and usually not without an openness to changing my mind.
I asked my former priest when I came into Orthodoxy, “How am I supposed to interact with you? If I disagree about something, or think an explanation you have is not satisfactory, am I free to challenge you or get clarification?” I really didn’t know. He and I had a really good relationship after that, not that we didn’t before, but he understood I wasn’t just trying to debate, and I was careful not to challenge publicly, during a class or so forth. Some former Protestants, and I know some, don’t have this demeanor, and if I were present, I would try and reconcile. I know some nasty Protestants, but they are much rarer in the confession I was in before. When I would teach adult Sunday School, it was common that an 80-year-old woman speak up with an objection, everyone was free in this way. In some ways, this was good, like it is in a political debate, in other ways you realized, there’s way too much stuff up for debate.
Don’t know if that’s helpful or not…
Father, you mention the fragmentation in the Church. Within each parish certainly.
Am I correct in thinking that the fragmentation is because of different ideas and feelings about Jesus? Even within one’s own heart.
Plus each of us grows and changes. I am different now even than I was 6 months ago, let alone 36 years ago when I was received with my late wife and infant son. My understanding and beliefs have grown. My interrelationship with Jesus is better, etc Even my sins are different but unfortunately still around.
It is difficult for me to latch on to the person of even my wife or myself. Fortunately, our Lord does not change but it seems there is always more and deeper. That can be confusing even without being constantly perturbed by sin.
On one level it is amazing we communicate at all.
… and yet we do even when the world, the flesh and the disturb and interfere. It seems that God alone could straighten it all out. And so we are led, gently and persistently to Him that knows. At times it is a jolly journey at times rather confusing even frightening. But it goes on and will arrive at fruition — a great mystery.
Yet I am rather joyful in attempting to describe it.
God forgive me, a sinner and His Joy abide in each heart.
Having reflected on the comments here and Fr. Stephen’s and Dee’s input about the heart and mercy and our inner fragmentation, I got to thinking about how difficult loving others and showing mercy is; loving our neighbours, as commanded by the Lord. It’s not an optional extra. I fail miserably.
My reflections led me to spiritual warfare; each time the battle goes beyond the bounds of the heart, when the passions have got the upper hand and one may get angry with their neighbour, usually due to pride and vanity, The battle is lost even though I may have won the argument, or subdued the supposed enemy with violence. Thankfully the war is not lost; repentance and the healing and restorative mysteries of confession and the Eucharist have been given to the Church, enabling the wounded Christian to re-enter the fray.
Fr. Stephen has quoted Alexander Solzhenitsyn, numerous times about the battle between good and evil being in the human heart. The adversary takes advantage of our fragmentation and stirs the passions against our neighbour, which is also against ourselves too. This is evident in the world at present and has been going on for some time; Christians divided by outside influences and killing each other.
The enemy too has his disciples and agents within and without the Church and has his own ministry of propaganda. The enemy of truth, love and communion. The age old originator of divide and conquer.
A priest once told me that, ‘if we take our focus off Christ we are capable of anything.’ The machinations of the enemy do to all they can to get us to turn our attention away from Christ, even by things which may seem good and laudable. We can then become more focused on looking good to the world, instead of focusing on the way, the truth and the life.
Only the truth can set us free. It is difficult to discern the spirits and to tell the truth from a lie. Pilate saying what is truth, is still being said by others, who deny that there is a truth; all things being relative.
I apologise for my rambling on here. I will tie up now. We have a most powerful weapon in the Cross. The demons tremble and flee before it. But it is also a terrible thing for us too, we do not want to pick it up and be crucified with Christ; dying to self is hard and painful; it’s easier to crucify your neighbour.
We have much help in this warfare, Our Lord and Saviour, who is victorious and ultimately defeated our enemy. We have the angels and saints too, and each other, if we remain together in the truth. It is indeed a bloody battle, which brings to mind Dee, in one of her comments, talking about her battle scarred guardian angel. Also someone told me that once when they were praying to some of the saints, with there eyes closed, that they had a brief flash of what they described as, a host of black clad monks reaching down and pulling people upwards?
I Tim 6:12.
Fr. Stephen, I hope no one glossed over your comment about “,many minds on many things.” I think there are some conditions where the degree of our fragmentation is more obviously manifest. For example, in a cute cases of PTSD and more frequently in complex PTSD persons can experience radical shifts in consciousness that strains every relationship the afflicted person has. The toggling of conscious states leaves one long trail of broken China shops. In my understanding this is simply a severe case of what is true of the many mindedness that everyone experiences. Many mindedness creates a real reduction in the ability to act consistently.
It is a delusion to think that we truly understand ourselves. This is one reason why should drop the effort to explain ourselves or demand explanations from others. The stories we’ll start telling will make the problem worse. We will mistake the story for reality and then we will try to diagnose the story.
Acceptance is far better. Leave the work of wholeness to the physician.
Thank you Matthew. May the Good Lord bless and protect in your particular area of the arena.
You wrote: “Orthodox evangelism to Protestants needs to take an offensive position…” you added this:
This explains to me much of what you post here in the comments and why. It is also something that creates problems for me.
First, this blog exists for the purposes described in the “Rules for the Blog.” It is about coming to know God and doing that in the context of the Orthodox tradition. It is not apologetics, per se. It is not a platform for practicing a conversation that is actually designed to be read by someone else. I often get the sense when you’re writing that you’re not talking to anyone among the readers – your comment helps explain that.
It also explains why, from time to time, you comments zoom to over 2,000 words (when my own blog posts never exceed 1500). You’re using the comments section to practice blogging. It’s inappropriate.
Orthodoxy is not an argument. The arguments are themselves bound up in the secular mindset – it assumes that information saves. It does not. I do not want to belabor all this. I am asking, however, that you refrain from apologetics in the comments. It’s not your job in this place. Think more about questions rather than giving us the answers.
I appreciated your candor in sharing all of this.
I apologize if this seems too knee-jerky, but my understanding is that Orthodoxy is the revealing that Orthodoxy is the ontology of all things. If Orthodoxy isn’t the ontology of all things then what do we mean in praying to the Spirit “who dwells in all places and fills all things”? The same is true of the sacraments as mentioned elsewhere in the blog and the comments.
