Glory to God for All Things

The Nature of Things and Our Salvation

Reflecting on yesterday’s post, I thought it worthwhile to share these thoughts again on the nature of our salvation. Few things are as critical for me as the distinctions given here. Perhaps it is timely. It offers a short summary of the difference between a moral and an existential understanding of the Christian faith and why the difference matters. Indeed, as I look through my writings I know this is a recurring theme. It recurs because it is so fundamental to the Christian faith and is at the same time largely unknown in our modern world.

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The nature of things is an important question to ask – or should I say an a priori question. For once we are able to state what is the nature of things then the answers to many questions framed by the nature of things will also begin to be apparent. All of this is another way of saying that questions have a way of determining answers. So what is the nature of things? More specifically, what is the nature of things such that Christians believe humanity needs salvation? (Non-Christians will already feel co-opted but I write as a Christian – can’t be helped).

I want to state briefly several things which seem to me to be of importance about the nature of things in this regard.

1. It is the nature of things that man does not have a legal problem with God. That is to say, the nature of our problem is not forensic. The universe is not a law-court.

2. It is the nature of things that Christ did not come to make bad men good, but to make dead men live. This is to say that the nature of our problem is not moral but existential or ontological. We have a problem that is rooted in the very nature of our existence, not in our behavior. We behave badly because of a prior problem. Good behavior will not correct the problem.

3. It is the nature of things that human beings were created to live through communion with God. We were not created to live as self-sufficient individuals marked largely by our capacity for choice and decision. To restate this: we are creatures of communion, not creatures of consumption.

So much for the nature of things. (I’ll do my best to leave behind the syllogisms and return to my usual form of writing.)

Much of my experience as an American Christian has been an encounter with people who do not see mankind’s problem as existential or ontological – but rather as moral. They have seen that we behave badly and thought that the primary task of the Church (following whatever event was considered “necessary” for salvation) was to help influence people to be “good.” Thus I recall a Sunday School teacher who in my pre-school years (as well as a first-grade teacher who attempted the same) urging me and my classmates to “take the pledge.” That is, that we would agree not to smoke tobacco or drink alcohol before age 21. The assumption seemed to be that if we waited that long then we would likely never begin. In at least one of those cases an actual document was proffered. For the life of me I cannot remember whether I signed or not. The main reason I cannot remember was that the issues involved seemed unimportant to me at the time. Virtually every adult in my life smoked. And I was not generally familiar with many men who did not drink. Thus my teachers were asking me to sign a document saying that I thought my father and my grandfather were not good men. I think I did not sign. If I did, then I lied and broke the pledge at a frightfully early age.

My later experience has proven the weakness of the assumptions held by the teachers of my youth. Smoking wasn’t so much right or wrong as it was addicting and deadly. I smoked for 20 years and give thanks to God for the grace he gave me to quit. I feel stupid as I look back at the actions of those 20 years, but not necessarily “bad.” By the same token, I have known quite a few alcoholics (some of them blood relatives) and have generally found them to be about as moral as anyone else and sometimes moreso. I have also seen the destruction wrought by the abuse of alcohol. But I have seen similar destruction in families who never drank and the continuation of destruction in families where alcohol had been removed. Drinking can have serious consequences, but not drinking is not the same thing as curing the problem.

I had a far more profound experience, indeed a series of experiences, when I was ten years old – experiences that made a much deeper impression and framed the questions that burned in my soul about the nature of things.

The first experience was the murder of an aunt. She was 45 and a darling of the family. Everyone loved her. Her murder was simply a matter of “random” chance – she was in the wrong place at the wrong time or simply in a convenient place for a man who meant to do great harm to someone. No deep mystery, just a brutal death. The same year another aunt died as a result of a multi-year battle with lupus (an auto-immune disease). And to add to these things, my 10th year was also the year of Kennedy’s assassination. Thus when the year was done it seemed to me that death was an important question – even the important question.

It probably says that I was marked by experiences that were unusual for a middle-class white boy in the early 60′s. It also meant that when I later read Dostoevsky in my teens, I was hooked.

The nature of things is that people die - and not only do they die – but death, already at work in them from the moment of their birth, is the primary issue. The failure of humanity is not to be found or understood in a purely moral context. We are not creatures of choice and decision. How and why we choose is a very complex process that we ourselves do not understand. We can make a “decision” for Jesus only to discover that little has changed. It is also possible to find ourselves caught in a chain of decisions that bring us to the brink of despair without knowing quite how we got there. Though there are clearly problems with our choosing and deciding, the problem is far deeper.

