Glory to God for All Things

The Final Destruction of Demons

Final is not a word you often hear in Christian teaching. Most Christians leave the final things until, well, the End. But this is not the language of the fathers nor of the Church. A good illustration can be found in the Orthodox service of Holy Baptism. During the blessing of the waters the priest prays:

And grant to [this water] the grace of redemption, the blessing of Jordan. Make it the fountain of incorruption, the gift of sanctification, the remission of sins, the remedy of infirmities; the final destruction of demons, unassailable by hostile powers, filled with angelic might. Let those who would ensnare Your creature flee far from it. For we have called upon Your Name, O Lord, and it is wonderful, and glorious, and awesome even to adversaries.

What can it possibly mean to ask that the waters be made “the final destruction of demons”?

The nature of the waters of Baptism reveals the Orthodox understanding of the world. These waters, now in a font, are none other than the waters of the Jordan. They are an incorruptible fountain and all the things we ask for. They are the final destruction of demons because they are nothing other than Christ’s Pascha. The waters of the font are Christ’s death on the Cross and His destruction of Hades. They are the resurrection of the dead.

For this reason St. Paul can say:

Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4).

The realism of St. Paul’s teaching on Baptism is mystical realism (to coin a phrase). These waters become those waters. This event becomes that event. This time is now that time. Christ’s death now becomes my death. Christ’s resurrection now becomes my resurrection.

How utterly and uselessly weak is the thought that Baptism is merely an obedience to a command given by Christ! The idea that nothing happens in Baptism is both contrary to Scripture and a denial of the very nature of our salvation.

The anti-sacramentalism (and non-sacramentalism) of some Christian groups is among the most unwittingly pernicious of all modern errors. Thought to be an argument about a minor point of doctrine, it is, instead, the collapse of the world into the empty literalism of secularity. In the literalism of the modern world (where a thing is a thing is a thing), nothing is ever more than what is seen. Thus every spiritual reality, every mystery, must be referred elsewhere – generally to the mind of God and the believer. Christianity becomes an ideology and a fantasy. It turns religious believing into a two-storey universe.

The reality of in the Incarnate God was not obvious to those around Him: no surgery would have revealed His Godhood. The proclamation of the Gospel, from its most primitive beginnings (“the Kingdom of God is at hand”), announces the in-breaking of a mystical reality. Many modern theologians misunderstand Christ’s (and St. John the Baptist’s) preaching on the Kingdom to refer to an imminent end of the age. They hear, “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand,” to mean, “the End of the world is near.” Thus we have protestant theologians creating an “interim ethic” to cover Christian activity in the “in-between” period – between Christ’s first coming and His second. If the coming of the incarnate God into the world did not fundamentally alter something, then the preaching of Jesus was in vain and radically misunderstood by His disciples.

The Gospels presume and proclaim at every turn that in Christ, the Kingdom of God is present. Christ says, “But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Lk 11:20). There is a mystery at work in the presence of the Kingdom. Christ makes statements such as that just quoted, but also frequently says that the Kingdom of God has come near. The Kingdom is a reality and a presence that has both come near us, and come upon us. But in neither case does it simply refer to a later “someday.” The urgency of the proclamation of the Kingdom is not caused by the soon approach of an expected apocalypse. Its preaching is urgent because its coming has already begun!

The sacraments of the Church (indeed the Church itself) should never be reduced to “holy moments” or “instances of miracles” in the life of an otherwise spiritually inert world. If bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, then the Kingdom of God has come upon us! And nothing less.

The sacramental life of the Church is not an aspect of the Church’s life – it is a manifestation of the whole life of the Church. It is, indeed, the very character and nature of the Church’s life. The Church does not have sacraments – the Church is a sacrament. We do not eat sacraments or just participate in the sacraments – we are sacraments. The sacraments reveal the true character of our life in Christ. This is why St. Paul can say:

I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me, etc. (Galatians 2:20)

I am…nevertheless I…yet not I…but Christ….  This is the language of the mystical reality birthed into the world in the Incarnation of Christ. Thus we can say: This is the Blood of Christ…nevertheless you see bread…but it is not bread…but Christ’s Body sacrificed for you. This is the Hades of Christ’s death and the Paradise of His resurrection…nevertheless it is the water of Baptism…but it is not water…but Christ’s death and resurrection into which you are baptized.

And so we see the whole world – for the “whole world is sacrament” – in the words of Patriarch Bartholomew. We struggle with language to find a way to say “is…nevertheless…yet not…but is.” This is always the difficulty in expressing the mystery. It is difficult, not because it is less than real, but because of the character and nature of its reality. Modern Christian thought and language that simply dismiss the mystery and postpone its coming, or  deny the character of its reality, change the most essential elements of the Christian faith and inadvertently create a new religion.

But we have been taught something different. We have been given the Final Destruction of Demons, the Mystical Supper, the Kingdom of God. Why should we look for something less?

 

391 Responses to “The Final Destruction of Demons”

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  1. Steven Clark says:

    Fr. Stephen you knocked this one out of the ball park
    YEA VERILY!!!!

  2. Walt Kennick says:

    So well said. This is why I refer to western Christianity as “American folk religion.”

  3. Katherine Clark says:

    What can one say?
    As someone said, We the laity have the “Amen” and the “Axios”.
    Amen! So may it be

  4. John Shores says:

    Hi. Fr. Stephen. I appreciate you continuing to allow me to be part of this community and I hope you will not regard me as a thorn in your side.

    Am I incorrect in assessing that the efficacy of the “blessing of the waters” is, experientially, null? If demons who would “ensnare (god’s) creature” actually did “flee far from it” then how is it that people claim that demons do in fact continue to tempt and harass even the baptized elect?

    Perhaps anti-sacramentalism and non-sacramentalism have arisen because people expected one thing from the sacraments (e.g. that they did what they claimed to do) and experienced something different.(?)

    The Kingdom is a reality and a presence that has both come near us, and come upon us.

    I offer my sincerest apologies but this sounds to me very much like Obama’s version of how great a state the nation is in. He sounds very convincing and there is a rather large contingency that actually believes (and do you not consider such people as willfully naive?) him but experience tells us that his perceptions are not well-founded.

    I have this nagging thought that if the kingdom was upon/near to us, people within that kingdom would not need to be told about it. No one in a healthy economy needs to be told how great the economy is. I would presume that if Christians were in fact experiencing “the kingdom” that they wouldn’t need to be told how great it is. (I also tent to append that people experiencing the kingdom would not be at odds with one another, but that may well be my own wishful thinking.)

    I say this because I spent so many years longing for the kingdom and never experiencing anything except disappointment and heartache. I cannot fathom that a god who saw one as hungry as I would continue to allow him to starve in a Protestant dream for so many years. How is it that honest seekers are not guided by god to where they can actually experience the kingdom? It is most vexing to think on.

  5. Michael Patrick says:

    John, that’s a great line of questions. I’m eager to read Father’s reply.

  6. Anon says:

    John you might find the works of Archimandrite Zaccarius, especially “Remember Thy First Love” to provide an interesting and experiential discussion of Divine abandonment and it’s meaning. Also if philosophy is your thing you may want to investigate Christos Yannaros.

  7. fatherstephen says:

    John Shores,
    It is a good question – on several levels (which is meant as a joke from a man who writes about “one-storey Christianity”).

    First, it seems rather odd that they crucified Christ, if he raised a girl from the dead; fed 5000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish; turned water into wine; healed a lot of seriously sick people; and raised Lazarus from 4 days of death including corruption of the flesh. But that it is the witness of the gospels – not the witness of His enemies – but of His friends and followers and those who were willing to die for what was written in those accounts. That is to say, true Christianity has never said anything different than what I am saying. I wanted that to be clear up front. It’s not that the Scriptures say one thing and I’m saying another. His enemies were not convinced.

    Second, if the Scriptures say what I’m saying, and the Kingdom of God and it’s coming upon us/near us, lacked the sort of evidence that you describe, then what the historical Christ said and did must be somehow like the sacramental Church that I am talking about, unless it’s all talk and nothing more. That is Christ must have taught and done something that left many people unconvinced. Even at the Ascension, Matthews Gospel says, “And some doubted!”

    There are Christians (plenty of them) who think of the world as having an utter continuity with the literal/historical/cause-and-effect/what-you-see-is-all-there-is kind of existence. They are those who teach a “Two Storey Christianity.” Their Kingdom is somewhere else, sometime else, very different from this, kind of place. Their talk is all talk because the reality to which they refer doesn’t get here until later or until after you die. I do not believe this to be authentic Christianity or what Christ preached.

    So. If what Christ did/preached has this sacramental quality that I’m describing, why is that so and what’s the point? Is there a reason for the Kingdom to be preached and given in such a manner? The short answer is yes, because only if the Kingdom is given in this manner can there be true salvation, true love and true freedom. (Now the answer is getting kind of BIG).

    If what Christ did/preached had the quality of a literal/historical/cause-and-effect/what-you-see-is-all-there-is kind of existence, its proof would be so obvious that believing in it would be no different than believing that up-is-up and down-is-down, that the sky is blue, etc. I would raise a man from the dead and you would say, “Yep! You raised someone from the dead. There he is. You’re right!”

    And what would be different? The dead man would be alive but you would still be the same. You would have added one more fact to rest of the facts in your brain. Jesus’ Kingdom would be among your facts, and you’d still be the same fact-toting man that you were before I raised the guy from the dead. The literal/historical/cause-and-effect/what-you-see-is-all-there-is kind of existence Kingdom is actually of little use – if the use involves freedom and love.

    There is no freedom involved in believing that the sky is blue, etc. It requires no love, etc. Believer and unbeliever differ only in the facts that one has and the other one doesn’t. The question you ask presumes that the only kind of life that exists, the only kind of human being that exists is the literal/historical/cause-and-effect/what-you-see-is-all-there-is kind of human being. More than that, your question presumes that if only you had some genuine Christian literal/historical/cause-and-effect/what-you-see-is-all-there-is kind of proof in front of you, you would be a believer, too. That’s not salvation. That’s just fact-collecting (with the presumption that facts only come in the literal/historical/cause-and-effect/what-you-see-is-all-there-is variety. It is why I say there can be no true salvation, true love or true freedom unless things are as the gospel presents them. And things are exactly like the gospel describes:

    Christ spoke to them in parables:

    because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand…. but blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear and did not hear it…(Matt. 13:13 and 16).

    The reason is because the Kingdom of God (and seeing it) requires a true inward change. This is not merely psychological but a true inward, ontological change. I actually think this change has occurred in you but you’ve been hurt and injured, even abused (may God forgive them and us!) and you’ve settled down in what feels like the safety of the literal/historical/cause-and-effect/what-you-see-is-all-there-is worldview. Only someone meeting the literal criteria will pass the test – because it’s a safety test.

    But the inward change begins to make a new kind of seeing possible. That seeing is a perception of the heart. It requires freedom (for we can choose not to see it), it requires love (for hate creates blindness), and it requires the bleeding mercy of God. It’s proof is not precisely “factual” in the literal/historical/cause-and-effect/what-you-see-is-all-there-is [lhcaewysiati for short] manner. According to Scripture it belongs to the fruit category. I struggle daily to live and walk in a sacramental world, a world in which I am increasingly perceiving what many others do not see. I see flesh and blood where they see bread and wine, etc. The whole world has this sacramental/mystery quality. And in that world even a raging enemy appears as a child of God and can be loved (and not just because I think it’s a nice, moral thing to do). I am beginning to hear what people mean rather than just what they say. I am beginning to hear the heart and not just the tongue. This same perception reveals many things – I would say that eventually it reveals the truth of everything.

    It reminds me a little of something that I have a hard time recalling (perhaps it was in some sort of game I once played). But if I am patient, and don’t try to do too much too fast, the perception abides. Too much, too fast, and I’m like everyone else, stumbling around in a lhcaewysiati world. Then I start getting stupid, anxious and I feel the need to force things and control them, etc. But with patience and love, I can walk slowly in this sacramental mystery, and I can see the fruit of it. I do not feel like an idiot. I don’t find myself stumbling over things (as if I were seeing things that were not there). But I see things that I wouldn’t see otherwise and I’m able to help others see as well.

    But the seeing requires an inner change. That change requires me to give up a lot. Giving up anxiety, fear, judgement, opinion, and a number of other things are required. I have to tell the truth – which is why I have to walk very slowly.

    I didn’t invent this way of seeing. It was taught to me. The gospels teach it. The fathers teach it (especially the Orthodox fathers who teach the nature and practice of the spiritual life). My confessor corrects me in it and it is slowly taking better clarity.

    I am extremely (way more than I could ever say) sympathetic to the longing of a heart not to be fooled or lied to, etc. I’ve been there. It was a long time ago that I was injured and I walked alone for a long time. I saw Orthodoxy way back then and thought that perhaps it was true. And it took me about 25 years to actually take up the path of the Orthodox faith and I’ve been walking in this for only 15 years now. I only started writing about 6 years ago. I pray God for more clarity and more time to write. But it is true. And I can only say come and see. Which sounds like a lousy invitation in the language of lhcaewysiati.

    I’ll briefly add that the lhcaewysiati world is properly described as the “fallen” world. It’s cause and effect are safety measures for us. It’s not a bad world (though it has dangers), but it is the arena of salvation. Christians say crazy things, “We have seen the true light!” the Orthodox sing in the liturgy. What does that mean in a lhcaewysiati world? Why would St. John Chrysostom ever have sung such a thing? We see a light – indeed – but it’s a different light. And that light is possible to all.

  8. peter says:

    Wow. Thank you so much.

  9. Charles says:

    As a brother Catholic in the west, all I can say is right on. Everywhere people act as if there is no more mystery. All the while failing to note the infinite in the simple arc of a circle.

  10. yaya says:

    ““whole world is sacrament” – in the words of Patriarch Bartholomew”

    Can you provide a source for this? I would like to read more about what Patriarch Bartholomew said and meant.

  11. dinoship says:

    Father,
    “The Gospels presume and proclaim at every turn that in Christ, the Kingdom of God is present”, as well as your lengthy comment (which I treasure) reminded me of something Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra once said concerning the second Coming.
    He explained that at that time the thundering trumpets and earth-quaking angels and terrible signs described in Revelations and the Revelation to all beings of the universe of the Lord Himself will NOT happen for the true faithful; it HAS happened and they LIVE within that presence already here and now!
    An obvious example of one person ‘living’ this amongst others who don’t is the last hours of Saint Stephen the “first martyr”.

  12. John Shores says:

    its proof would be so obvious that believing in it would be no different than believing that up-is-up and down-is-down…you’d still be the same fact-toting man that you were before I raised the guy from the dead.

    It seems to me that this type of belief is not inherently bad or that belief of the other kind is in any way superior. After all, whether or not a dead guy is now alive can’t be open to a lot of dispute. We’ve known it in modern medicine. To not believe it would be stupid, IMHO, but the question becomes “Why?” Did Jesus raise Lazarus to show off or to prove a point or did he do so to return a brother to his sisters? To my mind, the latter motive is more noble. Would he have failed to forgive the sins of the paralytic had the Pharisees not been watching? I certainly hope not.

    There is no freedom involved in believing that the sky is blue, etc. It requires no love, etc… It is why I say there can be no true salvation, true love or true freedom unless things are as the gospel presents them.

    I heartily disagree. I think it is impossible to even consider the question of the color of the sky without asking “why?” and thereby launching on a voyage of intense wonder that instills inspiration and, yes, love for the things (and ulitmately the people) around us.

    I also think that as an observed fact, the act of being kind to another person moves something in the giver, the givee and any observers. Observation of goodness breeds inspiration. Not all facts are cold.

    Only someone meeting the literal criteria will pass the test – because it’s a safety test.

    Yes. You are right about that. I am a big fan of being safe from other human beings. I am also a huge fan of stoning false prophets. Does that make me awful? (In the words of Jessica Rabbit, “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.”)

    …in that world even a raging enemy appears as a child of God and can be loved (and not just because I think it’s a nice, moral thing to do).

    You are a far better man than I.

    But the seeing requires an inner change. That change requires me to give up a lot. Giving up anxiety, fear, judgement, opinion, and a number of other things are required. I have to tell the truth – which is why I have to walk very slowly.

    In many respects, this aptly describes a great many agnostics that I have come to know. I think a quality of agnosticism is honesty – being willing to admit “I don’t know” is a huge step forward for anyone but being willing to learn about that which you have doubts but also being able to reject that which is plainly wrong is also important. This is where so many Protestants go wrong; they try to make sense of the insensible doctrines that they have concocted and are unwilling to admit they may be wrong. It is a phenomenon that I have not observed among the Orthodox. The thoughts and ideas that I have heard from you are sensible and not mental gymnastics are required.

    it took me about 25 years to actually take up the path of the Orthodox faith

    Well, if god’s not in a hurry to get me there, I won’t rush either.

    BTW, I don’t think you answered my initial question. Does the sacrament of baptism cause demons to flee from the baptized? If so, how can demons in any way tempt them? I always cringed at this when attending baptisms in the CEC because it rings so hollow.

  13. John Shores says:

    Charles stated:

    Everywhere people act as if there is no more mystery.

    I think you need to spend some time on Discovery or the Science Channel or randomly select any TED Talk. There is plenty of mystery and awe going around out there.

  14. PJ says:

    “That is Christ must have taught and done something that left many people unconvinced.”

    It seems that many were convinced, but that they were disappointed and even enraged when He refused to assume the mantle of a national liberator — that is, a warrior king who return Israel to worldly glory. The Gospels make it clear that the people were deeply impressed by Christ’s miraculous actions and that they followed Him in huge numbers. However, as His ministry progressed, and it became more evident that His gospel was not this world, the crowds turned against Him. In the multiplication of loaves, the abundance of bread was obvious: Not so with the Eucharist. Or am I misunderstanding what you’re saying?

  15. PJ says:

    “Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

    “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”

    John 11:45-48

  16. PJ says:

    “BTW, I don’t think you answered my initial question. Does the sacrament of baptism cause demons to flee from the baptized? If so, how can demons in any way tempt them? ”

    Well, to be fair, the prayer doesn’t state definitively that all marauding demons *are* destroyed. Rather, it begs that this may be so. God may still permit them to test His servants for reasons we cannot understand.

    Also, it strikes me that baptism is not magic. If there is not faith — or if faith wanes — than its effect is mitigated. For the nonbeliever, baptism is not a mystery of salvation: It is just a bath. (Correct me if I’m wrong, Father.)

    Finally, it’s worth saying that many — perhaps even most — “demonic possessions” are really just the product of psychological illness. This is why the Catholic Church is so cautious about exercising the rite of exorcism. The afflicted must be examined by doctors, psychiatrists, and a number of priests, sometimes even the bishop, before an exorcism is permitted.

  17. fatherstephen says:

    I would agree about many agnostics. Fr. Thomas Hopko once noted that some atheists are atheists by the grace of God – having fled belief in a false God. By the same token, many agnostics are closer to the Kingdom than many who profess to be Christian. The man who can truly say that he does not know is in a much better place than the man who holds tightly to his opinions about God. Of course, there are many kinds of agnostics just as there are many kinds of Christians. An honest man, whether agnostic or Christian, is rare indeed. I’m glad to keep company with an honest man, if I can be one myself.

    On the “unanswered” question. Baptism is the final destruction of demons. But I think “cause” is the wrong question.

  18. R. Warren says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    I’ve seen this false dichotomy (exorcisizing the mystery out of our sacramental world) at work in the theological circles I’ve moved around in. Some, sensing the “realized eschatology” that is similar to what you’ve posted here, have gone full force into Preterism — the belief that the second coming must have historically happened at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Others have, as you’ve noted, simply bifurcated the Christian life into the “interim ethic.” Both, it seems to me, have missed the point of the Bible’s own recapitulative hermeneutic: what Christ has done is what we are doing — we join in His baptism, His death, His resurrection, His session, etc.

    Hallelujah, for He is the ever-living and ever-saving Lord!

    RVW

  19. Karen says:

    This is the sort of post that sends the Paschal joy abiding in my heart singing again! :-) Yes. Amen. It is true. Thanks so much.

  20. Doug says:

    John, your thinking is excellent- it’s … um … thoughtful!
    That demons exist now is certain from holy scripture: Rev 12:9-12 describe the Archangel Michael throwing Satan out of heaven “and his angels were thrown down with him.” Since then they have been restricted to “the earth and to the sea”; for good reason does the verse say, “Woe to the earth and to the sea, because the devil has come down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he has but a short time.
    Paul prophesied that things would become worse here than in his day: 2 Tim 3:1-5. Jesus talked about a “great tribulation” to come, in which “unless those days had been shortened, no flesh should be saved: but for the sake of the elect those days shall be shortened.” Mt 24:21,22.
    These facts being the case, is it reasonable to count on a ritual to protect us against evil? Jesus advised knowledge: “Now this is eternal life: That they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

  21. mary benton says:

    Regarding “the unanswered question” –

    Father Stephen – I just finished reading the chapter in your book discussing the linear sense of time (and how it does not fit with true Christianity). It seems that John’s question, while a good one, tends to assume the linear. First I get baptized, then the demons are destroyed, then there should be no demons left – or at least they should flee from me. The way in which you are writing here is nonlinear – which is both very appealing and confusing to the linearly-trained Western mind. Rather than try to figure it out, I think I just need to spend time with it.

    BTW, do you have any place where you entertain questions/comments about your book? I realize that might be too time-consuming but I find myself wanting to discuss it with you!

  22. fatherstephen says:

    Russ,
    I might state it even more strongly. The problem with the “realized” eschatology is that it doesn’t understand the nature of the eschaton. It fails the sacrament/mystery test as well.

  23. fatherstephen says:

    Doug,
    I see that you can quote Scripture – but you don’t understand what you’re reading. And you don’t understand Baptism in that you think it is a ritual. If it’s only a ritual, how can it be a “burial with Christ” or a “union with the resurrection”? It’s better to understand the Scriptures and what they actually say, than to substitute modern Protestant thought.

  24. John Shores says:

    PJ:

    baptism is not magic

    I confess that even as I wrote what I did that the idea of magic had occurred to me. I think what Mary says about linear time coupled with your comment (“the prayer doesn’t state definitively that all marauding demons *are* destroyed. Rather, it begs that this may be so”) go a long way to clarify the issue for me. Not too bad for a Muggle.

    It seems that many were convinced, but that they were disappointed…

    I think this is an excellent point. There are few things more difficult to overcome than disillusionment, whether your potentially political leader turns out to be a spiritual leader or your spiritual leader turns out to be a church politician.

  25. John Shores says:

    Doug: I understand what you meant by the word “ritual” (though Fr. Stephen took exception). It’s not easy to think and speak in fluent Orthodox. I take exception to the use of the word “facts” in your reply simply because facts are observable. But I know what you mean.

    I do appreciate your conclusion (“…that they may know you”) but I believe that the word “know” here is not “knowledge” in the clinical sense but more the kind of knowledge that can only be gained via interaction (I know my wife well but darned if I understand her!).

    I am coming to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a “reasonable faith” (e.g. a faith that can be mastered intellectually) and I wonder whether or not the C.S. Lewis’ of the world are really very helpful in sending one further along on his spiritual journey seeing that all his writings are based on his massive intellect. I suspect that one day a small child will unravel the mysteries for me.

    My issue (as Fr. Stephen insightfully discerned) is more about safety and not being duped (again). I don’t know if there is a way for me to abdicate reason when it comes to “spiritual things” and therefore I am where I am. But I would rather be here than in the Protestant-thinking religion which cannot but drive one mad.

  26. John Shores says:

    …it doesn’t understand the nature of the eschaton.

    Isn’t that the name of the home planet of Megatron? :)

  27. dinoship says:

    ” is more about safety and not being duped (again).”

    Becoming part of the true Orthodox way liberates you from that danger but, we must still overcome a similar type of fear…
    There is a far greater “danger” felt when one screams from the bottom of his soul for God fighting like Jacob (possibly for years), then awaits in total silence(possibly for years), then starts being illumined by His light, then sees clearly his utter filth and his utter ignorance and unwillingness to even remember the God he thought he was screaming for all his life yet realises now this was 99.9% egoism and 0,01% love of Him, then takes the plunge against his egoism to let go of all his former safety and then chooses to be “lost” in union with Him rather than to return to his familiar old self. The “danger” especially at the later stages (after which one can say that, yes, he ‘knows God and how to call on Him’) is far greater than any other.
    There is no avoiding it.

  28. PJ says:

    Father,

    Do you mind responding to what I said, if you have the opportunity? Did I misunderstand you? Are you saying that, say, the raising of Lazarus was “visible” only to those who believed in Christ? Or, rather, that it was visible to all, but only those who believed understood…?

  29. dinoship says:

    Is it not always a matter of interpretation PJ…?
    The astounding miracles during the martyrdoms of the early Martyrs would have the two opposite effects (“life” and “death” according to St Paul) on the onlookers, so we celebrate St George or St Catherine plus hundreds of others who believed because of what they saw on the same day (including some of the torturers themselves sometimes) , while others simply interpreted the whole thing (including a resurrection of someone completely decomposed in the case of st George) completely differently (explained it away as some kind of ‘magic’ for instance).
    Belief always contains something of our own volition.

  30. Karen says:

    Dinoship, as a woman who has given birth, I see some parallels in the spiritual journey you describe with the process of pregnancy and childbirth. In particular, during the actual birth of a child and just before the point where the baby actually reaches the birth passage, there is a moment of crisis called “transition.” This is the point at which the labor is most intense, painful and overwhelming, and typically the woman in labor at this point is firmly convinced she just cannot do this anymore! But, in reality she has reached the point where she can begin actively helping to push the baby down the birth canal, and in a healthy and normal labor, the birth is, in fact, quite immanent!

    It is also a classic example of where mere human perception, conviction, and emotion does not match reality.

  31. fatherstephen says:

    PJ,
    I’m certainly saying that it was visible to all – but somehow didn’t matter. The gospels give us this strange bifurcation within humanity – it is certainly related to “purity of heart.” And it is this conversion and purification of the heart that constitutes the primary means by which we are saved through grace.

    There are two experiences of the risen Lazarus. Everybody sees him, but some want only all the more to kill Christ, others to follow Him. But it is made clear to us in the gospel, that simply to seek to follow Christ because of a miracle will do us no good in the end. The heart will win out. There are many wicked hearts that will follow miracles. “It is a wicked and perverse generation that seeks a sign.”

    After His resurrection things become even more bifurcated – even within the same disciple. Thus Mary Magdalen sees him but doesn’t recognize him, then she does recognize him (and I do not think this is just a “grief” reaction). The disciples on the Road to Emmaus, etc. Perception after the resurrection is clearly not predicated on what we would call “objective” evidence. They see him, but they don’t see Him. If you see what I mean.

    The same holds today – and the Church’s sacraments/mysteries have this very same character to them.

    On Dinoship’s observation that “belief always contains something of our volition,” I like the English word “ignore.” It is rooted in a word that simply means “not knowing,” but it carries with it a sense that our volition is involved. More than not knowing, to ignore is to not want to know. I propose a new verb: GNORE. :)

  32. PJ says:

    Pascal gets a bad rap for his wager, but his Pensees are really worth a read. In one meditation, he posits that God provides just enough light to be seen, but not enough to make His reality a fact (like the sky is blue). As you suggest, this is to preserve the volition of man, but also to ensure that our relationship with HIm is not one of fearful obedience before blinding power, but rather charitable faith and joyous hope in the one whom we “love without seeing.”

  33. PJ says:

    “That being the case Fr. Stephen, do the damned in the everlasting fire cease to exist at some point?”

    Just a thought: Does chronological language like “at some point” really make sense in the context of eternity? Eternity is not an amount of time, however large, but a state of being.

  34. fatherstephen says:

    Some early fathers wondered about that – but it has not become the teaching of the Church. More mainstream is that existence (being) is a gift from God of which He does not repent.

    Your account of first resurrection, creation of Church Triumphant, growing numbers, etc., seems a little “historical” to me – in the sense that one thing happens, then the next, and the next, etc. I’m not sure that we should think about events whose cause is the resurrection in a linear fashion. Holy Baptism (say in 2012 a.d.) is the final destruction of demons (circa 33 a.d.), but that destruction is also the “final destruction” (how to assign this a date?).

    The nature of Orthodox eschatology, in the deepest of the fathers, treats time in a very radical manner. Christ Himself, is the Alpha and Omega (at the same time). Thus wherever He is – there is both the beginning and the end. He is both Creator and Judge, the One through Whom all things come to be, and the One in Whom all things will be gathered together into one. And He is always these, not simply in a temporal, sequential manner. So the Eucharist is many things at once (Last Supper, Wedding Banquet, etc.).

    So many questions that we tend to ask or conclusions we like to draw simply fall apart in the face of such an understanding. But this is the Orthodox faith. This is why St. John Chrysostom uses the past tense to refer to the Second Coming, for example. He’s not trying to alter the time-scheme of things – he’s simply stating the mystical reality of the truth as it is made known in the Eucharistic Presence of the Risen Lord.

    Just some thoughts…

  35. fatherstephen says:

    Marc,
    There cannot be a state of non-being. Non-being is not anything, including a state. This would be fundamental to our understanding that God created the world “from nothing.” It was not in a state of non-being. It simply had no existence whatsoever.

    St. Athanasius makes a distinction between absolute non-being (ouk ontos in Greek) versus a more-or-less relative non-being (me ontos in Greek). Sin already has the character of me ontos (meontic being) as it moves away from God. We do not have the ability to make ourselves ouk ontos (utterly non-existent) because existence is simply not ours to give or end. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.

  36. Michael Bauman says:

    John Shores: When Jesus said in John 14:30 that the prince of this world had nothing in Him I think he was speaking to your question. Sin is like velcro and demons are attracted by it and can use it to influence us.

    We sin even after Baptism and therefore give the demons something to work with.

    The Sacrament of Confession is the most powerful tool in giving fewer attachments for the demons to use. It is a recommitment to union with Christ that we professed and began to enter into at Baptism. Confession as all the scraments are ontological, existential and ineffable all at the same time.

    I was received into the Church 25 years ago. I’m a different person now than I was then by simply living in the grace of His presence as I partake of the sacraments and all of the rest even as fitfully as I do.

    It is a matter of freedom though. We can have the demons if we want them and some activities make it much more difficult to get free of their influence than others.

  37. I think Father’s previous post about stillness are very apropos to this post.

    “For [however long], I will not –

    -use my phone (turn the ringer off)
    -use my computer
    -read a book (or anything else)
    -engage in conversation

    For [however long], I will not –

    -think about what I have done wrong
    -think about whom I have hurt
    -think about problems or difficulties
    -think about physical pain

    For [however long], I will

    -sit (stand if you must) before an icon of Christ
    -not talk to Christ or think about what I should say
    -not think about what I am doing
    -will not think about another person
    -will not think about God or imagine Him
    -will breathe”

    That is the hardest spiritual discipline I have ever heard of. I can’t do it. it is both impossible for me and necessary for me. The world Father describes, I believe, only intersects with and interpenetrates the LHCAEWYSIATI [great acronym] world Here and Now. It does not exist in the world of our regrets about the past or our apprehension of the future.

    But as I said, Being Here Now before Christ is the hardest thing of all for me to do.

  38. drewster2000 says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    After the wonderful “outburst” you had in response to John Shores – and all the great comments here – I can no longer remember the post itself. You spoke from the heart and it was incredible. Not only was I better able to understand you as to the topic of The Kingdom and the way you see it and walk in it, I was also able to connect with you as the child of God that you are.

    Sometimes the words of the prophets and fathers are unsearchable for me. I suspect it is my deaf & blind state that makes this so, but I greatly appreciate your words in that comment. It was as if you took a moment to dumb it down for me and speak in the infantile language of my heart long and loud enough for me to hear.

    I don’t expect it to always be this way, but the break into the clouds of my heart was greatly appreciated. Thank you once again for your willingness to share journey you are on and how you walk it.

    in Christ, Drewster

  39. The Kingdom of God exists anytime and anywhere the Holy Spirit accepts an invitation to indwell a human soul, and the Holy Spirit never comes “empty handed”.

    The cardinal virtues of faith, hope and love are the primary products of God’s grace. So why are these virtues powerfully manifest in many of God’s elect, while appearing to absent or at the very least, dormant in so many others?

    It probably has more to do with humility than anything else, since it is very difficult for a proud soul to assent, even in little things, to the will of God.

    Without that assent, it’s our will (and our “kingdom”) which is typically manifest. Not God’s.

    Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues. Hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist, there cannot be any other virtue, except in mere appearance. ~Saint Augustine of Hippo

  40. Doug says:

    Fatherstephen: I protest: I’m not a Protestant! As to quoting scripture, our Lord did that often. I misspoke if I seem to have belittled baptism. But it is a ritual in one important sense. It’s a public witness to one’s dedication to God; that’s done in prayer, privately. Paul gives us the privilege of reading Jesus’ own dedication prayer to his Father. Compare Ps 40:6-8 with Heb 10:5-7. It is a requirement for Christians, as you note. But the waters are not “the final destruction of demons because they are nothing other than Christ’s Pascha.” That’s the point I wanted to make with John Shores. Demons were very much alive and active in Paul’s day and certainly now in ours. They have a special interest in professed Christians. Otherwise, why the constant warnings of post-Calvary Bible writers against, well, “spirits of error and doctrines of devils”, as the Douay has it at 1 Tim 4:1? “Now the Spirit manifestly says that in the last times some shall depart from the faith.” (ibid.) Depart from Christianity! At the behest of mere demons! And they were all baptized!
    You’ll recall that they Jews also- God’s chosen ones- relied on rituals and buildings, and were warned against it. Jer 7:4- “Trust not in lying words, saying: The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, it is the temple of the Lord.” But the LORD did give them the temple and the rituals in Leviticus, so how were the words “lying”? Because their worship was by ritual words only. Later, the same prophet said “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Juda: Not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers …” (Jer 31:30 ff.). And this did happen- Jesus gave us a “new covenant”. It includes baptism, observing the memorial of Christ’s death (the “Last Supper”), and preaching the good news of God’s kingdom just as he did it- “quoting from the Bible”. (My 24:14)
    Finally, as to quoting scripture, I notice that you and your respondents quote Archimandrite Zaccarius, Christos Yannaros, John Chrysostom, Thomas Hopko and such. I know of none of these men. I do know of Augustine, Aquinas and others of the Western folks, but they have this in common with yours: They did not write the Bible. Usually Christians commend each other for quoting the word of God. I’m sorry if I upset you, but I’ll continue to do it. Perhaps I’m demonized? :-)

  41. Doug says:

    To several, regarding “being and not being”. Where is Adam these days?

  42. Doug says:

    John Shores: By “ritual” I had in mind a physical act, performed in a certain way, regularly. As such a ritual is neither good nor bad. I objected, as I replied above, to looking to it for salvation from demons or death.
    “Facts are observable”, indeed. But in Mt 24,25; Luke 21; Mr 13 Jesus gave future “facts” (otherwise he was a mere teller of tales) to his disciples, and we now ‘eavesdrop’ on that conversation by means of the Bible. My belief is that we are close to the time period he had in mind. I “observe” this in this way, which I invite you to do: Read those accounts, add 2 Tim 3:1-5, 1 Tim 4:1-4, and 2 Pet 3. Now compare them with the news on the ‘Net, TV and newspapers. Does the Bible’s composite sign match? If so, it’s time for all of us to get knowledge.
    “Reasonable faith” is exactly what Paul said he had: “beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service.” Rom 12:1; my Bible says, “with your power of reason”. Didn’t he believe in an invisible God, whose messenger was a man executed for crimes against God and the State? Didn’t he join with those who had “seen” [they said] that ‘criminal’ come back to life? Yet he says he is reasonable!
    John 17:3 was spoken by a man who was about to die. It’s recognized even in secular law that a man is ever serious in his death-bed confession, as this was, so to speak. Therefore he must have had in mind what the Greeks called “epignosis”, the highest knowledge. Moreover, as a Jew, he was aware that the Hebrew word included knowledge OF a subject, of HOW to practice it, and a demonstration of DOING the thing. (Did someone just now pass his written driving test? Can we say he “knows” how to drive? A Jew would not!)
    God is invisible; his son is nowhere to be found on earth. How then can we find this life-saving knowledge? What authority outside of his Father did Jesus consider reasonable and factual?

  43. PJ says:

    Doug,

    If you’re not a Protestant or an Orthodox, then you must be a Catholic like me. If so, then you should really know John Chrysostom, as he’s one of the chief doctors of the Church, called “Doctor of the Eucharist.” He is often quoted by Thomas Aquinas (also quite a lot by Pope Benedict).

    Also, Father is of course not claiming that the demons have been universally destroyed. He’s referring to those who are baptized — that they are freed from the tyranny of demons because they enter into Christ. At least, that’s how I read it. This assertion is part of the Catholic baptismal creed as well, albeit in slightly different, and perhaps less dramatic, language. Also, the baptismal creeds of various high church/sacramental Protestants.

  44. PJ says:

    ““Reasonable faith” is exactly what Paul said he had: “beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service.” Rom 12:1; my Bible says, “with your power of reason”. Didn’t he believe in an invisible God, whose messenger was a man executed for crimes against God and the State? Didn’t he join with those who had “seen” [they said] that ‘criminal’ come back to life? Yet he says he is reasonable!”

    I think bad translation has led you astray regarding Romans 12:1. “Reasonable service” is a poor rendering of the Greek “logike latreia,” which means literally “logos-like service.” Paul is not exhorting us to be “rational” in the modern, scientific sense, but rather to be conformed to the likeness of Logos. Thus the eucharist is often called a “reasonable sacrifice” in the ancient Christian liturgies, for it is both unbloody — that is, spiritual — and a participation in the true Reason of all things: the Logos, the Word.

  45. PJ says:

    “And this did happen- Jesus gave us a “new covenant”. It includes baptism, observing the memorial of Christ’s death (the “Last Supper”), and preaching the good news of God’s kingdom just as he did it- “quoting from the Bible”. (My 24:14)”

    Interesting that your description omits the eucharist, since it was only in reference to that mystery — the sum and apex of all the other mysteries — that Christ Himself spoke of a “new testament”/”new covenant.”

  46. John says:

    How do you understand Luke 17.21? Note the ESV says in the midst of you instead of within you, which seems to imply a different meaning.

  47. fatherstephen says:

    John,
    The Greek is quite as ambiguous. It’s simply the preposition en which can mean, with, in, within, among, etc. But the context (both in the passage and in the general tenor of Luke) certainly makes me go with “among.” “Within” is almost too “mystical” in the sense of “private mysticism” for Luke, Matthew or Mark. You could argue for such a point in John perhaps. But here Christ is contrasting something as not being “over there” or “over there.” It’s not somewhere else, it’s among you. And I would say that Christ Himself is the Kingdom for which they are looking and they don’t know it.

  48. Karen says:

    Doug, I think yours is a classic case of not understanding Fr. Stephen’s Orthodox vernacular very well (and, like so many of us in terms of background whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, being more steeped in a western theological tradition). That’s okay. It takes a little time. Keep reading.

  49. Andrew says:

    Well put indeed, Father Steve!