Thinking about what you wrote to Matthew….
One of Fr. Hopko’s maxims is that we should not try to convince anyone of anything. Yet in 2 Tim. 4:2 St. Paul exhorts Timothy to “Convince, rebuke, exhort….” Since this is directed to Timothy, is it only for priests/preachers to attempt to convince others of the truth of Christianity/Orthodoxy?
Thank you for your teaching here on your blog site, Fr. Stephen. It means and has meant so very much for me through the years. Many here seem like dear friends, though I have ever met only one in person.
your comment brought this to mind; my wife used to work in a girls boarding school and one day at Mass, the priest was berating the students, some as young as eight, the eldest being sixteen, because they weren’t good missionaries.😊
Recently I got accused of quietism by a fellow Orthodox because of my focus on repentance and use of the Jesus Prayer and non-intrest in politics as a solution. He was saying that because of his passions but also because of the focus of the Jesus Prayer on forgiving me.
I thought about his criticism and it suddenly it surfaced that “me” is a collective pronoun. I am who I because of all of the other people with whom I am intraconnected.
I am a person, not an individual. It answers my question in another post about how we can even communicate with each other too. It seems to answer other questions too.
Father, does that sound right? Or am I off in a different set of weeds,?
In the longer version of the maxims, Father Hopko wrote:
“Don’t try to convince anyone of anything. Once and for all, we have to stop trying to teach other people. I’m not trying to teach you now, I hope. I’m just trying to tell you what I think is true. Then you can do with it, what you want. But it can’t be my desire to convince you and to win in an argument. I can only, to use a Scriptural word, “bear witness” or “make testimony.” But I can’t have as my goal to convert the other. And that’s even true with evangelization. We’re not out there to convert people. We’re out there to bring them the joy of the victory of God in Christ. What they do with it is between them and God.”
Also, the last part of 2 Timothy 4:2 is “correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” So it’s possible to read that (at least to me) in much agreement with Father Hopko by emphasizing the part after the dash, It can never be about winning an argument or berating someone into yielding. Rather, exemplifying the truth in our own conduct is how we best bear witness to it.
Mark, Dean, et al
Of course, St. Paul’s admonition to St. Timothy is not meant as an admonition to all Christians. St. Timothy is an Apostle and a Bishop. Of course, in modern democratic Christianity, everyone thinks he’s a bishop and in charge of fixing everybody. Fr. Hopko’s words are so on point.
I’ve been accused of Quietism now and again. It’s really humorous, when the Orthodox take up that word. If it were translated into Greek, it would be “Hesychasm.” I’ve seen it said that every heresy in the Church is ultimately a rejection of Hesychasm. Orthodoxy is not a tool of the social gospel. It is the Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of God is not a political tool. We will not make the world a better place. We are given the task to proclaim that in Jesus Christ, the better world has come.
Thanks Mark for that longer explanation from Fr. Hopko. It helps a lot…especially the part about bringing them the joy of the victory of God in Christ.
Yes, Fr. Stephen. Many want to fix others. I’ve been guilty of that often. I’m too broken myself to offer a fix, let alone a quick one.
Lord have mercy.
I have only been instructed on the scripture within Orthodoxy so possibly I may be of help. I refer to the notes in the Orthodox Study Bible:
It seems the books of Timothy are about running the Church— a sort of manual and practical words to maintain the Holy Spirit in its members. The word evangelist used in 2Tim4:5 strikes an image of Billy Graham into the modern American mind.
But the context was strife within the Church how to maintain order and settle disagreements within the Church. That’s one reason why the directives were given to the ministers or clergy specifically., in these specific verses. The heading in this Bible on this section is: “The Pastor’s defense against apostasy: Loyalty to tradition.
I Tim 6:12 in the Orthodox study bible has a footnote that says the words “confessed the good confession before many witnesses” is about Timothy’s words at his baptism or ordination. Again within the Church. In other words this verse was not a directive to proselytize those outside the faith.
I mention these not to participate in or contribute to any potential development of conflict. But rather to mention that there is an Orthodox reading of the scripture and a non-Orthodox reading of the scripture.
I need to amend my last comment. I have been taught the New Testament scripture only in the Orthodox tradition.
I apologize one more to complete my thought. These verses (and Orthodox interpretations in this bible) are meant to be read within an Orthodox context how to resolve conflicts and disagreements within the Orthodox Church. They would not be applied to contexts of talking to people outside of the Orthodox Church.
Your comments and insight help!
I used to read voraciously. Now nearing 77, my eyesight is not what it was. I can read daily for about 15 minutes. The rest of my reading is on audio books. I do paint some. But painting uses my eyes differently than reading does. Even painting is done by spurts.
It’s good we’re not saved by information
but by Christ’s mercy in His Church. Anyway, I’ve forgotten much of the info I ever read (especially my early evangelical schooling). Without doubt a blessing!
Dee, your comment, to me, from Jan 10 @ 7:24 PM:
Nothing you wrote was the least bit offensive to me. You contribute many great thoughts to this blog. And look, you write about your experiences and from your perspective. You obviously are a kind and caring person and write with absolutely no malice. Given that, if there was something offensive (which there wasn’t), then that’s on me.
If anything, your comments have challenged me to take a long, hard look in the mirror. I actually thank you for that.
Thank you for your comments last evening about “being patient with one another” and your comments this morning on Hesychasm.
Great stuff that I need to hear and apply.
For someone who take eisegesis seriously, I’m not unaware that 1 Timothy is not a series of “life verses”. That said, if you drive the position to its logical end, no verse is applicable unless you are in the immediate context, and this would actually be a good argument for why bishops/priests/etc. are authoritative, they can be said to be in the line of the immediate context, but also for Christian laity in the context of that authority. By this logic though Jeremiah cannot be used in reference to abortion. Anyway…
“It is not a platform for practicing a conversation that is actually designed to be read by someone else.”
