Glory to God for All Things

To See the Heavenly Country

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).

On the Orthodox Calendar, the two Sundays before the feast of the Nativity are set aside for the commemoration of the “forefathers.” The first of these Sundays remembers the righteous ones of the Old Testament, the second, the ancestors of Christ according to the flesh. The Eastern Church differs from the West in its treatment of the saints of the Old Testament. They are given feast days, Churches are dedicated to them. In every way they are given honor equal to that of the New Testament saints.

It seems to me that there is something of a “historical temptation” for those of us in the modern world. For the modern mind is largely responsible for the creation of history. Not that stories of the past have not always been told. But the temptation of history is the temptation to value the past only as historical artifact. Things of the past are seen as having value only for what they have caused in the present – or worse – as having value only if you are interested in that sort of thing.

America was one of the first truly modern nations. The story of its founding is the story of the triumph of ideas. America is a decision and not an inheritance or an ethnicity. History is a very tenuous thing in America. The knowledge of the young about the past is often non-existent. As a modern nation, America looks to the present and believes that it can create the future (or one of our controlling myths certainly believes this). An increasing number of modern nations are coming to see the world in this same modern way. Europe is daily re-inventing itself with little view to its past. The temptation of history is becoming ubiquitous.

I describe history as a temptation, for history does not properly have a place within the Christian faith. That may seem a strange statement coming from an Orthodox priest. No Church is more firmly grounded in Tradition than the Orthodox. But to be grounded in Tradition is not the same thing as being grounded in history (as Moderns think of history). Tradition is not the tyranny of the past over the present: Tradition is the adherence to the same eternal reality throughout all time.

That eternal reality for Christians (and for all creation) is the end of things – Christ the coming Lord. Our faith proclaims that He who was born of the Virgin is also the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End (Rev. 1:8). It is this same Christ unto whom all things are being gathered together into one (Ephesians 1:10). It is this End of history that is the meaning of all history – the meaning of all things.

It is also this Christ (the End of all things) that is the focus and center of the faithful through the ages. The Letter to the Hebrews, quoted at the beginning of this post, makes clear that it is this vision of Christ that grants the single purpose of all the righteous (including the Old Testament righteous cited by St. Paul).

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

The homeland they seek is none other than Christ Himself. And it is this same seeking that unites the people of God through all time in one single Tradition. The seeking of Christ is the Tradition of the Church (or so it can be said).

The temptation of history is to reverse Tradition as though it were a seeking of the past. But what unites us with the historical past is the same faith, the same purpose, the same vision, the same Lord. If the saints who have come before us directed their gaze to Christ, then it is to Christ that our own gaze should be fixed.

The preaching of the Kingdom of God is not a proclamation of the past, but the proclamation of Him “who was, and is, and is to come.” The same Christ who died and rose again is the same Christ who is coming. It is the same Christ who is given to us in the mysteries of the Church.

It is a theological irony that modernity, whose self-definition was an opposition to Tradition, is itself the creator of a history devoid of a future. Modernity denies Christ as the End of all things, and in so doing relegates itself to a place in history, but not to a place at the End.

For the faithful, we should desire a better, a heavenly country. And so God will not be ashamed to be called our God. He has already prepared such a city for us.

177 Responses to “To See the Heavenly Country”

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  1. dinoship says:

    it is to Christ that our own gaze should be fixed.

    Thank you again Father for reminding us, from yet another angle, of the one thing needful!

  2. Nathan says:

    Father, I think you’re right about the creation of history. Right now, I’m listening to a podcast on the history of Rome (http://thehistoryofrome.typepad.com/ for anyone interested) – it’s very well done, very detailed, probably very accurate. On the other hand, every single time something “fantastic” is reported, he feels the need to point out that it is most certainly fabricated and we can’t be sure if there’s really any truth to the story at all, or if there is, it’s definitely not the truth the Romans got out of it.

    It makes me just a little bit sad, like he’s taking out some of the wonder of the stories. Then again, it’s also very interesting to hear what the Romans recorded about their own history, how they viewed the past, in comparison to how modern historians interpret it.

    I think I prefer the ancient world’s approach.

  3. Rhonda says:

    Tradition is the adherence to the same eternal reality throughout all time.

    Wonderful post as usual, Father. Thanks :-)

  4. Nancy Kovalycsik Vreeland says:

    Even So, come, Lord Jesus!

  5. Mary Lowell says:

    Great insight into and articulation of meaning of all things. Thank you, Father.

  6. benmarston says:

    Today, on my birthday, by the way, I finish the carving of the Three Hebrew Children in the Furnace, the Lord being my helper. I hope to have it blessed at St. Mary of Egypt Dec 17.
    Loved the post. Sent it around as my Nativity Greeting.
    True conservatism reaches back into the union of heaven and earth in Paradise. True progressivism reaches forward into the Eschaton, where, by virtue of Christ’s gift to us in Himself, we participate in Godhood by grace. All other conservativisms and progressivisms are heresies, though both impulses are rooted in the image of God in which we are made.
    Lord have mercy.

  7. dinoship says:

    This certainly reminds us of the ending of the Bible:

    “I heard a great voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them; He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.’ And He who sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’… I, Jesus, have sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches… ‘ The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come’. And let him who hears say ‘Come’. And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price. … He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen”.