One of the earliest Christian treatments of the human problem, hence the “nature of things,” is to be found in St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation. He makes it quite clear that the root problem of humanity is to be found in the process of death. Not only are we all slowly moving towards some inevitable demise, the process of death (decay, corruption) is already at work in us. In Athanasius’ imagery, it is as though we are falling back towards our origins in the dust of the earth. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

And thus it is that when he writes of the work of Christ it is clearly in terms of our deliverance from death (not just deliverance from the consequences of our bodily dissolution and its separation from the soul but the whole process of death itself.)

This is frequently the language of the New Testament as well. St. Paul will write: “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, and the life that I now live I live by the faith of the son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Or even on a more “moral” note he will caution us to “put to death the deeds of the body.”

The importance of these distinctions (moral versus existential) is in how we treat our present predicament. If the problem is primarily moral then it makes sense to live life in the hortatory mode, constantly urging others to be good, to “take the pledge,” or make good choices. If, on the other hand, our problem is rooted in the very nature of our existence then it is that existence that has to be addressed. And again, the New Testament, as well as the Tradition of the Church, turns our attention in this direction. Having been created for union with God, we will not be able to live in any proper way without that union. Thus our Baptism unites us to the death and resurrection of Christ, making possible a proper existence. Living that proper existence will not be done by merely trying to control our decisions and choices, but by consciously and unconsciously working to maintain our union with God. We are told “greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” Thus our victory, and the hope of our victory is “Christ within you, the hope of glory.”

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.

In over 30 years of ministry, I have consistently found this model of understanding to better describe what I encounter and what I live on a day to day basis. In the past twelve years of my life as an Orthodox Christian, I have found this account of things not only to continue to describe reality better – but also to be in conformity with the Fathers. It is a strong case for Christian Tradition that it actually describes reality as we experience it better than the more modern accounts developed in the past four hundred years or so. Imagine. People understood life a thousand years ago such that they continue to describe the existential reality of modern man. Some things do not change – except by the grace of God and His infinite mercy.

45 Responses to “The Nature of Things and Our Salvation”

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  1. Excellent! A helpful persective on our nature.

  2. Margaret says:

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen!!!

  3. armsopenwide says:

    This speaks to our motivations, does it not? As Orthodox Christians we confess that we may be cleansed and sanctified, striving to conform to the Divine likeness that accords with being created in His Image, that we may love God and our neighbor PRIMARILY THROUGH, BY THE MEANS MENTIONED, ABIDING IN HIM.
    If the holiest men said at the end, “I’ve not begun to repent,” what of me? As Dylan Thomas wrote, “Wild men, who grieved the sun on its flight, do not go gentle into that good night.” And it is because of this reality that I must take the Kingdom of God by violence. I must abide violently.
    Not as a Pharisee with their law-based approach, but with watchfulness.
    How far I am from praying constantly. How quickly I fall after having confessed. Lord have mercy!
    This is how I understand this post.

  4. Pio Quindecimo says:

    Great post, Father Stephen.

    Vigen Guroian makes a similar point in his book Rallying the Really Human Things: “it makes a difference for Christian social ethics whether one holds primarily to the physicalist Orthodox vision of redemption as cure of sin and death that takes place within the creature or whether one adopts the Western understandings of redemption as earned or imputed righteousness in which inward change is not as significant as the claim to a change of the creature’s position in relation to God.”

  5. Pio,
    I have only ever read Guroian’s Incarnate Love, but found it quite agreeable. The ontological understanding that is inherent in much of Orthodox theology has been part of my understanding since somewhere in the 70′s. For years it haunted me until I began to find solid sources (within Orthodox theology especially).

  6. Serafim says:

    Until the nominalist reduction became widespread in the early Renaissance, it was taken for granted that being is intelligible, that truth is knowable, and that ethics is a consequence of ontology – that the moral life consists not of arbitrary rules set by an arbitrary God, but rather of virtues the goodness of which follows from the being of our souls as being made in both the image and in the likeness of God. I would go even farther than you, Father, and overcome the disjunction you are keeping between the forensic and the ontological. We are dead, so we sin; Christ has raised us from the dead, and we live in His grace. Dead men becoming alive is what makes bad men become good – it’s not a question of either/or, but rather of two different levels of depth to the question.