It’s the other way around. The blog stimulates what I hope is Christian thinking and I share that thought with others elsewhere to the degree that they have an interest. I have never meant to hijack your blog, nor do I troll sites for attention or diversion, and while I’m not good at getting my thoughts condensed, you have convicted me to do better. What do you take away from my comment to Dee? It should at least have contained a reason for sympathy for Protestants, and why they’re annoying, like me.
Often, I’m only responding to you, and often you do not reply or share my interest, and that is why it seems my comments are a practice in apologetics/comments to no one, at least in part. Maybe I am doing apologetics, but I can’t help but think that all Christian thinking is apologetic. When we talk about deterministic views of Providence versus Orthodox views, I’m sorry, but there is an apologetic involved. There is an unlearning and a learning, a defensive and offense apologetic. Orthodox play defense most of the time. I describe my own internal wrestling/undoing and try and apply the new learning. If it is not my place to add observations to the “why” of it, that’s fine. Maybe you know of another place that would suit me better. I don’t want some rabid Orthodox apologetic site BTW. Seriously, I haven’t perused discussion sites for Orthodox discussions.
But I have come to see that apologetics get a bad rap among some Orthodox, ironically, this while they do apologetics. It’s the confusion between thinking that arguments have the power to convert someone and thinking that arguments don’t have that power. Both are apologetics but the person with the first position is likely more harm than good due to not appreciating that the Gospel is the power of God, and nothing else, yet in it, is content, and that content when lived, is salvific. If we counted the series of arguments in the NT, from Jesus to Paul, etc. – I would have to say, there is a place for argumentation while realizing the outcome is in God’s and the person’s hands/hearts.
So, again, I realize, this is not a good place to hang out due to my tendencies, but I appreciate your writing and it draws me in. But before I bid adieu, even when Jesus tells us why we should pray and not give up, and then proceeds to give examples that are arguments for why we should not be faint of heart, that God is better than even an evil father who provides, that even an unjust judge will hear the case of someone who annoys them repeatedly, and then gives these, “If then, so” statements, this is apologetics. It is an offense and defensive position that is supposed to persuade the person to pray. I don’t think I have a different logic going on than this. It is meant to be persuasive but is not expected to overcome all or any doubt. Paul is full of them. I guess you could say, it’s not the place of any lay person to engage in this way. And sometimes I get the feeling this is what some would like to say. I don’ t see the secular in any of this. The secular has no time or interest in their contradictions.
You know and I know that the influx of converts into Orthodoxy has almost nothing to do with Orthodox Christians in parishes, and more so Orthodox authors, Church History lessons, Jordan Peterson or DBH, etc. And they come into the churches where often someone mis-judges them, caricatures poorly their whole life as a Christian beforehand, and has no idea why/what they ever believed what they have except that it was inevitable after the Great Schism. They often have a glossary version of the whole of Protestant history and have never made connections to the why question. And these are the people doing the apologetics that they won’t call apologetics. Here’s my suggestion I guess, mount a campaign to teach Orthodox priests some apologetics and then the laity won’t have to worry that Orthodox misrepresent, misdiagnose/misunderstand (often at their own time expenditure) the question/objections/wrestling, then the catechumen (who isn’t really a catechumen) will not leave or fall into doubt after they were just Chrismated, and won’t just be Orthodox because its old and niche and smells good – and maybe, the fallout rate among the youth will drop below 50%. Information doesn’t save, but if you have no information, you have no reason to think you’ll be saved. The Gospel is the power of God because in it, revelation takes place, it breaks in on you. I won’t go down the rabbit trail of “Is knowing/hearing/believing the Gospel needed to be saved?”. Apologetics to me is a whole way of thinking. If I don’t want to pray because I think I’ve worn God out, I can remember Jesus words, those words, if I apply them, become salvific, but without them, God is worn out and I’m worn out. But He already argued and was persuasive, Glory to God.
I say this with no assurance that I am “okay” spiritually, sinner as I am, but I do hold on to Christ, and hope to ever so tighter.
Obviously, there is a place for apologetics – though I suspect there’s a difference between “hard” and “soft” apologetics. You took some painful swipes in your last comment – such as suggesting that its the failure of apologetics that is account for a 50% fallout rate among youth. When, that is actually a very misleading statistic and represents some interesting demographic issues that are across the board in the US. Also, a you took a fair amount of swipes at the work of various clergy (generalized), which, I take it, would run the Church ever so much better if they’d just learn more apologetics.
I’ve done ministry now for 42 ordained years – both prior to and within Orthodoxy. I still have some things to learn. You are welcome on the blog and welcome in the comments. But I return to my earlier observation that it would be far more useful to the ministry in this location if you engaged more on the level of questions than on the level of instructing the rest of us on apologetics. There are valid points within all of that – but it just gets tiresome.
The readership on the blog is extremely wide-ranging. It is international, with a wide background of experience. There are, for example, a lot of readers in Africa and in Australia from the Oriental Orthodox world and I engage with them (and have done lectures) and have come to love them. There are RC readers, including (and especially) Eastern Rite Catholics who are interesting as conversation partners. I’m aware, for example, that, historically, the OCA was about 1/2 Uniate prior to entering Orthodoxy (with the work of St. Alexis Toth). We also, obviously, have a lot of Anglican and Protestant readers from many backgrouonds.
The blog isn’t ecumenical – but I’m aware – always – of its larger audience. I want it to be safe and readable. So, I’m cautious about our temptations to bash outsiders (myself included). So, I tend to want to manage the “apologetical” aspects of the blog myself. Others learn from our questions as much as they learn from our answers.
So, I think I’m just saying to turn it down a few notches, ease up a little. I apologize for anything that was stinging in my comment to you.
Father, thank you for your word. It settled a lot of things in my heart.. When I first heard the objection, I said, “Huh? It is not possible to be a quietist and be Orthodox.”
With your info, I was able to give a better reply..
Providence at work?
I don’t think apologetics will save the world, but I equate apologetics with Christian worldview and with the mind of Christ, so I see them as indispensable. But, getting jumped on for saying “fight the good fight”, as if that was strictly for the ordained, unexpected.