  50. PJ says:

    “[T]he Son is neither simply one thing as one thing, nor many things as parts, but one thing as all things; whence also He is all things. For He is the circle of all powers rolled and united into one unity. Wherefore the Word is called the Alpha and the Omega, of whom alone the end becomes beginning, and ends again at the original beginning without any break. Wherefore also to believe in Him, and by Him, is to become a unit, being indissolubly united in Him; and to disbelieve is to be separated, disjoined, divided.” –Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 4:25

  51. Doug says:

    Karen, I have tried to point out that the “vernacular” of the Bible writers (my “Doctors” and “Fathers” is clearer, simpler, and hangs together better than all the archimandrites in China. Just as it should be if the Bible is indeed God’s word for my salvation. Jesus (the Word incarnate) came to the “people of the earth” as the Pharisees called them- the thinly veiled meaning being “dirt”. (Hebrew am-harets.) Remember the first teachers? It was said of them, “when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” And their preaching was understood by thousands wherever they went.

  52. Karen says:

    Doug, how many archimandrites are there in China, anyway? :-)

  53. Doug says:

    PJ, a quick check of online Bibles shows me “reasonable”, “intelligent”, “spiritual”. None have “word-like”. I take the first two to be synonyms for our purposes, and “spiritual” means here ‘by God’s standards'; God being certainly intelligent and reasonable. I believe this validates my point to John Shores that a Christian’s faith is not “blind”, as opposers often say.
    Then you say, “Thus the eucharist is often called a “reasonable sacrifice” in the ancient Christian liturgies.” I’m not a capital-E Eucharistic believer, as I’m sure you can guess. My “ancient” liturgy is- as I have said- Biblical. More ancient than Chrysostom or Aquinas. Example of “reasonable”: I have often heard about the “unbloody” sacrifice of the Eucharist or Mass. How so, if Jesus is actually contained in the wafer eaten by the faithful? “Jesus’ shed blood”- meaning Calvary- is an exhortatory phrase often used by preachers. You and others say further that the sacrifice is ‘renewed as often as’ and so on. How then is it “unbloody”?
    Now look at what my “Doctor and Father” Paul says, at Hebrews 9:24 ff., “For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, [which are] the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, … Nor yet that he should offer himself OFTEN, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; … but now ONCE in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself … So Christ was ONCE offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” And similarly in ch. 10. Paul also being a lawyer in the Law, and just the right person to explain the types-antitypes to us. And he is logical and reasonable.
    Back to the OP. Can’t we say, if Paul is correct, that re-enacting this interchange between God and his son is an ‘empty’ ritual?

  54. Rhonda says:

    Doug,

    No one here has any objection to your quoting the Holy Scriptures for we (Orthodox) also greatly value them. The Divine Liturgy as well as all Orthodox liturgical services contain copious quotations & references to the Holy Scriptures. A copy of the Gospels is kept on the very altar itself. Orthodox Christians are highly encouraged to read & contemplate the daily lectionary readings. The Psalter (the Psalms) is considered the hymnbook of the Church & forms an integral part of every Orthodox service. It has been arranged into 20 sections (kathismata) for reading & is meant to be read through once per week, twice per week during Great Lent. There are many practices in which the Orthodox read the Holy Scriptures that have no equivalent in the Protestant world such as on Holy Friday when the book of Acts is read in commemoration of our Lord’s entombment or over the body of a deceased priest before his burial.

    Yes, the Orthodox greatly revere the Holy Scriptures. We revere them so much that there is one thing that we do not do. We do not subject them to our own individual/private interpretation(s) which can only lead to error upon error upon error. The Holy Scriptures were written by the Church for those in the Church. They were never meant to be understood outside of the context of the Church. We conform our understanding to the Holy Scriptures; we do not conform the Holy Scriptures to our understanding…nor that of the latest media headlines, newspapers, TV & etc.

    We do not read the Church Fathers or any of the others mentioned because we revere them more than the Holy Scriptures or we believe them over the Scriptures. They grant us valuable insight as to how the Holy Scriptures were understood & interpreted throughout Church history. I find it highly ironic that you so glibly dismiss our references to “Archimandrite Zaccarius, Christos Yannaros, John Chrysostom (which means Golden Mouth), Thomas Hopko and such”, Christians that have studied, lived & devoted their whole lives to Christ, because “they did not write the Bible”. And yet you propose that we “compare” the Holy Scriptures to “‘Net, TV and newspapers”! Really?

  55. Doug says:

    “then you must be a Catholic like me”
    Nope. Catholics tell me, ‘You wouldn’t have the Bible at all if we hadn’t given it to you!’ Their next word, usually, is to contradict the clear statment of [their] scripture with a tradition of their men.
    BTW: “Catholic like me” isn’t so good here, is it? At least not since 1054! Perhaps fathersteven is mellower than the mutual-anathema guys. Now, THERE’s something to read.

  56. Karen says:

    Doug, seriously, though, I have met many people who would say the same thing (and it sounds very like something I would have thought or said when I was an Evangelical Protestant steeped in the language of the Scriptures and the doctrine of “Sola Scriptura”). The longer I live as a Christian, and particularly now as an Orthodox Christian, the more I realize that it is one thing to understand the surface of Scripture’s text and something of the “literal” meaning and be familiar with its language (as well as that of the Fathers), which is not without value. Yet it is quite another to grasp its depth–which is the very Person of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (and who can fully comprehend Him?). Having many times been frustrated in my attempts to understand the Scriptures in a coherent way that would consistently draw me into real experiential communion with Christ as an Evangelical, I appreciate very much Fr. Stephen’s efforts to clarify and remove the obstacles in the modern mindset (e.g., the historical approach to understanding the Scriptures) to understanding the Scriptures in greater depth spiritually as revealing Christ sacramentally that I may have true communion with Him, which is also the fruit of the Orthodox spiritual and liturgical tradition. This learning has been a long process for me, and I have been reading Fr. Stephen’s blog for a few years now, so that is the context of my earlier comment to you.

  57. Rhonda says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    I have been remiss in thanking you for yet another wonderful & insightful article :-) Your lengthy answer to John Shores was also excellent!

  58. Karen says:

    Quoting from my last comment to Doug: . . . “it sounds very like something I would have thought or said when I was an Evangelical Protestant steeped in the language of the Scriptures and the doctrine of ‘Sola Scriptura’ . . .”

    And now having seen Doug’s last comment (apparently to PJ denying being Catholic): Bingo!

  59. fatherstephen says:

    Marc,
    You write about matters that are beyond the larger part of the Tradition – i.e. the treatment about the material in Revelation. It’s not somewhere I bother to go since I don’t find a lot of trail-markers there left by the fathers. It’s also a book that Protestants have spilt more ink over than any other and their error colors most people’s thoughts on the topic.

    As to linearity versus circularity. I certainly have no truck with circularity. But you don’t seem to be familiar with the teaching of the fathers on eschatological (last things) matters – which are not so much about “last things” as it is about the nature of time, space, mystery, sacrament, redemption, etc. St. Maximus the Confessor is a proper source for this in the fathers but is extremely difficult to read. I would recommend Met. John Zizioulas if its an area you’d want to dig into. His Being as Communion is a good book to start with – but also a very difficult read. The understandings in it a very non-linear and at first will feel confusing.

    Physics at present, as well as higher mathematics are quite non-linear. Linearity is not Judaeo-Christian, it’s just later Western stuff. The Latins forgot most of what the Eastern Christians knew.

    Apologies PJ.

  60. fatherstephen says:

    Doug,
    “Online” Bible tools are not a substitute for knowing Greek. I apologize that the discussion sometimes presumes that a reader know the underlying Greek word in Scripture. Often, I try to spell some of that out. We had very lengthy discussions a couple of months back about the word “logikos,” often translated “reasonable” and what it actually means.

    But online Bibles are simply insufficient. In this case, it’s listen, ask questions and learn, rather than read weak, secondary sources and argue. You don’t have to agree with what you read here, no one expects that, but ask questions and learn something rather than arguing with people who could actually teach you something. That’s the Christian way.

    You speak about the Scriptures as being a simple book, written for simple people. That’s not true. And the Scriptures say that it isn’t true. 2 Peter 3:16 – St. Peter says that St. Paul writes things that are difficult to understand and that many people don’t understand them. It’s why the Scriptures (again) say that Christ appointed “teachers” in the Church (Ephesians 4:11). I’m an ordained priest of the Orthodox Church, trained, taught, ordained and appointed for teaching in the Church. I’m glad to do it and the years of study and prayer that have gone into this ministry have been worth it. Of course, it would have been a waste if the Bible was a “simple” book.

    This is a very welcoming blogsite and disagreement is ok. But questions and discussion is better. Asserting points about things you don’t know is just argument and argument is useless.

    Forgive my frankness if it’s too blunt. I mean no disrespect.

  61. PJ says:

    Doug,

    “PJ, a quick check of online Bibles shows me “reasonable”, “intelligent”, “spiritual”. None have “word-like”.”

    That’s the thing, Doug. Exegesis requires more than “a quick check of online Bibles,” especially when those Bibles are not in the original language.

    Word-like is a literal translation, as I said. “Reasonable” is acceptable. However, what you think “reasonable” means is not what Paul meant. “Logike latreia” had a very specific meaning in the intellectual and religious milieu in which the Apostle moved.

    Consider the words of Chrysostom: “If every day you bring Him yourself as a sacrifice, and become the priest of your own body, and of the virtue of your soul; as, for example, when you offer soberness, when almsgiving, when goodness and forbearance. For in doing this you offer a reasonable service (or worship, λατρείαν), that is, one without anything that is bodily, gross, visible.”

    “I take the first two to be synonyms for our purposes, and “spiritual” means here ‘by God’s standards’; God being certainly intelligent and reasonable. I believe this validates my point to John Shores that a Christian’s faith is not “blind”, as opposers often say.”

    We can agree on one thing: I don’t think our faith is “blind,” either.

    Nonetheless, you fail to grasp the nuance of Paul’s words because you are unaware of the context in which he writes — a context entirely foreign to modern day Protestantism (and, sadly, even much Catholicism).

    “Then you say, “Thus the eucharist is often called a “reasonable sacrifice” in the ancient Christian liturgies.” I’m not a capital-E Eucharistic believer, as I’m sure you can guess.”

    So you are a Protestant.

    “My “ancient” liturgy is- as I have said- Biblical. More ancient than Chrysostom or Aquinas.”

    Please, my friend, do not speak about that which you do not know. The liturgy of Aquinas and Chrysostom were (are!) Biblical and apostolic, as non-canonical literature — beginning with St. Ignatius, who was taught by St. John — makes clear. The heart of the Eucharistic celebration, as practiced by Orthodox and Catholics and some Protestants, is recorded as early as the late 1st century — at the very edge of the apostolic edge.

    “Example of “reasonable”: I have often heard about the “unbloody” sacrifice of the Eucharist or Mass. How so, if Jesus is actually contained in the wafer eaten by the faithful? “Jesus’ shed blood”- meaning Calvary- is an exhortatory phrase often used by preachers. You and others say further that the sacrifice is ‘renewed as often as’ and so on. How then is it “unbloody”?”

    First, Jesus is not “contained” in the wafer. The bread is a sacrament — a symbol in the true sense: it makes present that which it signifies. This sacred mystery is testified by the earliest Christians, some of whom were taught directly by the apostles. Those who taught otherwise are known as heretics even by Protestants (Basilides, etc.).

    The sacrifice of Calvary was of course bloody, but we partake of it in an unbloody, mystical manner. The Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, but it is received “spiritually,” “reasonably” — but truly. It is a great mystery.

    It is also called a sacrifice because in it “the whole of creation loved by God is presented to the Father through the death and the Resurrection of Christ. Through Christ the Church can offer the sacrifice of praise in thanksgiving for all that God has made good, beautiful, and just in creation and in humanity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church).

    The Eucharist is more than just the sacrifice of the man Jesus Christ: It is the sacrifice of the whole Church — all redeemed creation — in and through the Word.

    We are saved precisely because God allows us to participate in the Son’s self-offering. And in His mercy, He allows this through the medium of bread and wine. This is why we call it the “sacrament of love.”

    “Now look at what my “Doctor and Father” Paul says, at Hebrews 9:24 ff., “For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, [which are] the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, … Nor yet that he should offer himself OFTEN, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; … but now ONCE in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself … So Christ was ONCE offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.”

    Absolutely. There is only one sacrifice, once and for all time, but it is not bound by time. Christ is the Lamb “slain before the foundation of the world.” His self-offering transcends time and space, and we partake of it regularly in the Eucharst. We make it our own, for we are the Body of Christ, and so we bear His burdens and enjoy His benefits. We “lift up our hearts” and join in the heavenly liturgy, which is made present here on earth through the Holy Spirit.

    “Paul is correct, that re-enacting this interchange between God and his son is an ‘empty’ ritual?”

    We aren’t “re-enacting” like actors in a historical film. We are truly — if mystically, sacramentally — participating in the entire mystery of Christ: His incarnation, His self-offering, His resurrection, His ascension. This is the theology of the Bible and the Fathers, held unanimously for 1500 years. Even today, it remains the dominant paradigm.

    As the noted Protestant (!) patristic scholar JND Kelly noted: “The eucharist was regarded as the distinctively Christian sacrifice from the closing decade of the first century, if not earlier … The eucharist was also, of course, the great act of worship of Christians, their sacrifice The writers and liturgies of the period are unanimous in recognizing it as such.”

  62. Rhonda says:

    John Shores:

    I for one do not feel that you are a “thorn” in anyone’s side :-) You are sincere, thoughtful & contemplative as is evident in your comments.

    Your words echo my own before I became Orthodox approximately 10 years ago…I was not quite 38 & had left my childhood faith at age 16. They also echo the great majority of Protestant converts that I have met. They echo the words of many non-Orthodox that I discuss the Orthodox Faith with. We are all concerned with “…safety and not being duped (again).”

    You wrote: “I am coming to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a “reasonable faith” (e.g. a faith that can be mastered intellectually)…” Of course not! If God could so be “mastered intellectually” he would not be God & there would be no such thing as faith. However, the Church Fathers talk of us as being rational sheep & our reasonable faith.

    And yes, this is a stark contrast to “Protestant-thinking” & its resulting “madness”. The typical Protestant (& this includes Protestant converts to Orthodoxy) are typically quite neurotic. If I remember correctly, Fr. Stephen has also written about his experiences in dealing with this neuroticism & its effects. Perhaps he will be so kind as to refer us to past articles??

    “I don’t know if there is a way for me to abdicate reason when it comes to ‘spiritual things’…” At no time are we to “abdicate reason”! However, this is not the same as throwing all common sense out of the window! We can never fully comprehend God or faith or love or any one (including ourselves). God is beyond all reason, but believing in God is not therefore unreasonable. You are scared of others duping you again, but be careful that you do not in turn “dupe” yourself through your reason.

    “I spent so many years longing for the kingdom and never experiencing anything except disappointment and heartache. I cannot fathom that a god who saw one as hungry as I would continue to allow him to starve in a Protestant dream for so many years. How is it that honest seekers are not guided by god to where they can actually experience the kingdom?”

    Again, I understand what you are saying & I myself have thought much along the same lines. All I can say is that as I look back on my own life, I can now see God’s leading, working & love for me through it all. Also, I can see how I worked & rebelled against His loving will for me in so many ways. I don’t know all of the why’s of my life, but I understand enough that I am thankful for them. I am thankful for the long path I traveled to Orthodoxy & that I am still traveling, for that matter. You are wrong in your concluding statement, though. God does lead honest seekers, & He even leads the dishonest ones like myself ;-)

    I wholeheartedly agree with Fr. Stephen’s words:

    come and see!

  63. PJ says:

    Rereading what I just wrote, I realize that I gushed a bit. I’m sorry if I was overly verbose, but this is dear to my heart, and of such crucial importance.

    The main problem is that you’re working with Biblical words, but you’ve altered their meanings. I recommend a good study of early non-canonical Christian literature, if you have the time. It’s definitely worth it.

    You should stick around, Doug. You seem to be earnest and God-fearing, and that’s wonderful. I hope I didn’t come on too strong. Try to keep an open mind!

  64. One of the things I find significant in the part you quoted is the “make it to be”.

    Some people ask why, if baptism is for the remission of sins, did Jesus, who was sinless, need to be baptised?

    And it seems to me that the difference between our baptism is his is that when he went into the Jordan, the water was changed, but when we go into the water, we are changed. The Jordan valley is the lowest place on the surface of the earth, and that is where he went to take our sins upon him. In our baptism we put on his clean garment, whereas in his, he put on our dirty garments (Zechariah 3) and took upon himself the sins of the world. And in so doing he trampled upon the heads of the dragons who lurked therein.

    And all this is possible because he “made it to be”, and we can call on him to “make it to be” all those things.

  65. Rhonda says:

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for your frankness! Well said :-)

  66. Rhonda says:

    I agree about Met. John Zizioulas’ Being as Communion. It is definitely worth the time, thought & effort! My very patient priest has had to answer a multitude of questions from this book for me.

  67. fatherstephen says:

    Deacon Stephen,
    Over the years, I’ve come to see that Christ was Baptized for the same reason He was crucified, dead and risen, because – it was essentially the same act, only done in a different manner. All of the texts surrounding Theophany and the Blessing of the Waters (and Baptism) make this clear. The “remission of sins” in Baptism, is the “remission of sins” in the destruction of death and Hades. This action of Christ – most fully revealed at Golgotha – is relentlessly revealed to us – if I may say it in such a manner. Christ’s Pascha, from the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, the Creation from Nothing, the salvation of Noah, the destruction of Pharoah, Jonah from the belly of the whale, through to His Eucharistic wonders after the resurrection, and so many more are revealed again and again. He was sacrificed “once and for all” and yet that one sacrifice has been present even before the Creation. What goodness!

  68. John Shores says:

    ‘Online’ Bible tools are not a substitute for knowing Greek.

    Because, clearly, those who understand the original Greek have never disputed over its meaning. :)

    This has always bothered me. If I cannot take what the book says for what it says, what’s the point in reading it? If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard “What he really meant was…”, I’d be living in Malibu.

    That said, it seems to me that Orthodoxy has something of a right to make this claim simply because Orthodox understanding is not one man’s interpretation but the result of much, um, “discussion” among its founders. Said another way, it isn’t that everyone should learn Greek but that when an Orthodox teacher points to the Greek it is by way of explaining why the Fathers taught thus and such and not a means of saying “I know Greek and you don’t so you can’t possibly understand.” That’s a hard thing for my recovering Protestant mind to come to terms with though.

    Doug: I constantly feel the pull to present my side of a case and challenge people to poke holes in it but I have learned (largely via a growing respect for Orthodox Christians and my desire not to offend) how to sift things down to the central issues and present them as questions (as Fr. Stephen requests).

    There is nothing as simple as taking the Limbaugh approach (not that I accuse you of this but that I found that it was one that I had unconsciously adopted) and spout what I think while implying to others that this is how they should think. Ridiculing opposing viewpoints (even if it is self-contained ridicule that never leaves your own head) then becomes very simple (although unproductive).

    When I learned how to listen, I discovered what an idiot Limbaugh (and Maher and the rest, just to be fair) actually is. He has all the answers (so he thinks) and constantly tells his listeners “Don’t be fooled by what (insert name) actually said. This is how you need to understand his words” which, in essence, implies that his listeners are stupid, the person about whom he is speaking is insipid, and he (Limbaugh) is a pillar of wisdom. It is a formula that leads to the sort of divisiveness that we find polarizing us today. And it’s merely an echo of how Protestantism has operated for hundreds of years (“We’re right but they have it all wrong.”).

    I have found it better to take a moderate approach of asking and sincerely listening because that is the only way that people on both sides of a discussion will tell you what they actually think. I then decide what I think is right and I keep it to myself unless I am pried for a response.

    By way of example, after the last presidential debate, two of my daughters asked me who I was voting for. They wanted a definite answer. Instead, I explained to them the issues that I was weighing, none of which they had considered. By the end of the discussion, without any prompting except to expose them to the questions, they began to reflect on what the candidates were saying and one responded, “I hadn’t thought of this before. Now (the candidate that she initially opposed) is starting to sound pretty good.” I concluded by telling them that I would not tell them who I was voting for because it is more important to me that they learn how to think and make decisions than to be swayed by mine.

    This is a very difficult approach for many people to take since we are, at our core, followers who want to be told which way to go.

    This is (hopefully) how I have presented myself in this community. I am pretty incredulous over a great deal of what I read here but I will say that the views expressed here cause me to think and ruminate and I am not nearly as antichristian as I was six months ago. Call it progress, if you will. But even if I never enter the fold (I seem to be highly allergic to wool), at the very least I’m not castigating the whole of Christendom any longer.

    One thing is certain, it is not profitable to come to an Orthodox website and think that the community has no understanding of Protestant thinking. From my experience, most people that you find in Orthodox discussions are recovering Protestants. I would prescribe high doses of listening and reading the suggested works (and learning really big words that no one else uses) in order to combat the natural incredulity that comes from detoxing from Protestant indoctrination.

  69. John Shores says:

    Rhonda: Thanks for your reply. I must admit that at times the whole idea of god is so large and/or unbelievable that I see no choice but to either dive in and take my chances with whatever religious group I land in or to retreat and watch from the outside with the same fascination with which I view die-hard sports fanatics or people who are fulling into ComiCon. Just watching how they operate and how they so intensely discuss their team or comic-book characters is terribly interesting.

    Humans are fascinating. Particularly humans in troops.

    I haven’t even gotten as far as that there is a god but the writings here have helped me unravel a great deal of the neuroses of my heavily indoctrinated Protestant upbringing. And, I must say, I am becoming fond of several people here.

  70. John Shores says:

    …”fully”, not “fulling”.

  71. dinoship says:

    From an Orthodox perspective, Christ our Saviour is always portrayed as the Crucified and Exalted God-Man, our Pascha… He is, as made evident through the iconography and hymnography of the Church, hidden behind everything in that form, whether it is the ancient slain Abel, or the slain last martyrs. Understanding that, is not dissimilar to the understanding imparted by Jesus when he “opened the Scriptures” to his disciples on the way to Emmaus.
    Concerning the Book of Revelations and its connection to the playing out of history as understood by us moderns (only a small part of what that book is about), the few Fathers that commented on this adopt the “spiral method”. ie: both cyclical and linear with progressive, increasing density up to the very end. So, the fact that Pharoah, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Nero, Hitler, are all antichrists does not deny that there will be an antichrist at the last times.
    However, we do not dwell on this like so many Protestant influenced Christianity does, we constantly, singularly, passionately dwell on Christ alone.

  72. dinoship says:

    John Shores,

    “I see no choice but to either dive in and take my chances …”

    I enjoy your comments very much.
    This made me want to point out (generally) that taking the plunge is not a one time occurrence, and not capitulating with the ‘world’ isn’t either…
    It is something that requires renewal daily. (ongoing “metanoia” we would call it).
    This signifies that the one who does this the right way, (the Saint if you will) is never enslaved to it but voluntarily dives in again and again, having the ability not to (being in constant ‘danger’ if you will – though this is a result of his true freedom).

  73. PJ says:

    “I for one do not feel that you are a “thorn” in anyone’s side :-) You are sincere, thoughtful & contemplative as is evident in your comments.”

    Agreed. John has turned out to be a fine resident skeptic. The loyal opposition, as the Brits say. ;-)

    “This has always bothered me. If I cannot take what the book says for what it says, what’s the point in reading it?”

    The problem is not that Scripture is hopelessly obscure — though it is mysterious in places, as you’d expect with any text concerning the Divine Nature.

    Rather, the problem is that many modern Christians read the Bible without understanding the context, because they read it apart from the tradition that has preserved this “context.” As such, the meaning is distorted.

    The phrase “logike latreia” is a perfect example. “Reasonable” means one thing to a modern American; it meant quite a different thing to a 1st century Hellenized Jew. The same thing with the word “figure” or “symbol.” Protestants read the fathers calling the Eucharist a “symbol” and they believe this means that it is simply an empty sign. However, the Greco-Roman world had a “realistic” understanding of symbols: they believed that they make present that which they signify.

    Americans want everything to be simple, available to the common man. It’s part of our grossly democratic nature. This bent is especially pronounced in matters of religion, concerning which we’re regular Jacobins. But it just ain’t so …

  74. Rhonda says:

    JS:

    I haven’t even gotten as far as that there is a god

    You are way way closer than you think, my friend :-)

  75. Rhonda says:

    …much closer than many of my Protestant relatives & friends ;-)

  76. Rhonda says:

    John Shores,

    “I see no choice but to either dive in and take my chances …”

    My first priest told me (repeatedly) “Relax & breathe, Rhonda. Relax & breathe.” when I was an inquirer, catechuman & newly received. My current priest still tells me this, though not nearly as often.

    We have a catechumen (via the Baptist > RC > Orthodox route) who was an inquirer for over 2 years. After the 1st year his long-term fiance became an inquirer; that was 1 1/2 years ago. They are still several months away from being married & received along with her 3-year old grandson; the dates are still “tentative” at best. There is nothing wrong with this scenario & I personally think it is best.

    So…Relax & breathe, John. Relax & breathe. This is not much different than “Be still & know.”

  77. John Shores says:

    The problem is not that Scripture is hopelessly obscure…

    I had hoped that my following paragraph elucidated that I think that the Orthodox have more right to clarify Scriptures than other “Christian” groups. From what I gather, the writin’s o’ the fathers give the Bible context. They are the nuclear power plant that contains the uranium of the scriptures. The scriptures alone seem to be fatal to many.

    the plunge is not a one time occurrence

    This sounds like waaay too much work to me… :) I find just being the me that I am is a full time job. I like Rhonda’s advice better… “Relax & breathe.”

  78. fatherstephen says:

    John shores,
    Interestingly, as time has gone on, I don’t have to “try” to be Orthodox. It is easily integrated into my life (One-Storey Universe sort of thing). In the modern world people seem to have to try to be a lot of things, because nobody is what they are.

  79. dinoship says:

    John Shores,
    point taken re “too much work”…
    At the same time however, anything other than what we were created to be is “too much work”….
    Forgetting oneself and remembering the Only One Who truly loves me, the ‘Centre’ of all, (unceasingly even) is only “too much work” for my “old self” who does not want to be forgotten as he always posits himself in the position of the centre of the universe.
    There is nothing easier or more natural if seen from the angle of Truth (as explained by Christ and the Orthodox Church). It is child’s play.
    It really is astounding how immense the variation of one’s perception of the “Cross” can be!
    It ranges the entire gamut: from the most vile (as was the worldly perception of the cross before – and still is) to the most desirable thing of all (a paradisal Pascha of the resurrection).
    The strength of my self-love or not is the measure of how it is perceived by me.
    In other wo

  80. dinoship says:

    In other words, the “sorrows” (the crosses) of the life without God as well as the “joys” of that secular life are, if analysed with deep existential honesty, without meaning and unbearable.
    While the crosses and the joys of the spiritual life in Christ are all full to the brim with meaning; especially the “crosses”.
    A famous hesychast Elder of our times (Ephraim of Katounakia – Athos), radiant and full of “fire” once said: I am more grateful for the “crosses” than the paradisal joys I experienced in my life (at 86 years old) , they were “joys” of which I cannot ever express my appreciation to the Lord.
    It is true that there is no greater honour bestowed on man than them – paradoxical as this might seem to our worldly rationality.
    St Paul also writes of being more grateful for them…

  81. John Shores says:

    Admittedly, I’m still in the “most vile” camp. Any form of human sacrifice (voluntary or otherwise), much less the cannibalistic nature of Eucharist (if one sees the wafer and wine as actual flesh and blood) is a bit too much for my sensibilities. Whether we are talking about reconciliation, forgiveness, remission of sins or what have you, horrific violence would not be at the top of my list of possible remedies.

    To my mind, it would be more than a little disturbing to sing:

    “You bloodied your baby
    Smashed his head against the wall
    You bloodied your baby
    To save us from the Fall”*

    …which is about on par with how I view the Cross at present. I believe that the scriptures mention something along the lines of how the natural mind reels at the thought so I hope I can be pardoned for this viewpoint.


    *La salvación por infanticida – Words and music by Juan Costas. All rights reserved.

  82. fatherstephen says:

    JohnS,
    Too much Calvin. Bad for the mind.

  83. PJ says:

    “Any form of human sacrifice (voluntary or otherwise), much less the cannibalistic nature of Eucharist (if one sees the wafer and wine as actual flesh and blood) is a bit too much for my sensibilities. ”

    What about the soldier who jumps on a grenade to save the rest of his platoon? What about the priest who takes the place of a would-be-victim in a death camp? What about the mother who forgoes an abortion at the cost of her own life? These are all instances of “human sacrifice.” This is “giving yourself up for your friends” and “loving til the end,” to use Christ’s own worse regarding His passion. Indeed, in a real way, anyone who loves engages in “human sacrifice,” for they give themselves for the well-being of another — right down to the Average Joe who works his fingers raw so that his kids can have a good education.

    Pope Benedict writes about the true nature of Calvary thusly:

    “When our text says that Jesus accomplished the expiation through His blood, this blood is again not to be understood as a material gift, a quantitatively measurable means of expiation; it is simply the concrete expression of a love of which it is said that it extends ‘to the end.’ It is the expression of the totality of His surrender and of His service; an embodiment of the fact that He offers no more and no less than Himself. The gesture of the love that gives all — this, and this alone … was the real means by which the world was reconciled; therefore the hour of the Cross is the cosmic day of reconciliation, the true and definitive feast of reconciliation…

    “The Christian sacrifice is nothing other than the exodus of the ‘for’ that abandons itself, a process perfected in the Man who is all exodus, all self-surpassing love … By offering humanity to God, Christ incorporates it in His salvation … He who was crucified has smelted the body of humanity into the ‘Yes’ of worship …

    “The New Testament is the story of the God who of His own accord wished to become, in Christ, the Omega — the last letter — in the alphabet of creation. It is the story of the God who is Himself the act of love, the pure ‘for’ … He took from man’s hands the sacrificial offerings and put in their place His sacrificed personality, His own ‘I.'”

  84. PJ says:

    It’s also worth mentioning that Christ did not *have* to die in such a terrible and horrific way. He intentionally chose to do so. Why? Not to legitimize human sacrifice, but to destroy it. On the Cross, God threw Himself on the cogs of the machinery of human evil and destroyed it with love.

    If this is not understood, Christianity is not understood.

  85. PJ says:

    Indeed, if that is not understood, you have paganism, the rank satisfaction of a hungry, savage deity with the blood of an innocent victim. Sadly, as even the Pope admits, this notion has cropped up again in again within the minds and writings and pious practices of the faithful. Why? Because it is totally natural. The desire for expiation runs deep in mankind. It testifies to the reality of our fallen state. However, only through the Cross do we really understand that expiation means — and it isn’t the violent satisfaction of bloodlust.

  86. Rhonda says:

    John Shores:

    Penal substition theory has no place within Orthodoxy. Check out an earlier article from 8/31/2012 by Fr. Stephen entitled “Justice Enough?”
    http://glory2godforallthings.com/2012/08/31/justice-enough/

  87. Doug says:

    Karen: Sola scriptura is not my doctrine; not anyone’s that I know of. I have encountered it most often as a red herring offered by Catholics in lieu of rational discussion. Example: A Catholic tells me of the value of the Rosary, a doctrine of his Church. [‘The one that gave you the Bible!’] I cite Jesus, “And when you are praying, speak not much, as the heathens. For they think that in their much speaking they may be heard” [as to the repetitiveness] and “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father, but by me” [as to the many prayers directed to Mary]. He responds, ‘Well, if you wanna go sola scriptura on me …’ :-)
    You were “steeped in the language of the Scriptures” … which is a bad thing? Jesus- your God- didn’t think so: “… it is written … it is written … it is written …”. Neither did Paul, whom Jesus visited in a “special” way with verbal instructions: “All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice: That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.”
    As you should have noted, I’ve used the scriptures exclusively in my comments here. I use them in English, my native language, because I understand it best. I believe that is what God intended in having them written, post-Babel, in Hebrew, then Aramaic (with some Persian loanwords) and then Greek. That Greek BTW was the common language of 2000 years ago, not of today. It was the English of its day. Wealthy Romans bought literate Greeks as slaves to teach it to their children. Fatherstephen should perhaps write his blog in Greek, to ‘preach in what he practices’ so to speak. God furnished the first translators himself, at Pentecost. Why? So that those in attendance- all Jews BTW- could ‘hear them speak in their own tongues the wonderful works of God.’ Why not today? Because there are men now with translation skills and printing presses.
    God’s word in your own language is a life-saving gift; don’t belittle it.

  88. PJ says:

    “, “And when you are praying, speak not much, as the heathens. For they think that in their much speaking they may be heard”

    Again, you misunderstand because of lack of context. The pagans would recite long lists of “divine names,” as well as spells and incantations, in order to invoke the help of the gods. Jesus’ condemned this practice because God cannot be summoned or otherwise manipulated by prayer. He’s not making any commentary on the repetition of prayers that are meant to deepen our understanding of, love for, and communion with the Lord.

    Furthermore, nobody thinks that he is saved by Mary or any other saint. We pray for those who are alive in Christ — and ask for prayers in return — because we love them and we are members of the same mystical body. In short, we pray to them and for them for the exact same reasons why we pray to them and for them while on earth.

  89. dinoship says:

    Doug,
    sorry, it is not clear to me what position you are defending in that comment.

  90. Doug says:

    fatherstephen: “Online” Bible tools are not a substitute for knowing Greek”. No? Those not in koiné Greek were translated from it, like my print Bibles at home. On the ‘Net the online Bibles are handiest, since I do this from a public computer. My responsibility is to make sure my quotes are correct and apposite; yours is to cite me if I’m wrong.
    “We had very lengthy discussions … about the word “logikos,” … and what it actually means.” What it actually meant the translators whose Bibles I cited was “reasonable” or “intelligent” or an equivalent. Next time please quote from your own fatherstephen translation. (I’m sure you have one; no doubt modesty has kept you from using it heretofore.)
    “read weak, secondary sources and argue” That’s not what those translators would say. “Secondary” yes, because we have no autograph copies. “Weak”? Not according to Strong, Tischenbach and many others, ’the nibs of whose pens I am not fit to carry’.
    God’s word in the vernacular is a life-saving gift. Belittle it if you will for yourself, but don’t keep others from it. Mt 23:15

  91. Doug says:

    Jesus: “No one comes to the Father except BY ME.” PJ: Wait, wait … you don’t understand context! Sola Scriptura!’ [The context? Luke tells us, "one of his disciples said to him: Lord, teach us to pray".]
    Not repetetive or unscriptural? Count the number of beads for the prayers TO Mary (they’re the ones beginning, “Hail, Mary, full of grace …”), multiply by the number of trips around the Rosary, multiply by the number of times you were assigned at confesion …
    And perhaps you can explain: Why is the Rosary assigned to sinful Catholics as punishment?

  92. Doug says:

    John Shores: A good point about Limbaugh, Maher and their breed. The Bible is my absolute because I believe it’s the word of the Absolute God, but my auditors are not required to think so. And questions are better than dogma (otherwise I would be Catholic!)
    Start with this: For better or worse, we live on the earth. Not always fun, but we’re stuck with it. A question many have asked is, “Why was it created?” Please give me your own answer, and any answer you find in your Bible. (Any language; just don’t forget to translate. 1 Cor 14:13)

  93. John says:

    Father and others,

    Perhaps it is best if we let this convo with Doug die. Some battles aren’t worth fighting. Methinks thjs might apply here.

    John

  94. John Shores says:

    PJ:

    What about the soldier who jumps on a grenade to save the rest of his platoon?

    So, god became a man to throw himself on a grenade? I don’t see the similarities. If a grenade is thrown among soldiers, that is hardly the same thing as knowingly leading your soldiers into a grenade factory that you created.

    If the story is true, he set up the conditions of the whole human experiment and as the ultimate power has the ultimate responsibility for how it played out. All this mess is therefore according to his will, however you slice it. I’m just a conscientious objector to the whole notion. I would prefer that god be more sensible. But, as I am learning, there are many ways to view things and I may very likely not stumbled upon the correct one (then again I may have; it’s so hard to discern these things).

    The gesture of the love that gives all — this, and this alone … was the real means by which the world was reconciled

    Again, reconciliation by its very nature does not require a sacrifice. If two are at odds, it takes forgiveness on the part of one or both. Again, that is an act of the will that requires no prerequisites except a charitable intent.

    Not to legitimize human sacrifice, but to destroy it. On the Cross, God threw Himself on the cogs of the machinery of human evil and destroyed it with love.

    By that rationale, he ought to have lovingly submitted himself to be raped in order to end rape. That makes no sense to me.

    Doug: Chill dude! We are all friends here. No need to be combative.

  95. dinoship says:

    The Church existed without the New Testament (for centuries) though never without the Eucharist.
    It was the Church that took the final decision as to what will be contained in Scripture, based on what conformed with the Truth hid in it: Christ the Divine Logos, crucified yet exalted.

    “God’s word in the vernacular is a life-saving gift”

    Well, Scripture can also, however, become an aid to perdition; I am not talking heresy here, I mean if used to judge others and justify oneself.
    We need to discover God’s Word – as in Christ, first and foremost; not God’s word -as in scripture.
    I need to discover Christ the Word and allow Him to change me into what He is showing me. This requires a measure of humility.
    If I have not come to know my weaknesses, passions and flaws, I am far from knowing anything at all; even if I know all of scripture inside out. all I am capable of is seeing defects in others.

  96. Doug says:

    John Shores: “combative”? Boy, was I misunderstood! Just asking a question which many have asked throughout history; deserves an answer from God, if there is one. I agree that I do get dogmatic, so I’m trying to turn over a new leaf. :-)
    BTW I have an agenda: The question does have a simple, clear answer in the Bible, as does another one, ‘Why am I here on the earth.’ And so on, one simple point at a time in order to determine (from the Bible, anyway) why it’s considered necessary for one man to die for others. I thought you were interested in an answer.

  97. John Shores says:

    For better or worse, we live on the earth. Not always fun, but we’re stuck with it. A question many have asked is, “Why was it created?” Please give me your own answer, and any answer you find in your Bible.

    My apologies but I cannot answer that because it presumes something that I have yet to hold true – that god is.

    To my mind, the question itself is without importance. Some things are. Some things are not. Some things happen. Some things do not. That’s the way it is. To imply an intent behind existence is not as important, as far as I can see, and to ask “How” about the workings of the things around us.

    “Why don’t pigs fly?” is not nearly as interesting (or important) as “How far will a pig fly if I launch it with a trebuchet?”

  98. John Shores says:

    ‘Why am I here on the earth.’ And so on, one simple point at a time in order to determine (from the Bible, anyway) why it’s considered necessary for one man to die for others. I thought you were interested in an answer.

    That is not nearly as important, to me, as the question of whether the Fall of Man story is or can be true in any sense. Christian doctrine cannot survive without this story being true (as far as I can tell).

