Glory to God for All Things

The Audacity of Mercy – St. Isaac the Syrian

St. Isaac stretches love and mercy to it’s farthest limits, occasionally beyond the bounds of canonical understanding. He remains a saint of the Church and his words are very important to hear.

+++

Let yourself be persecuted, but do not persecute others.

Be crucified, but do not crucify others.

Be slandered, but do not slander others.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep: such is the sign of purity.

Suffer with the sick.

Be afflicted with sinners.

Exult with those who repent.

Be the friend of all, but in your spirit remain alone.

Be a partaker of the sufferings of all, but keep your body distant from all.

Rebuke no one, revile no one, not even those who live very wickedly.

Spread your cloak over those who fall into sin, each and every one, and shield them.

And if you cannot take the fault on yourself and accept punishment in their place, do not destroy their character.

What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.

The person who is genuinely charitable not only gives charity out of his own possessions, but gladly tolerates injustice from others and forgives them. Whoever lays down his soul for his brother acts generously, rather than the person who demonstrates his generosity by his gifts.

God is not One who requites evil, but who sets evil right.

Paradise is the love of God, wherein is the enjoyment of all blessedness.

The person who lives in love reaps the fruit of life from God, and while yet in this world, even now breathes the air of the resurrection.

In love did God bring the world into existence; in love is God going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of the One who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised.

Question: When is a person sure of having arrived at purity?

Answer: When that person considers all human beings are good, and no created thing appears impure or defiled. Then a person is truly pure in heart.

Love is sweeter than life.

Sweeter still, sweeter than honey and the honeycomb is the awareness of God whence love is born.

Love is not loath to accept the hardest of deaths for those it loves.

Love is the child of knowledge.

Lord, fill my heart with eternal life.

As for me I say that those who are tormented in hell are tormented by the invasion of love. What is there more bitter and violent than the pains of love? Those who feel they have sinned against love bear in themselves a damnation much heavier than the most dreaded punishments. The suffering with which sinning against love afflicts the heart is more keenly felt than any other torment. It is absurd to assume that the sinners in hell are deprived of God’s love. Love is offered impartially. But by its very power it acts in two ways. It torments sinners, as happens here on earth when we are tormented by the presence of a friend to whom we have been unfaithful. And it gives joy to those who have been faithful.

That is what the torment of hell is in my opinion: remorse. But love inebriates the souls of the sons and daughters of heaven by its delectability.

If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the Word clothe himself in the body, using gentleness and humility in order to bring the world back to his Father?

Sin is the fruit of free will. There was a time when sin did not exist, and there will be a time when it will not exist.

God’s recompense to sinners is that, instead of a just recompense, God rewards them with resurrection.

O wonder! The Creator clothed in a human being enters the house of tax collectors and prostitutes. Thus the entire universe, through the beauty of the sight of him, was drawn by his love to the single confession of God, the Lord of all.

“Will God, if I ask, forgive me these things by which I am pained and by whose memory I am tormented, things by which, though I abhor them, I go on backsliding? Yet after they have taken place the pain they give me is even greater than that of a scorpion’s sting. Though I abhor them, I am still in the middle of them, and when I repent of them with suffering I wretchedly return to them again.”

This is how many God-fearing people think, people who foster virtue and are pricked with the suffering of compunction, who mourn over their sin; They live between sin and repentance all the time. Let us not be in doubt, O fellow humanity, concerning the hope of our salvation, seeing that the One who bore sufferings for our sakes is very concerned about our salvation; God’s mercifulness is far more extensive than we can conceive, God’s grace is greater than what we ask for.

When we find love, we partake of heavenly bread and are made strong without labor and toil. The heavenly bread is Christ, who came down from heaven and gave life to the world. This is the nourishment of angels. The person who has found love eats and drinks Christ every day and every hour and is thereby made immortal. …When we hear Jesus say, “Ye shall eat and drink at the table of my kingdom,” what do we suppose we shall eat, if not love? Love, rather than food and drink, is sufficient to nourish a person. This is the wine “which maketh glad the heart.” Blessed is the one who partakes of this wine! Licentious people have drunk this wine and become chaste; sinners have drunk it and have forgotten the pathways of stumbling; drunkards have drunk this wine and become fasters; the rich have drunk it and desired poverty, the poor have drunk it and been enriched with hope; the sick have drunk it and become strong; the unlearned have taken it and become wise.

Repentance is given us as grace after grace, for repentance is a second regeneration by God. That of which we have received an earnest by baptism, we receive as a gift by means of repentance. Repentance is the door of mercy, opened to those who seek it. By this door we enter into the mercy of God, and apart from this entrance we shall not find mercy.

Blessed is God who uses corporeal objects continually to draw us close in a symbolic way to a knowledge of God’s invisible nature. O name of Jesus, key to all gifts, open up for me the great door to your treasure-house, that I may enter and praise you with the praise that comes from the heart.

O my Hope, pour into my heart the inebriation that consists in the hope of you. O Jesus Christ, the resurrection and light of all worlds, place upon my soul’s head the crown of knowledge of you; open before me all of a sudden the door of mercies, cause the rays of your grace to shine out in my heart.

O Christ, who are covered with light as though with a garment, who for my sake stood naked in front of Pilate, clothe me with that might which you caused to overshadow the saints, whereby they conquered this world of struggle. May your Divinity, Lord, take pleasure in me, and lead me above the world to be with you.

I give praise to your holy Nature, Lord, for you have made my nature a sanctuary for your hiddenness and a tabernacle for your holy mysteries, a place where you can dwell, and a holy temple for your Divinity.

Adapted from Met. Hilarion Alfeyev’s The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian (Cistercian Studies 175), Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 2000.


96 Responses to “The Audacity of Mercy – St. Isaac the Syrian”

Author comments have a tan color background for you to easily identify the posts author in the comments

  1. Ed Smith says:

    I have long been a big fan of this saint. His words are a healthy kind of challenge to my hardened heart. In some places, I think he may just be touching upon a truth which is impossible to properly state or understand in this age.

  2. reedettes says:

    “Be the friend of all, but in your spirit remain alone.”
    This somehow resonates with me but I don’t know that I fully comprehend it. It’s beautiful yet sad. Any insights?

  3. dee says:

    The 1st commandments is 1st: it’s intensity makes one feel as if there is none other than God and I alone on this earth, through that commandment however, the 2nd one is inevitably actualized: one would then see everybody else with the eyes of his Beloved (God). So if the Person I love exclusively (God) is united with and loves my neighbour, I love my neighbour, I see God in my neighbour, being “the friend of all” has nothing worldly about it then, but is a demonstration of my love for the One.
    1st through the 2nd and 2nd due to the 1st…
    May God grant us such paradise

  4. henry says:

    It is very dangerous this gift of the open heart. To expose ourselves that completely to another, to open ourselves completely to pain, disappointment, betrayal, and even death, is dangerous beyond words. If we open our hearts to another we will experience pain. It is inevitable. The center of the human heart is tender beyond imagination. But ultimately, this gamble is what makes us human. In seeking freedom for others, without conditions, without limit we ultimately become free.

  5. dee says:

    Yes, but this danger ‘vanishes’ through the simultaneous fountain of gratitude that one cannot stop once the reference point becomes Love Himself instead of self

  6. Anna says:

    Father, bless!

    Thank you for posting this! I have recently read that an elder from the Holy Mountain, asked for an edifying word, said: “Let there be no day without reading something from the books of St. Isaac the Syrian.”

    I always find something worthwhile in every one of your posts, but I usually don’t find something worthwhile to say in a comment, compared with the thoughtful comments of your other readers.

  7. Mary says:

    Dear Father,
    I loved this post. I have never commented here before, but I have been keeping up with most, if not all, of your posts these past few months.

    What finally got me to write was this line from St. Isaac:
    “Sin is the fruit of free will. There was a time when sin did not exist, and there will be a time when it will not exist.”

    I have long been troubled by the thought of whether there will be free will in Heaven. Doesn’t our faith teach that Satan had free will, and chose to love himself, not God? I began to fear that those who enter Heaven now might, through free will, likewise fall.

    If Satan, an angel, saw God fully and was loved totally, how could he fall? If he could fall from Paradise, couldn’t any of us?

    St. Isaac seems to suggest there will be no free will in Heaven, but I find this confusing. I believe that God gave us free will to love Him freely, not as automatons. Are we thus “forced” to love Him in Heaven, in the sense that there will be no possibility of us wanting to do otherwise?

  8. Philip Jude says:

    Mary,

    I think you’d be hard pressed to find a Christian theologian who believes that sin will exist among the resurrected saints in the New Jerusalem. It’s not that God will “force” goodness upon them, it’s simply that His grace will be so overwhelming as to preclude any abuse of human will.

  9. Drewster2000 says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you for this wonderful piece from St. Isaac. I find that understanding the saints or fathers when they speak thus with their hearts instead of their intellect, is only accomplished with our hearts. The moment our rationale starts asking, “Yes but what about this or that detail? How does that fit into the picture?”, we have already begun to leave the conversation.

    May God help us to once again use our hearts as they were intended.

  10. Mary says:

    Philip,
    Thank you for your reply. I still don’t know if that it completely answers my question/fear completely. Satan too must have been overwhelmed by God’s grace. Why then did he fall, unless he had free will to love, and chose otherwis?
    Moreover, there was no other Satan whispering into his ear in a “garden” to lure him away from God.

  11. Mary says:

    (Sorry for the typos in the last post!)