I’ve gone through just about every introduction to Orthodoxy that there is in English, and in each one, which are apologetical works, there is a passing mention of Original Sin and Guilt and nothing else. Yet, the Christian landscape here, is built on it, all of the theological controversies are either over it, or had an impact on other controversies. Now, from Lady Gaga’s Born This Way to how our prisons are run, had a prior determinism built on a prior cultural metanarrative. People in poverty are always lazy bums in this view. Addicts are addicts. A false anthropology and a worse reaction to it pervades society. Providence as understood by Christian Americans, the kind where someone guns down 30 people in a mall, and the first comment out of some pastor is, “We know all things work together for good…,” or “God is in control”, is built on a view of God where He’s the lone actor due to the fact that once upon a recent time, God was the only Actor in salvation, and this because of OS&G: it had to be that way. This is about the only time the devil gets talked about, mass shootings. I mean, Secular Humanism was born inside of a church likely responding against Augustinian notions, it was a further Reformation. I can’t help but see this stuff now. And now that I see death and Satan, I can’t unsee it. So, you’re right, I’ve used the blog to persuade you and others to think about these things so that the Gospel in Orthodoxy may shine. I have had no plan to do so, it’s what’s on my mind, and I see the connections in your writing. In my personal life, I constantly catch myself in a train of thought and preemptively apologize if I think I’ve gone on too long.
I saw Puss in Boots with my family last night (still a fan) and it was a better apologetic than most I’ve come across and moving oddly enough. Death is personified in a wolf that the hero knows he cannot beat whether he gets his 9 lives back or not. He cannot try and beat death by being a hero and must live the best he can (had been avoiding life in the fantasy of the hero) with one life. It was really good, the movie. It would be scary for young kids I think, under 7 if you ever watched it with grandkids. But it was a better analysis of the human condition than I often come across.
My swipes weren’t against you, or well-meaning priests, but the dismissal of a synergistic effect between clergy and laity as I read it. I don’t think of myself as your sidekick BTW, but in a parish, there are often many converts who could be helpful and the clergy/laity boundary may or may not appreciate that. I’m not speaking of my parish. I have no desire to be a priest, but I would someday, if God permits, like to help people become critical of unbelief for the sake of belief, and that not in itself, but lived belief. Dissonance leaves people in limbo. You have to get to place of enough certainty that you can trust a thing before you “do it”. You have to trust a bridge to drive over it. You glorify the builders and engineers by using it regularly. The 50% is a number shared by all Christian groups. I think there are two basic reasons. One, in born-again churches, you’re good. Two, in Orthodox churches, Baptism is not seen as a liability for the lapsed Christian. That’s simplistic I know. But what would relieve the anxiety most that would allow for a relaxed approach to training youth? A fallback on a prior event that provides assurance, and then, you reassure yourself (have heard it a thousand times) that things will be okay. We should be more alarmed that what we are.
As to your request, I will comply, and I understand. Thanks for your patience.
I hope my comment here will be seen and read in light of the encouragement and love I have in my heart. I suspect you know your audience well, that is, the Reform Protestants. I will admit my ignorance of Protestant theology. When I talk about Protestantism, generally I reference culture and behavior, which has been enough for me to be doubtful about their theology. I have made the mistake of over generalizing, and I know I need to watch that. I have read a few of the writers that Protestants like to read. But by and large, there hasn’t been sufficient illumination in them for me to pay close attention to these areas. Nevertheless, I agree with your thoughts regarding the teaching praxis itself. In particular, the implicit suggestion in your comment to me is that to truly reach someone, one must be able to ‘speak their language’. I sincerely believe you are able to speak the language of the Reform Protestant and to make cogent arguments (at least as far as an ignorant person on such topics as myself can tell). It seems that you’re saying that their faith is predicated on only argument, and I will take your word for that.
Father Thomas Hopko mentions not to offer advice when it isn’t asked for. In this case, regarding what I do in this comment, if I should say more in the way of advice, it might be unintentionally flavored by my passions. And that is not what I want. Nevertheless, it seems that you really want to test your thoughts in an Orthodox arena, and I get that. And because of that, I sincerely believe your strength will likely be honed well in an Orthodox seminary. While you speak (as far as I can tell) well to a Reform Protestant audience, it often seems to me, who have only been exposed to Orthodox Christian theology regarding my theological readings and how I was taught Christianity by Orthodox teachers, that sometimes your thoughts haven’t sufficiently gelled within the Orthodox mileu. And I need to emphasize this is true for most of us converts, and including myself. And this is why I am so appreciative when I’m corrected. I want to walk in the Orthodox Way.
We, all of us Orthodox (cradle and otherwise), should all be warned not to have hubris in how much we think we know of Orthodoxy. In that regard, I strongly encourage you to consider enrolling and discussing your understanding of Orthodox theologyin the academic milieu of an Orthodox seminary. Please be assured that I say this not to chase you off this blog. That is certainly not my intention at all. But I imagine the strength of your capacity to be a true translator of the faith to the Reform Protestant, if you have that much more immersion into Orthodox theology within a context of academic capacity dedicated to this purpose. It is true, I believe that it is worth while to test one’s understanding. It’s just that sometimes you come across that you are already assured of your understanding, without actually being open to correction. You often interpret corrections that Father Stephen offers as if they are off target. Perhaps this is because you might be on a tangent that isn’t attuned to what Father Stephen is saying.
Please accept my prayers with all the hope in my heart. I pray that our Lord Jesus Christ bless your communications with Reform Protestants with His grace and love. But I humbly ask that you might consider Father’s suggestions, too.
Matthew please forgive me if I made offense. I am sincere in my prayers for your intentions to convey the faith to Protestants.
I’ve written about the importance of an ontological approach (which equates sin and death) on the blog since 2006. I haven’t needed to be convinced about such things. And I wrote about the problems associated with original sin long before you were a reader – and did not need convincing of these things. We each, though, have our voices. I do not write with the Reformed audience in mind – they’re not really part of my experience on the whole. I certainly have the wider culture in mind. Many people have assumptions in their world-view that could historically be traced to Western teachings viz. original sin, but they’re so far removed from that actual language and thought that it is almost beside-the-point to point it out to them.
For me, one way of pushing back against this cultural inheritance is to insist again and again on the essential goodness of human nature and the goodness of all creation. That is the foundation block that was already in place and being taught before the original sin stuff raised its head in the West. It is part of the good news.