  99. Doug says:

    John Shores: I wrote, “The question does have a simple, clear answer in the Bible”. No mention of God. You might be asked in an English class, ‘Who is the narrator of Moby Dick?’ The book is fiction and the author is unknown to you because long dead, but the question does have a factual answer. [“Call me Ishmael.”] If you answer, ‘Queegqueeg’ you’re wrong. What I’ve found is that many nominal Christians have the wrong answers about the Bible, whether or not it is fictional or written by God. Why should that be, when we’re all so erudite? [On this blog, anyway. :-)]
    “Some things happen. Some things do not. That’s the way it is.” Not according to the Bible. Isa 55:10,11 Many are exposed to the Christian message in the Bible, but most have their reasons for not considering it. Mt 13:18-23

  100. drewster2000 says:

    I second John’s comment. Some people possess themselves of two mouths and no hears.

  101. drewster2000 says:

    and…no ears. (grin)

  102. Doug says:

    John: ‘let the convo die’- and fewer scriptures to look up, anyway. Saves server space. :-)

  103. dee says:

    “the question of whether the Fall of Man story is or can be true in any sense” reminded me of Neo in the Matrix when he cannot yet believe he has been existing in a false reality.
    The fall is symbolically hidden in very simplistic terms there “All of what we see is not as we would like it” kind of thing. Irrespective of Man’s attempts to posit himself in the position of God though (a crucial aspect of his falleness), see it another way: the fact that Man is “created” alone would still mean that he needs the Uncreated source of Life and Creator. Man’s createdness is not the same as his falleness but your understanding of Christian doctrine seemed to ignore this.

  104. John Shores says:

    …the fact that Man is “created”…

    Again, I think that the use of the word “fact” here is misplaced. The best one can honestly manage is “supposition”.

    Faith and fact do not (from what I am reading among the contributors here) go hand in hand.

  105. John Shores says:

    Not according to the Bible…

    If we are discussing works of fiction then I propose we stop. There are far more interesting fictions than the Bible to discuss and this is not the place for it.

  106. dee says:

    John Shores,

    What we understand as the Fall of Man has many interesting nuances in Orthodoxy. The main one is no other than the way all of us seem to function: ‘having ‘ME’ as the point of reference, that fact is proof enough to me. However, I do understand that one would want to also experience the “opposite mode” of being to this fallen one- that of the Holy Trinity: (as the theologian Metropolitan John Zizioulas put it) “Being as Communion”… We need that opposite in order for us to have fallen from something. It does bring us back to our other conversations regarding the knowledge of God though!
    Zizioulas more or less explains Fall thus:
    Man was created to become the God-Man that would bring the union of the created with the Uncreated. But, Man, upon receiving this calling from God, decided to exercise his freedom in a negative manner, saying “No, I will not unite the created to the Uncreated! I will unite the created to myself.” This was the deeper meaning of the Scriptural passage in which Adam succumbs to the temptation to become like god. He thus transferred the focal point of reference of that union, from the Uncreated God to his own, created self. He deified himself. In other words, he rejected God; he said “No” to the God he had been given: “No, You are not a God for me, so, I shall create my own god, i.e., my own self. Everything shall therefore have me as a point of reference, instead of You.” This is the way that we portray the Fall of Man.

  107. dinoship says:

    John,
    the “supposition’s”

    “proof is not precisely “factual” in the literal/historical/cause-and-effect/what-you-see-is-all-there-is [lhcaewysiati for short] manner. “

    the “supposition” or “hypothesis” of Christ – the lamb slain from before time- is what the “opening of the scriptures” as described in the road to Emmaus in Luke is all about.
    Whether we call this faith or fact and the way we come to this knowledge or not was covered by Father Stehpen in one of his responses to you i thought.

  108. fatherstephen says:

    Doug,
    I don’t belittle the Scripture. But you don’t seem to understand the work of translation. A word means something in its language and may have no exact equivalent in another. And so, a translator does his best but it won’t be enough if he only chooses one word. The word “logos” (and derivatives such as “logikos”) in Greek has no equivalent in English. I can think of at least a dozen possible words no one of which is sufficient for some things. Instead, to understand a passage in which “logos” or “logikos” is a key word, many words will have to be used. Instead, you seem to think that tools are sufficient (they are “secondary” because the “primary” is an actual knowledge of Greek – the translators you cite obviously knew Greek and had to choose one word – but that doesn’t mean it will be enough for you to understand what the verse says).

    Instead, you have continued to make snide remarks concerning the blog and myself. Because I know something? Because I was willing to tell you that you don’t know it?

    You also seem to have a need to “witness” to John Shores – who is visiting well on the blog, asking questions, making observations, being a useful part of the community discussion. He has, I might add, heard pretty much everything a conservative Protestant can tell him about “what the Bible says.” If he wants to know that there are thousands of blogs out there for it. This is an Orthodox Christian blog (with visitors and participants of all types).

    But you already know all about us. You know Catholics and attack their prayers (speaking of belittling) and you don’t have a clue about Catholic prayer other than the same “hearsay” that Protestants have offered for centuries. Frankly, it’s tiresome, boring, and rude.

    If you have legitimate questions – not just set up’s for an agenda – you’re welcome to remain in the conversation. Otherwise, you’re welcome to leave the conversation. It’s a blog, not a public forum.

    Thanks for dropping by.

    Fr. Stephen

  109. Rhonda says:

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen! Tactful & eloquent as usual. I just wish that your comments had not been so necessary.

  110. John Shores says:

    Man was created to become the God-Man that would bring the union of the created with the Uncreated…

    If I seem at all indelicate or obtuse or in any way insincere, I apologize in advance.

    Here’s my issue. For thousands of years people had a notion that man was created as separate from and in dominion of the other creatures on the Earth. The idea was that man was somehow separate from the rest of the created beings in some form or fashion.

    DNA sequencing and other scientific disciplines have demonstrated that we are in fact biologically related to the other great apes. It has also been demonstrated that we share a common ancestor with these other apes as well as Neanderthals.

    My difficulty is this – we are animals with large frontal lobes and a greater capacity to reason than other animals (although Bonobos are pretty darned smart too).

    Additionally, every human behavior is also present in the other great apes.

    The point is that we are not as distinct from the rest of the animals on this planet as we have believed in the past. It is this incorrect belief that has given us a sense of superiority which has led, as far as I can tell, to that most human of traits – the need for an explanation. Hence we have proposed that “god created us in his image” among other theories.

    To my mind, making such a claim is in and of itself extremely arrogant. To add to it that we somehow defied the omnipotent god and “fell” is, from my point of view, the height of arrogance. That we can defy the almighty makes us powerful in and of ourselves.

    Rejecting this notion and considering the possibility that we are simply the current leaders in the evolutionary chain has been profoundly humbling to me. With no god to defy, I have no sense of rebellion about me. Rather, the overpowering realization that we, in our current state, hold such a weighty responsibility toward the other species on the planet has been terrifying in a way that I could not comprehend before.

    Does this make any sense? It is not that I reject god in the same sense as in the fall of man story as though I am willfully rejecting or rebelling against a deity but rather that by simply accepting the premise that there is no god what is left is not self-indulgence but rather self-abnegation. I feel infinitely small, not puffed up.

    The Christianity that I knew was deeply rooted in arrogance. Even “acts of humility” were quite frequently pride in a costume.

    I do not want to ruin this sense of wonder and smallness by introducing a god into the mix. Add god and you add some version of the Fall. But this is in direct conflict with everything we know about our evolutionary history. It is impossible that there was ever a time when we were not animals with certain basic behaviors, desires and traits that some call the “sin nature.” There was no perfect state of being from which we could have fallen.

    I hope you understand my difficulty. From my perspective, accepting any religion or philosophy that denies who and what we are is the only “fall” that I can think of, if that religion or philosophy causes us to put on the mantle of pride that it surely must.

  111. John Shores says:

    BTW – The costumes, icons, golden chalices, etc that are part of the liturgy are a difficulty to me. Even when I was in a semi-liturgical communion, the procession and garb etc. had an air of trying too hard. Then again, I think there is more glory and beauty in the face of an infant that is contained in the entire Louvre.

    I find more glory in the wild grasses, flowers, trees and boulders of the surrounding mountains than in all these manufactured items. If ever I find myself in a church again, I would be most comfortable in one that uses nature to demonstrate god’s glory.

  112. Rhonda says:

    John Shores:

    If ever I find myself in a church again, I would be most comfortable in one that uses nature to demonstrate god’s glory.

    Ask & ye shall receive ;-) Check out this one!

    http://glory2godforallthings.com/2012/06/02/the-trees-of-pentecost/

  113. dinoship says:

    John,

    “The Christianity that I knew was deeply rooted in arrogance. Even “acts of humility” were quite frequently pride in a costume.”

    It sounds to me though, that the agnosticism you now know is “man’s self-centredness clothed in his inevitable smallness”…

    “we have proposed that “god created us in his image” among other theories”.

    I do not see this as something “we proposed”, but as God’s direct revelation, (for reason’s have been explained here already before.)
    If we have proposed something it could well be this:

    “DNA sequencing and other scientific disciplines have demonstrated that we are in fact biologically related to the other great apes. It has also been demonstrated that we share a common ancestor”

    Why should man assume that our relation – no matter how close- to primates MUST be an indication of our ‘godless evolution’ from them..?
    There is a massive difference between science facts and science theory that tries to make some sense of those facts. The fact that a great deal of the scientists that you believe (possibly with a great deal less scepticism than the living witnesses of God), put theories together with the axiomatic presupposition that they must not have God in that equation, speaks volumes…
    p.s.: The chief scientist in those circles, Francis Collins, head of the Genome project, is however a firm believer in God, writer of the Language of God

  114. dinoship says:

    John Shores,
    As far an “evolution-accepting” possibility of faith, Darwin himself stated that:

    “the extreme difficulty, or rather the impossibility, of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity for looking far backwards and far into the futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist.”

    (C.R.Darwin, quoted in Kenneth R Miller, ‘Finding Darwin’s God’)
    However, I really would not want to follow this reasoning approach you here propose…
    Orthodoxy knows a God revealed in Christ and has a completely different – infinitely more “secure”- starting point than ‘reasoning’ to belief.
    Then again, we are back to the fact that: one must live like a saint first though, -at least to a small degree of becoming “like child”- including one’s ‘Ecclesi-isation” (even including costumes etc…) to have that undeniable experience of personal revelation I guess.

  115. Eleftheria says:

    Another phenomenal article, Fr. Stephen!

    To John Shores,
    The questions you ask are deep indeed; but they have been answered by Fr. Seraphim Rose in “Genesis, Creation and Early Man”. Just like the gerondes in Greece and Cyprus explain Scripture verse by verse and use the Holy Fathers as well as Scripture itself, so does Fr. Seraphim Rose explain Genesis. Get your hands on it; it will explain much!

    In Christ,
    Eleftheria

  116. PJ says:

    John,

    “So, god became a man to throw himself on a grenade? I don’t see the similarities. If a grenade is thrown among soldiers, that is hardly the same thing as knowingly leading your soldiers into a grenade factory that you created.”

    It’s not a perfect analogy, but it proves that human sacrifice — the voluntary sort — is not categorically evil, as you suggested.

    That said, your own analogy is much more flawed than my own vis-a-vis . God did not lead us into death and sin. We created our own misery. Nonetheless, God in His great love chose to save us by destroying sin and death through humility, self-offering, and charity, thus proving that “love is stronger than death.”

    “If the story is true, he set up the conditions of the whole human experiment and as the ultimate power has the ultimate responsibility for how it played out. All this mess is therefore according to his will, however you slice it. I’m just a conscientious objector to the whole notion.”

    We were created for love. Love is only possible if it is freely given, freely received. But freedom carries with it risks: It may be abused. Man abused — and continues to abuse — his precious freedom. This is not the will of God. He does everything short of robbing us of our freedom. That He will not do, for it would mean robbing us of the chance of love. There is no coercion in God, as Barnabas wrote in the 1st century.

    “Again, reconciliation by its very nature does not require a sacrifice. If two are at odds, it takes forgiveness on the part of one or both. Again, that is an act of the will that requires no prerequisites except a charitable intent.”

    I’d strongly disagree with you. I think reconciliation always require sacrifice. Even the most ordinary, everyday sort of reconciliation requires the “sacrifice” of one’s ego, one’s desire to be right or to hold something over another person’s head.

    Where there isn’t sacrifice, there isn’t peace, and there certainly is not love. I sacrifice for my wife everyday, as she sacrifices for me. Were we to stop this dynamic of mutual submission, our relationship would surely fall apart.

    “By that rationale, he ought to have lovingly submitted himself to be raped in order to end rape. That makes no sense to me.”

    It’s the same logic of non-violent disobedience. Consider the civil rights protestors who allowed themselves to be beaten in Selma. They didn’t raise so much as a fist in anger. Through this peaceful submission, they exposed and condemned the very system that did them violence. They triumphed through meekness and mildness. They conquered evil through goodness.

    Christ died on a cross, but His self-offering destroys and overcomes all violence and evil, including rape. He is eternally in solidarity with all who suffer, all who are violated, all who are coerced, all who are condemned, all who are tormented, all who are persecuted, all who are in pain. He has furthermore forever shamed the wicked by going unto His death — death on a cross — in perfect charity. He loved until the end, and so love defeated hatred.

    I know that you have learned to see the cross a certain way. But please try — you must try! — to get a new perspective.

    You have to understand that up until the advent of Christianity, sacrifice — both human and animal — was all pervasive. The world ran red with the blood of sacrifices. Part of the reason why the Christian gospel was so revolutionary and radical was because it proclaimed the end of sacrifices. God, proclaimed the Christians, is not sated with the fat of goats, nor the flesh of infants. He wants rather contrite and broken hearts; He wants faith, hope, and love; He wants thanksgiving and humility; He wants the perfect, charitable obedience that produces communion. The death of Christ on the cross was the ultimate rebuke to pagan bloodlust!

  117. PJ says:

    “BTW – The costumes, icons, golden chalices, etc that are part of the liturgy are a difficulty to me. Even when I was in a semi-liturgical communion, the procession and garb etc. had an air of trying too hard.”

    It is all absurd pageantry apart from the Holy Spirit, which is often the case, sadly.

    However, you might have been uneasy because you — and/or your church — lack a robust understanding of the world as sacrament. The fact that you call priestly vestments “costumes” suggests as much. This is the reason why many Catholics have all but abandoned liturgy: The understanding of sacramental reality is utterly lacking. Thus the Mass becomes a play or game or some such triviality (“costumes”).

  118. Michael Bauman says:

    Having spent a good number of years working in theatrical productions I’d like to make a comment on costumes. Even in ordinary theater costumes are used to set the actors apart from the audience and, more importantly, to help the actors adopt the character and communicate to the audience. Vestments do the same thing on a much higher plane and more besides.

    The priest does not just ‘throw on’ his vestments. There are prayers that are said as he does do. The act of vesting is a preparation for entering into the presence of God to receive the heavenly mysteries. Vestments, despite their origin the the Byzantine court are living symbols of the glory of God when they are a part of the sacramental reality.

    They are not, I suppose, not absolutely ‘necessary’ but neither are the 10-20 thousand species of spiders. God is not a God of the minimal and the necessary. That is why reason alone is insufficient to experience Him.

    Even many Protestant preachers have what they call their ‘preaching suit’. What is that but a vestment. It is in our hearts to vest as a form and symbol of putting on the glory of God.

  119. fatherstephen says:

    John Shores,
    The treatment of Genesis varies a fair amount in the early fathers, from a fairly literalistic to a highly allegorical approach. Nothing makes one more Christian than the other. I do not think there need be any issues with science in the matter of “how” we came to be. The fact that I share a large portion of DNA with an earth worm, etc., does not trouble me. The account of “took dust of the earth and formed” in Genesis is highly poetical.

    What I take from early Genesis (not exhaustive list):
    1. God created all that exists out of nothing – i.e. created existence is contingent
    2. There is an order, the universe is not just random – or its randomness is ordered
    3. The ordering of creation has a Paschal shape (the meaning of the 7 days)
    4. Man is a microcosm of creation – the point at which creation and creator can and will unite (in His image).

    There’s much more – but that’s enough at the moment. When it comes to understanding “history” in all of this – it’s more or less a useless exercise. “History” (as in space-time “facts”) is very difficult to ever truly ascertain. I think that concerns about “history” are an artifact of a false world-view (that of modern secularity and its religious minions). I do not think it is correct to say that God “reveals” history. There is plenty of history in the Scriptures – that’s not the question. But to assert that God “reveals” historical facts that we would not otherwise know has many problems. Why would God do that? He would only do so if the knowledge of such historical facts was somehow necessary to our salvation – and I do not think this to be the case.

    Before anyone gets all nervous, I have no doubts about the historical nature of Christ’s resurrection. The witness to that are the eye-witness accounts of the disciples. I think its historical character is indeed necessary for our salvation.

    Another point worth noting: The patristic treatment of the relation between God and creation can have very subtle points, especially when reading the fathers who write from a strong “apophatic” approach. They would recognize that God’s role as “cause” in creation is largely if not completely hidden. He “causelessly causes.” This means that seeing God’s causation is itself something of a revelation, something revealed to the pure in heart, rather than a rational data point.

    I find it spiritually very disturbing that matters such as creation have become a point of easy debate in which Christians (even Orthodox Christians) take up positions that are “rationally” derived (actually they are generally only derived opinions rather than true rational ideas) based on various criteria (much of which is dubious). These are very deep matters and we argue about them with great ease. Most Christian conversation on the topic is deeply delusional. It is delusional in that these opinions are held in the mind and are simply points for debate, judging, etc. They get angry, defensive even schismatic.

    John, the approach of meditating with wonder on DNA is much closer to the fathers than the defensive assertions about Genesis that many Christians engage in. More wonder, less deciding or tying things up neatly with a bow, would be of more benefit to the soul.

    There is a marked nervousness among many Christians with regard to a “historical fall.” They want (or need) an account of the world in which we can point to the fall as an historical moment. I’ve been told before that if there is no such historical moment, then Christ’s death and resurrection need not have occurred. This puts the cart before the horse.

    I start with Christ’s death and resurrection. His death and resurrection is not the answer to a theological puzzle. It is the whole puzzle. We are fallen – that I can see. We die. There is an inner corruption that is marked by our alienation from God. But I would not have known the fall except for its cure. The OT never mentions Adam’s fall, outside of the early chapters of Genesis. For whatever reason, that story does not seem theologically compelling or even interesting to ancient Israel. It is Christ’s death and resurrection, and St. Paul’s treatment of it, that brings the fall back to the main stage. But we need to see that in the order in which it occurs. It’s is Christ’s death and resurrection that raises the question that makes the story of the fall interesting again. We should not get it backwards.

    Many people, getting it backwards, have created a historical narrative (not unlike the various narratives of the false self) in which Christ’s death and resurrection is simply one point among a lot of other data points to make up the logical chain of our salvation. It is these false narratives that drive a kind of fundamentalism and anxiety about historical things. Thus, I’ve heard a very prominent Orthodox theologian attacked as a “heretic” because he was heard to say that he didn’t think Adam and Eve were literal characters. He would not be alone among the fathers to think so. But some young Orthodox Christian, guarding the historical narrative as though it were the Orthodox deposit of faith, attacks an Archpriest as a heretic. Reading that vociferous attack made me duck my own head. But I’m getting too old to worry about such things. Even the young need to be taught good theology. I will add that many, many clergy as well, have this same backwards approach in which a created historical narrative is driving their theology rather than a true spiritual perception of the Scriptures and the fathers.

    Fr. John Behr’s book The Mystery of Christ, is deeply refreshing because it tackles some aspects of this problem and demonstrates the importance of not doing all of this in a “backwards” manner. I recommend it.

    Well, I’ve laid that out now and I hope that’s helpful. I also hope I have not scandalized too many of my readers.

  120. Rhonda says:

    “…scandalized…”?? Not by a long shot! A mini-blog within a blog. Thank you for laying this out as I inevitably hit a wall when it comes to this mindset of salvation held by so many.

  121. dinoship says:

    Father,

    I, too have heard of that very prominent Orthodox theologian attacked as a “heretic” because he was heard to say that he didn’t think Adam and Eve were literal characters…

    I am deeply gladdened by your clear exposition of this here (this and not the positions of the self-appointed ‘guardians of Orthodoxy’ attacking the said Archpriest, is true Orthodoxy):

    “I’ve been told before that if there is no such historical moment, then Christ’s death and resurrection need not have occurred. This puts the cart before the horse.

    I start with Christ’s death and resurrection. His death and resurrection is not the answer to a theological puzzle. It is the whole puzzle. We are fallen – that I can see. We die. There is an inner corruption that is marked by our alienation from God. But I would not have known the fall except for its cure. “

  122. fatherstephen says:

    Marc, Would to God that I were of no earthly good.

    There is no fault in a truly intense study of natural and human history. I dare say that few who visit this site have read more history than I have – I love it. But we should love history and love nature and not come to them with false narratives that force things to be either what they are not, or insist, a priori, that they be something that fits with a narrative of history or science. It makes for bad history and bad science.

    But because I understand that Christ’s death and resurrection (in history) have also shattered history (and science), I have nothing to fear from any of it. Do please notice, that I have not attacked history or science. I have attacked a false historical (or scientific) narrative. It’s a very different thing. I may be suggesting far more earthly good than you see.

  123. PJ says:

    Father,

    Which fathers deny that all men are descended from Adam and Eve? I’m not saying there aren’t any — I’ve just had difficulty finding them.

    It seems that even those who employ allegory do so *in addition* to a literal reading. It’s totally natural for the ancient fathers to have accepted the notion of two first parents without qualification. They had only the most rudimentary understanding of biology and no understanding whatsoever of evolution. You can’t fault them. Also, the genre of Genesis is not easy to discern.

  124. John Shores says:

    Dinoship:

    Darwin himself stated that…

    This is a vast chasm between “intelligent design” and discerning the designer. If one begins with the Christian proposition, everything in the Christian doctrine that follows makes a kind of sense. This is aptly answered by Fr. Stephen’s comment

    seeing God’s causation is itself something of a revelation, something revealed to the pure in heart, rather than a rational data point.

    so I think we’re on the same page here.

    PJ:

    But please try — you must try! — to get a new perspective.

    It’s the red pill/blue pill choice. I don’t know how I can get a new perspective without taking the red pill.

    up until the advent of Christianity, sacrifice — both human and animal — was all pervasive.

    I’d have an easier time of accepting this except that the same god went into great detail with Moses as to what all the different sacrifices should be. It seems to me that he has no problem whatsoever with sacrifice, human or otherwise. Indeed, killing people off seems rather a favorite hobby of his all throughout the OT.

    Fr. Stephen:

    I find it spiritually very disturbing that matters such as creation have become a point of easy debate in which Christians take up positions

    As do I. To my mind, the creation story is all but irrelevant. Clearly the Earth was not created before the sun and stars as Genesis outlines. What does matter to me is this idea that humans fell from some perfect state. If there was some evidence that we were in fact separate from any other animal, I would find it easier to accept the premise (then again, someone would come along and suggest that we were not from this planet after all….). But the fact that we are related and that we exhibit the same behaviors, the fact that there is morality among other primates (and dogs, elephants and other animals) leaves even less distinction between us and them than we once supposed.

    I’ve been told before that if there is no such historical moment, then Christ’s death and resurrection need not have occurred.

    This was the conclusion that I drew after much agony and questioning.

    The OT never mentions Adam’s fall, outside of the early chapters of Genesis.

    True. And Judaism gives it very little importance even today (I grilled a Rabbi about this when I was going through my deconversion process). This is why I came to the conclusion that Christianity cannot stand without the Fall of Man story. Everything is predicated on it. Without the Fall story, none of Christianity makes sense.

    As I told Doug, I have try at every opportunity to filter issues down to their bare essentials. In my mind, the Fall and the Cross are the only two issues that need to be examined. Everything else is peripheral. To remove one or the other would be to have a Yang with no Yin.

    It’s is Christ’s death and resurrection that raises the question that makes the story of the fall interesting again.

    Exactly. So, it begs the question that I originally posed; is or can the Fall story be true? If not, is it possible that this “fallenness” that we feel is actually simply awareness that some of our base instincts are not compatible with the needs to build a human society? That is, is there a biological explanation for how we feel? I think this is a distinct possibility.

  125. dinoship says:

    John,
    indeed there is a vast difference between intelligent design and theistic evolution.

    The pill analogy is very pertinent!

    My ‘Falls’, your ‘falls’, Adam’s ‘fall’ as well as “All of Universal Adam’s” “Fall” is when we choose, as only someone bestowed with this freedom of choice that we are given, “Me” instead of “Him”, “myself” instead of the “Other”. The reverse is what Christ does on the Cross and eternally. Total love vs total egotism is at the root of this. This is far more more than simply:
    “is or can the Fall story be true?”

  126. Michael Patrick says:

    PJ, I hope this isn’t offensive; it’s not meant to be: Your arguments about scripture and sacrifice could be read as Protestant or RC. In their premises I can discern no difference.

  127. PJ says:

    John,

    “I’d have an easier time of accepting this except that the same god went into great detail with Moses as to what all the different sacrifices should be.”

    Sacrifice is not in and of itself wrong. It can even be good, when done for the right motives. Indeed, as I said, there is no love apart from sacrifice.

    But the pagan world fundamentally misunderstood the meaning and nature and purpose of sacrifice. Yes, both the Jews and the pagans offered oblations to heaven, but the logic behind the two systems could not have been more different.

    Originally, the difference was not so clear, but it becomes increasingly evident as the coming of the Word grows near. Salvation history is a process of progressive revelation. Remember, God was dealing with violent, ignorant, self-centered little bags of flesh and bone. He revealed Himself slowly.

    The critiques of the sacrificial system found in the prophets and the psalms hints at what is to come. Similar critiques cropped up in other parts of the world around the same time, for there are seeds of truth everywhere. God was preparing all mankind for the arrival of His Word, albeit Israel in a special way.

    “It seems to me that he has no problem whatsoever with sacrifice, human or otherwise. Indeed, killing people off seems rather a favorite hobby of his all throughout the OT.”

    This sort of juvenile commentary is crude and beneath you. I expect it on dark corners of the internet, but not here. I won’t even dignify this with a response.

    I will say that I’ve never truly understood the beauty and charity of God’s old covenant, nor His salvific economy prior to the incarnation, until I read the Stromata of Clement of Alexandria. But there are many other competent expositions of and apologies for the “God in the OT,” many of which are on this site.

    If you aren’t convinced, fine, but why come among devout Christians and say that their God has a penchant for murder? That’s simply rude. You’re better than that.

  128. PJ says:

    I don’t know what you mean by that, Michael.

  129. PJ says:

    I’m certainly not an adherent of Sola Scriptura, and my interpretation is heavily influenced by the fathers, so I’m surprised to hear anyone say as much.

  130. PJ says:

    Bleh … Don’t mean to be overly abrasive, John. Sort of rough day thus far. Nonetheless, I’m surprised of your choice of words!!

  131. John Shores says:

    Sacrifice is not in and of itself wrong. It can even be good, when done for the right motives.

    This is where you and I differ. If you were my best friend and you had an affair with my wife and then came to me wanting to reconcile, if my wish was to reconcile as well I would not say, “I will forgive you if you kill your dog.” I wouldn’t expect you to kill anything. There is no motive for bloody sacrifice that I can accept as remotely reasonable for the forgiveness of sins.

    Salvation history is a process of progressive revelation.

    I think Fr. Stephen would disagree with you on this.

    God was dealing with violent, ignorant, self-centered little bags of flesh and bone.

    If you are suggesting that we are in any way different from the people of that time, I would beg to differ. With the exception that we have more data than they, I don’t think human nature has changed an ounce in the last 30,000 years.

    This sort of juvenile commentary is crude and beneath you…why come among devout Christians and say that their God has a penchant for murder?

    Wow, you are in a foul mood today. I doubt anyone here would deny that there are some very ugly things in the OT that are hard to reconcile. I am simply pointing out that god, for whatever reasons, does not seem to be bothered by causing death and destruction of humans or animals.

    Please don’t tell me that any Christian is shocked that someone who is seeking god is horrified by these things. Indeed, I think you would be hard-pressed to find any Christian who is not initially mortified by god’s reported actions in the OT. If any have taken offense, I apologize.

    But none of this really matters. As I have stated, the only two issues that matter at the outset are the Fall and the Cross. All the rest is immaterial until those are settled.

  132. fatherstephen says:

    Marc,
    “Delusion” is perhaps too strong. I take your point. Thanks!

  133. PJ says:

    “This is where you and I differ. If you were my best friend and you had an affair with my wife and then came to me wanting to reconcile, if my wish was to reconcile as well I would not say, “I will forgive you if you kill your dog.” I wouldn’t expect you to kill anything. There is no motive for bloody sacrifice that I can accept as remotely reasonable for the forgiveness of sins.”

    You would indeed need to offer up sacrifices, just spiritual ones. You would have to let go of your anger, your pain, your hurt. You’d have to put to death your wounded ego.

    “If you are suggesting that we are in any way different from the people of that time, I would beg to differ. With the exception that we have more data than they, I don’t think human nature has changed an ounce in the last 30,000 years.”

    Our behavior has changed, I think, and for the better. There’s still plenty of wickedness in the heart of man, but there has been progress in morals in certain important realms (though regression in others). This change is, sadly, pretty superficial, and can easily evaporate, as evidenced by, Dachau or Auschwitz.

    As for your distaste for blood sacrifice to a wrathful deity: I agree with you! But this is precisely why I embrace the cross. It is the greatest condemnation of that mentality and those practices to have ever existed.

    “I think Fr. Stephen would disagree with you on this.”

    I don’t know about this. Perhaps he can tell us.

    “Foul mood…”

    Oh, bah, I know I am … believe me. I apologize again for being abrasive. Nonetheless, you should consider that your words have power — for good and ill. We all know there are “dark passages” in the Bible that are difficult to understand, but to say sarcastically “God has a hobby for killing people” is rather needlessly provocative. This is the same God we love, mind you. There’s just no need to speak like that. I think that Allah is contemptible in many ways, but I wouldn’t go into a mosque and say as much.

  134. dinoship says:

    John,

    “If you were my best friend and you had an affair with my wife and then came to me wanting to reconcile, if my wish was to reconcile as well I would not say, “I will forgive you if you kill your dog.” I wouldn’t expect you to kill anything. There is no motive for bloody sacrifice that I can accept as remotely reasonable for the forgiveness of sins.

    Shows to me a completely different angle of understanding, one that would not even occur to an Orthodox thinker, but maybe that is a Protestant understanding?
    The need for sacrifice is not in you -the offended one- it is in the one who loves you.
    In the case of Christ, as well as the Saints, they desire sacrifice – to be sacrificed out of love. Check out Saint Ignatius’s words before his martyrdom!

  135. fatherstephen says:

    John Shores:

    I said:

    I’ve been told before that if there is no such historical moment, then Christ’s death and resurrection need not have occurred.

    And you said:
    This was the conclusion that I drew after much agony and questioning.

    Yes. And this drives my point. We’ve been “trained” in our cultural take on Christianity (given us by many teachers) to take the historical path, which, of course, always starts at the beginning. It creates a logic chain and a historical narrative that even feels “necessary.” But in Orthodoxy, as noted in the writings of Fr. Behr, we properly begin with Pascha. Adam is not important to the “narrative” of the OT. It is Christ’s resurrection that makes it interesting. But, I think, it doesn’t have to make it historical. St. Paul uses Adam in a very rabbinical manner – not that he didn’t see all this in a historical manner – but he sees it as “rabbinical” history – which is slightly different than the way we think at present. Thus he feels very free with typology and allegory and all the rabbinical tools he can muster to make his point.

    But by buying the historical narrative (as necessity) we make Pascha hold a place within something else. Pascha is greater than all things. St. Paul’s conversion is at the hand of the risen Lord. I suspect he’d never thought much about Adam until becoming a Christian – it wasn’t important in Judaism. But it becomes important. Just like he came to a new understanding of circumcision. And a new understanding of Hagar and Ishmael, for example. Christ changes the story that precedes Him, because He is the story. I know that many will not understand me when I say that Genesis is about Christ and His Pascha, and not secondarily. That is the Christian “narrative.”

    The greater consensus of the Eastern Fathers does not see the fall as a fall from perfect, but a deviation from a path. It is a very different thing.

  136. PJ says:

    ” Indeed, I think you would be hard-pressed to find any Christian who is not initially mortified by god’s reported actions in the OT.”

    There are a few situations in the OT (and even a few in the NT!) that I find … difficult. Perhaps some of these events did not actually occur. But if they did, then I trust God acted out of mercy, for He is all good, all compassionate, as His most decisive self-manifestation (Christ) makes clear. What appears awful and tragic to creatures like us, trapped in the confines of time and space, may really be wonderful in context of eternity.

  137. PJ says:

    Good point, Dino. It’s interesting that, in John’s scenario, he assumed that sacrifice would be necessary from the offender, rather than the offended. On the other hand, I assumed that the one who would have to offer up sacrifices would be the one who is “rightfully” offended.

  138. dinoship says:

    John,

    BTW, The red pill/ blue pill analogy is very pertinent in your case methinks! Maybe in all of us!

    My ‘Falls’, your ‘falls’, Adam’s ‘fall’ as well as The “Universal Adam’s” “Fall” is when, in the simplest of terms, we choose, (as only someone bestowed with this freedom of choice that we are given can), “Me” instead of “Him”, “myself” instead of the “Other”. The reverse is what Christ does on the Cross and eternally… Total love vs total egotism is at the root of this. This is far more more than simply:

    “is or can the Fall story be true?”

  139. dinoship says:

    John,
    BTW, The red pill/ blue pill analogy is very pertinent in your case methinks! Maybe in all of us!

  140. dinoship says:

    John Shores,

    let me try re-posting a small part of this (as I cannot get it to work again):

    My ‘Falls’, your ‘falls’, Adam’s ‘fall’ as well as The “Universal Adam’s” “Fall” is when, in the simplest of terms, we choose, (as only someone bestowed with this freedom of choice that we are given can), “Me” instead of “Him”, “myself” instead of the “Other”. The reverse is what Christ does on the Cross and eternally… Total love vs total egotism is at the root of this. This is far more more than simply:

    “is or can the Fall story be true?”

  141. PJ says:

    Many of the fathers, following the custom of Greek philosophy, labelled man a sort of animal. Gregory Nazianzen said “Man is an animal called to become a god.” Scripture itself says that we are made of clay. Every Ash Wednesday, the priest reminds us, “Remember that from dust you came, and to dust you shall return.”

    There is a definite strain within Christianity that is rather sober — even contemptuous — about the origins of man, although it seems that the prelapsarian state was increasingly glorified and idealized throughout modernity, perhaps as a sort of religious counterpart to Rousseau’s “noble savage.” Hmm…

  142. dinoship says:

    PJ,
    an important point concerning the prelapsarian state especially in Maximus the confessor is that he always reiterates that Man fell “as soon as he was made” (“ἅμα τῷ γίγνεσθαι”)
    There is considerable variation on the subject though.

  143. John Shores says:

    You would indeed need to offer up sacrifices, just spiritual ones. You would have to let go of your anger, your pain, your hurt. You’d have to put to death your wounded ego.

    You make my case. No blood involved.

    I think that Allah is contemptible in many ways, but I wouldn’t go into a mosque and say as much.

    Unless you had a death wish.

    Perhaps some of these events did not actually occur.

    Oh, please don’t say that to me! If we are going to revert to “some of this is fiction” then the whole of it crumbles.

    they desire sacrifice – to be sacrificed out of love

    Attaining to god, as many of the martyrs expressed this need for sacrifice, is not the same as the sacrifice of Christ.

  144. PJ says:

    John,

    “You make my case. No blood involved.”

    Right. Agreed. But this is not the case with every sacrifice. As I said, St. Maximilian Kolbe’s sacrifice was “bloody.” He willingly took the place of Franciszek Gajowniczek at Auschwitz and, after having been starved for fourteen days, was killed by injection of carbolic acid.

    On Calvary, Christ “loved until the end.” He united Himself in mystical solidarity with all who suffer — even those who suffer unto death. The cross cries out: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

    The cross — and the resurrection, for they cannot be separated — proclaims “love is stronger than death.” Having suffered on that torturous gibbet, Christ declares eternally, “I have overcome hatred with charity; wickedness with forgiveness; rage with humility.” And rising from the tomb, having proven the power of absolute self-giving love, agape, He announces, “Life has vanquished death.”

    I used to loathe the cross, too. I despised it, thought it wretched. This is natural. Paul himself admits as much: “The message of the cross is foolishness.” Yes, the foolishness of dying to self: the foolishness of pure love, which condemns the powerful and corrupt, the self-satisfied and self-absorbed. “God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”

    I hope this gives you a different perspective on the tree of life. Christ’s is stretched out on the cross because that’s what love does: It tears us apart for the sake of the other.

    “Oh, please don’t say that to me! If we are going to revert to “some of this is fiction” then the whole of it crumbles.”

    That’s a point of view. Not a very sensible one to my mind, but certainly very common in America, this heartland of Protestant fundamentalism, this veritable breeding ground of heresy.

  145. Michael Patrick says:

    Doug, I hope your heavy-handed trespass evangelism will end by some means. Best by you learning to dialog, but if not, I hope Fr. Stephen will filter your posts. Either way, may you be blessed.

  146. PJ says:

    “But the same book- myth or not- shows that when he sees an offense he always (1) sets a suitable punishment”

    Really? This is what you take away from the Bible? That we suffer the suitable punishment for our sins? Seems to me that we receive precisely what we *do not* deserve: we have earned death yet we receive abundant life — indeed, participation in the divine nature.

  147. PJ says:

    John,

    I just went on Netflix and, strangely enough, it suggested a film called “Sacrifice.” Heh…

  148. dinoship says:

    Doug,
    just like me, you too seem to (hotly, like me) think that our “comments are meant to defend God’s word against adulterators and his kingdom against the traditions of men.”
    But, truth be told, God’s word doesn’t need our defence of it but our application of it; on us; not on others.
    Some of the most sublime theologians (e.g: Origen) went astray wanting to “defend the truth” (and that potentiality always scares me and it should at least make all of us more tempered and careful). The true disciples and saints did not want to defend the Truth… They wanted to live the Truth.

  149. PJ says:

    Tell me a little more about your diagnosis of Origen, Dino.

  150. John Shores says:

    Doug: My only problem with the death penalty is that it isn’t used enough. I apologize if I made you think otherwise.

  151. dinoship says:

    PJ,
    I cannot call this my diagnosis, but I fully adhere to it, it is my spiritual ‘Grandfather’s’, Elder Aimilianos’ words (my quick translation):

    “How did Origen who had such a great wisdom and acted from a truly good heart and was motivated by love of the Church fall into grave mistakes?
    He lacked humility. He wanted to speak the truth. God’s servant does not want to speak the truth, he wants to live the truth, to live out humility. All who express “the truth”, their theological opinion, those who want to be ‘correct’, they are the ones who err, and one day they will hear from the Lord: “I know not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.” Origen was the first to make a ‘system of theology’, the first who thought of expressing, not himself, but the faith of the Holy Church. But the Fathers of the Church and the monastics lived the faith, they did not proclaim it. Living the faith they proclaimed and testified the faith…
    He, in the end, offered death to the Church, even though he was sublime and truly mystical. The great Fathers of the Church used his writings without usually stating they were his.”
    (from “Neptic life and Ascetic Canons” by Elder Aimilianos of Simonpetra)

  152. PJ says:

    Interesting. For his various strange ideas, I’m loathe to speak poorly of Origen, if only because he ran the race until the end — the bloody end. Who am I, who can barely murmur the Gospel when need be, to speak badly of a martyr? Nonetheless, interesting stuff.