  8. simmmo says:

    Thanks for this Father. The Church is an eschatological reality – precisely because of the Gospel, the incarnation life death and resurrection of Christ. I think those of us who were brought up in churches that held to strict historicist interpretations of “prophecy” completely miss this point (whilst unknowingly colluding with modernity as you point out).

    Christ “was, is and is to come”. I don’t understand, then, why it is that we Protestants had a problem with the presence of Christ in the mysteries. Afterall, didn’t Christ say “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” I still don’t know what this would mean from a Protestant perspective. For Protestants, Christ is absent and will come back again “very soon” – you know next week, or perhaps the week after that. I can kind of get at what Christ is saying here if indeed the eschaton has been inaugurated by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  9. h west says:

    wow. this gives me a lot to chew on. i think i’ll have to read this a few times before i realize all the ramifications of what you say. thanks for posting it.

  10. Rhonda says:

    Hey, Bob:

    Thanks for your very welcomed comment. But can you drop the ALL CAPS? Very hard to read!

  11. fatherstephen says:

    Simmmo,
    Good observation. I think that when I first began to read Schmemann and Zizioulas, their presentation of true eschatology blew me away. It was both revealing and refreshing. In fact, it solved a huge number of issues and made sense of so much else. I wound up having to read some Pannenburg a decade or so later, and though he’s a German Protestant, his “philosophical” play with eschatology was quite interesting as well. It has become a requirement within my own thoughts to bring it always to any approach to the Kingdom.

  12. fatherstephen says:

    Reading all cap things gives me a headache.

  13. Aubrey says:

    Incredible post. I’m entering my last semester of undergraduate studies in philosophy, and after studying it for the past 3 1/2 years, I’ve discovered exactly the same things about modernity, and I’ve found the beauty of Tradition.
    Thank you for all you do, Father. You’ve helped me discover the beauty of Orthodoxy.

  14. davidp says:

    Several years ago there was a deep impression in my mind and heart of Someone standing behind a wall…One who was expressing and radiating by His person love, grace and mercy. In an instant I wanted to be by Him behind this wall…but the time was not ready…until lately I realized it was Christ who wanted me to like Him on this side of my wall. (this was during the night and I was sleeping…about 5-6 yrs ago) May God have mercy.

  15. Nick D says:

    Father, I’m a professional historian and your post makes me ask, as the soldiers did of the Baptist, what should I do? I’m already content with my pay.

    I think you’re a bit too hard on history as a discipline. No doubt it can be used for poor purposes. Historians often are tempted to use history to justify or advocate things in the present–this is a heresy called “presentism” in our field.

    I understand what you’re saying about the “temptation of history”–either we misuse it in what I’d call “presentism” or, as you put it, it has value only for those who see value in it. But, as CS Lewis observed, “life is thicker than we suppose” and history, properly done, can help us understand that thickness.

    So, personally it’s a bit jarring to read that “history has no place” in the Church. I’m not sure that Pelikan or Meyendorff would agree. But surely it depends on what we mean by “history.” Done right (and I concede it’s often done wrongly) it should even help our faith.

    I love your blog. Don’t stop!

    (Subdeacon) Nicholas

  16. leonard Nugent says:

    Father the feast day of St Isaiah is on July 6th in the Roman Catholic church. We are currently going through the book of Isaiah at our daily advent masses and in our office of readings. Last Sunday our first reading at mass was from the Profit Baruch
    http://saints.sqpn.com/isaiah-the-prophet/

  17. Michael Bauman says:

    Nick D. as an amateur historian (studied it all my life) it is not that Fr. Stephen is knocking history or its study, Fr. Stephen is emphasizing what I like to call liturgical time or perhaps better, eschatological time. Such time, in a sense begins and ends in Jesus Christ, born, crcified, raised from the dead, ascended and to come again. Yet as you know, in the Divine Liturgy, it is spoken of as all being present in the celebration of the Liturgy.

    History, as a discpline, cannot really operate on that level nor should it. We need the reminder of what has been done (for both good and ill), we need to recognize the common humanity in people of all ages; the common struggles that only through God are overcome. Most of all, I think, the fact that you cannot understand that which/whom you don’t love. That is perhaps the greatest casualty of preentism and the myth of progress that apes true eschatological reality. At least I think so.

  18. Michael Bauman says:

    What we don’t need is history as linear reality that separates the past from the present and condemns the past as it glorifies the present. Neither do we need the antiquarian approach that exalts the past and condemns the present. As you and I know, neither approach is real history.

  19. drewster2000 says:

    Nathan,

    Thanks for the heads up concerning the History of Rome podcasts. Looking forward to them!

  20. drewster2000 says:

    simmmo,

    Good to hear from you again.

  21. simmmo says:

    Thanks drewster!

  22. John Shores (TLO) says:

    Michael:

    History, as a discipline, cannot really operate on that level nor should it. We need the reminder of what has been done (for both good and ill), we need to recognize the common humanity in people of all ages

    This is well stated. I think to is important for people to be wary of their motives for examining history. Some use history as a tool to defend a position or justify a philosophy (e.g. to “exalt the past and condemn the present”). Others use it as a means of seeking “truth.” Each of these are mistaken from the outset.