    And so, to critique your first of the three points about the nature of things, the Christian notion of ontology transforms the modern, Enlightenment-era idea of law. It will certainly seem that man has a “legal problem with God” when he faces the toll-houses, as Fedotov pointed out in “The Russian Religious Mind”. It will certainly seem that sinners have a “legal problem” with holiness when “the saints shall judge this world… [and] we shall judge angels” (1 Corinthians 6:2-3). It is not that we do not have a legal problem with God; it is that the law is rooted in our being, and implanted on our hearts.

    It is because the law is grounded in reason and formed from our being that your Sunday School teacher’s pledge seemed so arbitrary. We know intuitively that good men drink and smoke (as do sinful men – I’ve rather fond of a good drink every now and then myself), and that they remain good because they treat the gifts of alcohol and tobacco as God intended them to be used, according to their natures. We can also easily tell that if we do not practice some measure of self-control, the legitimate use of alcohol and tobacco are perverted into the sins of drunkeness and addiction – and so we can formulate, as a law, the rule “Do not get drunk; do not get addicted to nicotine.” There is a right and a wrong to drinking and smoking; the wrong of it is precisely addiction and abuse. The weakness in your teacher’s assumption wasn’t setting a rule, but rather separating the idea of having a rule from the nature of the item in question – a weakness you seem to be perpetuating in your criticism of the forensic description of sin.

    Slava Isusu Christu!

  7. I understand your point but disagree in your analysis of the forensic. Even the “toll houses” (an image which I do not care to discuss in particular) is not forensic but ontological. To assume that the word “judge” automatically has a forensic meaning is, I think, a mistake. I am not alone in critiquing the forensic model (from an Orthodox perspective). It is largely late and Latin. If a forensic model were properly nuanced, I would probably have no problem. But I generally encounter it in a crude form, while I almost never encounter the ontological model in the modern West. If I make the point too strongly may God correct me and soon.

    You made a distinction between alive and good. St. Athanasius does not do so in De Incarnatione, but says that “existence is good.” It is not a “moral” issue in the abstract, forensic sense.

  8. pete says:

    Thank you for taking the time to bring
    some knowledge to us who are new to
    the faith….

    Pete.

  9. Brian says:

    This post, along with the previous one and some of the comments reminded me of how I was profoundly struck a number of years ago when reading the Epistle of James where he speaks of faith and “works.” He writes that faith without works is dead. Yet when he proceeds to describe exemplary works of faith he seems to go out of his way to use examples that could hardly be considered ‘moral’ as we usually understand the word:

    Abraham – commended for being ready to offer his son in human sacrifice (an act forbidden in the law of Moses).

    Rahab – commended for lying to her own people (another act forbidden in the law).

    The morality of the Church is participation by grace in the eternal life of God. Everything else is falsehood in disguise. What God and His Church have in view is not the improvement of behavior for our own sake or even for the sake of the Church or society. Such improvement is unquestionably a good thing in terms of improving our common social condition in this life, but it fails to transfigure the human person. It is not by itself a participation in eternal life. Our salvation is not a matter of adherence to the best utilitarian ethics available, however good and ‘useful’ they may be to our health and the good order of the world in which we live. This is clearly demonstrated by the thief on the cross, the woman taken in adultery, Zacchaeus, the woman who anointed Christ with ointment, the paralytic carried by his friends, the blind man who cried, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”, Lazarus, the Gadarene demoniac, Mary Magdalene…and most of all myself. All were bound by death, passions, sins, blindness, and sickness of soul and body yet liberated through a personal encounter with the living God while the ‘righteous,’ secure in the virtue of their utilitarian ethics and bent on maintaining the good order of society, murdered the incarnate God who made both them and their laws.

  10. Brian, well put. Thank you.

  11. Seraphim says:

    Well said Brian.

    Union with God is a mystery which is worked out in human persons –Vladimir Lossky

    (The spirit gives life, but the letter kills).

  12. oruaseht says:

    An often overlooked nuance of Western anthropology/soteriology is that it isn’t man who actually has the problem, but God. God is offended by our sin, His wrath must be vented, Christ is punitively punished on man’s behalf. Even with the vicarious satisfaction, it is still God who has the problem, not man. Rather, what I have come to see in the Orthodox mind of the Church is that it is indeed man’s problem of death that is the real problem. “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1 Cor 15:26). Thank you Fr. for the illuminating post!