  153. PJ says:

    ” It has been refreshing to me and like water to my soul. ”

    …the waters of the Jordan…?

  154. PJ says:

    John,

    “Rather, the overpowering realization that we, in our current state, hold such a weighty responsibility toward the other species on the planet has been terrifying in a way that I could not comprehend before.”

    This sense of “obligation” toward other species actually runs throughout Christian thought. We are reasonable creatures and thus, as part of our priestly duty, we are called to “speak for” all creation; to offer up with the cries of our own heart the very groaning of creation. Thus the forth eucharistic prayer states, “We shall sing Your glory with every creature through Christ our Lord.”

  155. fatherstephen says:

    A note to all. I’ve removed some of the last bits of conversation with Doug. His comments are a distraction and very far beside the point. Thank you for your patience. I have to “come and go” when moderating – doing my other work…

    I also apologize that some (Dinoship especially) have had trouble with the Akismet Spam filter. I’m checking it regularly. Supposedly, when I tell it that something is “not spam” it’s supposed to learn from the mistake.

    Thus, my suggestion is to post once, and if it gets caught in the Spam thingy, I’ll free it. If you re-post I still free it, but then I have to delete the repeated stuff, and maybe the filter isn’t “learning” as it should. I’ll try to be on top of things for a few days.

    On Tuesday of next week I will be traveling in the Western US, speaking at a couple of places and will be more sporadic for a week in posting and moderating. I beseech your patience.

  156. fatherstephen says:

    BTW, does anyone know what the OP was that Doug was alluding to? Did he mean the “Orthodox Presbyterians”? If so, if was more clueless than I thought.

  157. PJ says:

    “Orthodox Priest,” I think.

  158. Brian Van Sickle says:

    Maybe I’m clueless (no surprise there), but it seems to me that John Shore’s essential question still stands unanswered whether the answer begins with Christ’s Pascha or with Adam.

    Is it a “necessity” (and I would appreciate hearing the thoughts of others) that the answer of the Orthodox to this question be framed in a manner that is either historical or allegorical? Can it not be both/and? While Orthodox Christians would agree that everything begins and ends with Christ and that even Biblical historical narratives are not to be understood quite as literally as we would understand the historical narratives of today, I’m not so sure we can take the liberty of dismissing the essential, actual history and reality of the lives of the persons in the narrative in our effort to give proper preeminence to the Truth that transcends history.

    Isn’t it possible that the narrative speaks of real people having real experiences that are prophetic of Christ, which is to say that their very lives prophesied of Christ and His enemies (whether they realized it or not) just as we do now (whether we realize it or not)? To say that Adam and Eve, for example, were types of something much larger than their individual lives may be to affirm the significance of their personhood rather than to deny the reality of their existence or to say that their existence as persons is insignificant to the narrative. The same may be said of the story of Joseph and his brothers, Moses, David, all the prophets, and indeed all the persons in Scripture. In like manner, the Theotokos is a person whose significance extends far beyond her individual historical existence. Do we not venerate as Saints those who also participated (and participate still) in the narrative (“By faith Abraham…by faith Moses”)? Was not Mary visited by the Gabriel “in the days of Herod, the king of Judea?” And was not our Lord born when “…a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered?” Was not our Lord “crucified under Pontius Pilot?”

    Perhaps I misunderstand (again, no surprise), but the either/or approach has always puzzled me for this reason:

    Isn’t what was said above also true of our very real lives, the significance of which extends far beyond our individual, historical existence (which no one denies)? Isn’t it true that our personhood matters, that we are not merely incidental to a larger, more important story? Isn’t it true that in Christ we are that story – a narrative that truly exists within history while also transcending history?

    I am unable to express fully my intuitive sense that all these thoughts have reference to the Incarnation and that they somehow relate to John Shore’s essential question.

    Thoughts anyone?

  159. Rhonda says:

    Time is a pernicious & difficult concept even though we are so intricately linked with it. We are born on date A, we die on date Z & we quantify the amount of time in between. We forget that time too is linked to the creation of all that is. We forget that God is eternal…timeless…beyond time…even beyond all of our futile & vague concepts of time.

    Timelines are fine when they are understood correctly. When we “require” a timeline, or the “literal/historical/cause-and-effect/what-you-see-is-all-there-is [lhcaewysiati for short]” we quickly get into trouble theologically because we inevitably superimpose time onto God. The creation is contingent (subject to time); God & His divine economy of salvation is not (remember the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world). We need God because we also are contingent; God does not need us (or anything part of creation) because he is eternal.

    We do not need a literal historical “fall” story to know that mankind is fallen (i.e. sick with a disease called sin that results in death). We do not need a “creation” story to know that God created everything & that mankind is in essence (by nature) above the animals & the rest of the created order. Our experiences, reason & even the sciences tell us this. Perhaps the stories were written in order to narrate what we already knew, perhaps the stories were literal historical events, it really does not matter where God & salvation is concerned.

    Perhaps an example from our own worldview that those who have raised children will fully understand: Remember the “terrible two’s”? When our children are 2-3 year olds & throwing their temper tantrums when they don’t get their way, we do not call it sin nor do we declare them to be guilty of sin. They are acting according to their fallen nature. We call them immature children & strive to raise them up to be mature adults. For children raised in the Orthodox Church where the mystery of Confession is practiced, children are not required to participate in Confession until they mature enough to understand their good/bad conduct at least on a rudimentary level, usually around age 7. Some children are ready at this age, some are not, & some are ready before this age. There is no “instant” (historical data point in time) to which this “culpability/understanding” can be absolutely & definitively determined, nor does there need to be in order for this to be “determinable”.

    Just as loving & wise parents know when their children are culpable for their actions & ready for Confession, so too (in my opinion) did God know when mankind was ready to be held accountable for actions. The story of creation is in essence that of the absolutely loving & absolutely wise parent creating & rearing children to the age of accountability. The story of the fall was in essence the story of mankind’s first chance for Confession upon reaching that age of accountability—a Confession he (Adam) did not make then & as a whole mankind still does not make today.

    With this view one does not have to worry about neither the “sciences” nor “history” substantiating or undermining one’s theological framework. It becomes useless & even counter-productive to argue either for/against evolutionary theory, a 6,000 year old literal creation story based on the Bible, a 13.8 billion year old big bang theory based on science, historical facts, statistical data or on anything else for that matter.

    In many ways religious apologists are merely on the flip-side of the coin from secularists. Both are intent on substantiating their theological framework, or their lack thereof, using the same logical/philosophical arguments, scientific data & historic facts to “prove” their point. When they do not win, then the opposing side is branded ignorant, uneducated, irrational, illogical, radical, liberal, conservative, fundamentalist, heretical, schismatic, superstitious, or (insert-derogative-of-your-choice). “Fundamentalism” is abusive & ugly, whether committed by the religious or non-religious.

    I think that this is Fr. Stephen’s message (& I sincerely hope he will correct me if I err)… Orthodoxy does not deny the historicity of past events, yet neither is Orthodoxy enslaved by it as is the lhcaewysiati perspective. The Incarnation, Crucifixion & Resurrection of Christ were not God’s fall-back position—His plan B since plan A failed. Orthodoxy starts first with Christ (Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection). Only then does Orthodoxy look either back to evaluate (more properly understand) the past (including the Fall & Creation) or look forward to understand the present. All events (whether pre-Christ or post-Christ) are understood through the lens of Christ. The lhcaewysiati in contrast reverses this & understands Christ (Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection) through the lens of history. In this worldview Christ for all intents & purposes ceases to be the focal point of salvation; this is just plain wrong…(IMO anyway).

  160. Rhonda says:

    John Shores & Brian:

    For the Orthodox the question is NOT:

    is or can the Fall story be true?

    strictly speaking in the lhcaewysiat sense. For us the question is “Does the Fall story (as well as the Creation story) reveal spiritual truth?” Or perhaps more properly, “What is the spiritual truth behind the stories?”

    Many icons in Orthodoxy depicting historical events are not depicted according to historical fact. Take a look at the the icon of Pentecost, for example (www.goarch.org/special/listen_learn_share/pentecost/pentecost09.jpg). St. Paul is depicted on the top right in the icon as one of the twelve apostles on whom the Holy Spirit descended. In the strict historic factual sense of the Scriptures, St. Paul at that time in history was not yet a Christian & would soon to be persecuting Christians even holding the garments of those stoning St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr just one or two years later. Historically speaking, St. Paul was not present & did not experience the descent of the cloven tongues of fire (the Holy Spirit) at the same time as the other apostles. Spiritually speaking though, St. Paul did receive the Holy Spirit, just as the others, only he received the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands. Due to his most excellent service to the Church, he is depicted with the other apostles in the icon of Pentecost even though historically at that point in time he was not yet a follower of Christ. The Pentecost icon portrays spiritual truth rather than historical fact in its depiction of an historical event. I believe that this is the intent of the Creation & Fall stories found in Genesis, to reveal the spiritual truth rather than historical fact.

  161. dinoship says:

    Very Well said Rhonda :-)

  162. Rhonda says:

    Dino,

    That’s to be “high praise” coming from you! Thanks.
    :-)

  163. fatherstephen says:

    Rhonda, et al
    Indeed, well said!
    The icons were a very pivotal moment for me in Orthodox thought. I did my thesis at Duke on the theology of icons and the time spent within that helped focus many thoughts and changed how I looked at things. Your example of how icons handle “historical” moments is spot on.

    The 7th Council said: “Icons do with color what Scripture does with words.” My entire thesis came together when I was thinking about this statement. The way I posed the matter was to turn things about. For the Church had very little material, or not material gathered together in a single place, such as surrounding a Council, on “what Scripture does with words.” On the other hand it had a great deal of material on “what icons do with colors” in the works that accompanied the 7th Council. In turning things about I asked, “How does the Scripture do with words what icons do with colors?”

    I wrote first about the “iconicity of language.” Icons certainly have a historical basis. But even when they do, their treatment of history is decidedly different than say a photograph or Western-style realism. An iconic portrayal of a historical event takes the historical into a deeper meaning, revealing both the event, its meaning, its connections, etc. It is a “theological portrait” of an event. I think the gospels do this in a very striking manner. St. John’s “These things were written that you might believe,” is not simply saying, “I wrote down this historical stuff so that you could read about it, think about it, and come to a decision for Christ.” Instead, there is an iconic shaping of the material so that it will reveal Christ. A flat, “Just the facts, Ma’am,” does not and usually will not do this revelatory work.

    I spent a lot of time with this – about two years – in which I read, worked, prayed, thought, wrote, etc. The work has never been published, though I’ve recently thought of “re-working” it for publication. It’s now 20 years since it was written.

    But seeing how the Church used its icons was a revelation about the nature of theology, history, etc. in the hands of the fathers, and particularly the liturgical/worship life of the Church. To be in an Orthodox service is to stand in a living, singing, smelling, visual, tactile, heart-revealing icon of the gospel of Christ. And you become part of that icon. Liturgy does with worship what the Scripture does with words.

    I have thought a lot about this over the last 20 years. Much of what I write is rooted in that understanding and experience. It solved a lot of “intellectual” puzzles – many of them surrounding the problems created by juxtaposing a Westernized, secularized view of history and an iconized Scriptural account. There is certainly history in Scripture and its not unimportant – icons have a relationship with history. But the Westernized dominance (which will say, “Yeah, but what REALLY happened?) doesn’t like icons. It will paint over them and try to “correct” them, yielding boring, flat pictures that reveal little. The meaning is extracted from the pictures and made to reside in a rationalized theology.

    Iconic portrayal and understanding is a different manner of seeing, knowing and communicating and is and has been the primary means of Orthodox thought. It is often incomprehensible to our modern ears and eyes and we want to make it come clean and speak “clearly.”

    I would argue that the iconic view of things is not just an Eastern cultural artifact – but is itself shaped by how God treats the world, makes Himself known, and even, how the world is shaped in its very reality. The work I did in Everywhere Present speaks some about this “iconic” character of the world and how to see it. It’s related to what I’m trying to do in writing about the “mystical” or “allegorical.” I am not trying to devalue the historical/literal but to suggest that iconic is more accurate, Biblical and Orthodox and to push us towards being able to understand that. It is work towards the conversion of our perception.

    That’s a lot for a Friday morning. I’m working on a post on ritual that I hope to post later today.

  164. PJ says:

    From my own reading, which isn’t insignificant, it appears that many Orthodox *do* believe in a “literal” fall, a “literal” Adam and Eve, a “literal” Eden, etc. The great spiritual athlete Seraphim Rose certainly did. Surely, this is a legitimate view, is it not, Father?

    It seems to me important to admit that most ancient Christians embraced the historicity of Adam and Eve in a manner not altogether different from Protestant fundamentalists of today. That is, Adam and Eve walked this planet, breathing air and drinking water and eating meat; they sinned by transgressing the law of God; they were cast into the cold world and populated the earth; all people are descended from them. I would be happy to be proved wrong on this point …

    That said, the fathers valued the use of reason, and often used the “science” and philosophy of their day. St. Augustine wrote in his Literal Interpretation of Genesis:

    “With the scriptures it is a matter of treating about the faith. For that reason, as I have noted repeatedly, if anyone, not understanding the mode of divine eloquence, should find something about these matters [about the physical universe] in our books, or hear of the same from those books, of such a kind that it seems to be at variance with the perceptions of his own rational faculties, let him believe that these other things are in no way necessary to the admonitions or accounts or predictions of the scriptures. In short, it must be said that our authors knew the truth about the nature of the skies, but it was not the intention of the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, to teach men anything that would not be of use to them for their salvation.”

    If — if — reason makes the interpretations of Basil or Ephrem impossible, then I don’t see why we can’t say, “They did their best, but we need to sit down and figure this out again.” So long as the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ is our guiding star, we can’t go wrong.

  165. PJ says:

    ““These things were written that you might believe,” is not simply saying, “I wrote down this historical stuff so that you could read about it, think about it, and come to a decision for Christ.” Instead, there is an iconic shaping of the material so that it will reveal Christ. A flat, “Just the facts, Ma’am,” does not and usually will not do this revelatory work. ”

    No, Saint John did not say that — but that mindset is not altogether absent in Saint Luke.

    “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4).

    You’ve taught me a lot, Father, and your meditations have deepened my faith and brocaded my heart. For that I am greatly thankful. However, I sometimes think that, in reaction to the theological cliches of the west, you occasionally go too far in the opposite direction.

    For instance, the reality of Adam and Eve were taken for granted for almost two thousand years. East or west, if you asked any devout Christian about the origins of mankind, they would almost surely say: “One man — Adam; one woman — Eve.” It is thus pretty radical — at least to most ears — to downplay or even dismiss the question of their historicity. It’s almost like … These old questions/ideas must be answered — put to bed — truly dealt with one way or another — before any other paradigm can be established. Do you know what I mean??

    Please don’t take these words the wrong way. As I said, I have nothing but the highest regard for you. But I thought it might be worthwhile to voice this misgiving, which I’ve pondered for some time now. With much brotherly love in Christ …

  166. fatherstephen says:

    PJ,
    Yes, I don’t disagree. Like others, when talking about the Garden, I use the “literal” voice (to coin a new grammar construct). But Augustine is spot on about this.

    What is lacking in the modern mind, however, is the ability to use the “allegorical” voice or better “iconic” voice without tremendous mental gymnastics and crises of conscience. This is where we fail and where we do damage to theology that was often written in an iconic key.

  167. Rhonda says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    iconicity of language

    theological portrait

    How does the Scripture do with words what icons do with colors?

    I like & shall remember these comments.

    To be in an Orthodox service is to stand in a living, singing, smelling, visual, tactile, heart-revealing icon of the gospel of Christ. And you become part of that icon. Liturgy does with worship what the Scripture does with words.

    I never thought of this! Superb!

    Looking forward to the posting about ritual :-)

    Again, thanks for the “high praise”!

  168. fatherstephen says:

    PJ,
    As for St. Luke – you read him like a Westerner :) missing a key statement. First he says, in a very odd and important statement, “Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us”…

    First he says, “have been fulfilled among us.” This is not a normal phrase in Greek. It would be normal to say, “happened.” “Fulfilled” is heavily theological and immediately puts things in a more “iconic” framework than the merely historical. And he next adds “just as though the eyewitnesses, etc., delivered [traditioned] them to us. St. Luke does not at all claim to record a “just the facts Ma’am” gospel. He instead flatly states that he is recording the traditioned account of the gospel. That is the literal statement of the text. It is the traditioned narrative that is accurately the narrative as traditioned by the eyewitnesses (the 12) and ministers of the word (their successors – i.e. those trained in the transmission of the oral tradition) that St. Luke is relating.

    A friend said to me yesterday, “It is only on conservative Evangelical sites and some Orthodox sites that you’ll find any discussion about literal Adam and Eve.” It is extremely problematic – in the sense which St. Augustine described – in a culture that generally accepts a 15 billion year old universe. I understand that some will maintain that this is a battle that must be fought. I don’t think it ever was – and that Orthodoxy needs to use its wonderful arsenal of theological understanding to deal with this.

    Fr. Seraphim Rose was a good monk and a good translator. With fear and trembling I will say that he was not a good theologian (may the Orthodox blogosphere forgive me). I know people who knew him personally and I have very deep respect for him. But there are growing problems associated with taking his work as an Orthodox touchstone. It is not. His translations of many works is extremely important. His life as a monk and repentance is truly exemplary. But his theological perception is weak. It tends towards a cursory use of the fathers – a sort of surface consensus – and does not pierce through to the thought and heart of what lies behind them. He took up the cudgel of “Parisians” when faced with some fairly serious work by Russian Emigres (such as Schmemann) that is sadly repeated by some today who all too often lack understanding and appreciation of the whole situation.

    Much of this is being ironed out and allowed to mature since the healing of the rupture between the Moscow Patriarchate and ROCOR. Both Churches are benefitting from each other. But it will take a generation or two to restore the depth of theology that was crushed and scattered by the Bolsheviks. I am putting a link here to a recent article by a Russian Deacon Andrew Kuraev on the evolution thing.

    He is more than just a Deacon. I’m told he is the author of the text book now used in Russian schools for religious education. It replaced the pre-revolutionary Law of God that some will be familiar with. But it is his reference to other contemporary theologians that I found of interest. His work is not an official pronouncement from Moscow, but it is certainly representative of a lot of Orthodox thought.

    That many have spoken in a literal manner about our first parents through the centuries doesn’t remove some of the obvious problems. That some of offered a theological handling of our first parents in a manner not dependent on a literal take is, on the other hand, helpful. The gospel of Christ does not and should not rise or fall on a historical Adam. It has not done so in the sum total of Orthodox work and need not do so now. If it is required to do so, then our faith will be offered up on the wrong altar and will perish.

    There are two ways of approaching all of this for refugees of the West (like myself). We run from the crush of falling timbers as liberalism collapses Christianity. Some want a shelter that offers new ways to uphold the faith. Thus: “This is the first Church. Here we can argue from Scripture and from Tradition. Not only does the Bible say it but so do the Fathers, I will take my stand here.”

    Just as the liberals have crushed the Scriptures, they will crush the fathers. They don’t care how many sources you cite. Infallible Bible, infallible Pope, infallible fathers – it’s all the same trap and it will all collapse in the same manner. Such “paper popes” are insignificant when it comes to addressing the needs and arguments and crises of the present.

    The second way is to see that the fathers and the Orthodox Church, has not been trapped in the historical/literal arguments of the West. Science is not a threat nor does it set the battleground for the faith. It is not afraid of dealing with history – but neither is it so married to a literal account of pre-history that the faith collapses at the turn of an archaeologist’s spade. The question becomes not just “What did the fathers say?” But “Did the fathers say anything that is helpful to us in our present crisis?” To that, the answer is “Yes.” This is Fr. Georges Florovsky’s sense of a “Neo-Patristic Synthesis.” It is a reading of the fathers with an ear for their voice addressed to our present questions and an appropriation of the fullness of the Tradition to be lived in the present time. It’s what guides my work.

    Just some thoughts…

  169. Michael Bauman says:

    If we interpret the Scripture iconically then we cannot stand outside it and critique it, historically or otherwise. Icons are written to include the person(s) viewing the icon (reverse perspective). I have seen very little written directly on this aspect of Scripture but maybe I’ve just missed it. It is certainly implied in much of what Fr. Stephen writes. However, I think it points up a big difference between Orthodox approach to Scripture and other ways.

    Orthodox Christianity is a traditional faith which means that it is passed down rather more than taught, lived/experienced more than explained. Thus the understanding of symbol, icon, sacrament and our inter-connection with Jesus Christ and one another as living realities rather than stuff we do or think or even believe.

    It is in this living reality that the demons simply do not exist because they cannot exist where people are actively submitting to the love of Christ in mercy and repentance for that is the Kingdom of God.

    Demons only exist in the land of idols.

  170. PJ says:

    Thanks for the thorough response. Lots to chew on. The last paragraph is very helpful in particular.

    I sometimes feel uneasy about those who try to manipulate the writings of the fathers to make them more in accordance with, say, modern understandings of cosmology or evolution. I’ve come to feel that we must simply admit that they were wrong about some things. Meanwhile, we must, as you say, “read … [them] with an ear for their voice addressed to our present questions and an appropriation of the fullness of the Tradition to be lived in the present time.” This seems to me to be the method of Pope Benedict, too.

  171. PJ says:

    “It is in this living reality that the demons simply do not exist because they cannot exist where people are actively submitting to the love of Christ in mercy and repentance for that is the Kingdom of God.”

    This seems a bit too bold and categorical. There are myriad tales of holy men and women enduring varying degrees of demonic assault. We don’t seem to know a whole lot about the wicked intelligences … I therefore wonder if such sweeping statements really hold water.

  172. Michael Bauman says:

    On science: the question to me is are we using rationalistic modern scientism much of it based on philosphical naturalism (with an inherent antipathy to Christ) to interpret Holy Tradition (totally unaceptable), or are we using the wisdom and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to refine truth from the dross around it: the historical method of the Church.

    A big problem with Deacon Kureav’s work is his acceptance of de Chardin as authoritative. He was a heretic and a liar who did violence to both the Christian faith and the supposed science he championed creating a pseudo-mystic miasma in the process.

    We do not need to lean over backwards or at all to accomodate modern belief which I’m afraid Deacon Kureav tends to do. We need to reopen the mind of science to the iconic nature of nature and of man himself.

  173. Michael Bauman says:

    P.J. That is because we are in between. I was referring to the title of this post (largely forgotten it seems). As in all things, it is both realized and to be realized. Present and to come.

  174. dinoship says:

    Without any of this being incompatible with Orthodoxy, I have heard of a very large range of notions concerning this subject…
    Eg: (more recent) Elders who accepted (strongly) only a literal, historical Adam and no evolution, others who accepted a combination of both (a theistic evolution rather than intelligent design – completely compatible with modern biology theories) with a (exceptional) miraculous sign in the direct creation of Adam and his placement in an earthly paradise, as well as others who take the whole thing completely allegorically, but, having had direct, personal experience of what a “prelapsarian state” feels like (through Grace), will talk of Adam, and picture him just like we talk and picture the Prodigal.
    Some never talk much on the subject, yet stipulate clearly that, since Scripture -and not science- is concerned with the “Who” and “Why” of creation, the “How” and “When” is to be found through science – and not scripture.
    I must admit that, to me, it seems like people in the West have an extremely strong urge to elevate science to a religious status – it is not a new thing- but, we easterners are sometimes like the old man who takes their grandsons story with a pinch of salt.
    However, a broadening of our understanding of science (in the west) seems to also be running parallel to this lately.
    I, personally think that there does exist a certain healthy reservation, concerning the wholehearted acceptance of scientific theories. There is a huge deal of (increasing) delusion everywhere and discernment is something that Grace and experience teaches man in way which is completely nothing like “fundamentalist” …

    The best scientist are also often sceptical of what they present to others as ‘conclusive evidence’, especially after what science itself has showed us lately in the areas of quantum physics.
    Heisenberg’s principle of indeterminacy/uncertainty is one popular example of how modern findings in science has forcibly broadened our understanding of science’s findings.

  175. Rhonda says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    Where’s the link you mentioned?

    Agreed about Fr. Seraphim Rose. When I first became Orthodox & as a catechumen, I heard much praise of his books from the other parish members. Both of my priests were not so effusive in their praise & somewhat cautionary in their comments. The mother of a friend/co-worker was one of his very close friends in college so I got to hear a few first-hand accounts.

    Then I bought several of his works & read them. As you stated, good translator for many new texts we did not have access to in English & I too appreciate that contribution. Theologically though, I seldom pull his texts off my bookshelf. Some of what he proposes as Orthodox theology is flatly un-Orthodox. Where his thought is in line with the Orthodo theological Tradition, I have found that there are many other & much better theological texts out there to reference & cite.

  176. PJ says:

    “Some of what he proposes as Orthodox theology is flatly un-Orthodox.”

    Who decides what is Orthodox versus what is un-Orthodox? As a Catholic, I have great trouble discerning who represents “true” Orthodoxy. Not that there aren’t plenty of Catholic dissenters — but you know that they speak against Rome, the mouth of the Church, that “first see and symbol of unity,” as Vladimir Lossky calls it. I know many dislike the papacy’s magisterial charism, but my confusion as to who teaches Orthodoxy definitively has proven a major obstacle in my path toward the east.

  177. John Shores says:

    I hope I am not being tiresome but I don’t think I have communicated very clearly.

    Brian: You are not clueless at all! Thank you for recognizing that the question remains unanswered and for aptly restating it.

    To my mind, there is no possibility that there was an actual “Adam and Eve” simply because there was not a time when there were just two homo-sapiens (hence the puzzle; from where did the other people that Cain and Able found outside the family arise?). This is the literal viewpoint and I hope you will not dismiss it too quickly because…

    We see that the writers of Romans 5, 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Timothy 2, took the story literally.

    Jesus’ lineage in Luke ends with “…the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.” Clearly Luke believed Adam was in fact the very first person. If Adam was allegorical, the rest of the lineage is meaningless (where does it stop being fiction and begin being factual?). If he was actually “recording the traditioned account of the gospel” then I would submit that that tradition included an understanding that Adam was a literal person.

    Even Jesus’ own brother understood the Adam & Eve story literally as is represented when he states that “Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied…”. I cannot accept that he would use a prophesy by someone believed to be fictitious to support his theological statements.

    Since it seems plain that these men diverged from Jewish tradition and placed emphasis on the First Adam as a literal person, we must ask why. What if they had left the story alone and never mentioned it? Would Christianity be the same faith? I think not.

    “It is only on conservative Evangelical sites and some Orthodox sites that you’ll find any discussion about literal Adam and Eve.” It is extremely problematic…

    As do I, but for a very simple reason; I find it difficult to trivialize the Fall story by denying its factuality and turning it into a metaphysical exercise:

    For us the question is “Does the Fall story (as well as the Creation story) reveal spiritual truth?”

    The reason I have such difficulty is not only because the writers of the NT clearly took pains to use the literal story in order to show a distinction between Judaism and Christianity but also because it begs the question “How much of the ancient writings are also non-literal?” It opens Pandora’s box: Where does the actual (literal) story begin? If Adam was not literal, was Noah? Abraham? Do we ignore everything before Moses? Or is he allegorical as well? Do we simply say that the OT was merely an exercise in a metaphysical revelation of the “spiritual truth” that we are proclaiming?

    I hope that you can understand that Rhonda’s statement (and the many “amens” that it received) troubles me deeply.

    No matter how you slice it, to say that the Fall was not a literal event changes everything. I would argue that it contradicts the viewpoints of the first apostles. I find this to be a very dangerous thing to do as it disrupts the integrity of their message.

    Again, they didn’t have to bring up Adam at all. If they had not, Rhonda’s statement would make perfect sense just as it does in Judaism. But they did, and they clearly did not understand it as an allegory.

    They don’t care how many sources you cite.

    I hope you do not see me in this light. One cannot examine economics until it is established that “supply and demand” are foundational to understanding everything that follows. A plethora of data does not elucidate the essentials.

    So, as I have stated several times now, Christianity depends on the Fall in order to understand the Cross. If the Fall is not literal, there is no need for a literal Cross (in which case Arius was right and you are all a bunch of heretics :) (I kid! I kid!)).

    You see my dilemma?

    I hope you can understand why the following statement troubles me:

    With this view one does not have to worry about neither the “sciences” nor “history” substantiating or undermining one’s theological framework.

  178. PJ says:

    “To my mind, there is no possibility that there was an actual “Adam and Eve” simply because there was not a time when there were just two homo-sapiens (hence the puzzle; from where did the other people that Cain and Able found outside the family arise?)”

    Okay, I’ve always wondered about this:

    Mustn’t there have been a first homo sapien, whether through spontaneous creation or through gradual evolution? Surely an entire generation of mothers’ couldn’t have given birth to an entire generation which belonged to a different species.

    Wow, evolution is crazy. Not necessarily false, but definitely crazy.

    John, I truly sympathize with your many difficulties. I even share a few of your criticisms and more than a few of your questions. But I don’t think you’re going to get the answers you want.

    As for me, I’m not a Christian because I believe in Adam. I’m a Christian because I believe in Christ. God in Christ has “proven” Himself to me. I have decided, after much struggle and turmoil, that I can put my trust in Him. I have made Him the center of my life, the rock of my existence.

    This being the case, I accept all those things to which Christ and His Church testify — including the primordial mystery we call the “fall.” I am fine not understanding this primeval event 100%. To me, it speaks to the fact that man has, since the dawn of time, been at odds and in need of God — and that nothing short of God will satisfy and complete man. Is there more to it than this? Maybe. Maybe not. I can accept not knowing because, frankly, I don’t need to.

    I hope that helps in some way, shape, or form. Take care, friend.

  179. dinoship says:

    John Shores,

    “To my mind, there is no possibility that there was an actual “Adam and Eve” simply because there was not a time when there were just two homo-sapiens (hence the puzzle; from where did the other people that Cain and Able found outside the family arise?). This is the literal viewpoint and I hope you will not dismiss it too quickly because…

    We see that the writers of Romans 5, 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Timothy 2, took the story literally.”

    I know of Orhtodox who very strongly believe in a literal Adam as well as a theistic evolution of multiple Homo-sapiens. They believe in a ‘special creation’ as far as the “exceptionally created from God primordial couple” within a theistic evolution paradigm, with humanity even existent before Adam himself (outsid of Paradise), as is implied by the two seperate human creation stories in genesis. Their position is stands very well, and seems to be similar to that of Francis Collins’ (head of the Human Genome programme). I do not take a particular side personally, just like our Church never rushes to take a position.
    There is absolutely no ‘danger’ to our Faith, either way.

  180. dinoship says:

    On a side note, all this talk about the westernised literal understanding of Genesis and the Fall is similar to the westernised understanding of the Revelations. (Just like there are always deep parallels between those two books, so in this respect too…) We want to impatiently solve it now!
    This means we miss the deep meaning that Man’s unique gift of freedom. We also miss the meaning that Man’s selfish confinement within himself presuming to become his own lord, (his own slave really) is and always will be our fall. As Father Dimitru Staniloae said: “The human person is free only if he is free also from himself for the sake of others, in love, and if he is free for God who is the source of freedom because he is the source of love.
    And of course this means we also miss other deeper meanings such as that one and the same world, can lead us to or away from God (when grasped selfishly by means of the senses or grasped in its real eucharistic God orientated significance.)
    And our energies are spent missing this mark…

  181. drewster2000 says:

    Brian,

    I very much understand where you’re coming from. We are from Protestant stock that says people and everything else can fail you – but not the Bible! So when others like Rhonda come by and say:

    “We do not need a literal historical “fall” story to know that mankind is fallen (i.e. sick with a disease called sin that results in death). We do not need a “creation” story to know that God created everything & that mankind is in essence (by nature) above the animals & the rest of the created order.”

    This is extremely troubling! Take my Bible away from me and you leave me trying to cling to thin air! Yes give me Tradition, the saints, the Eucharist, etc but don’t take away my Bible!!! Don’t tell me it’s all a bunch of Aesop’s Fables!!

    While I think (as PJ said) that most Orthodox do believe in the historical authenticity for the most part, there is a lot of mystical talk. Unfortunately to our ears it starts to sound like Postmodernism. It begins to sound like the Green Lady telling Lucy and Edmund and Puddleglum that “there never WAS a sun or an Aslan or a land called Narnia”.

    I do believe you are correct when you ask whether or not there is a both/and to this. I believe there was a historical Adam and Eve – and Adam named the animals, and that they fell, and all that.

    BUT…..here is the key.

    I can only believe it as a child believes her mother when she asks why the sky is blue and the mother says because God made it that way. I can’t explain how there could only be one 2 human beings at one point or when that all happened or how long in earth days/years it took for creation to happen or whether or not we’re really related to apes or anything else.

    But that’s OK. As in the original Fall, we are still tripping ourselves up because of the same old mistake: trying to play God. It’s not my job to know how it all happened, but to believe what God tells me to the best of my ability.

    Having said that, I need to hold my beliefs lightly (for lack of a better term). I was once in a class where a man handed out dollars bills, talked to us, and then went around and took the dollar bills back from some and not from others. When asked, he told us that he took them away from the people who were gripping them tightly and left them if people held them in an open palm. We must hold Adam and Eve in the same fashion.

    I say this because though the Fall itself is a very important part of our salvation, the details are not as vital. Again, it’s enough for me to accept that the sky is blue because God made it that way without me having to know and prove why, how often, and so on.

    But of course there are two sides to the coin. If we say both/and, then we have to sustain the winds of those who say that Adam & Eve “doesn’t matter” – no matter where they’re coming from. In fact we need to listen to the Rhonda’s and Fr. Stephen’s of our world and see what we can learn from them – listen without prejudice and without worrying about the fragile beliefs we hold in our uplifted palms being crushed or blown away.

    We will be able to do this only if we trust God with all that we have. After all it is He that gives and takes away. And of course Fr. Stephen is right in proclaiming Christ to be the explanation and fulfillment of all things.

    You and I still love and have grown up with the historical. As stated here several times, there is nothing wrong with the literal, linear, historical, but that isn’t the end of all things. We’re called to go further up and deeper in. With fear and trembling, that is what we must do.

  182. fatherstephen says:

    The article by Dn. Andrew Kuraev can be found at this location. More thoughts on the article are found below.

    Michael, et al
    I think you make very good points and add some useful caveats with regard to Dn. Kuraev. I wholeheartedly agree that:

    We need to reopen the mind of science to the iconic nature of nature and of man himself.

    Exactly what that looks like is not yet obvious. I would add, that we believers need to struggle more to acquire a mind that understand the “iconic” nature of reality. It’s why I balk at “literal” and “historic.” It’s like someone coming into my parish, and suggesting that we correct all the icons on the iconostasis with the notion, “Yes, but what they Really looked like,” as if that is in fact what is wanted. It is sometimes what we want, but it is not what God has given us. We want it because Modernity embraced a model that said the locus of truth is in the thing. Christian theology would say that the locus of truth is in Christ. It is the “Christ” of a thing (to use an outrageous phrase) that we need to know. This is what the fathers refer to as knowing the “logoi” of creation.

    It sounds wonderful when people are reading the Philokalia and the lives of the saints – but they get very nervous when someone like me starts suggesting that we must see the “logoi” of creation or of the Scripture – to make the same application. For that is what I’m doing. The but…but…but is another way of saying, “but the truth is in the thing!” There is truth in the thing – but the truth is Christ and not an independent fact.

    John Shores: You assume too much. Viz. Luke and the genealogy, by your reasoning, every time anyone mentions Adam without some sort of a disclaimer, it must mean that they are being quite literal about the whole thing. Unlike many of my readers, my academic life began in the Classics, reading the Pagan Greeks and Romans. Their literary work, as well as Jewish literary work contemporary with the NT, were unbelievably comfortable with non-literal readings. Indeed, it was a commonplace among the educated (both Christian and Pagan) to see a flat-footed literalism as perhaps useful to the people, but not quite true. In the wrong hands, that bifurcation could lead to an elitist gnosticism. Origen ran into that danger to a degree. I’m not suggesting anything that radical. But I know that what I’m saying is within the mainstream of the Tradition and only feels uncomfortable because readers have been formed and shaped culturally and intellectually by the modernist assumptions regarding history and the like.

    On the early chapters of Genesis, I recommend Peter Bouteneff’s Beginnings: Early Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives. This will give a much more sound understanding of the fathers on this matter than simply chasing down quotes yourself. It’s the kind of study that’s been needed and is now available. It’s more or less irresponsible to say, “The fathers say…” about the creation narratives if you haven’t read it.

    Michael:
    On Kuraev,
    Yes, in that article there could be more nuance. I agree about De Chardin. He is heretical – but he is worth reading. He wanted to say something and said it wrong. Had he been Orthodox, he might have found that to say it right. Hard to know. There is a hardened “scientism” out there, but I live in a city that makes its living on science (most nuclear and particle physics – but other stuff as well). Many even most of the scientists I know are believers. They’re not theologians. But religion and science are not at each others’ throats here either.

    Oak Ridge is less than 100 miles from Dayton TN (home of the famous so-called “Monkey Trials”). Sometimes they seem to be light years apart. I find guys like Dawkins to be lousy scientists when they talk about religion (most of the scientists I know would heartily agree with that) and it makes him do lousy science. On the other hand, we’ve had some noted scientists who are believers speak with a very warm welcome in our fair city. I cannot now remember the speaker, but a decade or so back, we had someone speak on religion and science at the Lab and had the largest attendance ever noted at a National Lab presentation. It matters a lot. Science and scientism are quite distinct.

  183. fatherstephen says:

    Looking over comments it seems that for some, the Christian faith rises or falls with a historical Adam and thus historical fall (generally without nuance).

    It may seem that this is the case – but it has not been seen to be the case in the life and teaching of the Church. Can you be a faithful Orthodox believer, in the fullest sense, without such a belief in its literal/historical character – apparently so.

    But insisting that people first embrace a particular account of the creation and fall of man in a historical/literal sense before than can be a real Christian is simply wrong. For some, my treatment of this creates a great discomfort. I know that discomfort – I’ve been there from a variety of angles. Orthodoxy’s treatment of this is among the reasons I am Orthodox.

    It is a discomfort worth visiting and thinking long and hard about. Stay in the conversation.

  184. John Shores says:

    I can accept not knowing because, frankly, I don’t need to.

    I think Drewster stated my thoughts rather well:

    This is extremely troubling! Take my Bible away from me and you leave me trying to cling to thin air! Yes give me Tradition, the saints, the Eucharist, etc but don’t take away my Bible!!! Don’t tell me it’s all a bunch of Aesop’s Fables!!…It begins to sound like the Green Lady telling Lucy and Edmund and Puddleglum that “there never WAS a sun or an Aslan or a land called Narnia”.