  12. Mary,
    Orthodoxy would not speak of being “overwhelmed by grace.” Ultimately, this is a Calvinist notion. Rather, it is the healing of the will that we look towards. St. Maximus the Confessor, whose teaching was ratified in the 5th Ecumenical Council (and strongly supported by Rome, I might add), maintained that there is, in fallen man, two “wills.” The first is the natural will, which always wills according to our nature. Orthodoxy holds that natures do not fall – the nature is the actual essence of what we are. Were our nature to change, we would be something other than human. It is that we are flawed in a way that we do not live in accordance with our nature that is the teaching of the Church.

    This is the origin of the “second will.” This second will, St. Maximus called the “gnomic will” meaning a “choosing will.” This is what we experience most. It is drawn this way and that, chooses correctly and incorrectly. We experience this split as a fundamental lack of integrity within ourselves. It’s like St. Paul’s complaint in Romans 7, that he does not do what he wants to do, etc.

    In our salvation (and from glory to glory as we grow in Christ) the rupture of our wills is gradually healed. In the resurrection, we live according to our nature, which, by grace, is a partaker of the Divine life. It will “choose” always in accordance to its nature, desiring union with God. It is at last free to be what we truly are.

    As to the fall of the angels – on this I am not clear. Indeed, I’ve rarely read anything that actually makes the matter clear. I suspect that some things about angels may not be any of our business, thus some things we do not know. There has been much theological speculation over the centuries, but nothing that I know of that is definitive (certainly not within Orthodoxy). But we do not risk a second fall. I well understand the thought and the question. It is an obvious thing to wonder about.

  13. Mary says:

    Father,
    Thank you! You have completely answered my question with an explanation I had not ever come across before (the natural will and the choosing will, and the healing of the rupture between them) (and a thank you to St. Maximus!).

    In so doing, you have allayed my fears as well. I love that Christianity is a perfect fusion of heart and mind. We do not blindly follow something that makes no sense. Faith and reason go together.

    I will take your advice and let the angels do their jobs, according to God’s will, and not overly speculate.

  14. Mary,
    I plan to have a contest soon to see how many theologians can dance on the head of a pin – the angels do it so well!:)

  15. Karen says:

    Father, I don’t think that any theologians could dance on the head of a pin, but no doubt they would delight in discussing its fine point. (Hiss, boo, bad pun . . . I know, I know! Couldn’t resist.)

  16. Barnabas says:

    Father,
    What then about Adam & Eve. How were they able to fall against their nature?

  17. Philip Jude says:

    Father,

    I have several serious questions about what you have proposed.

    1. How does your theory square with Christian anthropology, which posits one will for one nature? Is this not the basis of dyothelitism? Christ has two natures and two wills. A human has but one nature and so one will, no?

    2. How can you seriously maintain that human nature does not change, what with your highly ontological Christianity? Do you not hold that evil is privation, and that for this very reason the wages of sin is death? What, if not one’s nature, is being deprived by sin? What is being corrupted? The will? It seems to me that’s backwards: The will is disordered because the nature is corrupted.

    3. Don’t Orthodox speak of human nature being changed for the better by the Incarnation? Was this change for the better not the reversal of the change for the worse at the Fall?

    5. You write: “It is that we are flawed in a way that we do not live in accordance with our nature that is the teaching of the Church.”
    This sounds rather . . . New Age. Isn’t the gospel about man’s failure to live in accordance with God’s nature, not his own nature?

    6. What makes you so certain that the saints will be unable to sin? Were not Adam and Eve’s supposed “two wills” in harmony, for certainly God would not have made them out of sync? How then did the Fall occur? If harmonized wills were de-harmonized once before, what’s to stop such an event from occurring again?

    7. Finally: When I say God’s grace will “overwhelm” the saints, I mean that just as the sun inevitably warms a sun-bather, dispelling all coldness, so God’s glory will inevitably illuminate the saints, making them creatures of light, utterly alien to sin. You find this unacceptable? Seems rather Dionysian to me.

  18. Philip Jude says:

    ***Satan too must have been overwhelmed by God’s grace. Why then did he fall, unless he had free will to love, and chose otherwise?***

    I suspect God’s relationship vis-a-vis His creatures (even angels) will be radically different at the end of time than it was at the beginning of time. The saints will surely possess freedom, but a purified sort of freedom that is presently unfamiliar; freedom rendered perfect by God lavishing light and love upon them.

    Why the angels fell is hotly debated. One popular theory among Catholics is that the Incarnation was revealed to them in time immemorial: some were disgusted at the thought of God condescending to material creatures; others were delighted at the prospect, for it manifested the Deity’s infinite love and mercy. Since angels exist in a sort of sub-species of eternity, and since their intellect does not function piecemeal like our own, their choice coincided with their creation and was irrevocable and everlasting. Of course, this is a lot of speculation, really.

  19. One will one nature. The gnomic will is a “mode” of willing, according to Maximus, brought on by the fall.

    I’ll offer a passage for consideration – sense you ask. It’s from Meyendorff’s Byzantine Theology, a fairly authoritative text in English.

    We have seen that iun the East man’s relationship with God was understood as a communion of the human person with that which is above nature. “Nature,” therefore, designates that which is, in virtue of creation, distinct from God. But nature can and must be transcended; this is the privilege and the function of the free mind, made “according to God’s imge.”
    Now, in Greek patristic thought, only this free, personal mind can commit sin and incur the concomitant “guilt” – a point made particularly clear by Maximus the Confessor in his distinction between “natural will” and “gnomic will.” Human nature, as God’s creature, always exercises its dynamic properties (which together constitute the “natureal will” – a created dynamism) in accordance with the divine will which created it. But when the human person, or hypostasis, by rebelling against both God and nature misuses its freedom, it can distort the “natural will” and thus corrupt nature itself. It is able to do so because it possesses freedom, or “gnomic will,” which is capable of orienting man toward the good and of “imitating God” (“God alone is good by nature,” writes Maximus, “and only God’s imitator is good by his gnome“); it is also capable of sin, because “our salvation depends on our will.” But sin is always a personal act, never an act of nature. Patriarch Photius even goes so far as to say, referring to Western doctrines, that the belief in a “sin of nature” is a heresy.

    It’s thick reading. A nature, in Eastern thought, is not a static thing, but is dynamic (thus the reference to a “created dynamism”). We are created as a movement towards God. The effect on the nature is not to make it something else, but to distort its movement towards God. St. Athanasius notes this sort of movement in his discussion of sin in De Incarnatione. Sin becomes a movement towards non-being.

    Your use of “overwhelm,” seemed to imply an “irresistable grace” as some Calvinists suggest. That idea is fraught with problems, ultimately declared a heresy by the Orthodox Church.

    My “certainty” of the sinless state of the saints is the result of the dynamic union with the deifying grace of God. This is a union in which we freely participate – but not properly described as being “overwhelmed.” The “event” of the fall is at a different “dynamic” moment, if you will. It is not repeated because that it is not descriptive of the saints. They are not returned to a pre-lapsarian state, but to a deified state for which Adam was created but did not fulfill (then).

    I hope this is helpful.

    It is difficult, though not impossible, to answer a long list of questions such as you pose. But the answers also presuppose a familiarity with such basic texts as Meyendorff’s and others. If you want to pursue such answers, they would be much better sources than my blog.

    Mary asked me a question (and you answered). My efforts were to give what was asked of me, rather than to engage in a tutorial in Byzantine theology. Don’t mean to offend.

  20. Barnabas, the short answer is, the freedom of their persons (hypostasis). Thus the sin of Adam and Eve effects their nature (it “incurs the consequences of Adam’s sin,” in the words of Meyendorff), but the Orthodox understanding sees sin as personal in character (rather than natural). “There is no place, then,” Meyendorff says, “in such an anthropology, for the concept of inherited guilt, or for a “sin of nature.”

    Anything that comes out of St. Maximus’ theology is enough to make your hair hurt. However, it is the authoritative answer (by the 5th Council) to these questions.

  21. Barnabas says:

    Father,

    Just to make sure I understand. You said to Philip, “They are returned to a pre-lapsarian state, but to a deified state for which Adam was created but did not fulfill (then).” So the reason that Adam & Eve could sin in the Garden because they had not been deified yet. In Paradise, because of the Incarnation, we will be deified and therefore unable to sin.

    Following this, Christ would have been incarnated even if Adam & Eve had not sinned because without the Incarnation, no man could be deified?

  22. Barnabas. Yes, indeed. St. Maximus taught (and this is generally accepted in the Church) that Christ would have been incarnate regardless of the fall. The incarnation was always intended by God. Thus all things are created for Him, by Him and through Him. St. Maximus even says, the incarnation is the cause of all things. Time is not the Lord of creation – Christ is.

    Also – I should have said “they are not returned to a pre-lapsarian state.” I’ve corrected my comment.

  23. Lynne says:

    About the theologian dancing contest on the head of a pin–it wouldn’t be fair for the Baptists.

  24. simmmo says:

    Wow! This is a demonstration of the fundamental difference between Eastern and Western theology. This passage from St Isaac is diametrically opposed to John Calvin. Father Stephen, what is the place of St Isaac within the Western tradition? Is he considered a Saint in the West? If not, is he considered heretical or not orthodox (small “o”)?