    It seems to me that one ought to look at history in the same way that one would examine a foreign culture. The end-goal should be to elevate ourselves and others by seeking to know that culture and come to appreciate the people within it. (And how can we hope to understand anything in history without first understanding the culture and context of what we read?)

    As you say, “you cannot understand that which/whom you don’t love.” Any examination of history that does not have love (principally love of humanity) at its foundation is bound to come crashing down and hurt someone.

  23. Michael Bauman says:

    It was my examination of history that led me to God. Through all the evil, good still shone. God is the only explanation. Although at the time I stated the reciprocal, that tbe fall explained evil.
    God gives life and life returns to Him. We just have to accept it.

  24. PJ says:

    “Others use it as a means of seeking “truth.”

    Why do you put truth in scare quotes? Shouldn’t we seek truth in all enterprises? The search for truth and the search for understanding-in-charity are not contradictory — indeed they cannot be separated. “Truth in love” is the Christian ideal.

    The honest examination of history may very well be hurtful, for it exposes the sins of our forefathers. But we cannot therefore ignore the truth. We must call vice vice and virtue virtue. There’s no reason to ignore the fact that the Aztecs slaughtered untold numbers of human sacrifices, nor to ignore the crusaders murder of thousands upon thousands of Jews, or to ignore the fiendish regime of dhimmitude that prevailed (and prevails still) in Muslim lands.

    Pain is not antithetical to truth or love. In fact, I’m tempted to say that truth without pain is delusion and love without pain is sugary sentimentalism.

  25. drewster2000 says:

    John Shores

    So we need to “speak the truth in love”; is that what you’re saying? (grin)

  26. drewster2000 says:

    PJ,

    You speak very eloquently about pain:

    “Pain is not antithetical to truth or love. In fact, I’m tempted to say that truth without pain is delusion and love without pain is sugary sentimentalism.”

    I like that…a lot. But I think the point being made about history is not that pain must be ignored or explained away, but more generally that people can try to wield history like a tool toward their own ends, trying to use past events to support their own present beliefs.

    History isn’t to be used or manipulated; I think that’s the “temptation of history” that Fr. Stephen is talking about. We must first make our peace with Christ in the now before we can do anything worthwhile with the past.

  27. fatherstephen says:

    Nick,
    Yes, my statement “history has no place in the Church” would be a stinger for a historian. I recall Stanley Hauerwas at Duke once telling me about a paper he delivered at Princeton to the Bible Faculty in which he said he thought it was his job to “put the Bible boys out of business.” Sometimes my way of saying something seems governed by my training.

    “History” as is used and understood by modernity is the nuance I placed on my statement. In that sense, the stories about things as told by modernity have no place… What does a Christian history do? Certainly we rightly need to know more (as we can) assemble, compare, tell the story as best we can. The discipline of history, like every discipline, has its place in our lives and our world. To bring it “into the Church,” is also, I think to bring it, somehow, into dialog with its End. As a Christian historian there is a “priesthood” with regard to history. This is not necessarily what you do day by day. A Baker has to bake bread – and if the bread is not baked there is no Eucharist. If history is not “mined” there is no story within which to see the End.

    Historical studies will have its “rules,” though those are changing radically in some corners over the past few years. Is the history of the Church the story of Patriarchal exploitation (etc.)? Various kinds of “presentisms” are raging out there right now. The studies become a place for struggle (as every place is a place for struggle).

    I would amend my statement to add: “but there is a place for the historian in the Church…”

  28. drewster2000 says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    In your post “Yet Not I” of 06JUN2012 you talk about setting aside 5 minutes for daily prayer. In a later post you talk about using those 5 minutes for gazing upon an icon of Christ. Can you remind me of the name of that 2nd post? I was wanting to read about that again.

    thanks, drewster

  29. John Shores (TLO) says:

    “Others use it as a means of seeking ‘truth.’”

    Why do you put truth in scare quotes?

    Because “truth” is objective. The premise of Braveheart, for example, was that “history is written by those who have hanged heroes” and therefore the true story of William Wallace is skewed. There’s a lot of that going around both in the secular and religious worlds.

    So we need to “speak the truth in love”; is that what you’re saying? (grin)

    :). Not exactly. One cannot find the truth unless one first loves. And once one does, you realize that you cannot deliver the truth to another person; it has to be found by each.

    Say rather, “We need to look at cultures and historical events objectively, non-judgmentally, and with an intent of trying to understand that which is foreign to us so that we can understand the peoples and places that are outside of our worldview.” Humility is a huge part of this.

    A key example, for me, was when I read “A child of Hitler” which was written by a man who was raised in the Hitler Youth. This man used to go around lecturing along with a Jewish lady who was a prisoner at Auschwitz and together they told both sides of the story of Nazi Germany from the perspective of insiders who lived through it. It was the first time that I looked on the people within Germany not as monsters (although many were) but as people.

    For me, I think this level of objectivity and honesty in trying to understand other people is neigh on impossible unless one is willing to examine (and potentially abandon) his/her own assumptions and ideologies.

  30. Michael Bauman says:

    John Shores, the only question I have is what you mean by “non-jugmentally”? It is necessary to discern in order to study history. Eqalitarianism is, IMO, an example of the presentism that must be avoided.