    When he states:

    because though the Fall itself is a very important part of our salvation, the details are not as vital.

    I think he misses what I am saying. I struggle not with the details but whether it exists at all. Nuance has nothing to do with it.

    If we are simply the most highly evolved animals and the only ones who are capable of self-contemplation and a need to explain why we act/feel the way we do and the answer is that we are simply highly evolved animals who are capable of self-contemplation, that is one thing. In that case, let us dive into genetics and whatnot and figure out how to make hominids that are not plagued with vice.

    If we have “fallen” and can through metaphysical means return to the state of original glory (or however you want to phrase it), then we must be clear on the cause so that the proposed remedy is clear. As it stands, a “remedy” has been proposed without any convincing evidence that the “disease” even exists.

    This is why the Fall is of paramount importance.

    On a side note, all this talk about the westernised literal understanding of Genesis and the Fall is similar to the westernised understanding of the Revelations.

    Respectfully, it is not. Remove Revelation and the Cross still makes sense. Remove the Fall, and it does not.

  185. John Shores says:

    You assume too much. Viz. Luke and the genealogy, by your reasoning, every time anyone mentions Adam without some sort of a disclaimer, it must mean that they are being quite literal about the whole thing.

    If the answer is that Luke (a scientist and physician) and Paul and Jude et al were simply borrowing from a fable or that they were merely adopting a particular writing style, I respectfully bow out. I am just not at home in Wonderland.

    I wish you all the best and again thank you for allowing me to sojourn with you for a time.

  186. dinoship says:

    John,
    The key to what I meant by: “On a side note, all this talk about the westernised literal understanding of Genesis and the Fall is similar to the westernised understanding of the Revelations.”

    is:

    “We want to impatiently solve it now!

    when science or other influences demand quick explanations to various issues, the Orthodox Church has a tendency to wait for a very long time until the waters have calmed down, without feeling like the earth they stood on has been taken from under their feet…

  187. fatherstephen says:

    As it stands, a “remedy” has been proposed without any convincing evidence that the “disease” even exists.

    Remove Revelation and the Cross still makes sense. Remove the Fall, and it does not.

    Respectfully John, nonsense.

    Reasons why this is nonsense. You got it right at first. Yes, a remedy has been proposed without convincing evidence that the disease even exists. Absolutely. The “fall” wasn’t even part of Jewish conversation prior to Christ or during his ministry. The disciples don’t get it – they don’t understand his crucifixion, death and resurrection because it is indeed an answer to a question they were not asking. They’re still wondering about the “restoration of the Kingdom to Israel.”

    St. Paul’s theology on Adam and Christ is absolutely post-resurrection. Adam’s fall doesn’t become clear until the “remedy” is given.

    Christ’s death and resurrection rewrites all previous theology into the category of death and life. Thus Adam’s fall becomes the entry to death. The “on the day you eat of it you will surely die,” now means more than it had. Before it had been quaint, a story about how we lost paradise about like how many languages came into existence with Babel. But with the resurrection, Adam’s story becomes the universal human problem – death is not just physical death – but moral death – existential death – etc. Adam’s name in Hebrew (“man”) is quite apt in light of the resurrection of Christ. We do not find Christ’s resurrection to be the answer to the question. We didn’t even know the question until He was raised from the dead.

    A way for you to approach this (instead of approaching like a conservative protestant – approach it like a good agnostic!). Ask, If Christ is truly crucified dead and risen, what does that possibly mean to me? If there’s a possibility that you accept that it happened (regardless of Adam, etc.), then everything else sort of finds its place. Christ’s Pascha is where we start and everything proceeds from there. That alone is true Orthodoxy. It’s also true to how the Christian faith actually started. The 12 became followers of Christ without ever having given a thought to Adam. St. Paul probably had to point it out to them. To which they all said, “That’s really neat! Christ is the Second Adam, etc.”

    Reformers and evangelicals created this “Roman Road” thing that predicates the telling of the gospel totally on the Adam account – they shrank the Gospel. St. John gives a very credible account of salvation without making mention of Adam. It’s not wrong – Paul is spot on – but to require a literal account of Adam and the Fall to make the Cross make sense is just wrong. You’re reading Calvin’s Bible.

    You made an incredible journey to get to where you are now. Orthodoxy is not a journey back to where you came. It’s somewhere else.

  188. fatherstephen says:

    The option is not between a literalistic account and wonderland. That’s really an unfair choice.

  189. PJ says:

    “Remove the Fall, and it does not.”

    Nobody proposes removing the fall. Some people do, however, propose understanding the fall — and the rest of Genesis — in a non-literal manner. Somehow, they remain perfectly devout Christians. Having read Pope Benedict’s meditations on Genesis, I’d count him among this group. Bonhoeffer wrote a volume on Gen 1 – 3 called “Creation and Fall,” and he certainly didn’t embrace the text literally. Yet he lived a profoundly Christian existence — indeed, he “loved until the end” and died a martyr’s death, his naked body hanged from a makeshift gallows, having just finished reading Isaiah 53:5: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”

    (Sorry if this is a duplicate, Father. My internet is acting weird, I can’t tell if my last post just didn’t go through or if the spam filter caught it.)

  190. PJ says:

    Is Adam’s fall even mentioned in the Gospels (two of which were written by close companions of St. Paul!)?

  191. dinoship says:

    Father,
    I am so glad you explained this here…
    It is like all of F. John Behr’s book in a nutshell!

    It makes me realise also that I have never come across a single Father who doesn’t contextualise the Fall story within a narrative which is first and foremost about the restoration and redemption of Man.

  192. PJ says:

    What’s this “Roman Road”?

  193. drewster2000 says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    I get where you’re going, talking about this iconic road. I come from the literal and historic but I can see from a distance the one you’re talking about. I’m not there yet but I’m stepping forward. Please be patient with me. As you said to us, I say to you as well: please stay in the conversation.

  194. drewster2000 says:

    John Shores,

    My reply was to Brian, so you were reading someone else’s mail . I realize that your struggle is different. You want so badly to believe in this God – as long as you can grasp Him with your rational mind.

    What you said way back there somewhere was that the whole thing sounded stupid, that we’re pretentious primates who’ve made up a fairy tale to allow ourselves to justify lording it over the rest of the animals. And you’re completely right….if there is no God, the kind we’ve been talking about. If it all real is just one big fairy tale, then like Paul said about there being no resurrection, then we really are the biggest, most pompous, laughable fools that ever were.

    But if it’s actually true…..

    That is your struggle I believe, and unfortunately it’s one which you won’t find solace for in reasoning. Take the example of your wife. It would be impossible for me to give you a solid list of reasons that would convince you to love her – nay, that would basically force you to love her. In fact, you yourself could not come up with such a list. And I submit to you that your love for her is not based on logic. Living with her, maybe. Loving her, no.

    You see, we don’t make the really important decisions in life based on logic and reason. Another example: You struggle with a lot of the things you read here. Much of it goes against what you currently believe – and yet something still draws you. Why is this?

    I believe it is because here you have seen people show you respect, love, honor, patience, kindness, and you have been listened to – really listened to. These are good things that everyone needs, that everyone recognizes as good be they christian, muslim, agnostic, pagan, or wiccan. If you freely receive good things here, why would you not stay?

    Like you I’m put off by the vestments and trappings and the canonical examples I’ve seen of clergy with egos larger than their pointy hats. However, if I found good hearts and humble souls that fed me good things – and they did all those bells and whistles, I wouldn’t let that keep me away.

    I understand that your current disagreement is about the need for the Fall to be real – or not. Keep your belief until you’ve replaced it with something else, but at the same time I encourage you to do the hard work of staying in the conversation. Don’t pretend to agree with what you can’t or to understand what you don’t, but don’t leave either.

    If you can find another well to drink from that can give you life, you should be blessed to do so. But I’ve found them to be few and far between. Good people – or rather, people who are willing to do the good work – or hard to find. Don’t leave until you find the water poisoned.

  195. drewster2000 says:

    Thanks Marc. You too.

  196. dinoship says:

    Thank you for pointing out “Orthodoxy and Creationism: by Deacon Andrew Kuraev” Father!
    It answers John Shores’ questions well when combined with your own last comments.

  197. fatherstephen says:

    No. It’s not there. One of the key aspects of the importance of Adam in St. Paul is the theology of the image, and Christ as the Image of God. This is taken up profoundly by the fathers. I know that how I treat this particular item viz. history is difficult for some, very well aware, but even if it were taken to be literal history, I would be arguing that things start with Pascha. An example would be the Passover. I certainly take this as literal, though the account has been given a shape that is “theological” to a certain extent. But that Passover, regardless of its historical role, is given new shape and meaning by Christ’s Pascha.

    Space-Time (history) is the arena of our salvation, though it is not the whole arena. There is much more that “does not appear” that is the arena as well. Some of these things are spoken about in ways that cannot be easily placed in space-time. The “fall” is one of those things. That we are fallen is manifest. That Christ redeems us is manifest as well – including in the occasional foretastes of that resurrection which is made manifest in the lives and miracles of the saints. We are very far from alone in this world.

    Origen placed the fall completely outside of space-time and this is serious error. But its exact relationship is not clear. Creation, we are told in Romans, is not “fallen.” It is instead described as “made subject to futility – which is something else. And St. Paul says this has been done for our sake. However, as for history, we are not told if this “futility” is sequential (we fall then it’s made subject) or not (its proleptically made subject). The language of St. Basil would indicate the latter, and even the Scripture hints at this. “Paradise” is not the same thing as “this world.” If you will, there is something outside of Paradise. St. Basil describes the first man has having been “expelled out of Paradise into this world.” Interesting choice of words. The text of Genesis doesn’t describe a fall of the world – though there is the language of “cursed is the ground for your sake.” Some fathers speculated that Adam would have otherwise been tasked with spreading Paradise everywhere.

    But we’re talking about something that is impossible to locate within space-time. We have no clues (unless you go with Bishop Usher). It’s very fruitful – but not in using it to figure out a time-line.

  198. Karen says:

    Very interesting conversation with lots of good comments. Thank you, Father, Michael Bauman, and Rhonda for starters (and others, too).

    Orthodox anthropologist, Alice Linsley, has some interesting material on interpretation of Genesis and the question of Adam and Eve. She makes a very interesting argument (based on her biblical anthropological and linguistic research–she’s something of a pioneer in this field) about what the text really means to convey here:

    http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com/2009/02/in-what-sense-are-adam-and-eve-real.html

    John Shores might find it interesting (and even plausible?).

  199. John Shores says:

    Don’t leave until you find the water poisoned.

    Conclusions have to come from available information. To suppose that the NT references to Adam are not based on a literal interpretation is not intellectually honest, IMHO. To try to make the data fit your presupposition is always a mistake (see Creationism as an example).

    It is plain how the NT writers understood Adam (as a literal figure). To suggest otherwise is to engage in the same sort of activities that the postmodernists apparently do with history. It is to enter Wonderland where anything can mean anything.

    The very fact that any of the Fathers made any effort to explain it is a kind of evidence that other people, far more intelligent than I, read the same things and wondered “WTH?” (ΠΚ?). I have no position to defend. I’m just looking at the raw data and coming to a conclusion. Start messing with the data and the examination ends.

    Looking at the a forest of noble firs through red-tinted glasses does not mean the forest isn’t green, regardless of how cool it may appear.

    I’ll be around to read other posts but it is clear that we have no common ground in this matter. Sadly. Because this was the sole issue that obliterated my faith.

  200. drewster2000 says:

    I get that Christ is the beginning, explanation and fulfillment of everything – including the Genesis account. And I don’t insist that the Fall happened THEREFORE Christ had to come. I understand that the first, the cause, point of everything is Christ – and then it goes out from there. I realize He is outside of time and space and certainly not bound by its chronology.

    However I would still think that an event like the Garden of Eden happened once somewhere in history. I don’t have a clue concerning the details, but I believe that it happened. God isn’t one to simply make up bedtime stories. Or rather, when He creates story, His creations come alive. However you see it, He doesn’t lie. If He recounts the 6 days of creation and how He formed the world, then it happened in some shape or form.

    It’s not important to me just exactly how it happened, just that my God is true and not making up fairy tales, that He can be trusted.

  201. drewster2000 says:

    John,

    I accept your point of division, but I would also challenge you to list here what areas of common ground you do share with Fr. Stephen and the readership here.

  202. fatherstephen says:

    The sole issue? That’s really important. I’ll spend some time doing some research stuff that you might find of use. Thanks. God bless an honest man!

  203. fatherstephen says:

    Drewster,
    I think it’s a false choice – “fairy tales” – or John’s “wonderland.” I think that what we have is a “poetic” version of the fall – given as solid for our theology – but not given as “history” or “science.” First, it would have been more or less impossible for that kind of revelation to be given (at least as I understand revelation). It also would not have made any sense to those writing it. Instead, what we have in Genesis is material from surrounding cultures (there are other creation stories that bear some resemblance to this – particularly certain linguistic issues). But this is clearly re-worked and made into proper Jewish material on the same topic – but now theologically sound. There is deep grace and inspiration for that to happen.

    And the pattern is repeated. God doesn’t just invent cultures out of whole cloth. There are many aspects of Jewish OT culture that had precursors in the cultures that preceded them. But those things (such as animal sacrifice) are taken up by God and redefined re-imaged in such a way that they bear His revelation.

    This is the character of the Incarnation. God doesn’t create something new, but takes up what He has already made (man) and redeems us. In the same manner, Orthodoxy does not come in and level a culture and replace it. It redeems a culture, transforming those things that can be transformed.

    When people go crazy discovering that something had pre-Christian (ie Pagan) roots and start wanting to throw the baby out with the bath. Thus some oppose Christmas trees, because our ancestors used to worship trees and the origin of Christmas trees are pre-Christian. Of course. So the Church took them and transformed them into a Christian symbol. Same is true with language. As much as I love Greek, we use English in my Church. It’s an Orthodox principle.

    The difficulty, again, is an assumption about the nature of Scripture. I would assume St. Paul thought of Adam and Eve as historical characters. I don’t know why he wouldn’t. However, I do know that he would not have required that they be historical. They were Biblical. How the text works, as inspired text, is much more fluid than we tend to think. Christ, when he cites the “jot” and “tittle” is quite Rabbinic. Even these are inspired. There’s a Jewish fascination with the very letters themselves that is often removed from the very story they spell out.

    But I quickly grant that St. Paul likely thought of the first man and first woman as historical. However, there is a variety of thought about this within the early fathers. Bouteneff’s work that I cited earlier is a good work on this very thing – a survery of how the early fathers treated the first 3 chapters of Genesis for about the first 6 centuries. I’ll dig through my library and turn it up and see what I can share.

  204. Karen says:

    “Literal” Adam, sure. But istm, Fr. Stephen is making the case that biblical and patristic (and hence Orthodox) “literal” is not the quite the same thing as the modern “literal” of Protestant Fundamentalism. There are dozens of posts at this blog dealing with this issue from various angles.

    John Shores, I hope you will take a look at Alice Linsley’s work that I provided in a link earlier, too.

  205. drewster2000 says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    On one side:
    -I hear you…
    -I’m listening…
    -I’ve put Bouteneff’s book on my to-purchase list
    -I believe I’m on the same page as St. Paul the way you describe him.

    On the other side:
    -I still need God with skin on.
    -I’m a peasant in a western world and don’t understand mystical talk about things that are but also are not at the same time.

    Let me put it this way: If the literal Adam is neither here nor there for you, why can’t you let me keep him as literal? For the moment you keep him as a type and a symbol – I keep him as historical – and we both keep him as pointing to Christ and meaning nothing without Christ.

    If I have him as “historical and ___” in my mind, historical and then also learning the symbolic angle of him – and I don’t hinge my beliefs around his historicity – can I not keep my historical Adam without misleading anyone else or causing any harm?

  206. drewster2000 says:

    P.S. I would of course be interested in anything you can dig up on my behalf. (grin)

  207. PJ says:

    “I’m just looking at the raw data and coming to a conclusion. Start messing with the data and the examination ends.”

    This notion of Biblical narratives as “data” to be studied like natural specimens so as to extract verifiable “conclusions” is perhaps not the best approach …

    John, I wonder: Do you think all those Christians — from the Pope to Father Stephen — who do not take Genesis literally are engaging in some sort of self-deception or intellectual dishonesty?

    I find it interesting that your faith was destroyed by your conclusion that Adam was not historical, if only because I give the historicity of Adam so little thought. It has occurred to me, sure, and I wrestle with it from time to time — but for it to threaten my faith would necessitate it being the foundation of my faith, and that is unimaginable. As many have said, there starting point is the resurrection. Paul does not say, “If Adam did not exist, our faith is in vain …” but rather, “If Christ did not rise from the dead, our faith is in vain …” If you can embrace the resurrection and all that it immediately entails, then everything else is just scenery to be fit around it in a sensible manner.

    Regardless, from an outsider’s point of view, you do not seem to have dismissed the old faith nearly as much as you might imagine. In my humble opinion, you seem to still be searching, still probing, still pondering … And where there these things remain, hope remains. Good luck, God bless.

  208. John Shores says:

    Part Un

    I feel like we are in a political debate in which a question is raised and the answers are all over the place. Case in point:

    there are models of origins that reconcile the revelations of science with the revelations of Scripture…

    I have literally zero problem with the Creation story. I have no problem with the Flood story. The former is not incompatible with scientific discovery. The latter is too absurd to be taken seriously. But neither have any bearing on the Cross. They may be allegories that reveal some metaphysical truth but if you removed them, there would be zero impact on Christian doctrine.

    The question is the Fall. I’ll try to make this very simple:

    If you remove the story of the Fall, what else in the whole of the OT would be used as a foundation for understanding the Cross?

  209. John Shores says:

    Said another way, how does the Cross make sense if man is not fallen?

  210. John Shores says:

    I’ll post Part Deux tomorrow (responding to the idea of epic poetry) after this question has been addressed.

  211. Rhonda says:

    John Shores:
    John, you do have common ground with us believe it or not. You seem to consider yourself as a recovering Protestant, so too is any Orthodox person that converted from Protestantism, myself included. Also, 10 years ago my priest talked on this topic as part of my catechumen training. Both myself & the Orthodox membership had the same issues & comments as you & many that have posted here. We all felt a need to have the STRICTLY literal & historical Fall narrative as an integral basis of our theological framework! After I made my posting here & read the resulting comments, I only then realized that my mindset had changed & by how much! So, John, please hang with us :-)

    To Everyone: I know that I risk throwing a monkey wrench into the works thus far, but…

    I know that this will be hard for many to believe, but I do believe that a literal Adam & Eve existed & in the Genesis Fall narrative not to mention the Creation narrative. What I do not believe however is all of the modern/post-modern logical & philosophical trappings that currently fly about as theology (such as: the fall was a necessary event for the Cross therefore remove the fall & you remove the Cross, or the total depravity of mankind). I also am a lover of science (astronomy & astrophotography are my hobbies–physics, chemistry & higher mathematics all wrapped up into 1 package just makes me giddy), but I am not a lover of scientism (as Fr. Stephen put it).

    Here is why a literal Adam/Eve/Fall narrative is not necessary for my theological framework–

    I know that I am a child of God created in His image; I do not need the Creation narrative to tell me this because I know it already. I know that I am fallen; I do not need a literal Adam & Eve narrative to tell me this because I know it already. Finally I know that I need salvation through Christ; I do not need a Fall narrative to know this because I know it already. As Fr. Stephen put it some things are just “manifest”.

    Thank you all for a great discussion this round :-) Looking forward to Fr. Stephen’s next topic!

  212. Caitilin says:

    @John Shores:

    “Christ is risen from the dead, *trampling down death by death*, and in those in the tombs bestowing life!”

    John, in my small corner of the universe, the above is the point of the cross: it saves us from our death’s being everlasting.

    While I don’t have trouble with the idea of the Fall, it seems to me that we could bracket it, if you will, and regard only the question of eternal life. It seems to me that it is possible to think in terms only of [insert Father's long acronym here], and still wish to one day come to the mansion prepared for us in our Father’s house by striving daily to become ever more like Him.

    Even if we don’t accept the idea that humans are fallen, can we accept that we are not wholly like God,and but becoming more like Him is/should be our goal and ideal? Orthodoxy teaches that our lives should be oriented toward striving for theosis–acquiring a God-likeness–in this life, a life that also extends into the age to come.

    Christi’s Pschal sacrifice, istm, is not so much about expiation or satisfaction, but about *redemption* . He redeems our lives from the grave, he removes death, that final stumbling block to our communion with the Father.

    By His taking on death on the Cross, Christ connects our temporal selves to his eternality. It is this connection, it seems to me, which permits of an understanding of our human place in the natural observabe world in which the Fall is not central.

    Maybe this is mistaken, but I wanted to try. I have so truly enjoyed reading your conversations, with Father Stephen and PJ especially–I hope you stay around, in no small part due to the beauty of your exchanges. :)

    Peace be with you.

  213. Shane says:

    John Shores said:
    If you remove the story of the Fall, what else in the whole of the OT would be used as a foundation for understanding the Cross?

    John, without directly answering your question, just wanted to point out that the Orthodox understanding of the Fall might be different than what you were accustomed to with the Protestant background.

    The fathers didn’t regard Adam as perfect, as in complete and finished; rather they viewed him as infant-like, with a dynamic capacity to grow and develop and mature (evolve?) in his task of uniting the creation to God.

    This leads to a difference in what for example Calvin would regard as the Fall – total depravity of man, versus the Orthodox view of the Fall.

    Maybe Fr Stephen could expand on this.

  214. dinoship says:

    John,

    “Said another way, how does the Cross make sense if man is not fallen?”

    please remember that Adam’s Fall is not even mentioned in the Gospels.
    Is that not your ‘data’ first and foremost? So, The Cross, then makes sense in the Gospels without the Fall…

    I cannot believe that people forget that the Cross has always been offered us as Life through Death. Is that not plain enough?

  215. fatherstephen says:

    Drewster,
    Please understand that I’m not arguing against someone’s belief in historical Adam. Far from it. I am saying that to construct a theological understanding that necessitates it (as though it were a fixed point of Orthodox doctrine) is a mistake. I dare say my parents, good Orthodox Christians, peasants in a western world, would have taken your position til the day they died.

  216. John Shores says:

    …it seems to me that we could bracket it, if you will, and regard only the question of eternal life.

    I’ve known a lot of people who don’t like to be troubled with the OT and would be quite happy if the bible began with Matthew. But it doesn’t.

    First: My earliest recollection was at age 4 when, failing to recall the names of the patriarchs, my father placed chalk between my teeth, held me up by the ankles and bounced my head against the table making me repeat “Abraham” (bonk), “Isaac” (bonk), “Jacob” (bonk). Bible study was a nightly family activity throughout my childhood with most of our time spent in the OT. I had Proverbs drilled into me every morning from 6am-7am as early as 6 years old. We were at church every time the doors were open and when they weren’t we had people from church over at our house listening to my father teach the Bible.

    It is not possible for me to willy-nilly ignore the OT and begin with “how do I gain eternal life?”

    Second: If the death of Christ is about eternal life, I’m not interested at this point, even considering that “here and now” is encapsulated in eternity. I am solely interested in “is there a god?” and “what is this god like?”

    I think I am be extremely generous by simply sticking with the Fall and not including anything after it; god’s behaviour is outrageous in hundreds of passages in the OT and I cannot address them at all unless I first reconcile Fall and Cross. If I simply ignore the Fall, I may as well abandon the OT. If there is no “sin nature” (which may well be the case) then it’s time to put the Bible away and read something with a lighter story line and happier ending (anything by Stephen King would qualify).

    Adam’s Fall is not even mentioned in the Gospels

    So now we are not only ignoring the OT but the epistles as well?

    The apostles thought it was important. So do I.

    If they hadn’t, I think we would be free to ignore the whole first sixteen chapters of Genesis entirely and I would have started my trek with a teenage kid tied up and about to be stabbed to death by his dad (which, frankly, gives me far less trouble than the fall – I know what teenagers are like).

    When I got to the Fall, I encountered a calculationCommandWithErrors message and could not move forward.

    I know I know. Linear thinking… But it isn’t. Even beginning with the Cross, the variables regarding the Fall have to be included and the calculation is impossible with these variables. I’d have been far happier if Paul had just left off mentioning it. Indeed, I’d still be a (befuddled) Christian trying to believe that the god of the OT is the same god as the NT.

  217. John Shores says:

    I just ran across this quote and thought of some of the large-word dialogues here:

    “I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.”

    – Catherine Morland, in Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey

  218. Michael Bauman says:

    John Shores: I’d like to suggest that the difficulty with the OT passages has more to do with us than with either God or His actions described in the Old Testament.

    One of the great pitfalls of the historical approach is that it is seldom historical. It is, rather, a projection of the present back into the past. Our sensibiliies, bias, prejudice, hurts and joys are all involved in our historical interpretation. There are ways to minimize such difficulties, but they never go away entirely.

    One of the best ways is simply to trust the veracity of witnesses. Verify it, of course, as best we can but at some level, our historical knowledge is always based upon trusting previous witnesses. We cannot really ‘know’ history.

    In the case of The Fall, we have the Apostolic witness. We can approach that witness with a lot of different attitudes. However, if we are to be Christian, at some point we have to approach them with faith and use their witness to interpret the Fall rather than using our own environment to interpret them.

    In a world that is imdued with skepticism, cynacism, materialism, and all of the other “…isms” we have created, it is far easier to than not to write off the witness of the Apostles and the other saints about the reality of the Fall and the restoration which Jesus Christ brought through His Incarnation,i.e., the full panoply of His ministry and witness united with humanity including the Glorious second coming.

    With the penetration of God into his creation and the taking on of humanity–everything changes. We can no longer really know what happened ‘before’ without reference to that incredible occurence. The Cross and Resurrection are the center point of all that. It is a point that is multi-dimensional wrapping time, space, life and death altogether in a totally unimaginable way and opening a path to the experience of the ineffible and the eternal within our own being and together with one another.

    John, have you read C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia?

  219. John says:

    John Shores,

    I don’t think it is fair to say anyone here is ignoring the OT, at least so far as I have read, though I may have missed something. If you spent time in the multitude of commentaries from the Fathers, it would be quite evident that such is not the case. There may just be some miscommunication or misunderstandings on the subject as presented here, but please understand that we, the Orhodox, do not ignore it, even if our treatment of it isn’t what you’d expect one to have given your desciption of your upbringing.

    John

  220. Andrew says:

    JS if I may,

    A quick thought on linear thinking. Thomas Aquinas thought everything he had previously written to be like “straw” after his encounter with the divine on the Via Appia. This is to say that before “Pasch”, mankind is subject to a certain futility – the straw man was in truth paper mâché.

    The entire linear argument fell long before Pascha, so to speak — with the appearance of Moses and Elijah on the temple mount. Thus are the arguments of the literalists (of all hues) brought to nada, or thereabouts. Pascha itself prefigures all of history and this includes Moses, Elijah and the temple mount.

  221. dinoship says:

    “John Shores: I’d like to suggest that the difficulty with the OT passages has more to do with us than with either God or His actions described in the Old Testament.”

    I fully agree.

    Reading through your childhood ‘christian upbringing’ horrified me!
    Anytime someone leaves out freedom and humility in his pedagogy, he goes off the rails. Orthodoxy is ALL about freedom. We do not even evangelise because it would somehow trespass on someone’s freedom. We must be almost ‘forced’ in order to evangelise to someone who is extremely ‘thirsty’ for it.
    I have encountered this type of Protestant influenced pedagogy before – in Orthodox circles unfortunately- it is catastrophic!
    I have also encountered -thank God- utterly noble, free, respectful, liberated, unshakeable-in-their-faith yet without-the-slightest-tendency-of-imposting-it-on-others Saints. It is very telling that their understanding of the OT passages that someone with a ‘forced’ upbringing might have, is completely different…
    May the Lord help us all!

  222. PJ says:

    John,

    “Said another way, how does the Cross make sense if man is not fallen?”

    Of course man is fallen: that is, terribly at odds with himself, his neighbor, and his God. Nobody is suggesting otherwise. Many of us just don’t think this condition was caused in precisely the manner described in Genesis. Genesis is true — just not literally true.

    Man was created to have communion with God and neighbor. This communion was and is frustrated by man’s abuse of freedom from time immemorial. Whether the abuse began in Eden or on the African savannah — who cares? Whatever the origins of our predicament, the resolution is in the paschal mystery of Christ, in which we find peace and love and reconciliation.

    It’s really that simple. Yes, most Christians of the past seem to have taken Genesis at face value. They had no reason not to. However, the “how” of our fallenness is not ultimately important. The fact stands, regardless of the cause: We are selfish, finite, violent, passionate, cruel, greedy, and so on. God, in His love, wishes more for us: And He provides more in the mystical pascha, Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, in whom sons of man become sons of God, in whom we make the final leap from “animal” to “logical” beings, by virtue of the Logical having become animal.

  223. fatherstephen says:

    JS,
    The Cross indeed does not make sense if man is not fallen. That is profoundly true and I would in no way argue with that. And the fall clearly has a historical manifestation. We die. We kill, etc.

    How exactly we come to be fallen is a little more mysterious. The Genesis account gives us a story that depicts a fall (the fall). We have added to that (rightly I think) many layers of thought and reflection. St. Paul’s work in Romans is perhaps the most foundational for Christians. The story of the Garden is deeply rich and capable of producing thought and reflection. Everything from Eve taken out of Adam’s side (which the fathers see as a type of Christ and the Church birthed from His side (Blood and Water – Eucharist and Baptism), etc. And many, many other layers. The story is a rich source of theological reflection on man, on sin, and on the need for redemption. It has been used by those who constructed various atonement theories (some of them are troubling). But the story is deeply rich – particularly as it is written.

    The story (and I keep using that word intentionally) is far richer, I think, than anything we ever say in our science. Indeed, I need the story of Adam and Eve in order to usefully reflect on science. When I think about DNA, for instance, Adam is important in my thought.

    The fall clearly happens. How a “literal” account, a photograph or film, of that would look I have no idea. For that matter, how a film or photograph of the first days of creation would look I do not know. I accept Big Bang theory, or something like that, and find those early verses helpful in thinking about it. They relate it to me in a way that allows me to reflect, theologically on the truth of creation (and thus the Big Bang).

    The creation and fall of Adam function much the same way for me. I have no doubt of the fall – I’m living in it. The story makes sense to me of things I could never know otherwise.
    1. We were not created for death (which is not to say we were created immortal – St. Irenaeus)
    2. Our path has led us away from God and true union with Him and towards death – we sin.
    3. Christ has become the New Creation, the New Adam. He overcomes death and unites us to Life.
    4. In Christ we can truly fulfill our creation in the image and likeness of God.

    So, ask me what it looks like on the day of resurrection. Again, I cannot begin to picture it. “The graves will open and the sea will give up her dead?” Of course. Yes. Some of the fathers asked the question, what about those who were eaten by fish? or by lions (a real problem at the time). Again, we can’t exactly answer that – certainly not with photographic/historical accuracy. The statement “the graves will open…etc.” and others like it are enough. More than that, Christ’s resurrection, with the eyewitnesses makes it possible for those statements to be enough. In the same manner, His resurrection makes the story of Adam’s fall to be enough.

    Thoughts this morning…I’ve been reading Bouteneff as well today.

  224. PJ says:

    John,

    I highly, highly suggest you read The Mystery of Christ by Fr. John Behr. I had some trouble with this book at first, and I still have a few criticisms, but it has slowly grown on me and opened up my mind. It’s a quick read and pretty cheap. You would do yourself a great disservice by not reading it.

  225. Michael Patrick says:

    The best description of the fall I’ve seen is in the first chapter of Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s little book, “For the Life of the World”.

  226. Andrew says:

    JS once again if I may,

    The manner of our rising which is also truly to say Christ’s rising — is not simply more interesting than the manner of our falling but rather it utterly eclipses it. As Father Steve says, it is “unimaginable” because it lies completely outside the pre-Pasch lexicon, which cannot even contextualise the divine reversal, the “starting point” of Pascha.

  227. dinoship says:

    Father Stephen’s previous comment’s ending is deeper than one must first think:

    “Orthodoxy is not a journey back to where you came. It’s somewhere else.”

    It is not just for John Shores personally…

  228. John Shores says:

    The Cross indeed does not make sense if man is not fallen.

    Finally, someone who answered the question. Thank you for that!

    So the next question is whether what is referred to as fallen (that is, man being “terribly at odds with himself, his neighbor”) is biological or is it “spiritual”?

    What if it can be demonstrated that manipulation of the brain can alter a personality such that a formerly violent person can be made non-violent (or vice versa)?

    What if it discovered that genetic alterations can be made to give rise to people who are not at odds with themselves or their neighbors?

    The difficulty for me is that so much that was formerly attributed to devils and the spiritual have been found to have biological origins. So I find it difficult to jump to conclusions.

    If we can agree that God created a material and a spiritual universe with the intent of uniting them in some fashion

    Sorry but we can’t. Not at this juncture. I am still looking for evidence of the spiritual.

    I recently saw an interview between Pierce Morgan and Penn Jillett. Pierce was rather vehement in his being offended by the very existence of atheists. But when questioned, he described god as “beyond comprehension” and Penn replied, “you say that god cannot be comprehended and I say that I simply don’t know. What’s the difference?” I would submit that the difference is in the non sequitur “nature proves god” then implying a “personal god” and then presuming that we are part of something beyond nature.

    Pascha itself prefigures all of history and this includes…

    I don’t know why I am having such difficulty in getting this point across. It includes the Fall as well. All parts of the equation have to be accounted for, regardless of whether you put Christ first or in the middle. The problem is not timeline, it is that the formula does not compute.

    I don’t think it is fair to say anyone here is ignoring the OT

    Dismissing, ignoring, “bracketing”, excusing. It all amounts to the same thing. Failing to take something as important as the Fall into consideration will of course lead to different results.

    John, have you read C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia?

    Of course. Lewis was a staple of our upbringing. What kind of Protestant would I be if it were otherwise? I have also read (and cherished) everything by the man he called his mentor (George MacDonald).

    Fr. Stephen: I think you are the only person here who is comprehending what I am saying. I understand what you are saying about the story and I appreciate your viewpoint. When you say, “The story makes sense to me of things I could never know otherwise” I can fully understand why this is so. You have accepted a premise that I have failed to come to terms with an within the context of that belief, the fall elucidates what your are unable to see from a purely physical standpoint. I get that.

    But may I ask you this; when you say “we were created immortal” do you believe that your existence began at conception or do you believe that you are an eternal being who is sojourning here (e.g. that you existed “before” your physical birth)?

  229. Andrew says:

    Dino,

    “Orthodoxy is not a journey back to where you came. It’s somewhere else.”

    So true.

  230. PJ says:

    “But may I ask you this; when you say “we were created immortal” do you believe that your existence began at conception or do you believe that you are an eternal being who is sojourning here (e.g. that you existed “before” your physical birth)?”

    The pre-existence of souls was, I believe, long ago condemned (save, of course, in the mind of God). Constantinople II, maybe?

    “What if it can be demonstrated that manipulation of the brain can alter a personality such that a formerly violent person can be made non-violent (or vice versa)?

    What if it discovered that genetic alterations can be made to give rise to people who are not at odds with themselves or their neighbors?”

    A sort of eugenics for the genetics age? This seems to me very naive. Not to mention dangerous. We’ve all seen the disasters that result from trying to engineer ideal human beings. (To begin with, it’s very difficult to agree on what is ideal…)

    Anyway, there’s no goodness except through freedom, because there’s no love through freedom.

    You’re thinking too rudimentary, John. Peace isn’t simply the lack of violence: it is the presence of love. And love cannot be ginned up through labs or social programs.

    I am beginning to suspect that one of the pieces of the puzzle that you’re missing is *personhood*. The modern age has an extremely impoverished understanding of what it means to be a person. Since we so blind to the true dimensions of personhood, we are blind to the true nature of love — and, of course, God. The depths of personhood must be plumbed in order to make sense of the genuine Gospel. This was a big contribution of Archimandrite Sophrony.

  231. fatherstephen says:

    JS
    You misread me on the immortal thing. We were not created immortal (acc. to Irenaeus and many of the fathers). There is the possibility of immortality through union with God but we never got there – but we do in Christ. I believe my existence began at conception, though my existence was always known by God. The other idea (pre-existence and eternal would be heretical and Origenist maybe even kindof Scientology :) ).

    On the stuff about biology. Doesn’t matter what they can do with genetics, etc. Sin and death are fairly coterminous in Orthodoxy. If it isn’t resurrection, then it’s not what Christ came to do. Our fallenness, ultimately is our mortality, and that mortality is manifest throughout our existence here – “corruption” is St Paul’s word for it, i.e. “rot.” We are rotting. Our bodies are rotting in many ways. That rotting is manifest in our behavior as well. It’ll get our bodies in the grave, too.

  232. John Shores says:

    Our bodies are rotting in many ways. That rotting is manifest in our behavior as well. It’ll get our bodies in the grave, too.

    Isn’t that simply stating the obvious?

    What becomes of those who are not “in Christ” then after death, according to Orthodox teachings?

  233. John Shores says:

    And love cannot be ginned up through labs…

    I don’t know about that. Bonobos are extremely peaceful creatures by nature. If they had a larger frontal lobe, I don’t think that they would become less peaceful. Indeed, they may well simply find new ways to express their affections.

    I deny this whole notion that love is not possible without free choice. That’s nonsense. The same affection that we call love (whether eros or friendship etc) is exhibited all throughout the animal kingdom. Even reconciliation between offenders and the offended is common among primate – even when the offense involves the murder of another mother’s child. “Free will” doesn’t into it. It’s simply the nature of these animals.

  234. John Shores says:

    …“Free will” doesn’t enter into it…

  235. Andrew says:

    JS,

    What becomes of those who are not “in Christ” then after death, according to Orthodox teachings?

    Orthodoxy doesn’t see it that way at all. Each possesses within themselves the undistorted image of God — from this stems the (true) freedom to act and love another.

  236. dinoship says:

    John S,

    “And love cannot be ginned up through labs…”

    “I don’t know about that.”

    To someone who has experienced the “lab created love” which can be tasted even through chemical enhancement with high doses of Serotonin, (with the addition of Dopamin and Endorphin) right now and not in the future;
    and who has also tasted the Love that is imparted by the Grace of God, which inexplicably enlarges one’s heart to love the entire universe with a love that has no parallel in all of this world, and when it ‘goes’ you can only wonder how can God do THAT????? (especially since it is so completely natural -although reminds one of the primordial natural- while exceeding all of our imagination), – the drug induced or lab induced cheep copies of it seem like the most devious of all traps in the devils arsenal!
    In fact, you are left with the question of how could God even allow such cheap copies to deceive people, although you have your answer in his unbelievable respect for our freedom and respect even for our desire to experiment to the point of total hubris!
    God seems to be such an ‘aristocrat’ and so singularly respectful of the gift of freedom he bestows on His image, that He would rather we find out the hard way what the consequences of our disobedience is, rather than give us a smack beforehand. Is that not what all the psychologists claim to be the best method of “punishment” for extremely disobedient kids? – consequences?