  25. dee says:

    It is exceedingly clear to me that Father Stephen’s original answer to Mary is in complete agreement with the Church of the first seven Ecumenical Councils.
    It therefore, ideally, (Philip) mustn’t be labelled “his” theory, or “his” “highly ontological Christianity”. It is not just “his” and it certainly isn’t ‘New Age’.

    In fact, it is such relativizing characterizations that (even though they are fully inadvertent), instantly remind me of New Age’s methods against Christianity’s absolute revelation (please forgive the pun), – the sort of syncretistic ‘Pluralism’ that characterizes modern secular man and prohibits any one faith to declare the fullness of truth.

  26. Simmo,
    I am not sure how the West views St. Isaac. I would think that Rome recognizes him (his dates are well before the Great Schism) – but I don’t know. St. Isaac was, interestingly, part of the Church that was considered Nestorian, though there’s nothing particularly Nestorian in his writings. His acknowledged place within the number of great Orthodox teachers is, it seems to me, a striking example of the acceptance of truth within Orthodoxy, as a triumph over lesser things. Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), from whose book the quotes were drawn, has written very well on St. Isaac, and noted the importance placed on him by traditional Russian theology. Met. Hilarion is effectively one of the most important voices within Russian Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy across the world. He is in charge of “External Affairs” for the Patriarchate of Moscow – more or less – the Secretary of State. This position was formerly held by Patriarch Kyrill, before he was elected Patriarch.

    St. Isaac’s views on the reconciliation of all things, is officially beyond the boundaries of Orthodox dogma. However, that his voice is allowed to speak is a testament to the depth of his understanding of God’s mercy. His understanding is not philosophical (as was Origen’s), but ascetical, arising out of the depth of his life of prayer.

  27. simmmo says:

    Thanks Father.

    I’m not Orthodox myself, but am looking very hard into it because of passages like this from Saint Isaac.

    Perhaps those evangelicals who have castigated Rob Bell for raising questions about the Western doctrine of hell should look at how the Orthodox have treated Saint Isaac. Would it be fair to say that because Saint Isaac, like all Orthodox, has a robust doctrine of free will, hell remains a possibility? Or does he assert that all MUST be reconciled to God? That is a different thing altogether. I think Saint Gregory of Nyssa held the belief that God would reconcile all to himself, but hell remains a possibility because of free will. Is Saint Isaac in this category?

    You said that Metropolitan Hilarion is like the Secretary of State for the Russian Church. Do you have an opinion on the state of Orthodoxy in migrant countries like the United States. It seems to me that in these countries there should be no real reason for division along state lines. Russians, Greeks, Arabs, Romanians etc should be worshipping together in line with St Paul’s admonition that Jews and Greeks should be eating with one another in his letter to the Galatians. “There is neither Jew nor Greek” as he says, but all are one in Christ. Rather Orthodox Churches in migrant countries seem to be very nationalistic and divided on national lines, although there is unity in doctrine. To me this is actually harder to accept than iconography or the Theotokos. Whatever can be said about Western tradition, whether Protestant or Catholic, they seem to be able to integrate people of different national identities into the local church better than the Orthodox. I am currently working in Papua New Guinea and I attended a Roman Catholic Mass with some Filippino colleagues. In the congregation there were Filippinos, PNG nationals, Australians etc all worshipping together. This doesn’t seem to happen much in Orthodoxy. It seems that national boundaries are reinforced. Do Russians and Greeks have communion together in America? I would have thought that people of the same faith would rejoice in worshipping together rather than just sticking to one’s own. Anyways, a litte off topic, but your comment about Metropolitan Hilarion made me think about it.

  28. Simmmo,
    Like Gregory of Nyssa there is no necessity in all being reconciled. It is more a commentary on God’s patience and love. Necessity would abrogate all of that. I have not read Rob Bell, but I’ve heard the controversy. If you were working out of a Western, forensic model, such as some versions of the Penal Substitution, I could see problems with Bell. I suspect that he has not used Eastern Orthodox understanding. The entire account of salvation is rather different between East and West – though both properly insist that salvation is through Christ alone. But the word “salvation” can itself mean two very different things.

    Orthodoxy has always recognized the location of Christians and respected that (thus the use of various languages from the beginning). The modern scattering of peoples and settlements in new lands has created some challenges. But across the Orthodox world, bishops are meeting together in National assemblies (Greeks, Russians, etc.) at the direction of all of the Patriarchs of the Orthodox world. A goal of those meetings will ultimately be something like a single jurisdiction in a land. We are all in communion – my ordination took place in a Greek Orthodox Church, though I am under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church in America, formerly part of the Russian Orthodox Church. There is growing cooperation.

    Rome’s centralized authority is able to bring about unity between national identities very easily, but sometimes at the expense of those identities. Eastern Rite Roman Catholics (from the Ukraine and other places) were often suppressed when they first came to America by the Western Rite in the name of a certain kind of conformity. This has turned around over the last number of decades (largely due to the work of John Paul II, I am told).

    Orthodoxy’s rather de-centralized life necessarily moves slower with more bumps. I prefer it and believe it to be the truth. It only works if you love one another which seems an appropriate requirement for Church life.

  29. simmmo says:

    Thanks for the response. I’ve not read Bell’s book either. But from following the debate it seems that the questions he raises are entirely reasonable given the Western doctrine of hell and the problems this doctrine poses to the faith of many people in the evangelical world. I’ve often thought that he could simply outflank his critics by looking at Patristic material. It would help his case very much, much like the advocates of the Christus Victor understanding of the atonement have outflanked penal substitution advocates by appealing to the Church Fathers. To be frank, discovering the Fathers has been an eye-openner for me. Turning to the Fathers we can simply wave away a lot of the really hateful stuff that is coming out of the zealous Calvinist camp, particularly on penal substitution, predestination and the medieval doctrine of hell. I mean, Saint Isaac the Syrian and Saint Gregory would hardly help the likes of John Piper and James White in their arguments against people who question the medieval doctrine of hell that the Reformers inherited at the time of the Reformation. I can just imagine John Piper tweeting “Farewell Saint Greg”!

    Thanks also for clarifying the ecclesiological issue I raised as well. Point taken.

  30. Karen says:

    There’s a little about St. Isaac’s bio. here:

    http://ocafs.oca.org/FeastSaintsLife.asp?FSID=100333

    Father, I recently did a quick read of Rob Bell’s controversial “Love Wins.” I doubt he has intentionally or consciously drawn on Eastern Orthodox understanding (he seems very unfamiliar with anything but Western understandings of Church history), but many of his convictions expressed in that book about the nature of sin and the basis of final judgment do very much run in that direction and seem to me quite compatible with much of Orthodox thought. I suspect if he were to read St. Isaac, he would find the Saint very, very spiritually attractive and perhaps even a kindred spirit.

  31. Philip Jude says:

    ***Turning to the Fathers we can simply wave away a lot of the really hateful stuff that is coming out of the zealous Calvinist camp, particularly on penal substitution, predestination and the medieval doctrine of hell. ***

    Have you ever read Calvin’s work? Or the work of other early Reformers? Lutheran, Calvinist, Anglican: they all engaged the patristic corpus extensively.

    Bishop Jewel, a friend and mentor of the brilliant Anglican divine Richard Hooker, wrote:

    “That which I shall utter herein shall not be of myself, but of the fathers of the church; not those which have been of later years, but of the most ancient…I am only a finger: these are clear and bright stars. I do but shew them unto you, and point them, that you may behold them. God give us grace that we may see them truly, and by them be able to guide and direct our way.”

    I grant that some of the radical Reformers (i.e. Anabaptists) did not give a fig about tradition, but that was not the norm.

    Perhaps you are plucking low-hanging fruit. Go and debate a sophisticated Reformed gentleman (especially of European stock), and be prepared for an argument rooted not just in Scripture, but in the fathers, too. Their favorites include Chrysostom, Theodoret, Lactantius, Jerome, Augustine, Ambrose, and Epiphanius.

    Remember, perhaps the most famous collection of patristic writings in English (Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers) was compiled and translated by Philip Schaff, a German Reformed.

  32. Karen says:

    Philip Jude, if you are Reformed in your theological perspective, you might find this site to be of interest:

    www:orthodoxbridge.com/

    I suspect how one understands the Fathers depends upon the lens through which one views them–much like the Scriptures themselves. It doesn’t really answer the question of which lens is more correct.

  33. Philip Jude,
    I was graduated from an Anglican seminary and am very familiar with the Anglican Divines. There’s a lot of good stuff within them – particularly their reverence for the fathers. The weakness (not intentional) is their primary reliance on fathers of the West – which is not the foundation of the Church’s teaching. The great councils of the Church are founded on the writings and teachings of the Eastern fathers. Augustine read Greek in translation – he was not familiar with the depths of theological thought in the Eastern fathers. In comparison to their work, he is relatively uneducated.

    Schaff’s work is monumental. It’s weakness is the fairly frequent notations in which the clear teaching of the Church (I think particularly of passages on the Eucharist as truly Christ’s body and blood) is disputed by the editor/translators. It demonstrates a hubris not found in Hooker’s writing, for instance.

    I have great regard for the apologetical abilities for European trained Reform theologians. I have a Reform brother-in-law with a doctorate from Edinburgh (he studied under Torrance). He has a formidable intellect.

    Brilliance within a particular paradigm is truly impressive. But if the assumptions of the paradigm are incorrect then the result is simply brilliant. A weakness within your thoughts, responses, analyses (as evidenced here), is that you are relatively clueless about the general assumptions of Eastern Orthodoxy, assumptions shared and taught by the fathers and the experience of Orthodoxy.