    It is still possible to ferret-out the workings of a culture and time that one can see is not good. To do otherwise is to fall into the ideological trap that needs to be avoided.

    Please clarify.

    Thanks.

  31. Andrew says:

    JS et al.,

    It’s probably a good time as any to acknowledge the limitations of an overly anthropocentricist approach. It is also quite possibly, precisely why the early Church Fathers went out of their way to develop the dogma of the Divine Incarnation. I daresay we are still very much Palaeolithic in outlook, only now, God has appeared to us in our caves and has transformed all through Pascha.

  32. John Shores (TLO) says:

    the only question I have is what you mean by “non-jugmentally”?

    When I was in high-school we had a foreign-exchange student from Switzerland who, at the end of the year, was asked to give a report on her assessment of the US. One of the things she said was that “Americans are afraid of their own bodies.” She cited how much water we use in toilets, our obsession with hand-washing and disinfecting everything. It was an interesting observation and I think it was fully justified from her viewpoint but I don’t think that, as an insider to the American psyche, I would necessarily agree with her conclusions.

    When I talk of being “non-judgmental” I mean trying not to use our own culture as a basis for whether another culture is good or bad. It may be an honor, in some cultures, to be given the sheep’s eye to eat at dinner. I must not let my own perceptions take hold and risk offending my hosts by refusing to eat in such an instance.

    As we come to learn more about other cultures and histories, we are given reason to question our own. Before I traveled abroad, I could see no flaw in America’s history and the idea of manifest destiny and whatnot. It was not until I befriended people with an outside perspective that I was forced to come to grips with the darker side of our history, particularly as it relates to the natives whose lands and lives were taken. When I read of Ben Franklin’s debauchery while ambassador to France, I was again forced to reconsider one of my favorite founding fathers. And so on…

    To never look beyond ourselves or try to understand the times and people that surround us is folly. Once we begin to understand them, we begin to understand ourselves better. the further we travel down that road, the better off we are “O why should the spirit of mortal be proud?”

    That said, to me the important thing is not that we can (rightly) “ferret-out the workings of a culture and time that one can see is not good” but that we can do so without wholesale condemnation. Not all the Romans were bad. Nor were all the Japanese in WWII. Nor are all Muslims today. Indeed, not even all Americans during our expansion across this continent were evil.

    The danger to me is very personal – if history is used to feed my hate, then it is used improperly. If it is used to promote my patriotism or religion, again, it is used improperly. If, on the other hand, it is used to instruct me on the frailty of humanity and what situations should be avoided so as to avoid those baser aspects of our nature, it is used properly.

    I hope that clarifies for you what I meant.

  33. John Shores (TLO) says:

    As an addendum, I think this same applies to viewing our own personal histories. There are a number of things that, growing up, didn’t bother me at all but when I look at them objectively I can see where some might recoil in horror. Conversely, there were things that I thought were horrible and I could not come to grips with them until I was able to look at the context objectively.

    The ability to be non-judgmental toward our parents and siblings and to view our own lives within the context of the greater reality around us is one of the most freeing capacities that we have.

  34. Andrew says:

    JS,

    I cannot say whether the Romans, Japanese or Muslims you refer to were a good bunch or not. I truly cannot say. Perhaps more to the point — they were human, even, by some quirk of fate, they (or at least their descendants), are American! :-)

  35. Andrew says:

    ….beautiful country, America, I might add!

  36. John Shores (TLO) says:

    Hi Andrew – That was pretty much my point. They were human. I tend to be very sensitive to that and I have a strong antipathy toward anything that would dehumanize any group (I am thinking of the sort of rhetoric that is dividing the nation at present).

  37. Andrew says:

    I hear you JS. Susanna Heschel has produced some ground breaking research on the takeover of the German church by the Third Reich – lest we utterly forget. Today, most Germans would look at you in horror if you told them that they would have to state their racial origin on any kind of official form. That perhaps is understandable owing to the particular history of National Socialism in the Germany of the 1930s & 40s…

  38. Andrew says:

    Addendum — there is nothing in the charter of heaven that prohibits the subcontracting of vital work such as the undoing of knots!

  39. Michael Bauman says:

    What is difficult to remember, at least for me, is that the human being is made with a God shaped place inside that only God can fill.

  40. Andrew says:

    The human being is made in the image of God even, Michael!

  41. drewster2000 says:

    John Shores,

    In your discussion with Michael, I agree with your stance on trying to be objective concerning ourselves and other (cultures as well as individuals).

    To take that one step further, I think it’s important to point out that one can only be objective if he/she has an object against which to measure everything – a standard, if you will.

    You’re saying that we can’t measure everything against our own culture or upbringing. I agree. But the conclusion is not “there is no standard; everyone do what’s right in their own eyes. I’m OK, you’re OK.” Instead the conclusion is that God must be our standard – not in the wrong ways our culture has portrayed Him, but God nonetheless.

  42. mary benton says:

    JS, drewster & others,

    Interesting discussion. I very much agree with you, John S, about not being judgmental. I think one can approach this and still have a firm personal sense of the “standard” (God), as you, drewster, pointed out.

    Each human being is on a unique path that can never be fully comprehended by another. While I can look at another’s behavior or lifestyle and believe that it is wrong, that still does not give me the right to judge THEM. I do not know what it is like to be that other person, to grow up with their history, genes and current circumstances.