  13. Henry says:

    If you understand, things are just as they are;
    if you do not understand, things are just as they are.
    zen saying (source unknown)

  14. Chris says:

    I believe I understand what you are saying, but do not our choices and decisions, good or bad, impact our communion with God? Are the two not intimately linked?

    Brian’s comment (faith & works) comes close to helping me separate the two, but I still see very strong linkage between the choices we make and maintaining communion with God. Are we saying that if we primarily focus on communion with God that all other things such as good and bad choices will naturally fall into place? Maybe not without the struggle of fits and starts but at least become directionally correct?

    Forgive my lack of understanding.

  15. Chris,
    Certainly our choices and decisions play a vital role. But the focus of our life should be God and communion with Him and from that – good will flow – for He is the source of all good things. But simply doing things (good or bad as understood in purely moral terms) can be done with no regard to God and in that sense simply become a reflection of our own good opinion of ourselves (or not).

    oruseht puts he finger on a large part of the problem. The forensic metaphor ultimately makes things to be “God’s problem.” But the “problem” lies within us. “The day you eat of it you shall surely die,” was not a description of a punishment (according to the fathers) but of a consequence. That death continues to work in us and from it flows every evil deed. We need to become a “new creation” in Christ. The “old man” cannot be reformed. Instead the Scripture says He is put to death in the crucifixion of Christ that the new man might be born in the resurrection of Christ. From that “new man” in Christ, good works flow.

  16. Serafim says:

    The attitude oruseht describes comes ultimately from the Old Testament, with its anthropomorphic descriptions of God’s anger, and His jealousy, and so forth. As Christians (East and West), we have understood this in a spiritual sense to be a reflection of our communion with Him, rather than as emotions somehow present in the transcendent God. Explaining the Redemption in terms of vicarious atonement preserved the spiritual understanding of our relationship to God – the problem is still on our part, and that is why God needed to become man in order to redeem our sins.

    I don’t know where he got the notion that anyone in the West believed that the problem is with God rather than with us – that’s more of a caricature of Western soteriology than anything else. The problem is with us – and that is why God’s infinite justice had to be satisfied. It makes sense to me.

  17. Serafim,
    It is indeed a caricature, but is widely believed on a popular level – even if not thought about deeply on a theological level. I readily agree about the proper way to read the anthropomorphic imagery. St. Isaac of Syria says that “we know nothing of God’s justice, only His mercy.” The notion of God’s justice needing to be satisfied is a fairly late development even in the West. Though not absent in the East (where it was an import) it finds no expression in the Eucharistic prayers of the Church (where we would most expect atonement imagery). I find myself in agreement with those who see the forensic model as being problematic and not an intrinsic part of Orthodox teaching across the centuries.

  18. Karen says:

    Serafim,

    Just a thought elaborating on Fr. Stephen’s emphasis on the distinction between modern forensic notions of justice and the Orthodox ontological understanding, it seems to me that the latter are firmly rooted in being whereas, certainly at least in popular understanding if not in the basic assumptions of the paradigms adopted by Scholastics and Reformers, the former are extrinsically imposed according to appearance and not well related in a cohesive way to being. But if we understand law and justice in their more fully biblical sense (i.e., not merely legal or forensic in the modern sense), they may be seen as principles of life and death intrinsically grounded in the Being of God, and, in this sense, your statement (below) can be seen as compatible with the more biblical understanding as well:

    “Dead men becoming alive is what makes bad men become good – it’s not a question of either/or, but rather of two different levels of depth to the question.”

    Rather than a question of depth, might we want to suggest that these are two alternate biblical metaphors for describing the same ontological state (not that this necessitates an either/or scenario either)? I don’t know if this suggestion ultimately adds any clarity.

    Certainly, in many Evangelical popular descriptions of the manner by which one can be “saved,” it sounds as if a legal status unrelated to actual personal change precedes a “personal (i.e., ontological) relationship” with God because it is argued a “holy” God cannot associate with one who still has the legal status of “sinner” without violating His “justice” (whereas in Orthodoxy it is precisely the reverse–a holy God incarnates Himself as man in order to join Himself to our human nature and reestablish an ontological connection from His end, so that man may be empowered thereby by His life through faith in Him to fulfill the Law of God). Many evangelicals and western Christians may recognize the former notion to be a distortion or caricature, but it seems to me it is the popular understanding of many Christians (especially in the Reformed traditions) and certainly of many who have ultimately abandoned or rejected Christian faith (often in part, I am convinced, because this caricature rightly offends their God-given sensibilities of what mercy and justice truly mean!).