    Even Augustine, whom I really like btw, is quite different from the Augustine his Reformed admirers discuss. In the City of God he waxes very enthusiastically about the transfer of relics of St. Stephen the Protomartyr to his cathedral in Hippo. He goes on to bear witness of numerous miracles worked at the shrine of the holy martyr. He even stopped a service to have someone give testimony about their healing. The real Augustine is far more like his fellow Orthodox in the East than he is his modern admirers. When those admirers begin to venerate the relics of the saints, they may begin to understand Augustine. If they cannot, then they will not. Lex orandi, lex credendi.

    He also has a passage in the City of God in which he uses an extremely bizarre story of monastic flatulence to make a theological point about the will (it would doubtless have made even Luther blush). I would love to see a Reform commentary on it.

  34. Philip Jude says:

    Absolutely. Many modern Reformed, from my experience, can be quite prideful, especially when it comes to their exegetical skill. Such pride is absent from the best early Reformers (although Luther is prone to hubris, as is Calvin from time to time). The Anglican divines are by far my favorite. This is likely because they tend to be more open to mystery.

  35. Mary says:

    Someone earlier asked if St. Isaac is considered a saint in the West as well as in the East, and he is.

    But I thought with all the discussion that has gone back and forth here, and Father’s mention of Metropolitan Hilarion, many of you might find this article from 2008 VERY interesting. In it, it is reported that Met. Hilarion’s comments on St. Isaac were enthusiastically received by a Catholic audience, despite them being contrary to the Catholic understanding of Hell.

    http://www.insidethevatican.com/newsflash/2008/newsflash-apr8-08.htm

  36. Philip Jude,
    Are you familiar with the history and work of the Anglican Non-Jurors (they ultimately founded the Episcopal Church of Scotland)? They were English bishops who refused to take the oath of loyalty of William of Orange when James was overthrown by Parliament (the “Glorious Revolution”). They were very interested in the East. Some used the liturgy of St. James. They put a proper Epiclesis into Cranmer’s Eucharistic prayer and pursued the possibility of union with the Orthodox (they corresponded with the Patriarch of Jerusalem). It is a fascinating bit of Anglican history that has had influence at certain points in Anglicanism in America (though sadly not nearly enough). I have often thought of them as among the most principled men in Anglican history (Cranmer waffled a bit before his execution).

  37. Met. Hilarion’s comments raised a few eyebrows within Orthodoxy as well.

  38. Philip Jude says:

    Father,

    Interesting. I believe it Philipp Melanchthon and some of the conservative evangelicals in Germany even attempted rapprochement with Constantinople, but were ultimately rebuffed by the patriarch for their liturgical and theological excesses.

  39. simmmo says:

    Philip Jude, I was talking about the modern Reformed guys. Recall the recent book by Jeffrey, Ovey and Sach on Penal Substitutionary atonemement. There is a chapter of the book dealing with the Patristic material. To be frank, it is quite woeful. Derek Flood published a take down of that chapter in the Evangelical Quarterly.

    So Chrysostom was one of the favourite Fathers of the Reformers? I’ll have to investigate. But Chrysostom was probably the clearest proponent of Christus Victor. His paschal homily is unequivical in how we should understand the cross. Yet the Reformers were staunch penal substitution advocates. In fact they are very dogmatic about this. Perhaps, like Jeffery, Ovey and Sach, their understanding of Fathers was “pick and choose” here and there. Calvin certainly didn’t think much of the 7th Ecumenical Council that thwarted iconoclasm.

    I find that the modern Reformed guys will pick and choose as they please from the Fathers. There is no real devotion to understanding the corpus of their work. Perhaps this is an East/West thing – with far more attention being given to the likes of Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas. Perhaps it’s a sola scriptura thing. I note that the shrill Reformed apologist James White likes to quote from St Gregory of Nyssa saying something that seems to support sola scriptura. I wonder if he would hold St Gregory’s comments on the reconciliation of all things in the same esteem. Picking quotes here and there from the Patristics seems to be the order of the day with today’s Reformed zealots.

  40. simmmo says:

    Philip Jude, Yes I heard that story about some Lutherans seeking reproachment from Patriarch Jeremias II of Constantinople. The story goes that Jeremias rebuked their use of scripture by saying “in one place it says “Judas hung himself”, in another it says “go and do likewise””. lol An obvious reference to the proof-texting methodology of the Reformers. I don’t know how much truth there is to this story though.

  41. Rick says:

    Simmmo,

    Thanks for the reference to the Derek Flood article. For those who are interested, here is a link to that article online. http://therebelgod.com/AtonementFathersEQ.pdf

  42. Philip Jude says:

    Simmmo,

    You are being uncharitable. Especially about James White, who is one of the keenest intellects I’ve encountered in the Protestant blogosphere.

    I’ve watched debates of his where he quotes — at length and off the top of his head — canons of the various ecumenical councils. He is also clearly immersed in the fathers, handling their ideas adeptly and, typically, with proper respect.

    This is the thing, though: Protestants do not take the patristic corpus as Holy Writ.

    They consider the fathers fallible men who struggled without the benefits of the modern critical sciences. Hell, St Chrysostom wasn’t even using the whole New Testament!

    The fathers were also powerfully influenced by Hellenistic culture, despite Lossky’s best attempts to convince us otherwise.

    For all that I love about Orthodoxy, I cannot help but find disturbing its Neo-Platonic and Hermetical dimensions. Take the Philokalia. Parts of it are amazing, containing wisdom most excellent and godly. Other parts are utterly alien or even hostile to the Scripture and the Gospel of Christ.

    For instance, from Isaiah the Solitary:

    “If your intellect is freed from all hope in things visible, this is a sign that sin has died in you.”

    “If your intellect is freed, the breach between it and God is eliminated.”

    “Unless a man hates all the activity of this world, he cannot worship God. What then is meant by the worship of God? It means that we have nothing extraneous in our intellect when we are praying to Him.”

    These words could not be more foreign to the world of Scripture. They are the stuff of pagan mysticism.

    What disappoints me is the utter lack of internal criticism within Orthodoxy. Many Orthodox have recommended to me the Philokalia; not one of them offered a critique of its weaknesses, which are manifold and serious.

  43. Canadian says:

    Phillip Jude,
    I was a supralapsarian, 5 point Calvinist. I will be entering the Orthodox church this Lazarus Saturday. All of your queries I have been through, fighting tooth and nail to rebut Orthodox anthropology and failed, why?????? CHRISTOLOGY!!!
    Dyothelitism is correct but Father Stephen is discussing the PERSONAL USE of the NATURAL free will. Person and Nature distinction is a critical fail in Calvinistic Christology and Anthropology.
    Human nature is elevated by deification but not changed. Chalcedon says “without change” as to the humanity of Christ yet he deified it.
    In heaven, we will not have a gnomic will that deliberates between choices of opposition (good or evil) but will freely choose between an infinite number of good things only.

    Whatever you do to our nature must apply to Christ’s humanity or you destroy the Christ we love.
    Father Stephen has given excellent answers on some of your questions, if you explore the older posts by Perry Robinson at Energetic Procession blog, all of these issues are dealt with at very deep level from another former Calvinist.

  44. Philip Jude says:

    Even the idea of a united, homogenous “patristic tradition” is something of a fantasy. The fathers battled one another ferociously. Yet many synthesize their work so as to make it seem like they were in agreement on every matter.

    Consider the epic struggle over hermeneutics between Antioch and Alexandria, a struggle ultimately won by Antioch. Had Alexandria triumphed, Christianity might look very different.

  45. Philip Jude says:

    Canadian,

    Orthodox anthropology is far too optimistic and semi-pagan in origin. This accounts directly for Orthodoxy’s anemic doctrine of grace, which very often slides in Pelagianism. This was evident, sadly, even in the greatest doctors and fathers.

    Consider the blindness of Chrysostom, whose Hellenistic heritage rendered him unable to fathom the sovereignty of God:

    He puts forth these words from Romans: “Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (9:11-13)

    He proceeds to comment:

    “What was the cause then why one was loved and the other hated? Why was it that one served, the other was served? It was because one was wicked, and the other good. And yet the children being not yet born, one was honored and the other condemned. For when they were not as yet born, God said, “the elder shall serve the younger.” With what intent then did God say this? Because He does not wait, as man does, to see from the issue of their acts the good and him who is not so, but even before these He knows which is the wicked and which not such” (Homily 16 on Romans).

    This is an incredible interpretation. Paul plainly says that God elected Jacob “NOT BECAUSE OF WORKS.” That clearly refers to future works, too.

    Yet Chrysostom writes: “Why was it that one served, the other was served? It was because one was wicked, the other good . . . He does not wait, as man does, to see from the issue of their acts . . . but even before these He knows which is the wicked and which not such.”

    This is a perfect example of a church father being unable to transcend his cultural context. He was just oblivious.

    It is sadly ironic, because that section of Romans is one of the great declarations of the Lord’s meticulous sovereignty:

    “For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion,b but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

    You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? (9:15-21).

    Another great declaration of God’s sovereignty is from the beginning of Ephesians:

    “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption sthrough his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (1:3-14).

    This plainly states that God elects His saints from time immemorial:

    –”chose us in Him before the foundation of the world”
    –”predestined us for adoption”

    It furthermore states with great clarity that the choice is purely a matter of will, not of works:

    –”according to the purpose of His will”
    –”which He lavished upon us . . . making known to us the mystery of His will according to His purpose”

    I am more than open to an Orthodox interpretation of these verses, as well an explanation of Chrysostom’s apparent failure to comprehend Paul. Any resources? Any ideas?