You’ve got some thoughts about how people operate – “you have to trust a bridge before you drive over it.” They make sense – as arguments – but aren’t actually true as people go – certainly not universally. I’ve noted that I’ve been doing ministry for 42 years (and unordained for some years before that). People are all over the map and only sometimes predictable and logical. People act according to their heart – in that is a deep, unseen territory. It is more discerned – and varies from person to person.
I do know that, over the years, I’ve received thousand of notes from those who have been helped on their journey to the Orthodox faith partly in response to this ministry. It encourages me. But I didn’t start out with a plan nor can I describe ultimately what I do. What I believe in is Providence. If I do what God has given me to do – with the light He has given me – and seek to be faithful in it – as blessed by my bishop – then it is what I should do. The results are up to God.
I expect and hope the same out of my brother priests, and of each of us as we seek to be faithful. We simply have no idea what God is up to, other than to say that He is “gathering together in one all things in Christ Jesus.” I can look around and see that we are in terrible times, and that the times and fortunes of the Church will likely become much worse, even dismal. It won’t have been the first time. All that is out of our control. It is for us to be faithful.
You seem to express anxieties about the Church and neglect of certain ministries. That’s no doubt a true assessment. Youth ministry is like herding cats – and we only get them for a tiny bit of time a week – and we’re competing against a digital culture that parents seem loathe to interfere with. You have no idea of the many hours of tortured conversations I’ve had with clergy through the years who wrestle with understanding what would improve this part of the Church’s life. I’ve seen some things in other parts of the world that are far more successful than our efforts – but they’re usually in Orthodox cultures – I think of a wonderful ongoing work in the monstery of Oasa in Romania, for one. Very powerful. There were powerful student movements there before the Communists came to power as well. Interesting.
You’ve heard that “things will be okay” and you think we should be more alarmed. I think you underestimate just how alarmed we are. We are terrified and I know that to be a fact. But – things will be okay because the outcome of history has been revealed in the death and resurrection of Christ. God alone is in charge of the outcome of history – or have you not noticed that being said over and over and over on this blog. Not believing that is itself modernity at its worst.
Do good. Do your best. Be anxious for nothing. Trust God. We’re all gonna die. And, still, we will win.
Ahhh. Father. It is always a balm to my soul when you say, “Things will be OK as revealed in the death abd Resurrection of Jesus Christ.” I need to put up a sign.
I am slowly coming, I think to the realization of that in my own heart but is a tough journey. God forgive me.
A further thought (in general) for the catechumenal process:
Christ’s encounter with Nicodemus (John 3) is instructive. Nicodemus has questions of “how” and such. Christ begins to speak of the birth process (“born again,” or “born from above”). This is so much more than the sort of thing that has been popularized as the “born-again experience.” It is the process of obtaining, and, in some measure, knowing our existence as it issues forth from the Goodness of God. The process of this “birthing” is catechumenal (which, classically was always resultant in Baptism – today, it is often concluded in Chrismation in order to complete the Baptismal reality). It is not a “learning” in the acquisition of information – though some information is essential.
The ancient catechumenate extended for around 3 years and consisted not of doctrinal formation, but of moral (character) formation. There was a formation of candidates into the sort of people who could receive the birthing of Baptism. Then there was instruction in the “mystigogical catechesis” – the life of the sacraments.
In many ways all of this is a discipling – but making disciples of Christ. The “testing” of this discipleship is not intellectual. It is a testing of the heart. Will we remain faithful to Christ regardless of the consequences?
One of the reasons that I’ve written my book on shame (due out in February) is because it goes to the heart of our character – or the acquisition of a healthy character – and it presents the most likely temptations that might defeat us. In a nutshell – the bearing of healthy shame is the content of the virtue of humility – and humility is the Queen of all the virtues according to the Fathers. Humility will allow us to have Christ birthed within us – because He, above all, is humble.
But, just thoughts as the evening winds down.
Thank you both for your charity. I want to emphasize that the reason I emphasize Reformed theology, is because almost all modern Christian theology around us in the US, is based on it, or is a reaction to it. In one sense, I see an opportunity in that we all have a common enemy: heresy. I don’t think this way about people, not even the Reformers, maybe I do about Joel Osteen, but about bad theology in general. I don’t blame people for believing it, and I don’t discount the good things they believe. There is a lot of explanatory power culturally in that the Christianity that is being rejected, isn’t wholly Christian at all, and how this has played out. It’s interesting, explanatory, fairly unbiased, and I think opens the door to discussion about Orthodoxy. I mean, the next time you hear someone talking about how the founders and American Christians owned slaves, the common enemy was heresy. Calvinists supported it with election and poor readings of the Bible. I’ve got neighbors I’ve spent 40+ hours talking this stuff over with who are agnostic/New Age/lapsed, who tell me they enjoy talking about these things. Who knows, maybe they’re just lonely, but I don’t think that’s all of it. In the process you get to tell what the Gospel is, who Christ is, His love, but it starts out with the recognition that our view of God culturally (Providence comes in here) conditioned us in a way that led a lot of people to dismiss belief, others to accept contradictions, others to become hateful, etc. I mean, when you can explain to someone why the Fundamentalist Baptist exists, after they grew up in an almost cult like situation in one of those churches (not labeling them all cultic) , and you give them some explanatory power for what they went through, and then talk Gospel/Pascha, it’s refreshing. One of the things I enjoy sharing with people so much, is that the ending of the Lord’s Prayer really is, “Deliver us from the Evil One” and how the problems in Calvinism led to a psychologically projected evil guy: Satan, and they open up about scary moments with evil. We’ll talk textual criticism, aliens, multiverse, all this crazy stuff that is offered as an alternative to belief, and I usually give them somewhat of an education with a rebuttal. My neighbor was telling me the other night how she believed in reincarnation. I told her, I get the emotional appeal, because eventually there is a you that finally gets it right, but that when you find “you”, you were actually the cause of all the evil all along: why would you put yourself through that? Seems too hopeful, and it assumes nurture played out right one turn is the difference maker. But, say it’s aliens or multiverse or conspiracies about lost texts and a tampered-with Bible and so on, this stuff used to be all academia (minus the aliens, but now that is too academia) now it’s on every channel, TV show, Discovery, History Channel, etc. And to me, it’s our job to confront this nonsense because the alternate catechumen process has already been underway. Churches have to tackle all of this, because, I hear adults in our parish say things like, “Well, you know the Church was in a power play and that’s why the Gospel of Thomas was cut out of the Bible.” If adults say that, and the kids are like, yeah we evolved from aliens and we’re in a multiverse and Christianity is right for me but not for everyone, you get where I’m going. This aside from the fact that people are wondering what to do to be inclusive for a pantheon of possible identities. Tell me those people are going to pray. But Dee, I’ve thought about seminary as well, and I’ve had three priests close to me say the same.