  237. PJ says:

    John,

    Who is your favorite bonobo dramatist? Have you a baboon philosopher who particularly offends your sensibilities? What was the name of that gorilla who discovered the God particle?

    Ah, the famed equality of man and beast …

    No, no … The beast is satisfied to eat and procreate. The man asks, “Is this all? There must be more!” That is all the difference in the world. In the space between man and beast lies freedom, love, humor, piety, and all that makes existence more than an endless cycle of mastication and fornication.

    Shame on your modern cynicism!

  238. Michael Patrick says:

    Seriously, this conversation needs Schmemann! I wish he was here. Chapter 1 of his book says the fall was all about food at the top of the food chain.

  239. dinoship says:

    For some reason people of our age want to create automatic life, artificial intelligence; to interpret the modern evolutionary theory of life only so that a brutally godless origin of Man can be manifested; they ignore acclaimed scientific principles, such as the Anthropic Principle (that the values of global constants are such that of necessity lead to the appearance of Human life), which imply Man’s worth -similar to what is proclaimed by the Church. While at the same time they look for scientific proof of the existence of aliens – not to communicate with them, (this cannot be done), but in order to dispel the uniqueness of Man. They prefer proclaiming that the material universe is a result of chance and we are simply a re-jumbling of nothingness – beings that randomly appeared from nothingness, rather than confessing a Creator in Whose image and likeness we were fashioned.

    It all reminds me of the Psalm, “Man that is in honour, understandeth not, and became like the beasts that perish.”

    Actually, that is the Fall is it not?

  240. Andrew says:

    JS,

    Most species of the whale family certainly have bigger brains than homo sapiens, including I might add the relatively diminutive bottle-nosed dolphin. We have much to learn from the animal kingdom, as Christ himself said:

    Behold the fowl of the air for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not better than they?
    Matthew, vi. 26.

    I’m sure the bonobos are doing the best they can — well said.

  241. fatherstephen says:

    Gosh, I go off for Vespers for a few hours – and the conversation continues!

    What happens when we die? Well, the best way, I think, to think and speak of these things is through the imagery of union with Christ. We are saved by being united to Christ (baptized into His death, raised in His resurrection). Communion, all the sacraments, are a union with Christ. Prayer is a union with Christ. He has united Himself with us and does all things for everyone that we might all be united with Him. The Church is union with Christ – it’s not the means to union with Christ – it is union with Christ.

    So, the question becomes, is there any means of union with Christ other than what we know in the Church, the general consensus of the Tradition is that yes, there is, but it is quite opaque to us. It’s not something we declare definitively with assurance.

    What we do declare is that Christ has united Himself to us (everyone) and desires that all be saved (be united with Him). St. Paul says this quite clearly in Eph. 1:10. God has purposed in the fullness of times to gather together in one all things in Christ Jesus.

    Are all things gathered willingly? Is this a universal salvation. Again, it is opaque. St. Isaac of Syria thought yes, it is a universal salvation (there are a handful of others among the fathers) but mostly we simply say, “We don’t know.” Our hope is in a good God who loves us and does not desire the death of a sinner (including the greater forms of death beyond this world).

    As for Baboons, etc. Animals are “subject to futility” as in Romans 8, but they are not “fallen” in the sense that we are culpably fallen. My beloved Archbishop Dmitri, of blessed memory, told me that Prof. Serge Verhovskoy (also of blessed memory), used to say that animals had no sin. They do what they do, they act in accordance with their nature. We can make them use that nature in wrong ways, but they do not sin. A dog is always a dog – never, God forbid, a cat. Humans, on the other hand, consistently fail to live as truly human. Our nature isn’t flawed – what is broken is our ability to live in accordance with our nature. See my article, All Dogs Go to Heaven.

    Most of the things we do – even many of the evil things we do – still manifest something rather human about them – only deeply distorted. Even our desire to be gods (which can become the most evil of perversions) has a root in a properly human desire. As the father of 4 (all now grown and married), I have reflected a lot over the years, marveling at their excellence and their failings and see in all of it the brilliance or the shadow of the glory of God. I would say the same of the many people I have pastored – though I know my own children far better.

    People should judge others only with great kindness, understanding first how deeply God and all creation groans for their salvation. I have sometimes thought of the entire trajectory of creation, from its bursting out of nothing to the present, as one very long creative act of a good God who has purposed, as in Ephesians, to bring it to that final glorious end known to St. Paul. The individual lives and actions of each of us and everything everywhere, being part of a wonder, a tragedy, a redemption, and a glory drawn towards union with Christ. It all has this freedom that we understand so poorly, freedom that alone allows for love, and yet in the wonder of God’s love, this same freedom lovingly (many, many times tragically) moves towards its unseen goal. And in all of this, grace, the life of God, moves and draws us. I think of this sometimes, especially in the face of so much tragedy and evil and the things that perplex. What I know is a good God. Him I know. The rest is often a great mystery.

  242. PJ says:

    I’m often jealous of animals. They are, as Fr. Stephen says, always doing their “animal thing.” Man, on the hand, consistently fails to live up to his humanity.

  243. PJ says:

    “freedom that alone allows for love,”

    This is an important affirmation, but John apparently does not accept it. Strangely, neither do many Christians of the Protestant variety.

  244. John Shores says:

    I hope Fr. Stephen replies because it seems everyone else tends to go off-subject far too quickly.

    Dinoship: I am not talking about drugs. I am talking about something entirely different. After all, we presently have a large number of people who perform mental exercises to change their neural pathways which alters the way they think and behave, all from self-will.

    What if we figured out how to create people with brains that were, by nature, altruistic, joyful and kind?

    When I mention bonobos and whatnot, I am pointing to their nature (not their inability to write sonnets, PJ). Could not our nature be genetically manipulated to be peaceful as they are?

    The point being, if it’s possible then does this not also tell us that the thing we call a “sin nature” is not a “spiritual” condition but rather a biological one?

    I am merely posing a question. I don’t know the answer.

    PJ: I don’t know why you insist on failing to understand me or why you are so eager to take offense.

    Who is your favorite bonobo dramatist?…

    Which chimpanzee created the iron maiden? What gorilla waged war? Which bonobo set out to destroy nature for his own gain?

    Your questions have no bearing on the subject matter we are discussing.

    The beast is satisfied to eat and procreate.

    Are they? Have you ever read anything by anyone who has observed them? Do you suggest that they don’t, for example, make tools or form social bonds that are beyond procreation or experience fairness, reciprocity, conflict and reconciliation? These are just a few things that lie in their purview. You fail to give appropriate credit where it is due.

    More to the point, I was not attacking creativity or reason in humans. I was asking if the things that drive us to do bad are simply our biological nature and if so do we have (with that creativity and reason) the ability to improve upon it?

    I am not advocating devolution. I am asking if there might be a biological remedy that would lead to the peace that we all say we want.

    Shame on your modern cynicism!

    ROTFLMAO! I’m crying from laughing so hard! Oh my goodness. You really are determined to twist my words, aren’t you?

    Cynicism?! Hardly! I want nothing more than a humanity that lives the beatitudes. (:::I’m still cracking up:::) If that can be achieved through biological means, what then? Would that really be so awful? Would it be so terrible to live in a world of beings that love naturally? Isn’t that what heaven is supposed to be like? Or do you suppose heaven will be Earth 2.0, filled with people who have free will and daily have to fight their nature in order to participate in perfection?

    Dear me! I’m sorry. You are just too funny. Thanks. I needed that.

    Dinoship:

    Man that is in honour, understandeth not, and became like the beasts that perish.

    I have a very different view. To me, to equate brutish man with “the beasts” is an affront to the beasts, not to man (just as calling a politician a “whore” is an insult to honest prostitutes everywhere). You will find no more cooperative and loyal beast than the wolf, for example, yet vile men are referred to as “wolves.” Seems rather unfair to the wolf, if you ask me.

    Andrew: I find it extremely humbling when I read studies or view lectures by people who study bonobos at how incredibly intelligent they are. Yet they are peaceful as well.

    By contrast, chimps have a nature closer to our own and are even capable of premeditated murder. But that is their nature. Yet we don’t think them immoral. It takes a highly evolved brain to create a gang, find a victim, and carry out a murder.

    My question was one of nature, not intelligence. If we had a nature like that of bonobos, that would not make us stupid. Nor, I think, would it devalue love. To say that love only has value when it is exercised in the face of horrible conditions is not fair, IMHO.

  245. John Shores says:

    Humans, on the other hand, consistently fail to live as truly human.

    I wonder if an alien species observing human beings would agree with you. It seems to me that if dogs behave a certain way and we call that their nature that one ought not turn around and say that the way humans behave is not their nature. After all, isn’t our nature simply that which we do?

    We may wish that it wasn’t our nature and even dream up an ideal that we’d like to achieve (or return to) but that doesn’t change the fact that homo-sapiens act now as they always have. If 90+ thousand years of the same behavior doesn’t equal our nature, what does?

    Indeed, I find people far less vexing when I accept that they are the way they are. At least, I don’t look at them as in some way defective. It’s easier for me to be charitable with this view.

  246. John Shores says:
    freedom that alone allows for love,

    This is an important affirmation, but John apparently does not accept it. Strangely, neither do many Christians of the Protestant variety.

    Would you say that, before the fall, Adam did not love god?

    Are you suggesting that people who have passed into Heaven do not love god or each other?

  247. fatherstephen says:

    John S,

    I hope Fr. Stephen replies because it seems everyone else tends to go off-subject far too quickly.

    I agree. Seems I’ve lost the flow of the thread. Was my lost comment not a reply?

    On human nature. I’m describing human nature theologically. In that sense, Christ alone reveals human nature. If Christ is not who I believe him to be, then what you see is what you get.

    Essentially, this is the point for me…where my faith begins and ends. I believe that Christ was raised from the dead – in a new mode of existence we describe as the resurrection. From this everything else flows and follows. Because I believe in that singular event, everything else is allowed to fall into place however it will. I’m free to speculate, if need be, about the nature of the fall, the nature of creation. My speculation generally runs in this form: if Christ is risen from the dead, then what does that mean for ….. whatever I thinking about. Christ’s resurrection is the single thing that makes sense of everything else.

    The pertinent question is why do I believe that Christ is risen from the dead.

  248. Karen says:

    John Shores, having read about your “Christian” childhood upbringing–aaacckkk! Horror is the only appropriate response for an Orthodox Christian (though Orthodox Christian parents can make the same mistake). I am so sorry for what you experienced. It also explains to me why you think the death penalty should be used more (which also deeply saddens me, though which in a certain context that feeling might be more understandable than the idea that what you experienced constituted appropriate discipline of a child).

    Several years ago now when I was Evangelical, I attended a workshop on the discipline of children at a Christian home schooling convention. Most of it was common sense stuff. That is until it got to the point about the place of punishment in the whole scheme. The teacher’s premise here was predicated on a very literal interpretation of Proverbs 13:24, teaching that *corporeal* punishment with a literal *rod* (switch/stick) was *commanded* by this Scripture (rather than seeing the Proverbs as elucidating general principles in the context of the culture of that time, i.e., accurately reading the literary genre of Proverbs). When asked during the Q & A session at the end of the workshop about how much was too much (in terms of the intensity of the beating with the rod), the teacher said *very cooly and casually* (it was how he said it as much as what he said that was horrifying to anyone who has the slightest experience of Christ’s love and its implications for parenting one’s children) that if you injure the child that is going too far and if you strike the face in his opinion that was inappropriate, but that if you didn’t leave a welt you weren’t doing enough to make your point. . . .

    I left that workshop really horrified and actually sick to my stomach. I wish I could have articulated what I was feeling and objected out loud as he expounded his answer at this point, but I was too completely stunned by the callous attitude even to open my mouth–all I wanted to do was get out of there fast! Since my brother was in a Fundamentalist cult for several years (mercifully only as a single adult–not a child or parent) and I have other loved ones who experienced severe spiritual abuse at the hands of Protestant Fundamentalist teachers, I will refrain from going on about Fundamentalist spiritual abuse (which it seems actually has some pseudo-Orthodox forms as well, sadly), because I will undoubtedly sin in much of what I would have to say in expressing my feelings about all of that. In any event, it certainly helps to explain the struggles you are having now. Lord, have mercy!

    Here are some words from some contemporary Greek Orthodox Elders (mature Christian monks known and respected in the Orthodox world for their wisdom) on parenting, which you might appreciate:

    “Speak more to God about your children than to your children about God . . .The soul of the teenager is in a state of an explosion of freedom. This is why it is hard for them to accept counsel. Rather than counseling them continuously and reproaching them again and agin, leave the situation to Christ, to the Panagia [a reference to Christ’s Mother), and to the Saints, asking that they bring them to reason.”

    “Deal with your children as colts, sometimes tightening and other times loosening the bit. When the colt kicks, without abandoning the bit, we loosen it, otherwise it will break. When however, it is peaceful, then we tighten the bit and take the colt where we like.”

    “Parents should love their children as their children and not as their idols. That is to say, they should love their children as they are and not how they would like them to be–to be like them.”

    “[To parents who asked what to do when their children don't listen:] Pray with faith, counsel them as much as possible with love, in a gentle way. For, forgive me, nothing good comes of being strict. This is because they will up and leave . . . and today we live in Sodom and Gomorrah and worse.”

    Sorry to go a bit off topic here.

  249. Karen says:

    John Shores, also with regard to your comment about animal love, I would also like to mention that from a Christian perspective the term “love” has a spiritual connotation and is much more than the instinct-driven emotional and relational bondedness that occurs between members of many animal species (and even on occasion between members of different animal species).

    In its deepest expression, it is the freewill choice to give of oneself sacrificially (even, if necessary making the ultimate sacrifice of giving one’s own life–like one Christian in a Nazi death camp I read about who voluntarily took the place of a Jew in line for the gas chamber) in order to provide for the well-being of another. This kind of love is given not merely out of stoic duty, not because one fears punishment if one does otherwise, not even because one is bonded to the other in the way of animal love, but in heartfelt conviction that other has this worth and even when the other is an enemy. That is the nature of the “love” that is inspired of God, that saves a human being, and that unites him with Christ and of which only a human being is capable, because even in those cases where animals apparently give their lives to save another animal because of the bond between them (many animal mothers do this instinctively), there is no evidence they do it with foresight of their own demise, nor out of a free-will choice (realizing they could do otherwise), and certainly *not* for an animal with which they have no such natural bond!

  250. Rhonda says:

    John Shores:

    I deny this whole notion that love is not possible without free choice…

    Then I very propose that you understand neither love nor free-will. That’s okay though, I do not believe that any of us mere mortals do fully. Regards the “love” found in animals I can only say that we humans are very prone to anthropomorphizing.

    Try reading:
    The Freedom of Morality by Christos Yannaras
    The Holy Trinity: In the beginning there was love by Dumitru Staniloae
    For The Life of The World by Fr. Alexander Schmemann

  251. John Shores says:

    Karen:

    It also explains to me why you think the death penalty should be used more

    It’s not a vengeance thing with me. Quite the opposite. I cannot think of a more cruel fate than life in prison. If I was to take a spiritual view, I would say the sooner the offender got to god, the better. Years in prison serve to harden the heart.

    I attended a workshop on the discipline…

    Yeah. My dad was very proud that we were terrified of him. His motto was, and I quote, “A little violence goes a long way.” He was proud to announce that to anyone who would listen too.

    I received my last beating when I was fifteen. I wasn’t able to really get over it until I left the faith. It was at that time that I began speaking with his twin brother and learning about their childhood. I had it easy, compared to him. His father? Well, his father was abandoned by his dad and was raised by his aunt and uncle who beat him every day saying “I know you did something wrong today.” Once I got a context for my own life, I was able to (very easily) forgive my dad and even to come to a point that I admired him. If I had been dealt the same hand he had been given, I don’t know that I would have survived and if I did I’d probably be an alcoholic.

    Speak more to God about your children than to your children about God

    Amen! As I stated earlier in this very long thread, I think the Christian life was meant to be lived, not taught. What children should be taught is how to think, not what to think. I was indoctrinated just as surely as an Hitler Youth or child born into a communist family.

    This is the principle reason that I am drawn to Orthodox Christians. Y’all seem to me the only ones who call yourselves “Christian” and haven’t lost your sanity.

    from a Christian perspective the term “love” has a spiritual connotation…

    Be patient with me. I realize that once one accepts that there is a “spiritual” and then accepts the Christian doctrine, these things make sense in a different way than to an outsider.

    Again, my sole reason for posting here is not to discuss doctrine but as a means to try to find this god person. I appreciate your understanding that I cannot discuss step 25 on the same terms as you when I am still struggling with step 1.

    Rhonda:

    I very propose that you understand neither love nor free-will.

    It seems a simple question to me. Did Adam love Eve? Did they love god before the Fall? Isn’t the whole point of salvation to reach (via Christ) a state after this life in which everyone simply loves without having to contend with the sin nature? Does god had a choice to sin or not?

    That there is “free will” does not mean that there has to be “free will” in order to have love.

    Fr. stephen:

    I hope Fr. Stephen replies because it seems everyone else tends to go off-subject far too quickly.

    I was apparently writing at the same time as you because I didn’t see your reply until I submitted my post.

    Christ’s resurrection is the single thing that makes sense of everything else.

    Perhaps I am going about this all wrong. I cannot get past Christ’s death, which I must do before proceeding to the resurrection. I still fail to see a reason for the Cross even if I grant that man is “fallen.” I doubt that I can make heads or tails of it. So, the sooner god shows up, the better, IMHO.

    ————————–
    As an aside, I wrote this in 2008 when I was going through my struggle. It’s an absurd viewpoint of the Bible that arose from the assumption that God’s point of view isn’t like man’s and that God isn’t such a horrid person as the Protestants teach. It’s a view of the history of an imaginary first universe (ours being the second go around). Take it with a bag of salt, but some of it still makes me laugh.

  252. John says:

    I have purchased Fr. John Behr’s book and will begin reading it as soon as I return from Spain in December and I second the recommendation of Schmemman’s For the Life of the World.

    John Shores, much of what is being spoken of here is better to be digested from one or two of the redommended books. Comboxes rarely illumine a conversation like a well written book can. Take your time, sit down and do some reading. I am sure some questions will be answered and other questions will arise, too. As it stands, it appears you need to begin understanding certain vocabulary from an Orthodox point of view. That is probably why it appears that there is much talking past one another. If we confuse vocabulary, then the explanations are meaningless and confused. I am a somewhat recent convert myself and have had to do some extensive adjustments in my Christian vocabulary as much of it has shifted from my Protestant days. Even subtle differences matter as the antisacramental worldview is incompatable with the sacramental worldview.

    You have enough folks talking at you at this point. I will exit the convo if only so it is less crowded here.

  253. davidp says:

    Hello…Quote: “The reality of the incarnate God was not obvious to those around him….(rest of paragraph).

    I been reading about St Ephrem the Syrian and how it has given me a new appreciation for types and symbols both nature and Scripture of the revealed Christ. Hidden to those whose “eye” is darken but luminous to those whose “eye” is clear. I am re-reading it after I bought it several years ago…and it did not make too much sense to me then, but now after it is clearer as the days go by contemplating it more and more.
    Blessings, david.

  254. Andrew says:

    Father S,

    My beloved Archbishop Dmitri, of blessed memory, told me that Prof. Serge Verhovskoy (also of blessed memory), used to say that animals had no sin. They do what they do, they act in accordance with their nature. We can make them use that nature in wrong ways, but they do not sin.

    Yes, I too reached at this conclusion and it was a watershed moment — truly. Thanks for posting this.

  255. dinoship says:

    John Shores,

    I did not understand your question “Would you say that, before the fall, Adam did not love god?”

    Nevertheless, I can see a bit of an issue of semantics Babel in all our comments here:
    What do you mean by nature, what do you mean by love? What are our respective experiences of these words? More importantly: what is our experience of these (“nature” and “love”) which comes, not from our current (fallen) nature, but through the experience of Grace, verified by a discerning spiritual Father. I know this last bit sounds “too Orthodox” to some; how many people will have had an experience of our primordial (eschatological to be more correct) nature (even a fleeting one) through Grace – as the Mother of God had when carrying Christ in the womb and ‘verified’ it at meeting Elizabeth- illuminating the deeper meaning of these words and many other words which we toss around with know deep understanding of them, sometimes with the understanding of a godless robot (freedom, love, nature, life)…
    Love, not animal or psychophysiological or human, (in the state we know it), but, Love that springs from God, is singularly aware of Him and returns to God, can only come from Grace! It is super-natural, and no animal from lowest to highest has the ability to experience this as it only acts according to nature. We do too, but, we can also, through God’s uncreated energies act above and beyond our (fallen) nature.
    That experience changes one’s understanding from a rational “thinking you understand this stuff” to realising you know and experience it first hand – yet cannot explain any of it!

    “What if we figured out how to create people with brains that were, by nature, altruistic, joyful and kind?”
    That would be ‘nature’, as in an automaton behaving this way… A grace filled Saint can sin and hate, yet he does not, the danger is that he is free, yet chooses to offer 100% of his free will to God and He provieds him with a grace which (although it totally possesses him) somehow allows his freedom too…

    “Man that is in honour, understandeth not, and became like the beasts that perish.” Is a description of the Fall because, although God gave us the possibility to live as persons “supernaturally”(there might be a better word here – the Greek is “υπέρ φύσιν”), we chose to fall back down to natura (κατα φυσιν). We, being free humans and not animals though, can, and did take this further down to perverted and unnatural (παρά φύσιν)!

  256. dinoship says:

    So, Christ has shown us the “υπέρ φύσιν”. But, now, after that, the “κατα φύσιν” and “παρά φύσιν” (the Fall) makes full sense. When the Prophet David wrote “Man that is in honour, understandeth not, and became like the beasts that perish” he was speaking of this. The true extent of the Fall is only experienced through Grace showing you the heights of the “υπέρ φύσιν”, not through history. If all Scripture was lost, that experience would make a saint re-write, more or less, the same story.

  257. Andrew says:

    Sorry, should read “reached this conclusion” – thanks.

  258. PJ says:

    John,

    Sorry, I think you misinterpreted my tone. I was being playful, not sarcastic. I suppose I’m not a very funny person … That’s one of the difficulties of the Internet: tone never seems to get through.

    My only point was this: There is a normal set range of activities in which all animals save humans engage. We appear exceptional, and that has been the conclusion of most people in most ages. A man can act like a monkey, but a monkey can’t act like a man (beyond the most rudimentary imitation, and only then within special circumstances).

    Nonetheless, if I gave you a laugh, I’m glad: It’s good for the soul! ; – )

    I will say this on a very serious note, though: If man and beast are equal, if we are both the products of random evolution, then there is no substantial basis for morality or rights. There is no reason why we can kill a cow but not a person; no reason we can keep a horse to pull a cart and not a black person to reap a field; no reason why we genetically manipulate chickens and not children. The rejection of human exceptionalism — which is not the same thing as the denigration of animals — carries with it huge risks. Think about them.

  259. Andrew says:

    Karen,

    Some thoughts on your comment on the discipline of children. You write:

    “Several years ago now when I was Evangelical, I attended a workshop on the discipline of children at a Christian home schooling convention. Most of it was common sense stuff. That is until it got to the point about the place of punishment in the whole scheme. The teacher’s premise here was predicated on a very literal interpretation of Proverbs 13:24, teaching that *corporeal* punishment with a literal *rod* (switch/stick) was *commanded* by this Scripture (rather than seeing the Proverbs as elucidating general principles in the context of the culture of that time, i.e., accurately reading the literary genre of Proverbs). When asked during the Q & A session at the end of the workshop about how much was too much (in terms of the intensity of the beating with the rod), the teacher said *very cooly and casually* (it was how he said it as much as what he said that was horrifying to anyone who has the slightest experience of Christ’s love and its implications for parenting one’s children) that if you injure the child that is going too far and if you strike the face in his opinion that was inappropriate, but that if you didn’t leave a welt you weren’t doing enough to make your point. . . .

    Without direct experience of the benchmark used in Proverbs 13:24, mankind risks projecting internalised experiences onto the other — this naturally, has serious limitations with possible negative consequences. Note that Scripture speaks of a certain “rod of iron”, which the Church Fathers also occasionally refer to, though often in more oblique language. The preternatural discipline of Psalm 2:9, Revelation 2:26 & 19:15 can only be understood in the context of the incarnation. Nonetheless, JS is wrong to contend that the fault lies with the God of the “OT” — as if a thing associated with God can ever be deemed old.

    Metropolitan Filaret of Moscow says this of the Lord’s discipline — in part response to concerns that “Roman Catholic materials” were being aimed at the Orthodox in the early 19th Century:

    “You expect now that I should give judgment concerning the other half of the present Christianity, but I just simply look upon them; in part I see how the Head and Lord of the Church heals many deep wounds of the old serpent in all the parts and limbs of his body, applying now gentle, now strong remedies, even fire and iron, in order to soften hardness, to draw out poison, to clean the wounds, to separate our malignant growths, to restore spirit and life in the half-dead and numbed structures. In such wise I attest my faith that in the end the power of God patently will triumph over human weakness, good over evil, unity over division, life over death.”

    As Kent R. Hill attests in a paper published as recently as 1997 — in citing Filaret’s well known quote above:

    “The spirit of these comments is ‘remarkably ecumenical’ and in recognition that ‘the full parameters of the Church of God are something for God alone to determine’.

    This then is Orthodoxy, but it cannot be understood from without.

  260. PJ says:

    John,

    ““What if we figured out how to create people with brains that were, by nature, altruistic, joyful and kind?””

    First, this implies that our mind is one and the same as our brain. This has yet to be proven. In fact, even the likes of Thomas Nagel have come to doubt this over-simplistic and definitely materialistic identification.

    Second, I would say that without spiritual freedom, there is no altruism, no joy, no kindness. Let me be frank: I was a drug addict when I was young. I used to take, among other things, Ecstasy. The chemical compound, MDMA, compels you to be “happy.” You can’t help but smile and “love the world.” Yet it is utterly hollow. Your brain is flooded with serotonin and other happiness-making chemicals, but it’s all fake. The next day, you don’t understand why you kissed who you kissed, why you hugged who you hugged, why you said what you said. Your love was chemically compelled, not chosen by the spirit from a position of total freedom. It is thus false, even shameful.

    Or consider a computer. It does whatever is asked of it. It never — well, rarely — says, “No.” It will assist anyone who asks to the best of its ability. And yet it would be insane to call a computer “altruistic” or “kind” or even “helpful” in the true sense of that word. Why? Because not only is there no true choice, there is no self-awareness of what it would mean to be “altruistic” or “kind” or “helpful.”

  261. Brian Van Sickle says:

    I appreciate the responses, most of which were very thoughtful. I got a bit of a chuckle out of portions of some of them, though. Some ascribed to me a reasoning that imprisons God within time. Some assumed a sense of concern about whether our Faith could be true if it didn’t, so to speak, pass the test of history, or that I begin with history that creates a necessity for God to redeem. Others had me locked in the false assumptions of a ‘creation science’ model. Still others thought I may be concerned over getting lost in post-modernism. None of these is true. Nor is any my point of reference.

    Only a few seemed to grasp what I was attempting to express. Perhaps it could best be summed up in the words of St. Paul. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.” Our Faith and our actual experience share the ‘quality’ (for lack of a better word) of the Mystery of the Incarnation. They are fully within time and space, while also beyond it, completely visible while also invisible, and so on. The created is united to the Uncreated in a union without confusion. In the words of St. Maximos, “Grace irradiates nature with a supra-natural light, and by the transcendence of its glory raises nature above its natural limits” This Grace is given to human persons and all creation in a communion of love, the Church, that is organically united to Christ. It is given to humanity, yet ‘humanity’ has no existence apart from human persons. Even that which defines the category of ‘humanity’ as distinct from the rest of creation is a Person, the Man Christ Jesus. In other words, there is no such thing as ‘human nature’ apart from specific human persons (John, Paul, Mary, Sally…). Is this not the primary reason for our insistence that the Church is not invisible? Christ who “was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled” took flesh that He might unite Himself with us who can also be heard, seen, and touched. Inherent in this union is a transcendence of time, space, and every natural limitation, but it is by no means contrary to our created nature (which is “very good”). It is, as it were, natural to our nature.

    If there was any concern expressed, it wouldn’t be over what some read into my comment. It would be more related to Gnosticism, a heresy which St. John and many others took great pains to guard against.

    Having said this, and while not failing to grasp what Fr. Stephen and others have written here about the iconic nature of language, narratives, etc., I wonder why there is such concern on the part of some over accepting the story as told – in particular the creation and fall of man whose nature, as noted above, does not exist apart from a person. Whether “literal” or not in terms of how we would normally understand historical accounts, the Church affirms the essential truth of this story through her Scriptures, Liturgy, iconography, etc. In other words, she affirms that it “happened” (if I may be permitted to use a word that may imply time to some), albeit perhaps in a manner that surpasses our ability to comprehend fully; and she fearlessly makes liberal use of it in order to draw us into deeper communion with Christ who is our life and the meaning of the story itself.

    It is certainly true that we don’t necessarily need the story to tell us we are fallen. Death is permeates our fallen existence, and I speak here not only of the death of the body. I speak of the death we feel deeply and know experientially even though we may not be able to identify it as death because we have been immersed in it since the day of our birth It is the death that is at the root of all our fears, anxieties, tensions, our chronic sense of isolation from God, from others, and even from ourselves; the death that is manifest when we find that no matter how much we may try and wish it were not so, we are ultimately incapable of being who we want to be and of doing all the good we desire; the death in ourselves and in others that renders us incapable of living in peace with one another; the death that is a constant reminder to us that something is horribly wrong in us and in the world in which we live. Personally, I find it revelatory in itself that somehow we know all this intuitively in spite of the fact that we have never known any other state of existence.

    No, we don’t need the story – or do we? While it is true that we may not need to the story to know that we are sick, it is also true that the story is nonetheless given to us by the Church – most notably the story of man’s fall in the season of Lent, as well as the story of creation as the New Creation that Christ’s Pascha inaugurates is fulfilled (Orthodox Christians familiar with the richness and depth of our Lenten services, the Liturgy of St. Basil, and Holy Week will understand whereof I speak). I wouldn’t presume to know all the reasons the story is given. I only know that for me there is no small comfort in knowing that God in His love is good, that He created all things good, that He has honored me with His image, that He has never been anything but loving toward His creatures, that the sickness of death from which I suffer and the inclination to sin that it carries was not inflicted on me by God, that the same freedom my first parents abused unto death is transformed by the Grace of God into repentance unto a new creation and life eternal.

    Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

  262. John says:

    A question, open for anyone.

    I have heard that Adam, the name, in Hebrew can also mean ‘human’ or ‘humanity’. Does that not also add another dimension to this, even the literal/historical view? Might this meaning shed a different light on how one views this story/account? Does it have a bearing also on what Father has been saying as well? I do not have any answers myself. After 275+ comments, I thought it necessary to throw another wrench into all this. My apologies but it seems to have not been touched on at all, or so istm.

    John

  263. Rhonda says:

    What is “istm” an acronym for? I’ve seen it used now several times & am just wondering. Thanks.

  264. John says:

    “It seems to me.”

  265. Rhonda says:

    Thank you, John :-)

  266. Karen says:

    John Shores, the Fundamentalist that abused some of my loved ones had experienced something very close to what your dad did (including his dad’s dying when he was young and a relative taking over the “disciplinary role” and seeing it very like your dad’s aunt and uncle apparently did. I appreciate very much the terrible cycle of relational distortion and abuse that is passed on from generation to generation and which colors and distorts one’s understanding of the Scriptures, and indeed all of life. It is gut-wrenching to me when this distortion occurs in the name of “God” and “Christian” faith and is reinforced using certain texts of the OT and misreading and misapplying them out of the context of Christ, the Fathers and the apostolic faith of the Church (which I understand to be synonymous with Orthodox Tradition).

    It can be immensely difficult to untangle all this, but I’m heartened to see that process has begun in your own life–especially, with regard to being able to appreciate what is good about your dad and how he resisted the kind of evil he himself experienced. I am also sympathetic to your realization that long-term imprisonment in our system is often less compassionate than execution, and it is helpful context to properly understand your comment. That said, having read *Dead Man Walking* by Sister Helen Prejean, I should point out that it seems most of those on death row want to live despite the terrible conditions of our prisons, and folks like the warden (a Christian) who works in the prison in the account in this book and was instrumental in enlisting Sister Helen’s help, and also folks like Chuck Colson who pioneered “Prison Fellowship” show that with love, support and faith, even our prisons, terrible as they can be, can become places of redemption and even used for good by God, though not apart from God’s intervention through those who follow Him (either explicitly or implicitly).

  267. Karen says:

    Andrew, I’m not positive I’m following the sense of your comment to me, but I should perhaps clarify that I am not in any way intending to castigate or to judge the salvation of anyone in any group or person (Fundamentalist or otherwise) either inside or outside the Church. Determining a person’s salvation or culpability is God’s business, not mine. Rather my aim was to recognize the terrible results of a wrong understanding of the Christian Tradition and the sometimes dangerous dynamics of a fundamentalist-type of reading of the Tradition or Scripture. Here I’m intentionally correcting myself not to capitalize “fundamentalist,” because I’m intending to describe a particular kind of the misreading of the Tradition or Scripture (much as Fr. Stephen has used it in this blog)–a mistake anyone influenced by our modern ways of thinking can make (i.e., all of us), not to identify it with a particular sub-group of modern Christendom per se. Some variation of this can occur in any of those sub-groups, including that of Eastern Orthodox Christians.

    Sometimes such technically “incorrect” language about or readings of Scripture, especially for the more pure in heart wherever they may be found, are quite benign. Case in point might be Fr. Stephen’s Baptist father-in-law of blessed memory, who certainly hailed from a Fundamentalist-influenced tradition if his form of Baptist did not completely qualify for the term (don’t know the specifics of this), yet who apparently interpreted his own faith in the most important ways in harmony with the fullness of the Orthodox Tradition, and had a very saintly influence on Fr. Stephen. I quite agree with your statements about the God of the OT and the Tradition’s understanding of images like God’s rule with a “rod of iron.” I cringe at the Fundamentalist misreading of these types of images and passages in Scripture, whether it is exercised to affirm liberal apostasy and rejection of the Scriptures’ “truth” or fundamentalist error in accepting Scriptures as “true” in a literalist sense and application that is not genuinely led of the Holy Spirit.

    Anyway, thanks for your comment and the opportunity to make the context of my own clearer.

  268. dinoship says:

    John S,
    I hadn’t seen: ” I cannot get past Christ’s death, which I must do before proceeding to the resurrection.”…
    There is a great deal of confusing theology on the subject in the West, some of it infiltrated in the East lately too.
    Remember Christ has two natures. As God on the Cross he shows a God like the Father of the Prodigal son’s, a God that cannot possibly be responsible for anything we accuse Him of, a God that shatters our previous understandings of God.
    As man, as “Adam”, as a person/hypostasis free from all sin which led to death in the first place (first Adam), who “hypostasises” (takes on and represents) all of humanity in His Person (something we are all called to do, and the way God Himself ‘sees’ us, as unique aspects of all creation, although we do not live up to that honour) and manifests to all that exists who man should be. A Eucharistic relational Being that never looses connection with the source of Life. A being who is identified, more than any other description, with the description Son of God. He “justifies God in the eyes of men and Man in the eyes of God”.(Elder Sophrony)
    I would love for Father Stephen to talk on this mystery too…

  269. dinoship says:

    In addition to the previous we could point that God didn’t harbor any ‘hatred’ for mankind on account of their sins. It was mankind that perceived God as a judge, on account of their own, unclean conscience: “for, although we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Romans 5: 10)
    He always loved us as the father of the Prodigal, and never demanded satisfaction for any supposedly “offended justice” of His.
    “In this, was God’s love for us made evident: that He sent forth His only Son into the world, so that we might live, through Him. In this, is Love: it is not because we loved God, but because He loved us and sent forth His Son for the atonement of our sins.”
    The Church teaches that Jesus Christ became a perfect human so that – as one of our kind – He would defeat all those things that defeated and brought about sickness to human nature.
    Therefore, in order for the Lord to rise from the dead and thus defeat death, He first had to die. But now, through faith in Jesus Christ, and in communion with His Body –the Church- every person can partake of this victory!

  270. drewster2000 says:

    John Shores,

    To be fair, you’ve put out a lot of different topics and tried to keep several going. If you really want to get one answered or have one discussed, do like you did on “the Fall” topic and let the others drop, continuing to ask about that one you really care about. It’s easy to get greedy with discussions but really you can only satisfy one thirst at a time.

  271. Andrew says:

    Karen, you’re very welcome.

  272. John Shores says:

    …do like you did on “the Fall” topic and let the others drop…

    I have tried repeatedly to refocus on the issue but respondents have a tendency to fail to answer the question and to introduce other issues. Fr. Stephen is the only one who has answered my questions directly.

    I’m done with this thread though.

  273. fatherstephen says:

    I hope to get this post completed that I’m working on. I leave on Tuesday morning for Santa Fe, NM and surrounding areas for a week. My computer time will be limited (I’m also spending time at a monastery for my soul’s sake) so the conversation may be slack this next week. I want to finish the present article, and probably post a few “greatest hits” later in the week. I’ve been taking time to prepare for next weekend when I’m leading a retreat – with 4 talks. If you have a mind to pray – prayers would be appreciated.

  274. PJ says:

    I think many people have answered — or at least attempted to answer — your question, John. A number of commenters have spoken to the historicity and meaning of the fall, morality, mortality, human origins, and the cross’ relationship with these matters. It’s just that you’re looking for a relatively straightforward answer to a question that is most mysterious and complex. You want an answer inside a paradigm that others are not necessarily working within. I think that’s the source of difficulty. Do you know what I mean?

  275. drewster2000 says:

    PJ,

    If John’s on one side of the paradigm boundary and you’re on the other, is it likely that he would know what you mean? (wink)

  276. Karen says:

    Father, bless! May the Lord grant you travel mercies and fruitful/restful time on retreat–both your own and that which you will be leading.

  277. John Shores says:

    You want an answer inside a paradigm that others are not necessarily working within. I think that’s the source of difficulty.

    No. the difficulty is that when presented with a simple “Yes/No” question, Fr. Stephen is the only one who does not get tangential. Rather, he answers the direct question directly and then supports it.

    Conversely, others give all manner of data/reasoning without directly answering the question, though they believe that the data/reasoning is the answer. It is a common symptom among political and religious minded people.

  278. Andrew says:

    PJ,

    You want an answer inside a paradigm that others are not necessarily working within. I think that’s the source of difficulty.

    My thoughts entirely.

  279. Rhonda says:

    John Shores:

    Rhonda: I very propose that you understand neither love nor free-will…It seems a simple question to me. Did Adam love Eve? Did they love god before the Fall? Isn’t the whole point of salvation to reach (via Christ) a state after this life in which everyone simply loves without having to contend with the sin nature? Does god had a choice to sin or not? That there is “free will” does not mean that there has to be “free will” in order to have love.

    I will respond to this later this morning/early afternoon after I get some sleep, so please check back. It’s been a long day that started early despite our “extra hour” last night ;-)

  280. John says:

    “It is a common symptom among political and religious minded people.”