    I am not suggesting that there is no objective right or wrong but simply that it is not my place to pronounce it in or to another. Their story is their own and where they are on the path toward God is between them and God.

    While I am trying to refrain from (malicious) judgment, that doesn’t mean that I never express political opinions in the proper context, or offer guidance to someone who seeks it. However, I can do this with complete respect for the other. (I’m not claiming to always DO that, but I try.)

  43. mary benton says:

    As an addendum (and relevant to the post), I often grow impatient with the Christmas of our culture. If it acknowledges Jesus at all, it does so as though we are waiting for 12/25 and the “baby” to be born – so that we can then go back to our normal lives.

    It reduces the Incarnation to a historical event to be commemorated rather than seeing it as the “eternal reality” (of which Father Stephen writes). The eternal reality perspective is the standard that I hope I am growing into. Yet for me to do so does not necessitate that I judge others who are in another place with it. I once was a child who loved to rip the paper off the presents too.

    And, Father Stephen, I appreciate that you teach through your writings in a way that doesn’t judge (in the malicious sense). I think that is why so many are comfortable coming here to learn.

  44. John Shores (TLO) says:

    You’re saying that we can’t measure everything against our own culture or upbringing. I agree. But the conclusion is not “there is no standard; everyone do what’s right in their own eyes. I’m OK, you’re OK.” Instead the conclusion is that God must be our standard – not in the wrong ways our culture has portrayed Him, but God nonetheless.

    This is rather like saying, “Fruits come in many different shape, sizes, colors and flavors, therefore in order to quantify them we must determine how each one responds to a 4.09 Hz audio frequency to determine which are good and which are bad.” That is to say, the conclusion that you say we must come to makes no sense. In fact, it is precisely what I am opposing. One cannot take something as nebulous and overly-disputed as “god” and then try to view history/culture through it.

    I emphatically deny that if you leave god out of the equation that there is therefore no standard by which to judge. That simply is not the case.

    We can look at history and see the long-term effects of societies that embrace gluttony, for example, to determine that gluttony is neither good for an individual nor the community. Similarly, we can see that people groups with differing dogmas cannot coexist except in a society that does not penalize one set of dogmas or another.

    Put it this way; is it better to live in a Christian theocracy or in a republic that allows a range of theological opinion/conviction? If you start with the Christian or Muslim god and try to answer that question, you get the former.

    But I think it can be demonstrated that that answer is not the best one.

    I think Mary said it well:

    I am not suggesting that there is no objective right or wrong but simply that it is not my place to pronounce it in or to another. Their story is their own and where they are on the path toward God is between them and God.

    Mary:

    As an addendum (and relevant to the post), I often grow impatient with the Christmas of our culture. If it acknowledges Jesus at all, it does so as though we are waiting for 12/25 and the “baby” to be born – so that we can then go back to our normal lives.

    The Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter eradicated the importance of the pagan holidays from which they morphed. Christmas was certainly of no concern to the early church.

    I think society in general ought to do away with Christmas entirely and revert back to celebrating the solstices and spring equinox (something that anyone of any faith could join in).

    Christians should be more like the Jews who celebrate Hanukkah but don’t expect the rest of the world to observe it as well. It seems to me that this would allow the faithful to celebrate it as an important icon the “eternal reality” without it being diminished by secular or pagan rituals.

    But that’s just me.

  45. mary benton says:

    I’m with you regarding Christmas, John. I have felt quite liberated since I gave up Christmas shopping (not that I am judging anyone who still does it) :-)

    I also gave up watching TV so I don’t have to see the ads either (not that I’m judging anyone who still does).

    I can now embrace Christmas as a holy day – and respect those who prefer to celebrate the solstice (my brother is among the latter).

  46. John Shores (TLO) says:

    Mary – I think you are one of the first truly rational Christians I have met when it comes to Christmas. I get so weary of hearing “Christians” bemoan the commercialism. How do they expect to win people over tilting at that windmill?

    You want people to believe in Christ? Then be Christ to them. I cannot believe that Jesus walking around in the flesh today would start a PAC or try to fight the media or campaign to “Keep Christ in Christmas”. It seems to me that he’d be getting all up in the faces of the church leaders (there would be some mighty distressed priests, bishops and primates if Jesus was hanging around today and I’m not at all convinced that some of them wouldn’t make an effort to plant him next to Jimmy Hoffa) and he’d be hanging out with sinners (much to the chagrin of self-respecting Christians).

  47. dinoship says:

    John,
    please do not carelessly throw around ideas you might have that others here see as blasphemous. You might not like your former Protestant upbringing, but your agnosticism comes across as anti-theism: your understanding of Christianity is the most Protestant (in the sense of it being highly personal – your very own) possible…

  48. fatherstephen says:

    I’ve removed a few comments. I don’t see the need to redo the discussion of God and morality, or yet again the question of OT reading. I particularly do not want the violence in Connecticut to be invoked in the comments – people are mourning – it’s not time to turn that tragedy into a point of argumentation.

    I would add – more discussion – less argumentation. There’s no listening in argument. Thanks.

  49. John Shores (TLO) says:

    Dinoship – Please clarify what you mean.