But the reason I booted my computer up again was to apologize to you Fr. Freeman. My conscience bothered me during evening prayers. This is your blog. It’s not right that I’ve out worded you on multiple occasions. My priest before once told me I’d texted him the longest text he’d ever seen. So, this is my personality one on one with people as well. I know their limits because I see their body language and I back off into everyday talk. This is the only blog that invites interaction on AFR and I have more time to think than the average person, and I unload. I have a deep fascination with Orthodoxy and when I see things I never saw, I want to share it. Fr. Freeman, I don’t believe that intellectual formation is as good as moral or spiritual formation. It’s that the intellectual challenges people face today are often enormous, and keep them from moral or spiritual formation, as there is an argument going on in their mind that is unresolved. I believe God is working with people, but I believe we are all part of that process. We pray for “all the means” of salvation. Means cannot be dispensed with of course, and we are to be those means. When I first read St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures, I felt like I’d come home. I’m either still on the bottle, or a novice I would think. But I now have a voice in my mind that speaks against my sinful tendencies and convicts me according to truth and alerts me to the nutso-ness around us. I don’t know how much of this basic/novice level is there, but I think it’s the first step. It was reassuring to have you say that priests are terrified, and yet okay.
“I think you underestimate just how alarmed we are. We are terrified and I know that to be a fact. But – things will be okay because the outcome of history has been revealed in the death and resurrection of Christ.”
Amen, Father Stephen. I think that statement encapsulates something critical in Orthodoxy that I found refreshing–in the truest sense of the word. It is akin to the faith one would hope to have as a believer witnessing Christ on the cross and enduring the time He spent in the tomb. It is the faith received by shepherds from angels.
I wish I could offer some insight about young people and the church. Both of my children have reached adulthood as faithful believers and with characters I could hardly wish to improve. (In terms of worldly “success” habits, they might benefit from a tweak here or there, I don’t know, but they generally have all the desirable traits in a good human being.) Yet if either had veered or now started to veer, I’d be as clueless as any other parent as to knowing what to do.
I do think adults (particularly religious leaders) who set bad examples create the most disillusionment among those youth who are inclined toward church and then drift away. Matthew 18:6 tells us the heavenly reaction to that. If the church does not want kids to be seduced by false idols, it has to provide them healthful authenticity.
“a digital culture that parents seem loathe to interfere with”
You have hit one big nail squarely on its head. Parents cannot leave their children to be raised by someone (or something) else and just hope for the best. It may not be a magic bullet that works in all cases, but children who have active parenting seem far more likely to turn out okay. Yet our culture’s subtext is often that parents are somehow bad for their children and that society knows better how to raise them.
From my short experience, Orthodoxy is a lot about “person” (for example, Michael’s comment from January 11, 2023 at 10:55 am). Committing to raising a child can be the quintessential experience of how a relationship develops personality, both of the child and parent.
Many thanks, Father Stephen – I see you have what you desired – many comments! I’ve only just begun, and the comment you make early on that rather than Orthodoxy being mystical we should realize it to be explaining the nature of how things are – that’s so true.
I would add to the discussion the revelation of Providence that takes place in Dostoievski’s “The Brothers Karamazov”, which is a lovely elaboration on the character of his hero, Alyosha midway through the novel, centering around the corruption of his dead elder’s body; it’s a wonderful passage, too long to quote, just beautifully explaining the nature of how things are with respect to Providence in our lives, just as with Joseph in Genesis.
Happy summer in my native land, Eric!
“The Elder’s teaching expressed the depth of his spiritual experiences and a vivid sense of the presence of God. He always emphasized that faith consists not only in a simple confession of the existence of God, but in believing, knowing, feeling, and seeing that God is continuously working in the world, in history, in the Church, and in people’s lives.” This is a quote from Elder Aimilianos from this writing that I came across tonight, that spoke to me in light of this conversation on God’s Providence. https://orthochristian.com/134727.html
To correct my last comment:
The quote is from Archimandrite Iliya, referencing Elder Aimilianos.
I was having think about what you said about Roman Catholic and Protestant converts to Orthodoxy. I think it’s easier for RC’s because of the similarities; the Sacraments and liturgy, the Eucharist being central; liturgical hours of prayer and their connection to the Eucharist; confession; prayer and honour to the Theotokos (you have rightly pointed out the going too far of RC’s regarding her); communion of the Saints and praying to them.
The shift is more of mindset (although there is an inner shift too) from the RC teachings to Orthodox teachings. I have found nothing objectionable so far in Orthodox teaching on the above things I have mentioned. I can’t explain why I have accepted Orthodox teaching on these things; it just makes sense on some level.
I won’t make this long, but I think I uncovered part of my motivation, your brother. You’ve talked about your brother on occasion being Reform Protestant. This was a clue to me, maybe wrongly, that maybe you weren’t thoroughly familiar since no one I’ve ever come across refers to Reformed theology, the Reformed, Reformed Baptists (a misnomer), Reformed Protestantism as Reform theology. I think at least at one time it had saddened me a little the way that your relationship was affected by the divergence. And without saying so, I think I wanted to tell you how to go after it, or why your brother’s theology was the way it was. That accounts for some of it anyway. I know several people in our parish who were formerly Reformed or dedicated Evangelicals that have had a breach in family relations over them coming to Orthodoxy (I can think of 6 families, that’s not insignificant, especially not at Christmas). I think I internalize some of this.