  19. Serafim,
    It is problematic that the concept of the satisfaction of God’s infinite justice is simply not patristic. It is a late invention of the West (St. Anselm primarily) and has the added problem that the atonement effects a change in God (which is impossible). The theory became dominant in many Western accounts of the atonement, and from there occasionally found use in late Orthodox writings, but is not part of the larger Orthodox inheritance of teaching. Some have gone so far as to denounce it as virtually heretical. I will simply say that I find it problematic and unhelpful.

  20. Serafim says:

    Karen’s and Father Stephen’s last two posts were helpful to me. I’m not very familiar with Reformed or Evangelical versions of Christianity; during the twelve years of my life as a Lutheran I was pretty much self-taught in theology (more in the Church Fathers and, I regret to say, quite a bit of apocrypha than anything else, along with a lot of creationist literature regarding the evolution debate). I never really got exposed to the “popular understanding of Christians”, thanks be to God.

    In that case, having two different metaphors to describe the same ontological state would be a good thing, as Karen suggested. We ought to teach people how to view both metaphors correctly, rescuing them from the crude “popular” caricature that oruaseht complained about. Throwing out one of them throws out the baby with the bathwater – my biggest problem with it is its apparent similarity to some antinomian trends in early Lutheranism and Molinist quietism, which have no place in Orthodoxy or any genuine Christianity.

    Slava Isusu Christu!

  21. Serafim,
    The ontological approach is miles away from any antinomian trends. Please do not misunderstand this. It takes sin very seriously. Indeed it says, “This sin is killing you, and driving you towards non-existence.” By the mercy of God we can be delivered and healed from such a nightmare. Not antinomian though. God forbid! We do not need law to bring about goodness. We need a new life.

  22. Serafim says:

    My computer is acting up – my apologies if this is a duplicate post.

    Father Stephen,

    I also find the atonement theory unhelpful if interpreted too literalistically. But – as I know you would agree – the unjustice is in us, so no change in God is necessary. I also have strong problems with the idea that any suffering you matter how slight on Christ’s part – stubbing His toe, for example – would satisfy that justice, making the Passion and Crucifixion superfluous. (There is no life without suffering; I am not sure I would even want Heaven without something analogous to pain. Just think of the agony of longing that C. S. Lewis called “sehnsucht” – this will be fulfilled, not abolished, when we reach the joys of Heaven.)

    But the basic idea was true. We lost something infinite – the life of God within our souls. We could do nothing to regain that life and make atonement for rejecting an infinite God – only one who was fully God and fully man could do this. My own understanding of this is a bit crude (I haven’t read it in Anselm), but what I do understand makes sense, and I can’t make sense of the Crucifixion without it.

    Slava Isusu Christu!

  23. Serafim,
    I do understand what you are saying and I think your instincts are correct. Indeed, the injustice within us must be healed. And indeed there is no life without suffering. Christ, in His incarnation, accepted human suffering which was climaxed on the Cross, and entered into even our death, that He might unite us to Himself. His crucifixion utterly united Him to the depth of our suffering (as did His descent into Hell). All of this in order to heal us and unite us to the living God. He became what we are in order that we might share in what He is. Glory to God!

  24. Michael says:

    Father Stephen,
    It seems that Orthodox treading among the western developments do not want to tread beyond the Athanasian paradigm/(which I am perfectly fine with) However, when trying to relate the Orthodox position to heterodox friends, I find myself smack in the middle of the Augustinian-Anslem-Calvin-xxx theories, spending most of the the time trying to reset the basic assumptions of the conversation. Would you be willing to post on developing the Orthodox position on terms such as justification, God’s justice, propitiation, acceptable use of sacrificial language, etc.

  25. archimandrite g says:

    Dear Father, BLESS US!

    Of all the Orthodox blogs—yours is by FAR the very best! Thoughtful…prayed over (I can tell!)…and feeling (in the best of ways). I’m enjoying everyday that I read it…and I am thankful for it—but more especially, for YOU! May He Who is Risen and among us—bless and reward you efforts!