    I am not anti-theist. I simply believe that if there is a god and that deity falls under the definition of “good” then there are certain things that that deity will refrain from doing (such imposing the death penalty upon the infant child of a guilty man rather than upon the guilty man himself).

    Fr. Stephen – I understand why you removed comments. May I take this opportunity to express that the outrage and anger that I feel regarding the shooting in CT is exactly the outrage and anger that I feel about 2 Sam 12, Exodus 12, 2 Kings 2, 1 Samuel 15 and Acts 5 (among other passages). There is no prism through which I can look that could possibly lessen my disgust and outrage regarding those accounts.

  50. dinoship says:

    John,
    you have answered your own question actually, the disgust you express of the god of your understanding, (a highly protestant understanding that is far removed from the orhtodox one) is freely expressed here -in a setting that does not share that understanding of yours. The Orthodox understanding of the same stuff you read (as we covered before in our conversation regarding the veiled or not understanding of OT) is miles apart!
    We covered before here how different even our understanding of what constitutes meaning or meaninglessness in death, suffering, anthropomorhpic expressions, west-east views of what is considered “bad” or not etc etc. So, bringing these OT accounts to the table again in that Protestant influenced anti-theism (of the “OT God”) to those that know a God -not based on whatever they understand by opening the OT and just going for it- but through tradition, and first-hand experience or (understanding even of scripture) butonly checked against spiritual fathers, might come across as slightly irreverent. At least allow for “a pinch of salt” in your immediate understanding of OT after what so many comments testifying to something entirely different!
    We can never know EVERYTHING and only if one knew that much could they possibly judge like that, (without “a pinch of salt”).
    I am reminded of an example from St Giorgios Dialogos, it is a very old and ‘dated story from another era, but it still shows us something today:
    There was someone who though he was more compassionate that God, he heard that a bishop exorcised a demon from a young woman and was thinking, ‘hell is unbearable, poor demon’ (nothing wrong here – what is wrong is the resultant certainty that God does not know more/better to allow this). The demon came to his house as a haggard old man and he let him in. He then asked to put more wood in the fireplace as he felt cold and the man did. After that the demon possessed his daughter and she jumped in the fire… That way the man found out that there are always reasons beyond our understanding for what God allows to happen.
    A more current story is that of a man who was shipwrecked and started cursing the god of his understanding when the hut he painstakingly made after a month of hard labour was struck down by lightning the minute he completed it, the minute in fact he had pronounced the words “Glory to Thee oh Lord”! Little did he know that the smoke from that fire soon attracted a ship that noticed it from afar and he was thus re-united with his family and saved.

  51. dinoship says:

    I meant “thought he was more compassionate than God”, forgive my mistakes!

  52. John Shores (TLO) says:

    Dinoship: I’m sorry but nothing short of mind-altering drugs will ever make it OK in my eyes to kill an infant as payment for a crime committed by his father (or for any other reason for that matter). I would rather burn in hell for eternity than to give up on the sanctity of that life or the lives of other children that god has snuffed out as a form of retribution. There simply is no valid reason for such things.

    Indeed, it seems to me that anyone who excuses this behavior has no right to be called a “right to life” advocate.

    Furthermore, the very fact that the fathers found it necessary to explain away these horrors simply underscores that they are indeed horrors. No amount of explanation can mask what they are.

    To accept what you are saying would require that I give up a a part of my humanity. I would rather remain horrified by the horrific, if it’s all the same to you.

  53. dinoship says:

    John Shores,
    we are reading the same words yet seeing completely opposite events, and there are no mind-altering drugs involved. I promise! Jews, Muslims, and Protestants also understand vastly different things to what we Orthodox understand. The “veil” described by St Paul is taken away upon encountering the living Christ, completely, until that happens, it is wiser to trust those who have, rather than thinking they simply tried to “explain away the horrors” based on personal reasoning alone.

    Of course I am aware of the ongoing criticism received by the Old Testament through ignorance, misunderstanding or ideological prejudices. Attempts of depreciation or questioning of the value of OT start long ago. Among the first critics were the Gnostics and especially the followers of Marcion with the theories of the ‘strict God’ of the Old Testament and the New Testament ‘merciful Father’. A world apart from the Orthodox understanding of all Scripture through the One Who’s mercy passes all human understanding… In modern times the OT was challenged by some representatives of the Enlightenment, while last century it was fought with passion by fans of the German Nazis who bore the name «Deutsche Christen», motivated by nationalism and racism. The controversy continues to this day by other groups, often based on its Western exegesis.

    An oft-repeated accusation relates to some narrations, which are considered egregious or immoral because in these reported incidents we see fraud, unethical behavior or violence. Indeed there are such stories, but it is absurd to judge the situation, the prevailing laws, habits and actions of ancient peoples – many events happening during the prehistoric era – under the influence of the teachings of Jesus, instrumental in shaping the value system of our culture, and with the data of the 21st century. The Old Testament served as a preparatory stage for the salvific work of the “son of man” (Dan. 7.13), which is located at the very centre of theology and is Himself the only correct understanding of the OT, as demonstrated by Himself on the road to Emmaus.