If so, if I do internalize some of that, feel the pain of it, according to you and some of your quotes, that’s a good thing. Maybe I try to offer a solution someone doesn’t want, but I can’t see a way around it.
You presume too much – and project your concerns onto others (like me). Some corrections:
First, I do not have a brother who is Reform. I have a brother-in-law (married to my wife’s sister) who is a prominent Reform theologian, professor, and pastor, with a doctorate from Edinburgh. We have discussed theology in years – we have little common ground in that. But I would not presume to correct him. It’s best to answer questions someone’s asking instead of trying to tell them what their questions should be. If he wants to know something – he’ll ask (he did once call me from Scotland years ago with a question about St. Maximus the Confessor – it was refreshing).
Second, I have no interest in Calvinist jargon (Reform versus Reformed). But do not presume that it indicates ignorance on my part other than that I do not move and talk in those circles. It is not an interest of mine.
I appreciate that you were moved to want to be of help – but – you were not asked to be of help. In truth, you’ve not written anything about Reform thought and its problems, where it went wrong, etc., that added anything to what I already knew. What you added was an example of your own enthusiasm.
Again – it is an important spiritual discipline to listen – and to work with questions when they are asked. I know that you’ve had no intention of hi-jacking the blog. But you have an agenda that burns within you – I think it colors the world around you. For one, you see much more “Reform” out there than really exists. Despite a small uptick in recent years – it’s still an outlier in American religion. I frequently see it as a desperate attempt on the part of evangelicals to “think” instead of just feel. But, it’s a lousy bit of thinking.
But the key remains the heart. No one can hear anything unless the heart is asking the right questions. I think it would be good at this point to drop the conversation. Let it go, (as my granddaughter likes to sing).
I would like to interject a thought. Claims of heresy should be left to bishops. Why? Because that claim is a stick that anyone can use to “help” somebody else out. If everyone in the Church assumed the responsibility of pointing out heretics, it would be the Salem witch trials all over again. I have noticed a trend among some Orthodox to see the West as a common enemy. That is not the spirit of Orthodoxy. We don’t have enemies. We have brothers and then we have those who do not know that they are our brothers. Here is an observation that concerns me: Sometimes it seems that punching down on the West is the Orthodox equivalent of “virtue signaling” our zeal for the faith. It’s not a good look.
You’re spot on.
In answer to Michael Bauman, who asked ‘Do the Maori give presentations of their tribal dance?’ briefly, yes they do. The haka is not perhaps currently the best expression of this – its origin comes from adversarial and often brutal conflict.
But on the subject of ‘quietism’ I had to smile. My maternal grandmother, an orphan, had been raised maori. She seldom spoke of her experience except that every time she did speak, her voice was musical (I can still hear it.) She started me out in life, in wartime, wonderfully well, never having known Orthodox theological apologetics, simply and beautifully, humbly – a good Christian soul. I will always be grateful to her.
Juliana, thank you. The spirituality of Native American tribes of the southwest and plains in the US particularly as Christians is humbling in its beauty, simplicity and connection to the created world. I shall always treasure my contacts with it.
Simon, I sincerely appreciate your thoughts and agree. I’m guilty of what you’re describing and ask for your prayers in this aspect of my thinking and heart.
Well, I finally read through all the comments (I arrived a bit late to the conversation) and there is a lot of beauty in them! Wonderful conversation. Not to derail the existing conversation, but I have a question on the below (from JAN 5).
NET 3:11 God has made everything fit beautifully in its appropriate time,
but he has also placed ignorance in the human heart
If you will, to see something sacramentally is to recognize its providential character.
Reading this, I began to wonder: if we understand Scripture providentially, should we see passages that may seem troubling (“but he has also placed ignorance in the human heart”) and regard them as the writer’s understanding that all things are in God but not necessarily from God (in a “causal” sense)? I wonder how to read scripture providentially (as a sacrament)–or if that is even a right way to approach it?
I do not think any mortal Christian has the “fullness of truth” (cf. Matthew 24:36).
Mark, it may be somewhat interesting that this is what brought me to Orthodoxy. Prior to becoming Orthodox, I was Southern Baptist (I graduated from the Louisville Seminary during the Split in the SBC back in the early 90s). I finally realized that, even if I figured out all of Scripture and Salvation on my own (a SB way of saying I had “the fullness of truth”), no one else would agree with me! The picture in my mind was of millions of small islands in a gigantic ocean. No communion; just “Me and God” individuals. It occurred to me that this was not a picture of the Church and I began searching from there.
You have hit one big nail squarely on its head. Parents cannot leave their children to be raised by someone (or something) else and just hope for the best. It may not be a magic bullet that works in all cases, but children who have active parenting seem far more likely to turn out okay. Yet our culture’s subtext is often that parents are somehow bad for their children and that society knows better how to raise them.
Mark, the hatred for parents in our culture is not a subtext, it is one leg of the ideological stool. The control of children by the State is a major goal of those who hate God. I read of one mother who homeschooled and took her children to a park to play. She was attacked by a group of women who demanded to know why the children were not in Day Care (and, by implication, why she didn’t have a job). It is a major issue but I won’t say more as it is very politicized.
I was having think about what you said about Roman Catholic and Protestant converts to Orthodoxy. I think it’s easier for RC’s because of the similarities
I think similarities can make things easier but the real key is humility. Is the heart ready to subject itself to Orthodoxy? To repent of wrongs and live in the Church? It’s a question that sometimes takes many years to answer.
Byron, thanks so much for your comments. May I ask if you happen to live in the Houston area? (My apologies if I’ve confused you with a different commenter.) I’m an Orthodox convert who will be moving to Houston, and would appreciate any suggestions (from you or anyone else) for a church there.
Kenneth, I live in Tulsa, OK. I am, unfortunately, not familiar with Orthodox Churches in Houston….
seeing as you brought up one of my comments. The answer is yes. My experience of entering the RC Church, some thirty years ago, the same was expected of me; to accept the the Church’s teaching and to repent of wrongs; as for humility I cannot make a claim to such virtue.
will my lack of humility bar me from becoming Orthodox?