  46. Canadian says:

    Phillip,
    Thanks for your inquiring into all this, I know it takes work and also an honest heart.
    Romans 9 is covenantal, not a discussion has nothing to do with the mechanics of individual election to heaven and hell. This is made clear by the context of chap 9-11 and also the source quotes by Paul from the OT. Malachi 1 (Romans 9 quotes it) reveals that Jacob and Esau are nations.
    Genesis 25:23 Rebecca is told:
    “And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.”

    The discussion in Romans is God’s freedom to do the unthinkable….blow the door of salvation open to the nations of the world through Christ! All are under sin, and come into the new Covenant through Christ alone.

    You must find proper anthropology of fallen man by testing it against the Incarnation. If we are naturally totally depraved, then so is Christ. If we have no human energy that is operative toward God, then neither did Christ. Etc, etc. That is what it means to be truly consubstantial with his humanity. If he did not assume what we are by nature, as it was in his mother, then it is not our humanity and there is no salvation! Persons are sinful natures are not, otherwise Christ would have sin.

  47. dee says:

    Philip,
    your use of scripture’s anthropomorphic language in the old testament shows a very different reference point (e.g.: human co-relatory understanding of Holy Writ) to that of Orthodoxy, namely Christ, the Way, the Truth, the Logos of Being.
    I believe Father Stephen has extensively covered this point in the past…
    As far as Isaiah the Solitary’s

    “If your intellect is freed from all hope in things visible, this is a sign that sin has died in you.”

    “If your intellect is freed, the breach between it and God is eliminated.”

    You completely fail to see the Hesychastic pedagogy in these words said to monastics. The struggle for pure prayer and freedom of the Nous (translated as inellect) in order to contemplate God is something orthodox monks throughout the ages aspire to by walking a road that certainly includes the experience of our minds’ enslavement to the world and the yearning for freedom from it.
    Let me remind you of 1 John:
    “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

  48. dee says:

    Philip,
    As far as “internal” internal orthodox criticism, it certainly exists – quite a lot of it. I could point you to living theologians like Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamos (with the excellent “Being as Communion”) as well as Father Nikolas Loudovikos who has often criticized parts of the Philokalia for not fully conforming with true orthodox thinking or suffering from being influenced by philosophical thinking of their time in a non-orthodox way. In fact, parts of the Philokalia clarify earlier parts of it (e.g.: Barsanuphius and John on Evangrius)

  49. Philip Jude says:

    Canadian,

    ***Romans 9 is covenantal, not a discussion has nothing to do with the mechanics of individual election to heaven and hell.***

    That reading never penetrates to the heart of Paul’s argument.

    The apostle actually begins with a critique of salvation by covenant, or generic redemption:

    “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God” (9:6-8).

    God elects events, individuals, and groups. God elects the Church, but He peoples it by election, as well.

    Paul’s argument defends God’s actions on both levels. He addresses those who claim it is unfair that God elects Gentiles over Jews. He also addresses those who claim it is unfair that God elects by His mysterious will, choosing some and not others without reference to works.

    His answer, on both levels, is clear: God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy, and His decision depends not upon human exertion.

  50. Philip Jude says:

    Dee,

    Thanks for the tips. I will check out those resources. Do you have any specific titles? I appreciate it.

  51. Canadian says:

    Phillip,
    Just as an aside. When I was trying to defend my Reformed position, I listened to James White’s debates against the Catholics. On the core issues of Sola Scriptura, Authority, and Ecclesiology, he got spanked by Mataticks, Sungenis, Akin and others. Just because he is familiar with the Councils and fathers does not mean he understands them, let alone the Orthodox faith which is evident there. (Not that those Catholics defended Orthodoxy in everything, of course).
    Christology was absent from his discussions generally and he just spoof texted scripture and the fathers to try and cast doubt on his opponents position. His own sister converted to Rome.

  52. Canadian says:

    Phillip,
    “His decision depends not upon human exertion.”
    So then did Christ not have human exertion (energy)?

  53. Philip Jude says:

    Dee,

    Really think about these statements.

    “If your intellect is freed from all hope in things visible, this is a sign that sin has died in you.”

    First, in this life, we are never without sin. Even to suppose that such purity is possible is beyond prideful — it is delusional.

    Second, the statement makes no sense: Angels are spiritual beings, pure intellect, who surely have no “hope” in things visible, yet many of them are rotten with sin. What gives?

    Third, creation is good. Very good! It does not hide God, it reveals Him. I realize that this particular statement says, “hope in things visible,” but the motif of Isaiah’s advice (as well as the advice of others in the Philokalia) is the outright rejection of the material world. That is the theme of hermetical spirituality. And it just doesn’t square with the Christian view of creation.

    ““If your intellect is freed, the breach between it and God is eliminated.””

    Freed? Freed from what? Material? This is straight from the Neo-Platonism of Plotinus. It’s the same old pagan claptrap: Body bad, spirit good.

    Worst of all is this diabolical idea that our minds can become one with God. The “breech” between our minds and the Supreme Mind is not accidental: it is purposeful. We are creatures. He is the Creator. As the Lord told the real Isaiah, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways.”

  54. Philip Jude says:

    Canadian,

    I’m not sure I understand the thrust of your question.

    Paul is saying that our works are not responsible for our election.

    Jacob was not favored in the womb because he would one day be good, nor was Esau hated because he would one day be evil.

    Jacob was chosen because God wanted to choose him. Esau was hated because God wanted to hate Him. Period.

    This is grace. This the mystery of God’s will.

    If God was forced to “elect” those who were good: (a) it would not be election at all; (b) God would be powerless, (c) there would be no mystery about the process, (d) Christ’s suffering would be for naught, (e) God’s grace would not be a gift freely bequeathed, but rather payment earned.

  55. Philip Jude says:

    By the way, thank you all for taking the time to discuss this with me. I very much enjoy our conversations. They are delightful learning experiences. Hopefully, I am always as charitable and patient as you all are. Well, time to get back to work. Have good days!

  56. jar1979 says:

    Simmmo,

    Thanks for the Derek Flood reference. For those who are interested, here is an online source for the article.

    http://therebelgod.com/AtonementFathersEQ.pdf

    Blessings

  57. PhilipJude,
    Viz. the Philokalia,
    You misunderstand the quotes you offer and do not understand the Philokalia itself. It is neither pagan nor foreign to the NT. Rather, it is that Reform tradition knows little or nothing of true prayer. You judge things about which you know little or nothing. The Orthodox critique of the Philokalia is this: it is not for beginners and least of all for the non-Orthodox. I’m glad that it exists in English, but often sad that people read it. A good rule of thumb about reading is: you should never read more in a day than you pray. If you cannot pray for an hour, don’t read for an hour. Or at least have balance. Especially, do not read what you cannot understand. Since you cannot fathom (nor can I) what is meant by “sin has died in you,” how can you judge someone, regarded as a saint of the Church, who speaks about such mysteries. Holy things are for the holy.

    Reform thought is mostly a rationalized system applied to Scripture. It is not derived from Scripture, but from the habits of Scholasticism (both Luther and Calvin were scholastics – Melanchton even moreso). They did not live holy lives. They lived rational, political lives. They did not heal the sick, raise the dead or cast out demons. They led a rebellion and created new “Christian” cultures. They are not saints, nor are they theologians. “A theologian is one who prays, and one who prays is a theologian.” Their offspring are like them.

    We do not think the words of the fathers of infallible – but we read with great respect and we critique with respect. “Utter lack of internal criticism” in Orthodoxy is a phrase that simply demonstrates that you know nothing about Orthodoxy. If you’re interested, spend less time on the internet, engaging opinions, more time at an Orthodox Church.

    I will allow questions, and legitimate thoughts – but blanket judgments of “pagan mysticism” from someone who doesn’t understand “Christian mysticism” is simply crossing the line. Please restrain yourself.

  58. Canadian says:

    Phillip,
    Sorry for my lack of clarity last comment. God’s covenantal election of peoples exemplified by Jacob and Esau are not dependent on what Jacob and Esau did. He was foretelling the rising of Israel through Jacob in spite of the rights of the firstborn Esau, and in turn Paul shows the falling of Isreal and blessing of the gentiles against the fact that “Israel is my firstborn” in the OT covenant. He brings salvation to whom he wills…..covenantally. Through Christ not because of either nationality. Both were vessels of wrath and then vessels of mercy (see further Romans chapters).

    I am trying to get you to think about will, exertion, election etc from outside your paradigm. Did the human will of Christ freely follow the divine will or did the divine will need to compell or overwhelm it because it was unwilling and unable to operate in relation to God?

  59. Canadian says:

    Phillip,
    “Worst of all is this diabolical idea that our minds can become one with God.”

    Because the west does not have the essence/energy distinction or preserve the uncreated/created categories very well, you will have trouble with the mystical and internal life of the Spirit and with these verses:

    “1 Corinthians 2:16
    For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ.”