    Seems a tad over the top, don’t you think? Everyone has had quite a lot of patience with you, many having similar backgrounds as you, and this is hlw you paint them? If that is the case then why not just ignore everyone else and just ask Father specifically and only interact wih him. You do have that option.

    I agree with someone’s statement above (I forget who) that part of the problem is paradigm issues. As I mentioned before, a good run down of Orthodox definitions of certain words would alleviate much difficulty in talking past one another.

  281. dinoship says:

    John S, John, PJ, et al,
    I can see both sides of the argument here.
    I understand JS’s frustration, the nature of a blog is such that it can really confuse things and you need to filter out a great deal of tangential info…
    while I can also see that the “paradigm” issue is also valid. We see Christ Himself often ‘evading’ a question which comes with a particular context to it that tries to corner Him into a specific kind of answer that would miss the point that needs to be made. He instead provides the questioners with a parable followed by “those who have ears to hear let them hear”.
    There are, however, also some very clear answers on the original question comming out of all the comments (although you might want far more elucidation JohnS -and that’s where PJ’s ‘paradigm’ comes into it):

    ‘Yes’ to man’s fallenes
    ‘No’ to the need of a literal historical Adam
    ‘No’ to the existence of a supposed “threat” from scientific findings to faith

  282. PJ says:

    “‘Yes’ to man’s fallenes
    ‘No’ to the need of a literal historical Adam
    ‘No’ to the existence of a supposed “threat” from scientific findings to faith”

    I typically find myself reaching similar conclusions.

    That said: John, you have to understand that these issues are equally mysterious to many — most — Christians. You’re frustrated that people won’t give you a Yes/No answer — but perhaps people are not so certain! They aren’t certain that it is as simple as Yes/No and even if it were, they aren’t certain they’d know which to pick.

    I, for one, feel unsure discussing Adam and Eve, the origins of the man, and the Fall. I doubt I’m alone. My only certainty is Christ, which is why I keep trying to bring the conversation back to Him.

    I’m really sorry if you feel as though your needs haven’t been addressed. I know that I did my best to give you some comfort and some answers. In my humble opinion, many others tried equally as hard, if not harder. I think that’s worth taking into consideration.

    God bless you, my friend.

  283. PJ says:

    P.S. We’re about to hit a new record: 300 comments in one post! And it’s all for you, John! :-P

  284. John Shores says:

    Everyone has had quite a lot of patience with you,

    I wasn’t aware that I was trying anyone’s patience. If that’s the case, I will simply refrain from participating.

    I am not “treating” anyone with contempt. I am simply observing. I repeated the same question at least three times and Fr. Stephen is the only one who answered it until PJ stated:

    these issues are equally mysterious to many — most — Christians… people won’t give you a Yes/No answer — but perhaps people are not so certain!

    which is an answer. And one I can accept.

    PJ: It’s not a matter of my needs being addressed. I settled the issue in my own mind long ago but like the good little agnostic that I am I have not turned it into dogma; I am open to being shown where my thinking is wrong. And you are the first community of rational Christians I have come across.

    I was trying to distill this to its simplest question so that we could take one step at a time. But I don’t want to go through 300 posts just to get past the first step.

    Pax.

  285. PJ says:

    “I wasn’t aware that I was trying anyone’s patience. If that’s the case, I will simply refrain from participating. ”

    Oh, you’re not trying anyone’s patience. Don’t worry about that. I just hope you realize how hard everyone has been trying to answer your questions. (BTW, by “needs” I meant your queries re: the fall, the cross, etc.) It’s just that, as I said before, there are several different paradigms at work here, so effective communication is problematic.

    I, for one, am not interested in arguing with you. Rather, I wish to honestly answer your questions, and I’ve tried to do so, even if I haven’t been as direct as you’d like. I think the same is true for others. But it’s challenging, because we’re at the deep level of presuppositions. For instance, you presuppose that without a literal Adam and a “fall” as portrayed word for word in Genesis, then the Cross makes no sense. This presupposition is foreign to my faith — not only because a literal fall is not necessary, but because the cross is not dependent on or defined by anything else — it is the Primary Hypothesis, the First Principle.

    Don’t get frustrated. Keep asking and struggling. You’ve been in my prayers and will continue to be there!

  286. John says:

    John shores

    I apologize about the way that sounded. I did not mean that you were rubbing anyone wrong. I meant that, as PJ noted, people were earnestly trying to answer your questions. My apologies for the confusion.

    John

  287. John Shores says:

    For instance, you presuppose that without a literal Adam and a “fall” as portrayed word for word in Genesis, then the Cross makes no sense.

    Say rather that if what is referred to as “fallen” or “sin nature” is simply “nature” (in the same way that it is applied to other species) and your statement would be correct.

    If it is simply a matter of biology, let’s find the reason.

    If it is beyond biology, that is the only way that the Cross makes any sense.

    Would you disagree with this assessment?

    (As you say, words are difficult. A “hypothesis” is a proposed answer that incorporates all the available data. I think that what you mean is more along the lines of “Christ is the starting point and the only true reality. Everything must be measured with him as the basis. If something doesn’t make sense, Christ is still the basis and it is the other things that you are measuring that may well prove immaterial by comparison.” Is that not what you mean?)

    I meant that people were earnestly trying to answer your questions.

    If god would simply show up, none of this would be necessary. :)

    I was not belly aching. I rather enjoy having these friends and I appreciate their comments. There is much food for thought here. I am still curious to hear Rhonda expound on free will being necessary for love to be known (or however one wishes to phrase it) even though it is a side-issue.

  288. dinoship says:

    JohnS,
    I was under the impression that I had answered these very questions earlier! Obviously not clearly enough…

    1) “If it is beyond biology, that is the only way that the Cross makes any sense.
    Would you disagree with this assessment?”

    The issue of “createdness” as expounded on in great depth in Saint Maximus the Confessor (in whatever way this createdness came about, evolution or not – it makes no difference) is the very key here.

    A creature cut off from its Creator is in a state of “Fall”. It is in a state of Fall because due to its “creaturlyness” it can only live up to its calling when unified to its Creator and Cause.

    Regarding the Cross: Biology or not, there had to be a creature (Christ as Man) who would live on this earth, as He did, completely in unison with the Father. As “Adam” never did. The Cross is the ultimate expression of that.

    2) “I am still curious to hear Rhonda expound on free will being necessary for love”

    There is an ancient monastic cannon that sheds light to this issue from a fresh angle, “God does not accept slaves (when slavery was still in existence) and debtors”. Orthodox Fathers have explained this in a mystical sense:
    This means that God does not want someone who has not got the freedom to sin, the freedom not to love (yet completely freely and of his own accord does the opposite) . This is what I meant earlier when I said that a Saint is one who is constantly able to sin yet he doesn’t. That ‘danger’ must be there. It was obviously there when Adam and Eve loved each other before the Fall story too…
    God wants someone who can sin, yet tries not too, someone who can hate, yet he loves. I hope that is clearer my friend…
    Even amongst the saints, it has been traditionally said that someone who’s nature was far more aggressive and prone to kill (wether due to hormonal imbalances, or terrible upbringing or for any other reason) yet loves his enemies is far more exalted than someone who’s ‘nature’ (for whatever reason again) was docile and meek and achieved the same measure of love towards enemies…

  289. PJ says:

    John,

    “Say rather that if what is referred to as “fallen” or “sin nature” is simply “nature” (in the same way that it is applied to other species) and your statement would be correct.

    “If it is beyond biology, that is the only way that the Cross makes any sense.

    Would you disagree with this assessment?”

    Sorry, I don’t really understand what you’re asking. Can you clarify?

    I don’t know if this helps, but to my mind, even if man did evolve, and he is “naturally” selfish and vicious, then he can still be called “fallen,” for he is meant for perfection in Christ. Thus what is “natural” to the fleshly body is unnatural and “fallen” to the spiritual body. In this paradigm, our “fallenness” is not relative to the first man but the Last Man, Jesus Christ, Alpha and Omega, who is above and beyond time.

    This isn’t necessarily what I believe. But these are notions I’ve certainly pondered. As I said, I am rather agnostic on the issue. It is very mysterious. I am nourished simply by the richness of Genesis’ theology and its typology and its myriad spiritual meanings. For now, that’s enough for me.

  290. PJ says:

    “I am still curious to hear Rhonda expound on free will being necessary for love to be known”

    The relationship between freedom and love is absolutely essential for understanding Christianity, I think. Really, it’s not even tangential to this discussion. But I know you’re trying to keep us focused like a laser. ;-)

  291. PJ says:

    John,

    Of course, no matter how much research you do, no matter how many questions you have answered — there will always be things that are mysterious, unknown … accessible only by trust and love. Faith requires trust and love, both of which demand making yourself vulnerable. Just felt moved to say this. I don’t know how much it applies to your situation.

  292. dinoship says:

    John S,
    I hope I have answered your question with my previous comment which will probably soon be followed by a multitude :-)
    sory to go off for a bit:
    PJ,
    what you just said (“there will always be things that are mysterious, unknown … accessible only by trust and love”) really reminded me of Saint Silouan’s saying: “Love is always far higher than knowledge”

  293. John Shores says:

    Dinoship – I love you dude. Still not Yes or No to the question. At any rate, I will respond to your words.

    Biology or not, there had to be a creature (Christ as Man) who would live on this earth, as He did, completely in unison with the Father. As “Adam” never did.

    I find this last sentence perplexing. Is it your contention that before the Fall Adam was not in unison with god? (Yes / No – Please circle one)

    God wants someone who can sin, yet tries not to…

    So then, are you saying that in heaven there is a potential for you to fall and that it is this potential (and your striving to not actually fall) that would be the evidence that you loved god? (Yes / No – Please circle one)

  294. John Shores says:

    The relationship between freedom and love is absolutely essential for understanding Christianity

    I would contend that within Protestant Christianity there is no such thing as “free will.” If the choices are “Love me or burn in hell” then there’s really no choice, is there (which makes me wonder why mob bosses tend toward catholicism when protestantism is more up their alley)?

    It seems to me that free will is only possible when there is no threat attached to it.

  295. Andrew says:

    John,

    I would contend that within Protestant Christianity there is no such thing as “free will.”

    Could it in fact be that strictly speaking there is no such thing as “Protestant Christianity” (or indeed “Roman Catholicism”) — only human beings yearning to be free?

    Could it in fact be?

  296. dinoship says:

    JS,
    Adam was indeed in unison with God before the Fall, YES, he was called to eventually become ‘immutable’ in that unison though… It might help if I say this: His unison was still the unison of the prodigal prior to his exit from his Father’s house, not the unison of the prodigal after his return.

    Freedom is indeed maintained (all the more so), we claim in Orthodoxy, once a Saint has become immutable/ unshakeable in unison with God after death…
    In fact we call that “true freedom” (deliberately having chosen to belong fully to God, not halfheartedly, is the taste of utter freedom.) This is only permanent after death
    So, NO potential of Falling in Heaven, yet there is definite deliberation in that unshakeability!

    A creature’s freedom prior to that state – on earth – is rather a freedom of choice within a constantly mutable framework.

    BTW, we also claim that the Enemy has made himself immutable in his choice towards evil – but we do not call that immutability freedom but utter slavery!
    See the point?
    :-)

  297. John Shores says:

    Adam was indeed in unison with God before the Fall

    So, during that time he was in unison, do you contend that he did not love god?

    Said another way, of Adam and Eve had never been tempted, would you say that they had no love for god?

  298. John Shores says:

    …”if”, not “of”

  299. dinoship says:

    No. They loved Him, but, they did this as a child loves his parents, (Immaturely) as the prodigal loved his father when he was a child in the house, knowing not good and evil experientially. Desiring its knowledge from the position of the self (self-centredly)
    Saint Maximus in fact (exceptionally) does not even allow for this ‘time’ but said that they “immediately” fell far various reasons…

    When they fell and became like the prodigal in the faraway land, knowing good and evil, even their mind became like a mind in a faraway land (compared to their heart).

    But when a Saint loves God, or when Adam repented, or when we repent, then this love towards Him has a completely different maturity (as the prodigal did after his return). Mind then returns to the heart.
    We love Him having known good and evil, yet not desiring something besides God anymore… (nothing at all)

    St John Chrysostom said that if all scripture was lost and we were left with the parable of the prodigal that would be enough…!

  300. PJ says:

    “I would contend that within Protestant Christianity there is no such thing as “free will.””

    Indeed. This is the perhaps the most dire aspect of the Protestant heresy.

    As for freedom in heaven: This is far beyond our comprehension. Even the most holy saints tread gingerly around such an issue — if they approach it at all. St Chrysologus speaks of “an unshakable harmony, a secure peace, a persevering grace” that “joins and unites” the wills of the saints to the God “who is all in all.” St. Paul tells us that in the end there will be only love — and many are the saints who say that the will is perfected in the fire of divine love.

    But you and I are so impure, so lacking in true wisdom … After a certain point, our talk is but empty clanging, speculation that will lead to frustration and intellectualizaiton rather than humility and charity. We can barely understand freedom here and now, never mind before the face of incomprehensible God.

  301. John Shores says:

    dinoship: Thanks for your reply.

    The degree or kind of love was not at the core of my question. I simply wanted to clarify that “free will” is not necessary for love. I utterly reject the notion that love cannot grow unless the opposite is presented as an option.

    The very nature of this nature in which we reside is growth. A seed does not actually die before the plant springs forth. It already contains the embryo of that plant and grows under favorable conditions.

    I see no reason why human love should be any different (again, presuming that the Garden story is in any way true).

    My second issue with the Fall story is that it says something about god that I find horrifying. Even if mankind did disobey god, it says something pretty awful about god that all people from that point forward would, by default, be separated from him. If he couldn’t forgive a triviality and he cursed the kids as well… You see my difficulty?

    I deny that things “had to” be that way. It defies everything we know about goodness, kindness, love and mercy.

    These are why I found the story to be untrue even as poetry or a metaphysical explanation of why we are the way we are. If god was involved in any way, things are the way they are and we are the way we are because that’s how he intended it to be. I see no other possible explanation. And I’m not willing to accept such a being as anything but scary as hell.

  302. PJ says:

    ” I utterly reject the notion that love cannot grow unless the opposite is presented as an option.”

    This isn’t really what I mean when I say that love requires freedom. What I mean is, true love is the total gift of one’s self to and for the sake of the other. And this offering is only genuine if it is made by choice. No one can compel someone to love someone else. Indeed, that usually causes hatred and fear and resentment.

    As for the seed: Well, it’s an analogy. It’s not perfect, but it certainly conveys the message. If it was good enough for Christ — not to mention Dostoevsky — it’s good enough for me. ;-) That said, I think you’re right to notice the element of growth. The form of the seed perishes, but in doing so, its true, albeit hidden, nature is revealed. This is just like the Christian life. Good insight.

  303. Brian Van Sickle says:

    “Conversely, others give all manner of data/reasoning without directly answering the question, though they believe that the data/reasoning is the answer. It is a common symptom among political and religious minded people.”

    John S.,

    If I have in any way participated in this (and I probably have), I apologize.

  304. Rhonda says:

    John Shores:

    I am still around. I am working on an answer for you, however, I am running it through my priest first. Also, family & work demands are a factor. Please be patient :-)

  305. mary benton says:

    John S. –

    I haven’t been able to keep up with this entire thread, so forgive me if my comment misses the mark.

    RE: the fall. You seem very well read regarding C.S. Lewis. Have you read “A Severe Mercy” by Sheldon VanAuken? It contains quite a few of Lewis’ letters to the author. Aside from that, VanAuken tells a story of “The Fall” that might address some of your concerns…

    Blessings.

  306. dinoship says:

    John S,
    your view of the Fall is, like for most westerners, extremely influenced by western thinking. Mine was too. It is the world we live in…
    I dare say it is part of the Fall that we see the Fall in those colours and that we see God s anything but good.
    The Fathers of the Church though often say that it was one of the great gifts given to man…
    “When man failed to believe and trust God in his immaturity, God allowed for him to become matured through tasting the subsequent pain, (fall) so that he could come to his senses and one day freely say, God if only I knew that you were my only friend all along and I was my real enemy” (Abba Dorotheus)
    It is, as stated earlier the perfect pedagogy of “consequences” rather than punishment. Think of the Prodigal and you will not go astray…It is a crucial point!

    Regarding love and free will, there is always a “voluntarity” regarding love, the option for the opposite or not is less of an issue, the issue is that an automaton cannot achieve the “image and likeness” that Man can due to his freedom.

  307. Ray says:

    ‘God couldn’t forgive a trivialty and he cursed the kids as well. You see my difficulty?’

    John Shores

    Maybe. If we can understand that God doesn’t have granchildren only children. I believe that christianity can only be understood by way of the resurrection of Jesus as Fr. Stephen has said. Thus the question is: Did He really rise from the dead. If one answers no, then christianity is irrelevant and one might as well be a Hindu, Buddhist, atheist. If yes, then Jesus of Nazareth has done something that no other person has ever done and Christianity makes a world of difference. Viewed from the resurrection the cross becomes a sacrifice and not merely another Roman execution. The story of Adam and Eve is true because every child of God, every Adam and Eve who ever lived (excepting the new Adam and new Eve) has listened to and followed the devil and his demons. That is history, and the resurrection is His-story of redemption. Can we find a way ourselves to be good people living in peace with each other? The issue is life and death because there is one thing worse than listening to and following the devil and his demons, and that is actually becoming one. Thus we come to ‘The final destruction of Demons’.
    God’s covenants with his children included blessings and curses. We chose to break every covenant choosing the curses over the blessings. In the new covenant, God even accepts blame for those curses because ‘cursed is anyone hung on a tree’. I view that as a God of love, kindness and mercy.

    Ray

  308. CarieG says:

    Hello, I have been following this conversation from the beginning, and find it fascinating and enlightening and, at times, entertaining :) I visit your blog, Fr. Stephen, because I find you open my heart and mind, both, to a deeper understanding of the mysterious work of Christ and His Church. Dear friends, so that you can know me, I should say I am neither Orthodox, nor Roman, nor Protestant, nor Evangelical, nor Fundamental. But I have tasted from the fount of all of these. There is just one thing that has been on my heart here that I wanted to say, and that is – John Shores, I am so, so sorry for the way you were abused with the faith. And I admire your sincerity and honesty in the wake of that. May the Beautiful Spirit of God lead you into all truth as you continue to seek.

  309. John Shores says:

    dinoship: How is this freedom expressed? Can you cite examples that do not have the same roots as the behaviors of other primates?

    Being of a sensitive nature, I find the idea of fallenness being a gift to be somewhat distasteful. Knowing that billions would suffer just so that everyone would have the possibility of learning to love “maturely” seems to be overkill.

    Ray: I was referring to the children of Adam/Eve. By rights, if god only has children then each of us should be born innicent and given the same testing grounds that A/E had. But this is not so. We each are born in a “fallen state” without even the option of exercising love without sin.

    I just don’t see the value if starting everyone off at a disadvantage. No one hopes that their child is born deformed.

    Carie: Thanks for your kind words. I do have very definite feelings about how Christians indoctrinate their children. I could have done with a lot less of the OT and more of the beatitudes as a child. But my father believed in a severe god. THis is why I think it’s important in our schools and our Sunday Schools to teach children how to ask questions rather than telling them what to think. Asking the right questions is a valuable skill that too many people lack (hence the current state of affairs in our nation and our churches).

    The problem with dogma is that when someone works up the nerve to ask questions, too often they are met with callous nonsense by the dogmatists. You have no idea how difficult it is to find a blog or forum like this where an honest person asking questions can dialogue with “Christians” without begin rebuffed by their malice and ignorance. If more “Christians” were like this community here, there would be far fewer antagonistic atheists and agnostics out there. I am grateful to be able to have these discussions.

  310. John Shores says:

    Fr. Stephen – I think you meant for your last post here to be on the other thread about Ritual…?

  311. Rhonda says:

    Rhonda: I very propose that you understand neither love nor free-will…It seems a simple question to me. Did Adam love Eve? Did they love god before the Fall? Isn’t the whole point of salvation to reach (via Christ) a state after this life in which everyone simply loves without having to contend with the sin nature? Does god had a choice to sin or not? That there is “free will” does not mean that there has to be “free will” in order to have love.

    Except for the extra word typo “very”, I stand by my statement. Sorry for any confusion on this. My mind was thinking of several different wordings to answer you comment. I do want to state also that I truly meant no offense by it & hope that I did not come across as crass or rude.

    If the choices are “Love me or burn in hell” then there’s really no choice, is there?

    You just answered your own predicament here, John, as well as confirmed my statement. Love cannot be forced in any way or else it is not love. My husband cannot force me to love him by shouting, “Love me or I will divorce you!” nor can God force us to love Him with “Love me or burn in hell!” Love just does not work that way. My husband can encourage me to love him (& he did or else we would never have married) by showing his love for me through acts of kindness & love. He can also discourage me from loving him through acts lacking kindness & love. But he cannot force my love with “or else”. Love is only possible when a relationship—a union—exists with another in which one or both sides may end it—free-will; “or else” does not allow for this; & therefore this scenario is many things (abuse, manipulation, extortion), it is not & cannot be union.

    Many focus on commands issued by God in the OT in order to justify their preconceived notions that God is cruel, angry & vindictive. However, they seldom if ever notice the free-will (choices) that God also put before His children (Deut. 30:19, Joshua 24:15, 1 Kings 18:21) nor do they acknowledge the choices of the children. Nor do they acknowledge or understand the ultimate purpose or teaching behind all of the 618 laws which were two: 1) love God & 2) love others. IOW, the purpose of the OT law was to train God’s children in relationships/unions of mutual love. The OT covenant was not forced upon the Israelites, they chose to come under it…they made a deal, a contract, with God Himself. God never broke the contract, the people did by the committing of unloving acts (idolatry, abusing the foreigner living among them, not having compassion on the unfortunate, devising ways to circumvent the laws & etc.). Just as there are consequences today when breaking a contract (just try not paying on your house or car loans & see how long you continue to own them), so too then were there consequences.

    Isn’t the whole point of salvation to reach (via Christ) a state after this life in which everyone simply loves without having to contend with the sin nature?

    For the Orthodox no, this is not salvation. Salvation for the Orthodox is union with God, a union of mutual love or communion (common union). This union of love with God, which we enter into freely & may exit from freely, heals us from the unnatural condition of sin & death. There is no “sin nature” when one is in full communion with God. I like dinoship’s reference to immature vs. mature love. Until full communion is reached (at the final fulfillment of the Glorious Second Coming) our love for God will always have an element of the immature. At no time do the Orthodox view salvation as a goal of attaining the reward of Heaven &/or avoiding the punishment of Hell. For the Orthodox, Heaven is union with God while Hell is not having union with God. This union is started while living in our physical bodies & continues after physical death; so too does the lack of union.

    Does god had (have) a choice to sin or not?

    To quote Fr. Stephen, a dog will always act like a dog… So, too will God always act like God & in accordance with His nature which is Love. Any belief, doctrine or theological framework that portrays God as anything else other than Love is error. Any understanding/interpretation of the Holy Scriptures that render God as anything else other than Love is also error. The theological framework of Protestantism does this when God is rendered to be cruel, angry & vindictive. Such things are not in accordance to the nature of God, who is by nature Love.

    Finally, someone commented that this discussion thread of love & free-will is merely tangential to Fr. Stephen’s article “The Final Destruction of Demons” & therefore unimportant to the unoriginal posting. I disagree. Fr. Stephen is correct when he states that the demons are destroyed by the Baptismal waters (not to mention the other mysteries) which those without far-sighted thinking quickly limited his article to only the incorporeal kind. Also included in this final destruction are those that we continue to carry around with us, such as the demon of a cruel, angry & vindictive “god”. This type of “demon-god” does not exist (nor has it ever existed in the true reality where God is everywhere present & filling all things) except in a faulty theological framework where it has a rampant & destructive existence that is truly “horrifying” as you put it.

  312. John Shores says:

    So, too will God always act like God & in accordance with His nature which is Love. Any belief, doctrine or theological framework that portrays God as anything else other than Love is error.

    This rather begs what I am trying to convey. If that is simply god’s nature and it is immutable, what’s so hard to believe about god creating man “in his image” and with the same immutable nature which is love? Why would that kind of a man be somehow less than the man who has to struggle to love? We may admire someone who has overcome an amputation and won a marathon but we do not fail to admire a healthy person who wins a marathon.

    Said another way, you do not say, “Let’s chop of everyone’s legs so that they can learn how to run with a prosthetic.” That is what the “free will” argument sounds like to me.

  313. dinoship says:

    John Shores,

    “dinoship: How is this freedom expressed? Can you cite examples that do not have the same roots as the behaviors of other primates?”

    The fact that a person can go against his nature (call it fallen nature if you like) in order to be sacrificed for the unseen God Whom he experiences in an ineffable way as a fire burning his very heart and piercing his very bones is something we cannot ever find in any ‘other animal’ or primate. Saint Ignatius is a very fine example of this fire, as are the martyrs in general…
    We are back to the idea of the Cross!
    Christ shows us what it is to be God, as well as what it is to be fully human (as “called” to be by our Creator), but, He does this in the way that he dies as a human being… Voluntarily going to His death (as One on Whom death has no claim). He thus shows me how dying makes me enter into real Life, a freely sacrificial Life.” (Father John Berr)

    I find the idea of fallenness being a gift to be somewhat distasteful. Knowing that billions would suffer just so that everyone would have the possibility of learning to love “maturely” seems to be overkill.

    We always have the choice not to suffer in order to learn love, few take it! Our attachment to our Ego is inconceivable!
    St John the Theologian and the Mother of God did not need to be martyred as a Father (I cannot recall) said because they were so humble and pure that they learnt to love even without suffering, very few do! Besides, the person who learns to love with that fire WANTS to suffer. St John the Theologian and the Mother of God (the two at the Cross) suffered, not in order to learn to love, but because they loved. Above all Christ did this!
    There are three inevitable Crosses in this life (the Cross is always at the centre). One is futile – that of the unbeliever, “Yestus”, the thief on the left-, one is of the believer – St “Desmas”, the thief on the right- and one, the ‘heaviest’, is of Christ – the Lover of Mankind who DESIRES more than anything to suffer out of love…
    I mentioned St Ignatius a few times because you can clearly see in his words the ‘inverted’ understanding imparted through that fire, the true love of God.
    In his words: he “cannot wait to be birthed” (he means to die as a martyr), he “does not want to die” (meaning to carry on living!)
    His is the fire of Christ’s Cross (hence the name Ignatius)

  314. dinoship says:

    So, in a nutshell: voluntary suffering through such fiery love is something so divine that it cannot be found in any animals, yet we have seen it in Man.

  315. dinoship says:

    “If that is simply god’s nature and it is immutable, what’s so hard to believe about god creating man “in his image” and with the same immutable nature which is love?”

    Do not compare created with uncreated. Time and space bound with All encompassing…
    The theology of God’s freedom is utterly beyond our rational understanding.
    We say theologically for instance:
    “He freely wills to exist” (we say this as if He “could not” exist! – His choice is to exist!)
    “He freely Loves” (as if He can “not love” – even though He is Love)
    It is anthropomorphic to say His nature is to Love in fact, because He freely (free from any possible “nature constraints”, chooses, always to do nothing but love.

    Creatures cannot understand that mode of existence rationally, it is futile to try to. Creatures are never asked if they want to exist, it is a given, they do not have that type of freedom. (Even though they can paradoxically taste it for eternity through union with their Creator.)
    They cannot understand how God’s “inability” not to Love all that exists unconditionally (including the Devil !) is combined with a total freedom of always willing this freely…
    If a creature became unable to not love, then it would be freedom-restricted and bound by it’s nature. God’s gift of freedom is therefore a necessary prerequisite in order for us to learn that free Love that He is (which we cannot rationally describe in our createdness as I explained)

  316. fatherstephen says:

    John Shores,
    It’s all rather straight-forward. If Christ is risen from the dead, then He is the key to interpreting the OT (Jn. 5:39). If Christ is risen from the dead, then the OT is rightly and radically reinterpreted. The revelation of who God is would be Christ and not the image of the wrathful torturer, etc. This radical reinterpretation is, in fact, the Orthodox Tradition to a large extent.

    Again, it begins with the resurrection of Christ. To think in an Orthodox manner on these things (or to answer the questions in an Orthodox manner), everything begins with the resurrection of Christ. Then we move backwards (through history and read it according to the Truth as made known in Christ) and forward in which all things are being made known in Christ who is the Alpha and Omega.

    But you cannot work through history to prove the resurrection or prove Christ. We cannot work backwards to prove Him. We approach the resurrection on the witness of the Apostles and proceed from there.

    Only if Jesus is raised from the dead can we say that there is a good God. If there is a good God, then, as I’ve stated, we re-read the OT. Radically. The conversation begins at the tomb of Christ.

  317. Andrew says:

    Well said Father Steve — absolutely spot on!

  318. drewster2000 says:

    John Shores said: “Said another way, you do not say, “Let’s chop of everyone’s legs so that they can learn how to run with a prosthetic.” That is what the “free will” argument sounds like to me.”

    I agree with you John. Maybe it would help to define the term “fallen”. Protestant (and even RC) thinking is that we were all born with legs chopped off – because of Adam and Eve. This stems from St. Augustine’s theory of original sin.

    The Orthodox say (someone will correct me if I’m wrong) that we were born with the tendency to do things that will get our legs chopped off. In our hearts we have the original good desires that God gave us but because we’re fallen, we easily turn toward things other than God – our true heart’s desire.

    In the Garden everything was handed to us. I have observed in my lifetime that human beings don’t seem to want it like that. We are determined to go through the school of hard knocks method instead – for whatever reason.

    So God gives each of us the opportunity to consciously choose Him. And the reason it’s a struggle to do so has all to do with us and our fallen tendencies and nothing to do with Him making things hard on us or being cruel.

    I know there are still a lot of pieces missing from the puzzle but I hope this helps in some way.

  319. Rhonda says:

    The Final Destructin of Demons:
    this topic is just like the Energizer Bunny–it just keeps going & going &… ;-)

  320. dinoship says:

    drewster2000,

    regarding St Augustin, the misuse of our original good desires, the ‘school of hard knocks’, well said :-)

    We say that man is never inherently evil, -the Enemy uses what is good in us to deceive us. And, The best thing in us becomes the worst when misused. So, our desire for union with God, is hidden behind our most fallen/perverted desires.
    Remember the original question of the serpent to Eve?
    Seen another way though, we now say that God is what I really want when I am hungry, thirsty, when I lust for pleasure or when I am magnetised by any of creation. This notion helps reorient one’s soul.

  321. Eleftheria says:

    Dinoship –

    “Besides, the person who learns to love with that fire WANTS to suffer”

    So much of what you write reminds me of the words of +Geronda Paisios! I can hardly wait until all of his volumes are translated into English and published – they will be of such help to so many.

    Blessings,
    Eleftheria

  322. dinoship says:

    I think that this connection of true love with a fervor to suffer is the essence of living out the Cross.
    It is not painful, but joyous, when God’s grace fans and inspires it.

    It is particularly connected to the love of ‘enemies’, when inspired thus. And it is yet another marked difference form ‘natural’ love or any animal love… (JohnS)
    It signifies authenticity of Spirit.

    I remember that when asked: “How should one discern a genuine union with God from imagined experiences of philosophical or pantheistic nature?” Saint Silouan gave this criterion: “loving the enemies” and “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there rules unconditionally humble love for the enemy and prayer for the world” .

  323. dinoship says:

    JS,
    You wouldn’t find that (last sentence) in any primates!
    ;-)

  324. John Shores says:

    I don’t know how to respond except with frustration.

    it begins with the resurrection of Christ.

    Regardless of where it begins, the questions arise because of the Cross and/or resurrection. I simply cannot have faith without some level of reasonableness to it.

    In our hearts we have the original good desires that God gave us but because we’re fallen

    You see? There is no escaping it. The faith requires accepting that we are born handicapped. This is why this story gives me such trouble.

    We say that man is never inherently evil

    A day in a room full of two year olds will dispel this idea.

    “loving the enemies”…”You wouldn’t find that in any primates!”

    Yes, you will: http://www.ted.com/talks/frans_de_waal_do_animals_have_morals.html

    “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there rules unconditionally humble love for the enemy and prayer for the world”

    I double-dog-dare you to give one example in all of human history (outside of the god-man) where this has been proven true. Not one human being has lived this truth either before or after Christ without “falling” (e.g. behaving like a human being) again. No, not one.

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  326. John Shores says:

    “loving the enemies” and “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there rules unconditionally humble love for the enemy and prayer for the world”

    You wouldn’t find that (last sentence) in any primates!

    Certainly not the Primate of the CEC.

  327. Andrew says:

    JS – are you sure about that? I mean, unequivocally?

  328. CarieG says:

    By their fruit you will recognize them.
    Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matt 7:20-21)

    What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

    That, of course, applies to me, and you, and any Primate.

  329. mary benton says:

    John S.

    You pose many good questions. I think of free will as one of the things that differentiates us from daisies. Daisies cannot choose to be good or bad daisies – nor do they suffer. But they also do not have the option to go beyond just being a flower that’s here and gone.

    I know people have been throwing at you so much reading material that no one could possibly take it all in. If you are interested in just a few pages, here is a link to something I wrote about evil and suffering a few years ago. I’m sure there are flaws in my thinking but I have struggled with such notions myself. https://www.box.com/shared/a1sbx068kt

  330. mary benton says:

    Father Stephen – could you eliminate the comment above? I messed up the link so it goes to the wrong place. Thanks.

  331. mary benton says:

    My day for messing up! Did not realize that Father Stephen is away – so my comment awaiting moderation (in which my link was incorrect probably will not appear anyway). So please forgive any confusion I may have caused.

    Blessings to all.

  332. John Shores says:

    are you sure about that? I mean, unequivocally?

    Absolutely. Although I was jesting about the CEC, “unconditionally humble love” is not to be found in any human at any time in history. This was part 2 of my problem with Christianity (after the Fall); it does not provide an actual cure for this “fallen” state. But that’s an entirely new discussion. (Shall we go for 400 posts?)

  333. Andrew says:

    “unconditionally humble love” is not to be found in any human at any time in history. This was part 2 of my problem with Christianity (after the Fall); it does not provide an actual cure for this “fallen” state.

    After Pascha there was no need for a cure.

  334. dinoship says:

    “unconditionally humble love” is not to be found in any human at any time in history

    it is such a pity that the all pervasiveness of the fall leads a person to even say this…
    There is volition in wanting to, or not wanting to find these examples of unconditionally humble love. The Orthodox Saints are all proofs of this very thing you doubt. Repetitions of Christ….
    Martyrs who loved their friends as well as their torturers, who had their limbs chopped off without the smile from their face not even flinching, causing a wave of witnesses to instantly follow their example. Ascetics who prayed for the entirety of Adam to their last breath, with copious tears, more than any grieving mother.
    I could provide a list of names if you want help in your research…
    The examples are endless, many are still alive. But, one needs to search in the right places like a bee looking for nectar, not like a fly looking for dirt…
    “unconditionally humble love” is the natural consequence of God’s touch on a soul.

  335. dinoship says:

    The touch of God that causes this “unconditionally humble love” is “attracted” through (sorely missing) purity though…!
    If one is willing to purify one’s senses as ascetics like Saint Silouan did, then he does “hear Christ speak to him”,indeed he beholds Christ who changes him in the aforementioned manner – filling him with Joy and effortless love towards friends and enemies. This purification is most intimately connected to the ‘subtraction of egoism form our being’ though, – to humility. So, somewhat paradoxically, (not really though): It is humility and purity “attempted” that bring true humility and purity “as a gift”.
    As God in Exodus says, “only to Moses I speak face to face because he is the most humble man on earth” The pridefull Israelites could not stand this and created a visible calf for their unpurified senses to see. There is great depth in that story, mostly missed in its western understanding.
    I am reminded of the hymn we sing on the night of Pascha:

    “Let us purify our senses and we shall behold Christ, radiant with the unapproachable light of the Resurrection, and we shall clearly hear Him say, “Rejoice!” As we sing the triumphal hymn!
    Glory to thy Holy Resurrection oh Lord!

  336. Karen says:

    Re: human examples of unconditionally humble love, a few thoughts . . .

    JS is perhaps a little like the Apostle Thomas. We need to pray perhaps he meets a living example of such in the flesh.

    On the other hand, humility and love are not necessarily simply self-effacement or self debasement, but the ability to see oneself and all things accurately in light of the Truth and be willing to live and speak consistent with that. It seems to me, therefore, a very humble person could be quite bold and assertive in declaring what he sees, and be perceived in our relativistic culture as “prideful” because he is confident in the Truth of something.

    Here is where a degree of purity of heart in the one who perceives comes into play. The capacity to perceive rightly (i.e., a degree of humility) is indeed a requirement as well for someone who wants to see such humble love in another. For someone with a cynical bent, it could take years in the presence of a such a person and being able to see them in quite a few different contexts before it would dawn on him the extent of the love and humility being demonstrated.

  337. Karen says:

    The reference for the principle I was discussing in my last comment is found in Titus 1:15.

  338. Rhonda says:

    John Shores:

    This was part 2 of my problem with Christianity (after the Fall); it does not provide an actual cure for this “fallen” state.

    The “actual cure” has been provided–& that cure is Christ. In Orthodoxy this was the purpose of the Incarnation, Crucifixion & Resurrection.

    After Pascha there was no need for a cure.

    Actually, Pascha WAS the cure!

  339. dinoship says:

    Pascha is the cure indeed; the Christian at every moment experiences what we sing on that blessed night:

    “It is the Day of Resurrection! Let us be radiant, all yea peoples! Pascha! The Lord’s Pascha! For Christ God has brought us from death unto life, and from earth unto Heaven, as we sing the triumphal hymn!”

    …from death unto life…

  340. CarieG says:

    “unconditionally humble love” is not to be found in any human at any time in history.

    JS, I agree with you. for the most part. Certainly not in the way we long for and were built (created) for, that is: always and perfectly. Except for Jesus, of course. The rest of us, the lucky ones, maybe taste that kind of love, or experience that kind of love, only sometimes, and imperfectly, from other human beings. I believe even the Saints were completely human and not loving perfectly all the time. That is best left for those in close relationship with them to say.

    But I think the real question, the important one, is – do we long for that? Do we, with honesty, long to be able to love, our friends let alone our enemies, with unconditional humble love? Because if we do, beyond all other longing, that is a sign of the Spirit. We have no way of comprehending that kind of love until we have tasted it as a gift from the only One who IS Love. Without the Spirit, it is impossible, and we are left with the vague stirrings of sentiment or self-preservation. It is the saddest thing of all, to me, that so many self-described ‘Christians’ have never tasted this kind of love from God, and so, not knowing what they are missing, are not able to desire with their whole being to live it.

  341. dinoship says:

    “Ask and you will receive”
    God wants to grant us this gift more than anything, but, as you said CarieG, do we really long for that?
    As St. Isaac of Syria sais: The man who has found love eats and drinks Christ every day and hour and so is made immortal. ‘Whoever eats of this bread’, He says, ‘which I will give him, will never taste death.’ Blessed is he who consumes the bread of love, which is Jesus! He who eats of love eats Christ, the God over all, as John bears witness, saying, ‘God is love.’