    It should be stressed that the writers of the Old Testament, unlike the practice of the monarchs and official persons of the East, did not exaggerate and embellish the facts, did not conceal weaknesses and immoral acts of persons described. In the Old Testament we see the description of the history of fallen humanity. It is also, however, the history of salvation, and everything that happens must be, at the very least, evaluated by the reader as good or bad not based on an objective moral criterion, but rather on whether it contributes to the manifestation of God and promotes the plan for the salvation of the world. The biblical narratives, therefore, should not be understood as a simple record of the adventures of the Jewish people, but be interpreted theologically.

    Another cause of misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the OT, is associated with the major vehicles through which the general public encounters the content of the OT teaching. These bodies are Judaism, Christianity and Islam; as they share the use of the OT. However, it is also not uncommon to see even Atheists quote it… The OT was even used (perversely), by those conquering America, to “legalize” their violent conquest of the “Promised land”…

    The true meaning of the Old Testament only emerges within the Orthodox tradition through the New Testament, above all through the Crucified and exalted Christ the only “interpretation” and “Logos” of all that exists. OT parts, as understood by the patristic tradition, form an organic and inseparable theological unity. The link in the continuum is Jesus Christ, the person who fulfilled the promises of redemption and restoration of the human race.

  54. dinoship says:

    John Shores,
    we are reading the same words yet seeing completely opposite events, and there are no mind-altering drugs involved. I promise! Jews, Muslims, and Protestants also understand vastly different things to what we Orthodox understand. The “veil” described by St Paul is taken away upon encountering the living Christ, completely, until that happens, it is wiser to trust those who have, rather than thinking they simply tried to “explain away the horrors” based on personal reasoning alone.

    Of course I am aware of the ongoing criticism received by the Old Testament through ignorance, misunderstanding or ideological prejudices. Attempts of depreciation or questioning of the value of OT start long ago. Among the first critics were the Gnostics and especially the followers of Marcion with the theories of the ‘strict God’ of the Old Testament and the New Testament ‘merciful Father’. A world apart from the Orthodox understanding of all Scripture through the One Who’s mercy passes all human understanding… In modern times the OT was challenged by some representatives of the Enlightenment, while last century it was fought with passion by fans of the German Nazis who bore the name «Deutsche Christen», motivated by nationalism and racism. The controversy continues to this day by other groups, often based on its Western exegesis.

  55. dinoship says:

    An oft-repeated accusation relates to some narrations, which are considered egregious or immoral because in these reported incidents we see fraud, unethical behavior or violence. Indeed there are such stories, but it is absurd to judge the situation, the prevailing laws, habits and actions of ancient peoples – many events happening during the prehistoric era – under the influence of the teachings of Jesus, instrumental in shaping the value system of our culture, and with the data of the 21st century. The Old Testament served as a preparatory stage for the salvific work of the “son of man” (Dan. 7.13), which is located at the very centre of theology and is Himself the only correct understanding of the OT, as demonstrated by Himself on the road to Emmaus.

    It should be stressed that the writers of the Old Testament, unlike the practice of the monarchs and official persons of the East, did not exaggerate and embellish the facts, did not conceal weaknesses and immoral acts of persons described. In the Old Testament we see the description of the history of fallen humanity. It is also, however, the history of salvation, and everything that happens must be, at the very least, evaluated by the reader as good or bad not based on an objective moral criterion, but rather on whether it contributes to the manifestation of God and promotes the plan for the salvation of the world. The biblical narratives, therefore, should not be understood as a simple record of the adventures of the Jewish people, but be interpreted theologically.

    Another cause of misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the OT, is associated with the major vehicles through which the general public encounters the content of the OT teaching. These bodies are Judaism, Christianity and Islam; as they share the use of the OT. However, it is also not uncommon to see even Atheists quote it… The OT was even used (perversely), by those conquering America, to “legalize” their violent conquest of the “Promised land”…

    The true meaning of the Old Testament only emerges within the Orthodox tradition through the New Testament, above all through the Crucified and exalted Christ the only “interpretation” and “Logos” of all that exists. OT parts, as understood by the patristic tradition, form an organic and inseparable theological unity. The link in the continuum is Jesus Christ, the person who fulfilled the promises of redemption and restoration of the human race.

  56. dinoship says:

    An oft-repeated accusation relates to some narrations, which are considered egregious or immoral because in these reported incidents we see fraud, unethical behavior or violence. Indeed there are such stories, but it is absurd to judge the situation, the prevailing laws, habits and actions of ancient peoples – many events happening during the prehistoric era – under the influence of the teachings of Jesus, instrumental in shaping the value system of our culture, and with the data of the 21st century. The Old Testament served as a preparatory stage for the salvific work of the “son of man” (Dan. 7.13), which is located at the very centre of theology and is Himself the only correct understanding of the OT, as demonstrated by Himself on the road to Emmaus.

    It should be stressed that the writers of the Old Testament, unlike the practice of the monarchs and official persons of the East, did not exaggerate and embellish the facts, did not conceal weaknesses and immoral acts of persons described. In the Old Testament we see the description of the history of fallen humanity. It is also, however, the history of salvation, and everything that happens must be, at the very least, evaluated by the reader as good or bad not based on an objective moral criterion, but rather on whether it contributes to the manifestation of God and promotes the plan for the salvation of the world. The biblical narratives, therefore, should not be understood as a simple record of the adventures of the Jewish people, but be interpreted theologically.