    1 Corinthians 6:16-17
    “Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.”

    2 Peter 1:4
    “by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”

  60. dee says:

    PhilipJude,
    Father Stephen’s answer concerning ‘rationality vs first hand experience’ is exactly what I also wanted to say but, haven’t the verbal ability to describe so clearly.
    How can someone without at least the same measure of prayer experience ever understand, let alone critique, someone like Isaiah the Solitary.
    He, and others in the Philokalia, does not just talk from “first-hand-experience” (as opposed to rational constructs) but experience of the Uncreated Light of God Himself, similar to the Great Saints Anthony, Macarius, Poimen, Basil, Symeon the New Theologian, Gregory Palamas, Silouan the athonite…

    One needs to have years of monastic ascetic experience (especially of long completely secluded hours in prayer in the desert), before you can even begin to understand:
    ““If your intellect is freed, the breach between it and God is eliminated.””

  61. Ed Smith says:

    Father Stephen wrote: “Viz. the Philokalia,
    You misunderstand the quotes you offer and do not understand the Philokalia itself.”

    That was certainly abundantly obvious to anyone who has any familiarity with the context, terminology, and modes of expression common to the fathers of the Philokalia.

    What you said about how one should approach the Philokalia, if at all, was very good. I don’t know how such an obvious misunderstanding of those quotes came about in this case, but sometimes people inappropriately read it quickly, or spot read to glean quotes for various reasons, or, worst of all, glean out-of-context quotes from “apologetics” websites which are trying desperately to show something deeply wrong with Orthodoxy.

    It is a very deep collection of writings, primarily written by and for Orthodox monks. It is a stretch even for the Orthodox layman to read it properly. At the very least, the proper understanding of it is inseparable from the Orthodox way of life. I began reading the Philokalia about 3 years ago and am on page 128 of the first volume. If I read 2 or 3 pages in a sitting, I usually feel I’ve done too much. It should be properly digested through both prayer and application before moving on.

    Something which helped me significantly was to first read several extensively footnoted collections of writings from certain fathers of the Philokalia (such as the Paulist Press Maximus Confessor collection). I had the advantage of early advice, along these lines, from my parish priest, Fr. Basil Henry.

  62. Philip Jude says:

    Father,

    ***”You misunderstand the quotes you offer and do not understand the Philokalia itself. It is neither pagan nor foreign to the NT.”***

    I am very interested as to what parts of Scripture you have in mind.

    ***Rather, it is that Reform tradition knows little or nothing of true prayer.***

    I apologize if my earlier comments were out of line, but this is rather unfair.

    ***The Orthodox critique of the Philokalia is this: it is not for beginners and least of all for the non-Orthodox.***

    Is this not so very much like the gnostic religions, with their secretive spiritual mysteries?

    I have trouble understanding how Scripture, which is God-breathed, can be more spiritually accessible than the work of men.

    ***Since you cannot fathom (nor can I) what is meant by “sin has died in you,” how can you judge someone, regarded as a saint of the Church, who speaks about such mysteries. Holy things are for the holy.***

    Are we not all members of a holy priesthood? Are we not all one in Christ? Are we not called by Scripture to test all things?

    ***They did not live holy lives. They lived rational, political lives. They did not heal the sick, raise the dead or cast out demons. They led a rebellion and created new “Christian” cultures. They are not saints, nor are they theologians. “A theologian is one who prays, and one who prays is a theologian.” Their offspring are like them.***

    Who lives a holy life? What is a holy life?

    David was a king, a worldly man, an adulterer, and a murderer. Yet he produced the greatest prayers of our tradition.

    Moses was a prince, a murderer, commander of an entire nation. Yet God whispered the Sacred Name in his ear and entrusted him with the law of Israel.

    Abraham was a wealthy merchant, a powerful tribal sheik. Yet from his loins many nations were blessed, and He knew God as a friend.

    You see what I mean?

    ***I will allow questions, and legitimate thoughts – but blanket judgments of “pagan mysticism” from someone who doesn’t understand “Christian mysticism” is simply crossing the line. Please restrain yourself.***

    You can’t blame someone for noticing certain clear and distinctive similarities between Orthodox and Neoplatonic/Hermetical mysticism. I am not bashing or dismissing all Orthodox spirituality, or even the whole of the Philokalia. But I can’t agree that there aren’t concepts imported from various pagan cults and philosophies, concepts with no connection to Scripture.

    And finally: ***If you’re interested, spend less time on the internet, engaging opinions, more time at an Orthodox Church. ***

    I am forced to spend ten hours a day in front of this damnable machine. I try to make the best of it. What time I have on my own, apart from family matters, I do try to pray or meditate quietly on Scripture. Believe it or not.

    And I have gone to a number of Orthodox liturgies . . . The Greek doesn’t make it easy. ;-)

    I obviously offended you greatly. I am sorry for that. I ask your forgiveness. I am brash and impatient and cruel and, more often than not, an unworthy disciple of Christ. God bless.

  63. dee says:

    PhilipJude,
    Father Stephen’s answer concerning ‘rationality vs first hand experience’ is exactly what I also wanted to say but, haven’t the verbal ability to describe so clearly.
    How can someone without at least the same measure of prayer experience ever understand, let alone critique, someone like Isaiah the Solitary.
    He, and others in the Philokalia, does not just talk from “first-hand-experience” (as opposed to rational constructs) but experience of the Uncreated Light of God Himself, similar to the Great Saints Anthony, Macarius, Poimen, Basil, Symeon the New Theologian, Gregory Palamas, Silouan the athonite…

    One needs to have years of monastic ascetic experience (especially of long completely secluded hours in prayer in the desert), before you can even begin to understand:
    ““If your intellect is freed, the breach between it and God is eliminated.””

  64. dee says:

    sorry about the double post there!

  65. dee says:

    Sorry to barge in but, I think Father Stephen meant
    ““If your intellect is freed, the breach between it and God is eliminated.”” and the other Philokalic quotes re:

    {***”You misunderstand the quotes you offer and do not understand the Philokalia itself. It is neither pagan nor foreign to the NT.”***

    I am very interested as to what parts of Scripture you have in mind.}

  66. Philip Jude says:

    You say “rationality” as though it is a dirty four-letter word. Yet we worship Christ the Logos. God made us rational in His image and He wants us to use our rationality. That is why He communicates to us through Word.

    ***He, and others in the Philokalia, does not just talk from “first-hand-experience” (as opposed to rational constructs) but experience of the Uncreated Light of God Himself,***

    I do not know about this Uncreated Light. I have thought about it for a number of years now without coming to any hard conclusions. I have always wondered about its grounds in Scripture, which seem shaky. I wouldn’t consider myself a Palamite or a Barlaamite.

  67. ‘Rationality’ and the Logos have very little to do with each other, except that moderns have decided to call a certain form of discourse, ‘rationality.’ True rationality means the life lived in the image of the Logos. This is the imago dei, not some aspect of your frontal lobe. You use a philosophical term to define Christ, whereas Christ is what defines things. Christ is the Logos, the whole Logos. The concept would include everything we think of as thought, emotion, physical sensation, etc. All that we know and experience as human beings, with the exception of our distortions are ‘logoi,’ for we exist in the image of God. We are being conformed more fully to that image, not through the development of some ‘rational’ aspect of our mind, but through the grace of God acting on the whole of our Person.

    Your ‘rationality’ is far too narrow – it barely represents anything of the true Logos. Like too much of Protestant thought – it is simply inadequate, lacking fullness. It is not human, but a caricature of anything we actually know as human. Little wonder that it fails to satisfy. It has never produced great culture or beauty – only argument, rebellion and judgment. These are sad words to speak, but it is the legacy in which we live.

  68. dee says:

    PhilipJude,
    the genuine experience of the Uncreated Light (God) is what ultimately makes someone a true theologian, it is not something to “think about”, for sure, but It (He) certainly bestows the only knowledge that can be trusted to the point of being incontestable -even to completely unlettered folk who no not how to transfer any of it through words.
    As said before, we can know loads about God through reason, but we can only truly know Him through beholding the Uncreated Light, which has many degrees…

  69. simmmo says:

    PhilipJude, You haven’t stopped to think about the similarities between the puritans and the gnostics? A Canadian Presbyterian has published a book on this matter – “Against the Protestant Gnostics” by Philip J. Lee.

    American evangelicalism, including much of the Reformed, are quasi gnostic. Think of guys like John MacArthur and his eschatology of escapism, which is thorougly other-worldly and plainly dualistic. Also guys like Paul Washer, who is an unabashed dualist. Even more sensible men like Piper basically fall into dualism. It isn’t suprising since their hero, Jonathon Edwards, also had gnostic leanings. Here is an interesting essay analysing the gnosticism of Edwards http://www.jesociety.org/2011/02/10/was-jonathan-edwards-a-gnostic/

    One thing about Orthodoxy is that it is a great bulwark against the fall into gnosticism we find in Protestantism. Because Protestantism, with its iconoclasm etc, was a great deconstruction of the Christian faith, it has left many with nothing more than a book and abstract ideas. It’s wonderful to see Anglicans like N.T. Wright and Rowan Williams (both who are very sympathetic to the Eastern Orthodox – I think Williams wrote his disertation on Lossky) condemn the dualism we see in modern evangelicalism. Wright’s book, “Surprised by Hope”, is a great rebuke against the quasi gnostic ideas in found in America and Protestantism in general. Of course Anglicanism can’t be properly classified as Protestant, so perhaps this is part of the reason why we find far more clarity in their communion than we do with the Reformed or Lutherans.

    And Father Stephen, your comments about Luther and Calvin are spot on concerning the lives they lived. Luther’s hatred towards Jews always troubled me. As did Calvin’s mistreatment of his foes. It now makes sense to me, particularly with Reformed theology, which seems to me to be devoid of love.