    Kissing your holy right hand,

    +G

  26. Thank you, Father. By your holy prayers, may God truly bless us!

  27. Michael,
    It’s hard to know where to begin. I could try some – but the nature of the Reform system is that it is so systematic that it is almost impossible to address.

  28. Chris says:

    Thank you.

  29. Brent says:

    The sting, however, is that by which death was made, and not that which death made, since it is by sin that we die, and not by death that we sin. It is therefore called “the sting of death” on the principle which originated the phrase “the tree of life,”— not because the life of man produced it, but because by it the life of man was made.

    St. Augustine, On Merit and the Forgiveness of Sins, chapter 20.

    Taken from Pastor Weedon’s blog: http://weedon.blogspot.com

  30. oruaseht says:

    Michael – as a Lutheran Pastor who is looking East, I have struggled greatly with coming to terms with Orthodoxy and trying to grasp the Orthodox mind on original sin/guilt, freedom of the will, theosis & justification, etc. Like you I have also concluded that the “spurious” western trail begins with Augustine, handing the baton to Anselm who then hands it to Luther and Calvin and so on and so on. I also agree that some posts on St. Augustine’s theological conclusions and ensuing consequences for all of western Christendom would be helpful. I came across this tremendous post from an Orthodox point of view that clearly and succinctly lays out justification. It is entitled “Beyond Justification: An Orthodox Perspective” (http://www.stpaulsirvine.org/html/Justification.htm) I found it to be exceedingly good for laying out the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and “Lutheran” mind on justification and the associated theology surrounding it. (I qualify “Lutheran” because it doesn’t speak to all confessions of “Lutherans” – but that is part of the inherent problem with the fractured western church!) I imagine that the article would help you try to explain salvation as Theosis to your heterodox friends who are still held captive in the evangelical salvation courtroom.

  31. Sonia says:

    Hello Father,

    In Viktor Frankl’s ‘Man’s search for Meaning’, moral choices made in the face of an experience that seemed a moral wasteland were choices that kept the essence of a person’s humanity alive. He wrote that after reaching a point of near desolation he had a vision of his ‘beloved’ and he understood that (quote from pg 49) “the salvation of man is through and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievment may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way-an honorable way-in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “the angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory” For the Christian (and indeed everyone) Christ is THE beloved which brings that Grace but he seems to me to be sayinig that the moral choice is an essential part of reaching that ‘contemplation of infinite glory’?

  32. Karen says:

    Sonia,

    Thank you for bringing to light that wonderful quote from Viktor Frankl’s book. Decades ago, I read that book as an 18-year-old as part of the required reading for my first college course at an Evangelical Christian institution. At the time, Frankl’s thesis struck me as a profound and beautiful vision of an aspect of the truth of human existence, but I mourned that he apparently never connected the insights from his experience with the Christian gospel revealed in Christ. Now that I am Orthodox, I am again struck by the beauty of the Orthodox truth that Frankl discovered through his own experience and so beautifully articulates in this small book. I recognize that through his work another seed was sown in my heart before I became Orthodox that prepared me to recognize the Truth found in its fullness within Orthodoxy. And I also recognize the irony that Frankl, though he never formally and explicitly embraced Christ, yet had a far more profound grasp and embrace of the Truth of all things than I had at the time (or likely yet have, though I have formally and explicitly believed on Christ)!

  33. Sonia says:

    Thanks for your reply. Reading through the posts here reminded me of the book and how he seemed to be saying that his experiences were constantly forcing him to almost bow to a moral decision (I think) if he wanted to keep any sense of God. It’s surprising to learn that he didn’t formally embrace Christianity as the conclusions he reaches do seem to embrace the ‘Truth of all things’. It always stayed with me the idea, with regards to suffering, the coming to terms with the burden of not understanding and accepting that if we don’t understand, God does.

  34. jzanetis says:

    Dear Fr. Stephen and all,

    I recently had the opportunity to travel to Albania as a part of a class/trip at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston (I’m a seminarian). For part of the class, we read a book called “Facing the World” written by Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, and (as an assignment) I wrote the following short review on it. It has its flaws, I’m sure – but if you’d like to read, I hope you enjoy. Thank you

    http://docs.google.com/View?id=dhchnkg5_101c5rg7bgs

    In Christ,
    Jordan

  35. Thanks for the link, Jordan. I hold him in the highest regard.

  36. Alex says:

    I must confess I do not understand. Please correct me if I am wrong, but I think you are saying that the decisions which me make flow out from a heart which is more or less in communion with God and our actions are manifestations of an interior reality.