That was a lot of commentary to catch up on 😀
Yes…a muscle I’m trying to develop through Orthodoxy is balancing between the truth apportioned to my jar and that greater Truth that is infinite beyond my understanding. I do believe that God would not have made so many children if He did not intend we each be just a tiny bit different from all the others (I hope this doesn’t sound too much like “special snowflake”), but Orthodoxy is helping me see the necessity of (again with the Tolkien metaphor) each, individual note having to fit into the communal symphony of heaven to achieve its purpose. My predilection is to try to solve my own problems. That secular politics so often misappropriates the soul’s communal impulse has only reinforced my habit and mistrust of “groups.”
Slowly becoming free of that imbalance is something I look forward to.
As for your second comment about society and parenting, yep. To avoid politics is why I used as guarded language as I did. My children were home-schooled until high school. Because my wife died when they were eight and ten, the choice to continue with that by myself was not obvious, but I am certain in retrospect it was correct. Thankfully my son helped me see it was what he needed from me when almost no one else thought it was a good idea.
Lack of humility will not stop you from becoming Orthodox. Much of the journey takes place within the Church, the life of which is what forms our hearts in humility and holiness. We do not enter in perfection (or close to it!) but in realization of our sinfulness and God’s grace.
Thank you Byron.
Mark, I think it was in the comments above that someone said something like, “be a person, not an individual”. I think becoming a true human, a true person, is about communion. At the same time, I’m a lot like you’ve described–I like to say “I can get through anything” (and I really can, in general). I like to solve my own problems. But the individual note is lost without the symphony in which it takes part, just as the symphony is incomplete without the individual note. They give to, and complete, each other. At least, I think that’s the right way to look at it. Just my thoughts.
I was about to say welcome aboard the runaway train! But your metaphor of a symphony is so true and I appreciate it.
I just want to add without any playfulness, but with complete sincerity, I’m edified by your comments and appreciate them and your contributions!
Yes, that–the idea of person being in relation to others–is something that had not occurred to me until this last year and Orthodoxy. Kallistos Ware’s explanation of the Trinity made me first begin to see it; subsequent reading of Father Stephen’s blog has reinforced it.
Going back to your own history with the Southern Baptists, I wonder how much you felt as though you understood the Trinity, or not understanding was even something to worry about or try to rectify? It might have been my own fault (intellectual laziness/religious inertia), but I very often received the message that “no one understands the Trinity.”
I am edified by everything you write here! I loved reading through all the comments–and I think everyone’s contributions were quite wonderful. It was a very good discussion.
I remember everyone in my church being very excited when our pastor said he would be preaching on the Trinity…and then they were upset when he began with, “Well no one can really understand the Trinity…”. LoL! I never put much thought into it, to be honest. I was much more moralistic–better for arguing. One can’t really win an argument about the Trinity! Too mystical, I suppose…. I had to “unlearn” so much when I came to Orthodoxy. My dog actually tore up my old NIV Bible with all my notes on Revelation in it! I should probably thank her for that….
I noted, long ago, when I was in my early Anglican years, that classical Anglicanism was quite Trinitarian in its devotion (hymns, prayers), for the simple reason that it was using traditional formularies from the Church’s past. Of course, I heard any number of bad sermons on the Trinity, including the “no one understands trope.” Frankly, if you cannot preach the Trinity, then you cannot preach classical Christianity. It’s as simple as that.
Orthodox traditional sermons (Chrysostom, but especially the Cappadocians) soar in their eloquence and mystical insight. It holds within it – inasmuch as it has been revealed to us – the whole of the faith.
We have been given a treasure. It is for us to consider what we have – to listen – to pray – to meditate – to walk in it until it gradually fills us with understanding.
I’ve mentioned recently my deep dive into Dionysius the Areopagite. His work, The Mystical Theology, begins “Trinity!” and goes on from there.
The Troparian of the Feast of Theophany reveals the most about The Holy Trinity and the active intrarelationship of Persons in the Godhead that is reflected in Creation and in each of our souls as we come together for worship and communion. If the dynamics of the Holy Trinity did not exist, I am not sure salvation would be possible — certainly not the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection which is a refection of the Trinity and the Christian path itself. The Divine Energies would not exist as they do.
The Holy Trinity is revealed as we live, sin , repent, commune through His mercy and Grace
Forgive me, a sinner. I do not mean to preach. Just comes out that way sometimes.
There is only the Trinity. Salvation is the life of the Trinity – United to the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit. There is no “God behind the Trinity.”
Father, forgive me. I did not mean to communicate anything else.
After all that has been said and done here, I am excited to hear about your deep dive into Dionysius the Areopagite. I hope you take us along in your deep dive. May God grant us your insight and the heart of understanding!!
I can’t wait to hear more!
It struck me just now that there has been very little direct talk of Mary, The Theotokos in a Providential sense and yet it also seems to meShe is the essence of Providence both personally and throughout Creation.
Yet it seems She resists my attempts to more deeply understand Her, if I can.
There is a Japanese parable that came to mind upon reading this about a man named Hakuin it’s as follows,
A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near him. Suddenly, without any warning, her parents discovered she was with child. This made her parents angry. She would not confess who the man was, but after much harassment at last named Hakuin.
In great anger the parent went to the master. “Is that so?” was all he would say.
After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation, which did not trouble him, but he took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from his neighbours and everything else he needed.A year later the girl-mother could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth – the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fishmarket.The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get the child back.
Hakuin was willing. In yielding the child, all he said was: “Is that so?”
It reminds me that equanimity in the face of the vagaries and convolutions of history is most needed. To retain our peace in Christ regardless of the blowing of the historical winds “in our favor” or “not in our favor” is of inestimable value to leading a Godly life. God’s work is mysterious, mysterious enough to turn a man sold into slavery into the potentate of the Egyptian lands and save those who forsook him, as well as to turn an empire “dedicated to God” into rubble at the hands of her heathen enemies. In all things knowing that God is fully present in all people, places, and things is to respond to all of life’s twists and turns with “Is that so?”
There’s a story that’s somewhat similar to that in the lives of the Desert Fathers.