  70. John says:

    Philip Jude,

    Unlike gnostic groups that had secret knowledge to share with a select view even within their own camp of gnostics, the knowledge of God through true prayer is available to all if they would approach him with humility through prayer and the sacraments and self-denial (this path isn’t just any old path, but the path given to us by God and it is found in Holy Orthodoxy). Anyone walking this path has the opportunity to get there. This is not the secrets of gnosticism. It is a free gift, even to myself, if only I would abandon my sinful desires.

    Calling it gnostic is a false comparison. It’s not the same thing at all.

    John

  71. dee says:

    I would like to chip in simply as a greek who learnt english at an older age for a minute:
    I would never ever say that the word “Logos” is to be understood in its capacity as ‘rationality’ -especially man’s limited rationality- or even in its capacity as “the Word”…
    The most natural, instinctive understanding for a greek person reading the first sentence of St. John’s Gospel concerning the word Logos (Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ Λόγος) – (In the beginning was the…) is:

    the meaning of all things
    the whole ‘point’ of being
    what defines all existence

  72. simmmo says:

    Philip Jude, On James White:

    I think this guy has to be one of the most uncharitable, irritable and argumentative person I’ve come accross in the world of apologetics. To build a whole independent private ministry based on arguing with people and division is deeply troubling to me. Particularly when we see him get into circular debates with Mormons, Muslims and Catholics. I recall one radio debate he had with some Mormon apologists on sola scriptura. He was defeated soundly. You can find the debate on Youtube. He just seems to get into endless circular debates, which in the end, do not convince the other party, but polarizes each position. You’d think that after years of doing this stuff he’d realise this. I don’t really know what his motivation for continuing in this way is? He’d doubtless rationalise to himself that he is defending truth or something. I think, ultimately, he simply has a penchant for arguing. I actually think that it is very worrying seeing someone continue to be argumentative and divisive.

    I also think that his academic qualifications are questionable. I know much has been written about this. I don’t wish to slander James, but obtaining a doctoral degree from what seems to be an internet college doesn’t seem legit to me. I know that he’s defended the work that he did there, but it still remains that the institution granting the degree is not recognised. And to be honest it shows in some of the logical weaknesses in his arguments. I’ve been following the justification debate concerning the “New Perspective on Paul” (I’d be interested to see an Orthodox opinion on this debate). White gives a talk on N.T. Wright and his work on this topic (which can be found on Theopedia). His criticism on Wright barely engages with his work, but is almost totally founded on “presuppositions” – that Wright is leaning on the work of “liberal theologians” – an obvious perjorative term used to signal to his conservative audience that everything Wright has to say MUST be wrong. Therefore we really don’t have to engage with what he’s saying because it is obviously built on “liberal theology”. And, particular to this debate, one must ask him why some historical findings by Sanders can’t be used to frame our understanding of “justification” in Paul. I mean, it seems that whatever one thinks of Sanders’ scholarship in general, doesn’t necessarily falsify conclusions he reaches on a particular topic. And, in fact, Wright does not depend on all of Sanders’ work, only his insight that Judaism wasn’t a “works-righteousness” religion but a religion of covenant grace and this is the way we should reading Paul. To just come out and say, as James does, that “oh Wright is leaning on Sanders who is one of those awful liberal guys who doesn’t even think Paul wrote the entire Pauline corpus automatically means that it’s all a bunch of old rope.” I don’t know how you can seriously say that he is an intellectual of any substance.

  73. Ed Smith says:

    From Pavel Florensky’s The Pillar and Ground of the Truth:

    “Orthodoxy is manifested, not proved. That is why there is only one way to understand Orthodoxy: through direct Orthodox experience. One hears that, in foreign lands, people are now learning to swim, lying on the floor, with the aid of equipment. In the same way, one can become a Catholic or Protestant without experiencing life at all–by reading books in one’s study. But to become Orthodox, it is necessary to immerse oneself all at once in the very element of Orthodoxy, to begin living in an Orthodox way. There is no other way.”

    This distinction has much to do with the term “rationalism” as applied to Western Christianity. It is not to say that Orthodoxy is irrational or illogical. The Philokalia is not some Orthodox equivalent of Summa Theologica. It is not theology as an academic treatise. It is not a matter of any secret knowledge reserved for initiates in the club. It was designed to be inseparable from the Orthodox way of life and can not be properly appreciated, much less understood, by itself. It was never meant for such a purpose.

    The fact of the matter is that the Bible can not be properly understood by itself either. This is evidenced by the fact that it has become a Rorschach test among the many divergent groups who hold to sola scriptura.

  74. Philip Jude says:

    Father,

    You speak so contemptuously of rationality, yet mathematics is purely rational, and mathematical proportion lies at the core of so much great and beautiful art, from architecture to music. Indeed, the wonderful beauty of the natural world is the result of laws which were set in place by the Divine Mind. These fine-tuned laws are only truly discernable in terms of mathematics — yet another instance of rationality revealing the glory of God. “For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator” (Wisdom 13:5).

    Dee,

    I am not totally convinced that this luminous phenomenon is indeed the “uncreated energy” of God. Nor are countless other pious and faithful Christians. Perhaps it is as you say, perhaps not. Indeed, this question was hotly controversial within Orthodoxy for years, resulting in a series of synods that condemned this group then that group. Let us not whitewash history. I remain open but wary of this curious phenomenon, given its limited occurrence and the myriad theological/philosophical difficulties it poses. It is only the great virtue of those who claimed to have experienced it that leads me to conclude that it might be authentic.

    Anyway, I appreciate the time you have all taken to engage me. You have made many interesting suggestions that I will consider. I am sorry if I spoke imprudently at times. I hope that in the future we can continue to discourse and learn from one another. God bless everyone, especially Father Stephen for hosting this fine forum in which Christians can discuss such critical matters.

  75. Philip Jude says:

    John,

    Dee said, “One needs to have years of monastic ascetic experience (especially of long completely secluded hours in prayer in the desert), before you can even begin to understand.”

    This sort of prescription strikes me as quite gnostic.

    Having a family and a job does not render one a lower class of Christian.

    If the experience of God’s “uncreated energy” is restricted only to those who spend eighteen hours a day praying in a cell, then something is wrong.

    Had God wanted a race of hermits, He would not have made Adam and Eve to be one flesh. He would not have told them to work and populate the earth.

    This is not to say that monasticism is wrong, just that monks are no better or worse than any decent, pious, loving husband and father who works as a landscaper and plays poker twice a week with his buddies; or any decent, pious, loving wife and mother who temps at town hall and goes out for lady’s night every Friday evening.

    These are not sinful desires. They are what God intended, as is plain from Scripture.

    I don’t mean to build a false dichotomy, as though it’s either/or. Monks and nuns are wonderful people who do amazing work, both material and spiritual. They should be proud and have our support. But they are no better spiritually than any other Christian who clings to Christ and abides by Scripture and the disciplines of the Church.

    That is what I was driving at.

    Again, let us put this conversation to rest. Probably it has stirred up enough passion. Father is probably right that I should be on my knees rather than at the keyboard. ;-)

  76. dee says:

    Philip,

    There is nothing gnostic about Hesychasm.
    God is always manifested in Uncreated Light of Mount Thabor as with Saint Paul, Moses, Silouan, Symeon New Theologian, Palamas, Maximus, Basil, Macarius, Anthony etc etc etc…
    it can momentarily happen to anyone, but do bear in mind that (concerning your points re monasticism), almost 90% of saints are monastics:
    although it is one’s humility first and foremost that attracts Grace, let me try and use an example:
    there will naturally be a difference between (say) a passerby (humble layman who remains a layman even after his ‘experience’) entering and enjoying a theatrical play; and the enjoyment of someone with a pHD and an all consuming passion for the particular play (humble monastic, or layman who HAD to become a monastic after his ‘experience’, -just like Elder Sophrony)

    Even without the experience one would think that there is always a huge difference between the spiritual life worked out in stillness and spiritual life lived amongst distraction… With experience it is much vaster.

  77. Chris says:

    Reblogged this on The Sacramental Rebel and commented:
    I could learn a lot from St. Isaac the Syrian.

  78. John says:

    Philip Jude,

    It is true that those who spend more time in prayer humbly have the greater experience of God. It happens to be that St. Paul was right when he said those who are single as he was have more time to serve the Lord, otherwise we serve our families needs. Orthodoxy and St. Paul do not denigrate the life of those who are married, both the Scriptures and Orthodoxy bear witness to the goodness of marriage. But those who have the time to spend with God reap the benefits of such. Again, this isn’t gnostic. These aren’t special secrets that only the few, the proud, the initiated can experience. As Dee pointed out:

    “it can momentarily happen to anyone”

    and even if all someone gets as a married person with eight children is a glimpse, this is not like gnostic secrets. Your comparison is off… by a long shot. What strikes you as gnostic strikes me as ignorance of what Orthodoxy actually teaches on the subject of Hesychasm. Monasticism isn’t a special club that everyone wants to be in, but only a few applicants with the special passwords can actually join.

    John

  79. OldToad says:

    Fr. Stephen,
    Not to lower the tone of the discussion or anything, but could you kindly say where in the City of God the discussion of monastic flatulence appears? I am very curious but have neither the leisure nor the visual acuity to leaf through 800+ closely-printed pages. Thank you.