    If this is the case then I must confess I do not understand how free will is a reality. Throughout the scriptures, even in the first chapters, mankind is told by the Creator that we have the ability to overcome sin. Later, the nation of Israel would be told to ‘choose life that you may live’ and also that it was within their grasp to do so. Throughout the Old Testament scriptures Life is continuously identified with the commandments of the Torah.

    As a ‘convert’ from Judaism this is something I have struggled with – ‘a law based approach’ is completely concerned with the nature of things, since it is only by actively excercising our free will and choosing life over death that we are able to become precisely human and elevate even the mundane things of our existence (such as making plates kosher) to God.

  37. Alex says:

    In other words, I do not see why “The ‘old man’ cannot be reformed”

  38. Seraphim says:

    Alex,

    The Holy Spirit is Life (the only life) but the old man must utterly pass away if what is raised up is to be an entirely new creation.

    You needn’t worry about the law being nullified — it is fulfilled perfectly in Christ, the light of the world (the eternal Shabbat candle).

  39. Alex says:

    This is exactly what I am talking about -

    Shabbat is something you DO. Making the decision to stay home with the family, leave the tv off, and generally to refrain from normal activities such as cooking are actions which when followed create an atmosphere of external peace and also remind the practicing Jew that they are not the Creator. It is a spiritual excercise. So while I understand what you are saying and agree with it, at the same time it doesn’t quite make sense to me, since the holiness of the Sabbath is inextricably linked in with its observance by human beings – ie. the incarnation of the Sabbath is when people put the commandment into action.

  40. Alex says:

    I think that we can say the same thing even about those commandments which are categorized as ‘moral’ (though this distinction between ritual and moral nowhere exists within the scriptures and makes no sense to a 1st century Jew).

    Choosing not to steal is something you do. Choosing to help out at a soup kitchen is something you do. Saying a prayer after meals is something you do. yet all these things ultimately point towards the ultimate reality of communion with the Almighty. Suppose that Christians stopped doing all these things, and when asked why, the response is ‘don’t worry, Christ is the fulfillment of all these commandments’. I don’t think it would fly.

  41. Seraphim says:

    Alex,

    The Sabbath rightfully understood tells us something about what God is rather than what man does.

    (The Sabbath was given to mankind long before Moses was born, and certainly before wickedness entered the world of men).

    Thus, in Genesis 2:1-3, we see that God sanctified the seventh day. There is no mention of man doing anything.

    Here’s a link or two to Vladimir Lossky’s writings on the subject which you might find helpful:

    http://jbburnett.com/resources/lossky/lossky-person.pdf
    http://jbburnett.com/resources/lossky/lossky-createdbeing.pdf

  42. Bruce says:

    Father Bless!

    Thank you so much for continuing to post this important reminder to us. I know how important this post is to you and to so many of us. I have a small suggestion for you to consider since I suspect you will post this again as you have a number of time before.

    This paragraph:

    And so if we will will live in such communion we will struggle to pray, not as a moral duty, but as the 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 increasing dissolution of who and what we are.

    Now consider this change which came to me as I reread the Nature of Things after having read your post about Everywhere Present

    We pray, we fast, we give alms, we confess, we commune, not in order to be better people, but to become alive in Christ. As we learn to die to the futility of consumption and self sufficiency, we find a miraculous balance between our ability to abandon ourselves and the appearance of God’s grace to fill and fuel our lives. The immensity of this grace matches the depth of our repentance and rushes in if we can humbly see ourselves as broken and lost dead men, hopeless and helpless without Christ. We share as creatures in the mystery of Life in Christ as we learn to live in the purity of His commands, with the illumination of His eyes to see and His ears to hear, and the discovery of our true nature and authenticity….living sacrifices which express the glory of God.

    Please forgive me if in any way you find this offensive. You are a wonderful writer and a true servant of the most High! In Christ…Bruce

  43. Bruce,
    Thanks, I’ll give it some thought. Much appreciated.

  44. James, the Brother says:

    Bruce,

    It just doesn’t “sound” like Father Stephen whose writings are gifted with depth and succinctness.

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