    If you are given to taste it even briefly, even once, then you know that the potential exists in your very self. It is through the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, that we can indeed taste it (not primates :-) )
    If we could not it would have been folly to be commanded, “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35)

  342. John Shores says:

    The “actual cure” has been provided–& that cure is Christ.

    Then explain Church history. Looks to me the the church is as equally plagued with defective human beings as any other group of people.

  343. Eleftheria says:

    John Shores,

    “Looks to me the the church is as equally plagued with defective human beings as any other group of people.”

    We Orthodox KNOW that we humans are defective; that is why we know the Church to be our spiritual hospital. The point is that we continue going to the Church, receiving confession, communion…and most of all, that we continue to pray – corporately (in church)and individually (alone).

    An excellent book on Church history: (Bishop) Timothy Ware: The Orthodox Church.

    Since Fr. Stephen’s original post is on demons, and since you ask about all us defective people in church, I am reminded of something our priest once described:
    In ecstasy, a saint ( I cannot recall who) was being raised by an angel toward heaven. Looking down at earth, he saw his church, but the dome was horribly disfigured – or so it seemed. Terrible beings were crawling all over it. As he looked further, some of those beings were going in and out of the windows. Aghast,he asked the angel, “What are those beings on top of the church?” The angel replied, “Those on top are demons providing misguided thoughts to the people within. Those going in and out of the windows are those who have succeeded in getting any within to entertain those misguided thoughts.”

    In Christ,
    Eleftheria

  344. Rhonda says:

    John Shores:

    Looks to me the the church is as equally plagued with defective human beings as any other group of people.

    Quite true! I do not claim that those in the Church are holy, righteous, pure, perfect…I for one certainly know that I am not; nor do I know anyone in the Church who claims to be; & not even our “bearded lumbering bears” will claim such a thing. Furthermore in the writings by our Saints you will not find such claims for themselves, actually just the opposite! Ironically, the only ones that I have ever heard do so are Protestants, although even they are few & far between.

    Just as bodily healing when under the care of a physician is not instantaneous, but rather a process over time, so too is the spirtitual healing (salvation) provided by Christ through the Church.

    Just as bodily healing under a physician requires us patients to closely follow the physician’s guidance & take our medication, so too does salvation require us patients to do our part (prayer, fasting, attending services, participating in the mysteries [sacraments], charitable works, almsgiving, spiritual reading & etc.), i.e. we have to be willing for the healing to occur & to put some effort into it.

    The healing salvation through Christ is available to all, but it takes time, our whole lives in fact! It begins with our Baptism & Chrismation; it continues as we participate in Confession & receive Communion; it develops further when we daily strive to live sacramental lives.

    There are 2 things Orthodoxy does not believe in: 1) instant salvation & 2) once saved always saved (one always has the free-will to turn away from the love of Christ).

  345. dinoship says:

    JohnShores
    The existence of “defective human beings” in Church is like the existence of sick people in a Hospital. Even amongst the Lord’s disciples there will be Judas’s, amongst Paul’s followers Dismas’s, that certainly does not indicate anything like what you are suggesting!
    It does not preclude the simultaneous existence of St. John!
    But, as I said earlier,
    “The examples are endless, many are still alive. But, one needs to search in the right places like a bee looking for nectar, not like a fly looking for dirt…”

    We mustn’t forget that we voluntarily choose to concentrate on the good amongst the dirt like a bee or the dirt amongst the good

  346. dinoship says:

    I meant: “We mustn’t forget that we voluntarily choose to concentrate on the good amongst the dirt like a bee looking for nectar, or the dirt amongst the good like a fly (and then we will always find the Judas’s and Dismas’s) – it is our choice”

  347. Michael Bauman says:

    Sometimes I think that far too many of us take a Bill Cosby approach to our faith and our salvation. One of his old routines was about faking being sick so that he did not have to go to school. After school let out he was suddenly well. He explained to his mother: “An angel came down and said..poof, you’re well. Go out and play.”

  348. dinoship says:

    John S,
    that reasoning concerning morality in animals is deeply flawed, it reminds me of Carl Sagan’s agnosticism approaching everything through the vehicle of science and scientific reasoning, leaving no room for the knowledge that prerequisites faith.
    For a start, you seem to forget we are clearly referring to “love of enemies“, (in other words)the Cross! the Cross that was born by ALL of Christ’s true disciples… (Not about some ‘cooperation’, ‘morality’, ‘sympathy’ etc. but about “Love of enemies” – the ultimate test of real freedom)

    This is actually a big difference between Protestantism and Orthodoxy you are highlighting:
    Protestantism does not truly believe in disspassion and complete love of all mankind as real possibilities for humans, while Orthodoxy clearly believes and knows it is no more than the first real step (not the last), in the true life of the Spirit. I have personally witnessed a person with such humble love in Mount Athos, and indeed, one cannot remove the thought that such a person is a repetition of Christ when encountering him – a man that has lived up to what he was meant to be. He might be dirty and missing teeth, but you have never encountered such sweet beauty on the face of the earth before!

    However, act “like a bee” and you will find them, act “like a fly” and you will not be able to discern them even when they are staring you in the face!
    Loving your torturers as a martyr – it is this special characteristic (not to be found in other “heroes”) that has changed thousands of witnesses/onlookers through the course of Orthodox Church history, from the thief at the right on the Cross, to the 150 philosopher orators who witnessed St Catherine’s martyrdom, to the man (Elder Sophrony of Essex) who wrote the Life of Saint Silouan I quoted earlier about this “unconditional humble love of enemies”.
    I agree, it is not something you see that often in everyday life in this world, as even amongst so-called Christians, true repentance (which leads to that state as an inevitability) is not even desired. Not really. That does not mean they do not exist though! Far from it…
    If you look at the stories of Martyrs they are resplendent with these examples.
    It can be done, but only from one who believes first… “If thou canst believe! All things are possible to him that believeth”

  349. John Shores says:

    So, first, my post from November 7, 2012 at 5:46 pm was just displayed (sorry Mr. Moderator. I forgot about the link thingy).

    Now…

    We Orthodox KNOW that we humans are defective; that is why we know the Church to be our spiritual hospital… The existence of “defective human beings” in Church is like the existence of sick people in a Hospital.

    First, this implies that there are people who are not in the hospital and are well. But this is not so.

    Second, people who go to the hospital on a regular basis are generally terminally ill and the care they receive is not actually a cure but more maintaining whatever level of health that can be expected. Using this metaphor, Christ becomes no cure at all but perhaps more of a schedule 3 narcotic for pain management.

    What I am talking about is cure, that point at which people leave the hospital as whole beings and go home.

    So, once again, if people are sick both before and after “encountering Christ”, what’s the deal?

    Said another way, I have a hard time believing that such horrific pain, suffering and death (followed by a resurrection) was intended as ingredients for pain management. And yet, there has not been one person cured. So what am I supposed to think then?

    Just as bodily healing when under the care of a physician is not instantaneous, but rather a process over time, so too is the spiritual healing (salvation) provided by Christ through the Church.

    Respectfully, why is it that no one has managed to become whole in all this time then?

    Please don’t read any bitterness or contrariness in this. I simply do not want to settle for pain management if a cure is possible. If a cure is not possible, then I’d like to know that up front.

    This is why I tend toward the biology potential rather than a “fallen state” possibility. With biology, we have a method of looking for a way to alter humans so that they are naturally altruistic and whatnot. The spiritual path (of any religion) has not demonstrated efficacy in altering human beings.

    Which always circles me back – if there is no cure then was there really a disease to begin with? I just don’t see that there is. The only explanation that makes any sense to me is that people are the way they are because that’s how they are. People can (and do) change their behavior through force of will or fear of consequences but internal motives are the same in every person, regardless of their belief system.

    If there is an outside influence (e.g. god) then I’d welcome him (her or it) to show up here and now and go about influencing me. Even if if cost me everything, I’d rather that then to find out after I die that this thing that makes no sense to me was true. That would uber-suck.

  350. John Shores says:

    My replies aren’t posting. I thing the web gods are telling me something…

  351. dinoship says:

    John Shores,
    I have had the same issue with replies not posting, sometimes -not always- they appear later on. I got your previous comment in my email inbox, it is to that I responded only just above, although I notice it hasn’t appeared with the rest of the comments here…
    I’ll attempt posting it myself for you and see if it works :-)

  352. dinoship says:

    My previous comments about the Martyrs’ witness etc. was a response to this one by John:

    John Shores commented on The Final Destruction of Demons.

    I don’t know how to respond except with frustration.
    “it begins with the resurrection of Christ.”
    Regardless of where it begins, the questions arise because of the Cross and/or resurrection. I simply cannot have faith without some level of reasonableness to it.
    “In our hearts we have the original good desires that God gave us but because we’re fallen”
    You see? There is no escaping it. The faith requires accepting that we are born handicapped. This is why this story gives me such trouble.
    We say that man is never inherently evil
    A day in a room full of two year olds will dispel this idea.
    “loving the enemies”…”You wouldn’t find that in any primates!”
    Yes, you will: http://www.ted.com/talks/frans_de_waal_do_animals_have_morals.html
    “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there rules unconditionally humble love for the enemy and prayer for the world”
    I double-dog-dare you to give one example in all of human history (outside of the god-man) where this has been proven true. Not one human being has lived this truth either before or after Christ without “falling” (e.g. behaving like a human being) again. No, not one.

  353. dinoship says:

    “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there rules unconditionally humble love for the enemy and prayer for the world”
    I double-dog-dare you to give one example in all of human history (outside of the god-man) where this has been proven true. Not one human being has lived this truth either before or after Christ without “falling” (e.g. behaving like a human being) again. No, not one.

    I might as well address the issue of ‘falling’ after having that experience as a human being. Especially since I mentioned the martyrs who obviously were (usually) in their last hours (sometimes, months and years too though…).
    It seems you were obviously aware of examples such as Saint Stephen the first martyr asking Go to forgive his persecutors/torturers in the Acts?
    But the argument concerning primates and the evolutionary (supposedly chance) appearance of the moral law, is not about the issue of immutability anyway! You are confusing your self with your own reasoning there. The argument is about the existence of God-inspired “Love of enemies” as manifested for instance, in the lives of the Saints and martyrs and whether it appears in man (as it does not obviously appear in primates). It is not about someone becoming ‘cemented’ and immutable in that state, that is another matter (and another 380 comments perhaps :-) )… Why the addition of the phrase

    “without “falling” (e.g. behaving like a human being) again”

    then?

  354. dinoship says:

    Sorry I omitted addressing the previous comment to John Shores

  355. Andrew says:

    I double-dog-dare you to give one example in all of human history (outside of the god-man) where this has been proven true. Not one human being has lived this truth either before or after Christ without “falling” (e.g. behaving like a human being) again. No, not one.

    Human beings can only “fall” when they are in a state of grace. Human beings are “fallen” not “falling”. More importantly, to understand anything at all about “the fall”, one must know firsthand what grace looks like.

    If this bit is missing, then the entire argument falls apart — no pun intended.

  356. dinoship says:

    Andrew,
    I agree with you fully that in order to truly understand the Fall, one must know Grace first-hand…
    Even the entire knowledge and reasoning of the world can never substitute for a lack of such first-hand experience to people speculating on such matters.
    Absolutely.

  357. Rhonda says:

    dinoship & John:

    I want to make comments but I am hesitatnt because it is apparent that I am not seeing all of the posts. If & when one of you can, please send a copy (copies) to my gmail address: everywherepresentfillingall@gmail.com. In the meantime I have enabled follow-up comments & posts by email. Thanks!

  358. dinoship says:

    John Shores,

    Respectfully, why is it that no one has managed to become whole in all this time then?

    I guess that you want to “know the tree from its fruits” and you evidently have not seen the fruits you hoped for in the trees you have been looking at.
    That mustn’t make you assume all trees are like that…
    If that really is the logic you go by, I would say that sampling the fruit of an , as far as is possible pure and unadulterated, version of all the available ‘trees’ might be a way of approaching the “exception” of Orthodoxy.

    I was blessed to be ‘born’ Orthodox and know that it is through God’s foreknowledge, as I would have surely perished without such a head start… However, I wasted precious time in acquiring considerable “practical research” (to use a very flattering term for what the british would call a “well-dodgy past”), which brought me in contact with many different cultures (their extremes, to be more precise).
    I would say that the ‘fruits’ of pure Hinduism historically were: Casts, Inequality, Exploitation. For Western Christianity: Secularization, Confusion, Lack of freedom, and a Caricature of the Truth, for Atheism: amorality, desperation and arrogance, and anywhere I look I cannot really find – just like you say yourself- THAT perfection…
    Looking at the purest of traditional Orthodoxy however, I see a profoundly admirable authenticity of life, (now largely lost in multicultural modernity). Furthermore, in the unbroken chain of the Saints of the eastern tradition, I find ample examples of persons who have truly attained what seems like a dream “fruits”. Saints who:
    sacrificed their lives for their very persecutors,
    saints who weeped for the salvation of the world,
    saints who were so lifted by the Spirit that they “knew not” the difference between man and woman, even in the most irresistible of temptations,
    saints who were given the power of healing the sick in soul, not just the body, saints whose authenticity changed lives by simply meeting them once,
    saints who lived only with God, without meeting a single human being for more than two, three, four decades and yet knew about all that goes on in the world,
    saints who never learnt to read yet miraculously knew all of scripture … (Saints Dionysius, Silouan, Nektarios, Fantinos, Barsanuphius, Mary…)
    I have met monks who are humble beyond comprehension to the point you don’t realize they are also completely clairvoyant until hours later (“Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?”)

    People might possibly one day say that Napoleon or Hitler never existed, or something ridiculous like that, but these saints and their testament will never cease being true; they never lied to us. Even if just one of them was truthful, as they all in fact, were, their testament is true! Even their mere relics are miraculous for goodness sake… Extremely so!

  359. Eleftheria says:

    Dinoship,

    Thank you for reminding us that there are saints among us.

    Once, in need of “spiritual surgery”, I went to a priest – geronda actually – who was not my spiritual father. How is it – if not by the grace of God – that he addressed me by my name when I entered? And further – that he began talking about the part of St. Ephraim the Syrian’s psalter I had read the day before?

    Glory to God! Heaven and Earth are full of His glory!

    In Christ,
    Eleftheria

  360. fatherstephen says:

    I have only a few minutes before bed tonight – God has richly blessed my “desert” visit.

    Dinoship,
    Your witness is so true. The “fruit” of the vine is indeed the saints birthed in the bosom of the Church – and they continue to flow to this day. Not hucksters, frequently “hidden” rather than drawing any attention to themselves. They are the “treasure” in every Orthodox land.

    The Orthodox Church under communist persecution produced martyrs – many more than all the earlier centuries combined. But among those martyrs, there are those whose stories compare with those of the Great Martyrs. And there were confessors as well. The survival of the Church through that period is nothing less than the resurrection. And its rebirth and renewal in recent decades gives testament that the vine is still alive.

    Most in the West have no knowledge of these things – and they even less knowledge of the great tragedies endured by the Orthodox. Greece itself, most in the West do not know, is a land of “refugees.” The ancient Orthodox culture of Asia Minor (Turkey) that produced saints, holy hierarchs and every sort of wonder, was forceably destroyed in the 1920’s by the Turkish government, and its citizens exiled (sent to Greece). Thus that Orthodox country had to absorb a massive movement of peoples who endured the total disruption of the lives. Greece has never recovered (but that is a longer story). Such stories could be multiplied so many times – but we are strangers to such histories in the West.

    Orthodox lives and bears its holy fruit, but it has been a vine that was dug-up, burned, smashed, every conceivable device used against it (the Bolsheviks even tried to force a “reform” into the Church’s life which would have utterly destroyed it). That it exists (and is still the world’s second largest group of Christians) is staggering.

    God exists.

    I complete my retreats tomorrow and fly home on Monday. May God bless you all!

  361. mary benton says:

    “If there is an outside influence (e.g. god) then I’d welcome him (her or it) to show up here and now and go about influencing me. Even if it cost me everything…”

    John S. – you are wise, for indeed it DOES cost everything. And I think the “outside influence” is influencing you – because you have invited him/her/it to do so. Perhaps because it is a process it is not so evident to you that it is happening.

    I don’t think we are born “handicapped” but rather born with the capacity to choose good or evil. We could have been made to be good without choice, but then we couldn’t truly love. (If you had no choice but to love your wife, could you really call that love?)

    As dinoship eloquently noted, there are many who have chosen good and been made holy through the grace of God. But there are “evil” choices made all of the time in our world, some large, some small. When anyone chooses evil, it creates a “fallen-ness” in humanity because suffering is introduced into the world – and that impacts others’ abilities to choose good. (This is why loving one’s enemy is so central – as good is chosen even in the face of suffering.)

    We do get to go Home from the hospital. And there is a cure. However, for most of us, the process of healing may not be complete before we leave our bodies. Because of suffering and the impact of evil, the struggle to choose good is often a process that goes in fits and starts.

    Learning to choose good is like learning to love, utterly, completely, totally. We want to choose it but we relapse and need to keep renewing our choice. But that is not all bad – as the grace that purifies us after each relapse is so glorious and teaches us so much…

    I cannot prove any of this. But I believe it.

  362. dinoship says:

    Our conversation here reminds me of this parable. It was created by a rabbi, (Y. M. Tuckachinsky.)

    Two twins are growing peacefully in the warmth of the womb. Their mouths are closed, and they are being fed via the navel. Their lives are serene. The whole world, to these brothers, is the interior of the womb. Who could conceive anything larger, better, more comfortable? They begin to wonder: “We are getting lower and lower. Surely, if it continues, we will exit one day. What will happen after we exit?”

    Now the first infant is a believer. He is heir to a religious tradition which tells him that there will be a “new life” after this wet and warm existence of the womb. A strange belief, seemingly without foundation, but one to which he holds fast. The second infant is a thoroughgoing skeptic. Mere stories do not deceive him. He believes only in that which can be demonstrated. He is enlightened, and tolerates no idle conjecture. What is not within one’s experience can have no basis in one’s imagination.

    Says the faithful brother: “After our ‘death’ here, there will be a new and great world. We will eat through the mouth! We will see great distances, and we will hear through the ears on the sides of our heads. Why, our feet will be straightened! And our heads will be up and free, rather than down and boxed in!”

    Replies the skeptic: “Nonsense. You’re straining your imagination again. There is no foundation for this belief. It is only your survival instinct, an elaborate defense mechanism, a historically conditioned subterfuge. You are looking for something to calm your fear of ‘death.’ There is only this world. There is no world to come!”

    “Well, then,” asks the first, “what do you say it will be like?”

    The second brother snappily replies with all the assurance of the slightly knowledgeable: “We will go with a bang. Our world will collapse and we will sink into oblivion. No more. Nothing. Black void. An end to consciousness. Forgotten. This may not be a comforting thought, but it is a logical one.”

    “But, I, sometimes feel that She exists! As if we are inside of her!”, says the believer…

    “Now don’t start mentioning that Mother name again! I have never heard of a more devious lie to control naive people like you…”

  363. fatherstephen says:

    My retreats have been excellent. I look forward to returning home on Monday. My suggestion for this discussion is that it waits for another day and another post. Nearly 400 comments turns the comments section into a forum. No one would want to work their way through them.

    I look forward to being back. Thank you all for your prayers.

  364. Andrew says:

    Dinoship – wonderful parable, thank you for posting it.

  365. John Shores says:

    it reminds me of Carl Sagan’s agnosticism approaching everything through the vehicle of science and scientific reasoning, leaving no room for the knowledge that prerequisites faith.

    Agnosticism is, IMHO, the only honest way to approach anything. It is the only path that says “I don’t know but I’m willing to know.” If it leads to a point at which you can say, “I cannot yet comprehend the answer but I have faith that, because of the trends of data, the answer is likely to be (fill in the blank)…” (I’m thinking here about “string theory” in particular), then there is a measure of faith that is acceptable (we have lots of data and cannot create conditions under which to test the theory but it does account for all the data that we do have).

    you seem to forget we are clearly referring to “love of enemies”

    Who is your enemy? Someone you don’t like? Someone who does not like you? Is an enemy a concept? Or is it someone who has actually caused you harm?

    You will find all of these within the animal kingdom. You may not find “love” but you will find conflict and reconciliation, both of which are common to human experience as well. You will see clearly that some animals have a clear concept of fairness and will react to unfairness just as you or I would.

    While these are not on the same levels as humans (we are far more complicated after all), the foundations and fundamentals are present. One would not expect to find this in non-sapient animals. We have a long tradition of trying to elevate ourselves as much as possible from the other primates (“humans are not proud of their ancestors and never invite them round for dinner.”). We have tried everymeasure that we can think of to make the distinction. But the more we observe and learn, the more we come to realize how very alike we are to other primates – even when it comes to ideas like morality.

    This conversation reminds me of a discussion in the movie “Gettysburg” in which one Confederate general says:

    Perhaps there are those among you who think that you are descended from an ape. I suppose it’s possible that there are those of you who believe that I’m descended from an ape, but I challenge the man to step forward who believes that General Lee is descended from an ape.

    To which another general replies:

    All science trembles before the searing logic of your fiery intellect.

    Dinoship said:

    Why the addition of the phrase “without “falling” (e.g. behaving like a human being) again” then?

    The phrase was in response to

    where the Spirit of the Lord is, there rules unconditionally humble love for the enemy and prayer for the world.

    If you are going to say that “the Spirit of the Lord” is not everywhere at all times then I agree the addition to the phrase is irrelevant. It seems, though, that you are implying that it is a condition that is temporary and intermittent. Note that it was not said that “where a person is in agreement with the spirit of the Lord.” Hence the comment.

    Andrew said:

    Human beings can only “fall” when they are in a state of grace.

    In what state, then, were Adam and Eve created? Were they in a state of grace or innocence? (Grace implies fallenness.)

    In order to truly understand the Fall, one must know Grace first-hand

    I once heard that “Experience is the best teacher, but a fool learns only form his own.” I tend to agree with that. I see no value in everyone having to go through the dregs just to appreciate the sunlight.

  366. dinoship says:

    “I see no value in everyone having to go through the dregs just to appreciate the sunlight.”

    It wasn’t clear…: Is this your words or are you quoting someone else?

    Because, you came across as someone who only wants to learn through their own experience of God, (like St Thomas) rather than someone who would learn from the experience of others or the testament of the Martyrs and Saints

  367. dinoship says:

    It is surprisingly easy to think of yourself as an impartial Agnostic (like Sagan thought himself) when in fact you will go to the greatest lengths and create the most extreme theories, in order to keep God out of the equation…!
    A man who tries to speculate on the existence of God (or not) through scientific reasoning (a rationality that is separated from faith), is deluding himself.

    “Agnosticism is, IMHO, the only honest way to approach anything. It is the only path that says “I don’t know but I’m willing to know.”

    I am afraid that although it should be that indeed,
    yes,
    but,
    it more often than not becomes “I am only willing to know through rational thinking based on my own experience (concerning God), although I am willing to BELIEVE a scientific theory as plausible even if it entails belief in things I have no personal experience of”

  368. dinoship says:

    JS,
    I am sorry for the rushed posts John… (sent while multitasking I am afraid!)

    I think there is a communication chasm pertaining to what Father Stephen referred to as :
    <blockquote.Most in the West have no knowledge of these things

    My previous long post about the witness of the Saints, old and new, tried to provide you with those very “proofs” of the Orthodox faith, the “fruits of the tree”…
    These proofs do indeed go against many of the supposed ‘explanations for this world without God’ you keep re-coursing to.
    But they are proofs that cannot be explained away without making one look like those ‘children that close their ears in the face of the truth’.

    Maybe, if you were once disillusioned by a caricature of the true Faith,
    what you now need might be a disillusionment of what you uphold as robust rationality based on scientific thinking (“atheist” -I would term), concerning an ‘explanation of this existence’.

  369. dinoship says:

    Sorry, I meant:

    I think there is a communication chasm pertaining to what Father Stephen referred to as :

    Most in the West have no knowledge of these things

  370. dinoship says:

    Concerning any similarities or differences between humans and primates – so hotly discussed in the West – I think the Orthodox answer might be: “So what????”

    You might even encounter a particular Primate who is better than a particular Human. So what?

    Orthodoxy is the first to say, as Saint Gregory the Theologian said, that: Man is an animal, but, he is the only animal that can become god! (“zoon theoumenon”)

  371. John Shores says:

    “I am only willing to know through rational thinking based on my own experience (concerning God), although I am willing to BELIEVE a scientific theory as plausible even if it entails belief in things I have no personal experience of”

    I disagree. Personal experience doesn’t enter into it. And when it does, then a good scientist will ask how reliable an experience is (go to ted_dot_com and watch “Scott Fraser: Why eyewitnesses get it wrong.)

    There is no lack of proof that when a closely-held scientific theory is proved wrong, it is abandoned, even by its most ardent proponents. This is rarely the case in a faith, which is why it is faith in the first place. Faith is the substance; when physical substance contradicts it, faith usually trumps it.

    This reliance on “personal experience” actually (in my estimation) makes a thing more suspect. If god is the same yesterday, today and forevermore and can be experienced then the experiences by all people should be consistent. As far as I can tell, this is not the case (hence different religions, different sects etc).

    (That would make a good book title: Sects and violence.)

  372. dinoship says:

    In fact,

    If god is the same yesterday, today and forevermore and can be experienced then the experiences by all people should be consistent

    Is completely true in within Orthodoxy.
    It is astounding how the experience of God in His Uncreated Light is the same in all those Orthodox Saints that encountered God, no matter where on earth, when in history, from whatever background…

  373. PJ says:

    Hey all:

    Bouteneff’s “Beginnings” is available on Google Books. At least, a lot of it is. I’ve already read a dozen pages or so. I assume much more is accessible for free — perhaps all of it. John, I suggest you go immediately to “Paul and the Paradise Narrative: Sin and Death.”

  374. dinoship says:

    PJ,
    great find, although owing and studying the book is far more gratifying…
    Here’s a little slightly paraphrased sample:

    From Bouteneff “Beginnings” :

    The Fall’s status as universal was only established in the light of Christ. Paul’s starting point is Christ, Lord and Saviour. Paul does nothing less than define the direction and the sequence, as it were, of Christian reflection on Christ. This direction is not the one commonly associated with Christianity, namely, a kind of chronological sequence from a perfect pre-fallen state, to a one-event calamitous fall, and then to a salvation that comes in the year 33 CE. It is a sequence that begins with Christ himself: rather than Adam being a model or image for humanity or even the first real human being, it is Christ who is both. Christ is the first true human being, and Christ is the image of God and the model for Adam…
    “Adam’s humanity is a provisional copy of the humanity that is in Christ”
    Paul sees Adam as a kind of beginning – the beginning of a death-bound mode of life. “But it is a beginning that does not need to be followed; it does not overcome human free choice. Humanity simply constantly re-enacts the little scene in the Garden of Eden. There never was a golden age. There is no point looking back to one. Adam was what we all are, a man of sin. However, no one has to be Adam. We are so freely and on our own responsibility”(Karl Barth)
    Paul came to focus on Adam as a result of his finding Christ. His reading of the Old Testament as illumined by and illuminating Christ was groundbreaking and became the guiding rubric under which the Christian fathers read Scripture. Saying that “the rock was Christ” or that Adam is a type of Christ stems from Paul’s reading of the function of the entire Scripture. As he shows in 2 Corinthians (3:12-4:7), to read Scripture in sheerly chronological terms, as a history of the world or as a story of the nation of Israel, is to have a veil over one’s eyes. One lifts the veil when one turns to the Lord (3:16). The Scriptures are about Christ, the treasure who lies within the clay jars (4:7).
    The description of the meeting of the Lord on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 ascribes the same function to the Old Testament. There it is the risen Lord, unrecognized by the two disciples, Who opens the Scriptures to them, showing how the Scriptures are about Himself.

  375. John Shores says:

    Marc: Kind of taking dinoship’s story about two babies debating life after birth, it seems to me that until they are born they have no reference points for what is yet to come. More importantly, to my mind, is that those fetuses (feti?) are connected to the mother and continue to grow regardless of what they believe about the life to come. There is nothing they can do, short of gnawing through the umbilical cord (which is impossible without teeth anyways), that will affect the outcome.

    Whether I “believe that there is a spiritual creation apart from the material creation” is, perhaps, irrelevant.

    I believe that the Orthodox position is not that “there is a spiritual creation apart from the material creation” but that they are intertwined. I have a far easier time with a more naturalistic approach (that god is revealed through nature) than any other. This would be in line with the whole concept of a womb and is an approach that, as an agnostic, I am quite comfortable with because it does not give prescriptions or demand that there is a “narrow way” that only a few (certainly non-agnostics) will ever find. To my mind, the idea that “god is good” means something very different than what is held within the Christian doctrine.

  376. John Shores says:

    Hi Marc: To me, if one is to compare god to a Father (as Jesus frequently did), I have to assume that this is intentional. Being a father, I get some idea of what this implies. Being an imperfect father, I have a really good idea of what a perfect father would be like.

    I will first present what I think is the Orthodox view:

    Mankind is fallen (for whatever reasons) and therefore on something of a bad footing with his relationship to god. This fallenness is the cause of corruption (both physical and spiritual) leading to death. So, god became a human, lived a perfect life, suffered the cruelest death, and rose again, all to restore us to a right relationship with god and to free us from death. (Please forgive me if I’m missing something here.)

    As a father, I look at this story and while part of me says, “Hell yeah I’d do anything to save my kids too!” another part of me says, “Is all of this really necessary?” I mean, couldn’t I (as god) find another, less traumatizing and more intimate way of reconciling with my kids?

    The whole things becomes more and more impersonal the further down the timeline that we get from Christ too. It’s human nature to take bad news stoically when we don’t know the people involved but when bad things happen to people we know or who live in our community (I’m thinking of the Aurora shootings that happened the same week we moved to Aurora), it impacts us more closely. It’s how we function as human beings.

    So, as a father, I would be totally dissatisfied with any methods of reconciliation that were not clear and present to my kids. I would use bloody death as a very last resort. And I most assuredly would not delegate any of my kids who are on good terms with me to go out and tell the other kids how great it is; I’d go to my kids myself. Anything short of that is half-assed and sends a very different message than I think is intended. Inaction can speak as loudly as actions.

    So, all in all, the thing strikes me as rather poorly conceived and executed (no pun intended). I just have a hard time attributing the adjective “good” to a person who sort of dive-bombs into human history and then relies on a sort of network marketing approach to getting the word out (especially considering how good humans are at lying to each other). That doesn’t sound like a father to me.

    My Protestant-indoctrinated view is more like this:

    Suppose you have God-like powers. Now suppose that you are boiling water and you tell your child, “Do not go near the stove or you’ll get burned.” So, of course, as soon as your back is turned, your child races over, tips the pan and gets scalded in the face so badly that she ends up permanently disfigured and losing sight in one eye. Your first reaction is to curse the child so that every one of her descendants is born with a disfigured face and one blind eye. Then you kick her out of the house and leave her on the streets to fend for herself. Of course you keep an eye on her and her children but you only talk to them whenever they have done something wrong and then you blame her children for not being good enough to live in your house while at the same time telling them that you really long for them to be whole and pure enough to live with you. Then, you send your other child, who was not deformed, out into the world so that your deformed children would kill him thus making it possible for your deformed children to become hole and return to your house.

    That’s essentially what the Protestant view boils down to. Those people are nuts.

    And this isn’t even taking into consideration the words and actions attributed to god in the OT. No way that person qualifies as “good” (unless you think the Manson family is also good).

    No matter how I look at it, I still come away baffled.

    This is why the naturalistic view makes more sense to me. If we are on this earth being incubated by god, that actually would make a kind of sense to me. It’s a pretty freaking awesome planet after all (for the time being). It’s when I try to get my head around the idea of god being personal or being a father in the Christian sense that I can’t make heads or tails of it.

    Which is why I keep coming back to where the heck is this god person? This would be so much better if dad was around.

  377. John Shores says:

    As a means of helping you understand me perhaps a little better, let me offer that I am of the opinion that the only faith that is worth having is one that is immutable to the believer. If one is going to take the trouble to believe something then one is only a true believer if they believe with their whole heart. Being an “all or nothing” sort of person myself, I have never really understood people who could be casual believers in anything. Once one is convinced that something is true, especially if that something is the framework for how one lives their life, it seems to me somewhat psychotic not to live that life completely. Such a half-hearted approach to faith is to me like a soldier who takes it for granted that there is an enemy somewhere about but simply takes cover whenever he feels inclined to and casually fires his weapon in whatever direction his fancy takes.

    I do not disrespect anyone here for their firmly held beliefs. I think what I really want is to have something worth believing in that manner.

  378. John Shores says:

    how their lives and their potentials are connected to the lives of all the other people who are alive today, and even those people who have lived and died since the beginning…I am struck with the amazing connections of our lives.

    That is too far for me to reach, rather like the fetus feeling around and trying to discern the meaning of the mother’s bladder, liver and bowels. I find it far easier on the soul to just chill and accept that things are the way they are. Even if I could see or comprehend such connections, that wouldn’t change anything.

    When I was a Protestant, I wanted to understand every nuance of the faith and took delight in profundity. My dad was a preacher after all and a Protestant preacher is always looking for the clever story to make connections to ethereal matters. I find that “I don’t know” is rather satisfying and far less taxing.

    I appreciate your comments though. I am honestly quite pleased that you have found purpose in your faith.

  379. Shane says:

    John Shores said:
    “another part of me says, “Is all of this really necessary?” I mean, couldn’t I (as god) find another, less traumatizing and more intimate way of reconciling with my kids?”

    John, in the Orthodox view, God suffered and died in order to fully partake of our suffering and mortality – He knows exactly how we feel because He walked a mile in our shoes. God descended into suffering, death, and hell because that was exactly where He would be able to find us.

    As one Orthodox hymn says: “When You descended to Death, oh Life Immortal, You slew Hell with the splendor of your Godhead, and when from the depths you raised the dead, all the powers of heaven cried out, Giver of Life, Christ our God, glory to You.”

    Or as Metropolitan Anthony Bloom describes it
    “What also astonished me at the time, and which I would probably have expressed quite differently then, is that God – and this is the very nature of love – is able to love us so much, that he is prepared to share everything with us to the last: not only creation through his Incarnation, not only the limiting of life through sin, not only physical suffering and death, but that which is the most terrible – mortality as a state of being, hell as a state of being: the deprivation and loss of God, from which man dies. That cry on Christ’s on the cross: ‘My God! My God! Why hast Thou forsaken me?’ – this experience not only of being abandoned by God but also of being deprived of God, which kills a man, this readiness of God to share our loss of God, as if descending with us into hell, because Christ’s descent into hell was precisely a descent into the Old Testament abyss, that is, to the place where God is not. This amazed me because it meant that there was no limit to God’s readiness to share man’s fate, in order to find man.”

  380. dinoship says:

    JohnShores,
    You are very right when saying:

    “Once one is convinced that something is true, especially if that something is the framework for how one lives their life, it seems to me somewhat psychotic not to live that life completely. Such a half-hearted approach to faith is to me like a soldier who takes it for granted that there is an enemy somewhere about but simply takes cover whenever he feels inclined to and casually fires his weapon in whatever direction his fancy takes.”

    Everything of the faith that makes no sense to you, makes total sense to those who live this whole-heartedy, (yet they cannot ‘wordify’ it convincingly to one who does not live the same). Living this whole-heartedly leads to the Purity of Heart that enables man to “See God”.

    Everywhere.

    As the ascetic Fathers of the East keep repeating: when man guards his senses and voluntarily avoids all ’causes’ that weaken his guarding of the inner and outer senses, he arrives at that desired purity. Whoever does this (called “Nepsis”) knows that God will guard them if and when the ’causes’ (which weaken even the strong) come to them uninvited (involuntarily)…
    Without the Nepsis we end up losing even our faith one day and justifying our path along the way. With it we justify Him and see Him and the meaning behind everything is also revealed to us.

    On your rationalistic understanding level you also keep forgetting that Christ’s sacrifice shows once and for all that

    “there is no limit to God’s readiness to share man’s fate, in order to find man.”

    Stop trying to make sense of it with human reasoning! The unborn child can only understand Mom’s love in a face-to-face manner when it finally looks her in the eye… Not in the womb. Being extremely resistant to wanting to dive into this certainty of his Love, and allowing one’s mind to keep fighting it with reasonable arguments (doing the Enemies job for him in other words), makes one exactly like the unbelieving baby which complains for not having hard enough evidence of Mom…
    This rationalistic understanding (misunderstanding rather) of Orthodoxy is wrong”

    “So, all in all, the thing strikes me as rather poorly conceived and executed (no pun intended). I just have a hard time attributing the adjective “good” to a person who sort of dive-bombs into human history and then relies on a sort of network marketing approach to getting the word out (especially considering how good humans are at lying to each other). That doesn’t sound like a father to me.”

    If only we would

    “just chill and accept that things are the way they are.”

    within the True Church” we would be living the truth “full-heartedly”. But we become our own worst enemy when we put ourself in the position of judging God’s ways based on our rational human, and jaundiced, conception of them. When we do that, there is no need for a serpent to whisper to us -we have become the serpent ourselves. It IS in our own power to ignore that internal voice – the sycophant of God- that is a key part of “Nepsis”.

  381. Micah says:

    Father — this is shockingly beautiful iconography. Where is it to be found please?

  382. fatherstephen says:

    Micah, I’m not sure. It’s rather old.

  383. Karen says:

    Father, bless!

    Regarding the Icon, I recognize the Theotokos and also Adam whom Christ grasps by the wrist. Who are the king and queen among the Saints on the right?

  384. fatherstephen says:

    Karen,
    Usually it’s Sts. Constantine and Helen

  385. Micah says:

    Thank you Father, Karen.

  386. Nicole says:

    The post states: The Gospels presume and proclaim at every turn that in Christ, the Kingdom of God is present. Christ says, “But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Lk 11:20). There is a mystery at work in the presence of the Kingdom. Christ makes statements such as that just quoted, but also frequently says that the Kingdom of God has come near. The Kingdom is a reality and a presence that has both come near us, and come upon us. But in neither case does it simply refer to a later “someday.” The urgency of the proclamation of the Kingdom is not caused by the soon approach of an expected apocalypse. Its preaching is urgent because its coming has already begun!

    I agree, Christ is here now and in Heaven. John the Baptist preached in Matthew 1, Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand. He was proclaiming the arrival of Christ. As you stated He has already come once, the return will not be in the form of a man but in Glory. This will be to usher in the time of His throne upon Earth. We may not understand all but we should understand He is with all.

  387. Steve says:

    Nicole,

    You say:

    As you stated He has already come once, the return will not be in the form of a man but in Glory.

    A quick clarification, if I may:

    His return is indeed in the form of man (cf. John 20:26). and as you rightly point out, in glorified form (cf. Zech 12:8).

    You say:

    We may not understand all but we should understand He is with all.

    At his return, the “necessity” of understanding is replaced by the “necessity” of loving. Two necessities, one born of the fall, the other, of God.

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Orthodox Christianity, Culture and Religion, Making the Journey of Faith
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