  80. Philip Jude says:

    In the western church, we do not believe “rationality” and “mysticism” (unsatisfactory terms) are mutually exclusive.

    Consider the Dumb Ox, Saint Thomas Aquinas. He is one of the most brilliant minds Christianity has ever known. The Summa Theologica is the work of rigorous logic. He spent endless hours in the study of philosophy and scholastic theology.

    Yet Aquinas was also a man of intense prayer. He is said to have had a number of extraordinary experiences, including levitation. Shortly before his death, he had an encounter with the Lord which led him to declare: “All I have composed seems to me like so much straw compared with what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.”

  81. Drewster2000 says:

    Phillip Jude,

    Rationality is a good thing. That’s not the question. It’s just that it’s not the only thing.

    When we look at the writings of the Philokalia, most of us are ants looking at a giant. Just how is it that we are supposed to comprehend, let alone pass judgement on the giant?

    You indicate it’s not fair that someone with a full-time job and a family should be denied “secret knowledge”. I understand your thirst for wisdom and not wanting to be denied drinking from this sage fountain.

    But in the same way, I could complain that just because I haven’t spent time to learn music, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be fully conversant with master musicians and composers.

    God sees me as no less a person and I’m allowed to move freely in society, but by virtue of my position I experience many areas of “secret knowledge” that I am barred from: rocket science, sports statistics, ballet moves & terms, computer programming jokes, the depth of a sculptor’s work, etc.

    Back to rationality: We in the West have the paradigm that if you give me a couple books on the subject and a little time, there is absolutely nothing I can’t master. Because everything is rational.

    One thing Orthodoxy is dearly good at teaching us is that everything is NOT all rational. There are parts of life that we can only experience; we can’t explain it and box it up in its own category. This is unnerving for us Westerners. It’s not RIGHT, we say. It’s not….well, RATIONAL!

    And there’s your answer, no it’s not. In this case, “first you believe, and then you receive…understanding.”

  82. Old Toad,
    I’ll dig it up. I first found it in the late 70′s when I was in Seminary. I’ll send it to you by private email, lest I cause the saint greater embarassment than he might have already. :)

  83. Ed Smith says:

    Laying aside a discussion of what we mean by “rationality” and its dangers, I’d like to return to St. Issac and Met. Hilarion. In a report referenced above, the summary of the Metropolitan’s comments includes: “Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, bishop of Vienna and Austria, told a rapt audience of 8,000 that God’s love places no limit on his mercy toward humanity, even to the point of imposing a temporal limit on hell.”

    Well, if we read further into the lengthy quotation of his actual comments, the nearest I see is this:

    “*According to Isaac*, Gehenna is a sort of purgatory rather than hell: it is conceived and established for the salvation of both human beings and angels.”

    And we also see this:

    “The teaching on universal salvation, which is so explicitly preached by Isaac the Syrian, has never been approved by the Orthodox Church.”

    So, the summary seems a bit misleading. Here, it is never clear how close the opinions of St. Issac are to those of Met. Hilarion. I have, for some time had an interest in Met. Hilarion–I’m listening to some of his music now–and have read other things by him. I’m pretty certain he has never said that all will be saved, but he does seem to hope that all may be saved. I am certainly no spokesman for the Church, but such a hope does not seem in conflict with Orthodoxy. In fact, I sometimes notice that we pray for the salvation of all in our services.

    Here, I think, the dangers of the “rational” approach can rise up before us, especially when our ignorance is still great. I could follow my habits as a mathematician to try to use mechanical logic in order to proceed from our prayers for all mankind and statements to the effect that evil will end, but I would jump to inappropriate conclusions and misleading statements. How much of Christian dogma can come about through rigorous logic? To some extent we have no choice, because language itself is mathematical. However, theology, by its very subject, constantly encounters the incomprehensible, so that making theology an exercise in rigorous logic leads one into “so much straw” at best and complete immersion in delusion at worst.

    C. S. Lewis, in The Great Divorce, speaks of precisely this topic and the dangers of a rationalistic approach to it:

    “…But it’s ill talking of such questions.’
    ‘Because they are too terrible, Sir?’
    ‘No. Because all answers deceive. If ye put the question from within Time and are asking about possibilities, the answer is certain. The choice of ways is before you…Any man may choose eternal death. Those who choose it will have it. But if ye are trying to leap on into eternity…then ye ask what cannot be answered to mortal ears. Time is the very lens through which ye see something that would otherwise be too big for ye to see at all…”

    Besides this, there is a vanishingly small percentage of the population which can recognize a proof in something as simple and objective as mathematics. Even the most brilliant mathematically trained minds sometimes fail to see subtle holes in their “proofs” though there is a little society of research mathematicians which normally detects such holes before publication. Yet most everyone is impressed with certain arguments, despite their inability to detect a proof or the holes in a proof; this is dangerous, particularly in theology.

    Furthermore, a wise man (King Solomon) once said “In the abundance of words, transgression is unavoidable.” Certainly, that should be my cue to end this far too lengthy post, which, surely, very few have had the stamina to read to this point.

  84. OldToad says:

    Fr. Stephen,
    I appreciate your very kind offer, but I think I’ve found it (gotta love the internet). If you send me an email address, I’ll be glad to send it to you.

  85. Michael Bauman says:

    Surely we have come to the ultimate question: “How can we, if we can at all, know God?”

    In Orthodox thought informed as it is by deep practice and experience, the anwer has always been, it seems to me, by submitting to His love. Not submitting to His Will, or His justice, or even His mercy since these are all specific aspects of His love that are incomprehensible to our poor, petty and finite brains as much as we might struggle to subsume God to our own thoughts.

    The initial result of our submission to His love is the Cross since we have to give over all that we are, all that we think, all that we feel, all that we do in order to be bathed in and interpentrated by His love.

    Most of us, especially me, would rather divert ourselves with the entertainments and the enslavement of the passions and the immediate gratification they bring to our own sense of importance and pleasure.

    We cannot quite get away with it, however, once we have allowed even the sligthest foothold for God in our heart because His love pursues us and will not be denied until we are raised from the death we have entered into and closed around us like deep, dark velvet. Nevertheless it is still possible to avoid His pursuit, reject HIs love and stay in the nothingness of death, darkness and dispare.

    The Orthodox Church provides a vehicle for entering into our submission together with others that neither the Protestants nor the Roman Catholics do. Even inside the vehicle however, we still have to continue to practice our submission or there is little power or movement for us to enter into His eternal Kingdom, presence and grace.

  86. Karen says:

    Found a good quote pertinent to the discussion on “rationality” from C. S. Lewis. He says:

    “We may observe that the teaching of our Lord Himself in which there is no imperfection, is not given us in that cut-and-dried, fool-proof, systematic fashion we might have expected or desired. We have only reported sayings, most of them uttered in answer to questions, shaped in some degree by their context. And when we have collected them all we cannot reduce them to a system. He preaches but he does not lecture. He uses paradox, proverb, exaggeration, parable, irony; even (I mean no irreverence) the ‘wisecrack’. He utters maxims which, like popular proverbs, if rigorously taken, may seem to contradict one another. His teaching therefore cannot be grasped by the intellect alone, cannot be ‘got up’ as if it were a ‘subject’. If we try to do that with it, we shall find him the most elusive of teachers. He hardly ever gave a straight answer to a straight question. He will not be, in the way we want, ‘pinned down’. The attempt is (again, I mean no irreverence) like trying to bottle a sunbeam.” (From Reflections on the Psalms, ch. 11.)

  87. dee says:

    “If your intellect is freed, the breach between it and God is eliminated.” by Saint Isaiah the Solitary is a classic which is echoed from the ancient times (with Abraham being asked to leave his country, Moses to go up into the Mount), through to the Lord’s admonition to sell everything you have, and John the Divine’s “do not love the world and all that is within it”… all the fathers from then to today repeat the same advise, based on repeatable experiential proof (of thousands of years!), here’s a most recent by Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra (on lack of renouncement being the source of our lack of first-hand and complete assuredness of God’s providence):

    Change should occur within us.
    We must become total strangers towards everything human, towards ‘human logic’ and human thought, and towards all, the “goods of the world”…
    We must be indifferent towards everything.
    When estranged from everything, then and only then, God can be everything for us, God alone will remain with us.
    This will give us the deep peace from within…

  88. Agnikan says:

    Could something be true, but declared heretical due to the ease with which that something is misunderstood and misapplied?

  89. Agnikan,
    Everything is possible – but declaring something a heresy is actually much more difficult than it sounds. Orthodoxy has never had a central bureaucracy. It’s life is very decentralized. Thus there must be agreement between the Bishops across the world, to a certain extent, in order to declare something a heresy. That kind of consensus is actually quite difficult. If something is declared to be a heresy and that declaration is accepted across the Orthodox world, you can be certain that it is not a light judgment or a hasty decision. Often such things would take a generation or more to come to consensus. That is the character of Orthodoxy. There is far more danger in a religious bureaucracy.

  90. Brendan (Peregrinatio Pro Dei Amore) says:

    Fr. Stephen, thank you so much for this page of truth! I am an Orthodox Christian, and am deeply edified by these. IMHO, we need to walk the world in wonder, and learn to ‘see’ again. How can such a thing be done, without the ‘gift of tears’? May God continue to bless you in this important ministry.

Comments are closed.

© 2006-2014 Glory to God for All Things. All Rights Reserved.
Orthodox Christianity, Culture and Religion, Making the Journey of Faith
Powered by WordPress & Made by Guerrilla