  57. dinoship says:

    Another cause of misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the OT, is associated with the major vehicles through which the general public encounters the content of the OT teaching. These bodies are Judaism, Christianity and Islam; as they share the use of the OT. However, it is also not uncommon to see even Atheists quote it… The OT was even used (perversely), by those conquering America, to “legalize” their violent conquest of the “Promised land”…

    The true meaning of the Old Testament only emerges within the Orthodox tradition through the New Testament, above all through the Crucified and exalted Christ the only “interpretation” and “Logos” of all that exists. OT parts, as understood by the patristic tradition, form an organic and inseparable theological unity. The link in the continuum is Jesus Christ, the person who fulfilled the promises of redemption and restoration of the human race.

  58. dinoship says:

    Another cause of misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the OT, is associated with the major vehicles through which the general public encounters the content of the OT teaching. These bodies are Judaism, Christianity and Islam; as they share the use of the OT. However, it is also not uncommon to see even Atheists quote it… The OT was even used (perversely), by those conquering America, to “legalize” their violent conquest of the “Promised land”…

  59. dinoship says:

    sorry but i cannot post long posts again and try to break it down, it would probably end up a mess… some bits work others don’t… I had a lengthy response but I don’t know how much you might get John…
    maybe I should just let it go “after the first and second admonition” :-)

  60. dinoship says:

    The OT was even used (perversely), by those conquering America, to “legalize” their violent conquest of the “Promised land”…!

    The true meaning of the Old Testament only emerges within the Orthodox tradition through the New Testament, above all through the Crucified and exalted Christ the only “interpretation” and “Logos” of all that exists. Where you see ‘attempted murder’ by Abraham, the Fathers see the mystery of Christ! OT parts, as understood by the patristic tradition, form an organic and inseparable theological unity. The link in the continuum is Jesus Christ, the person who fulfilled the promises of redemption and restoration of the human race.

  61. Karen says:

    John, I have read that current scholarly thinking based on archeological finds in the Holy Land is that the genocide narratives in the OT are fictional. Apparently, there is no archeological evidence that the genocides in Canaan actually happened. As many have said here, there are many alternatives to reading these passages as literal history the way that Fundamentalist Protestants have done. We might indeed ask why the people of Israel wrote such narratives if such were not literally historically true. Maybe starting with this question would actually lead to some real true insight about the human motivation behind these narratives that is rooted in a particular cultural context. On the other hand, it is enough for me to know that the Eastern Orthodox tradition has never read these passages in the way that Protestant Fundamentalists do, and that it is the more ancient Christian tradition.

  62. Karen says:

    Regarding my last comment, here’s a link that may be interesting. To find the most pertinent section, you can do a “find” in the text for the words “current scholarly thinking.”

    http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2012/07/redeeming-god-in-canaan.html

  63. John Shores (TLO) says:

    Dinoship:

    Earlier you asked upon what I base my morals if not god. I think that there are objective criteria that can be used as a basis. You do not believe that there are:

    …everything that happens must be, at the very least, evaluated by the reader as good or bad not based on an objective moral criterion, but rather on whether it contributes to the manifestation of God and promotes the plan for the salvation of the world.

    I do not understand this at all. If there are no objectively true morals then anarchy reigns. Additionally, anything that god does is OK. Consequently, if we (as a society) decide that the punishment for committing murder is to kill one of the murderer’s kids, that would be perfectly fine since god did the same. It’s tantamount to honor killings in the world of Islam.

    What you are suggesting is not reasonable in my estimation. We cannot then base our morals on the commandments given (even god doesn’t bother with them) and so we are left to imitating god as the basis of morals.

    We are not talking about fallen humanity. We are talking about god. If god is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, then his actions are applicable in any age. Fr. Stephen doesn’t like the linear view of history. So, taking that cue, if we take any of the horrific events mentioned above and plop them into the middle of the 20th century, would the event be seen as moral? I rather think not.

    Take this view and the end result is that anyone who says that the planes plowing into tall building was god’s work might actually be right. Is that how you think things should stand?

    That being the case, we can either view such events as horrific or we can say god did it and create excuses that fit our dogma. I prefer the former in this or any other age.

    Jews, Muslims, and Protestants also understand vastly different things to what we Orthodox understand.

    So, what you are saying is that your group has the secret to right understanding and everyone else is ignorant or wrong?

  64. John Shores (TLO) says:

    As many have said here, there are many alternatives to reading these passages as literal history

    Fine. No problem here. Except that this should also be applied to the NT. I see no need for a literal redemption story if there was no literal fall and all of the stuff in the OT is simply narrative fiction. If it is nothing more than an attempt to capitalize on a mystery, what does it matter what it says? One may hear stories about dolphins saving humans from drowning and then explain it with a story. What would the story matter?

    As Dinoship said, the Jews understood these passages literally. What right does anyone from the outside have to come and tell them they were wrong?

    You can’t have it both ways. You cannot suspend reality when it applies to the OT and not do the same for the rest of the books.

    I can very easily believe that there was no Abraham or Moses. Certainly Samson and Jonah are fictional and probably the other judges and prophets were as well.

    I would prefer it if the world simply accepted the Bible as fiction. That would solve a lot of problems for a lot of people and make the reading far more enjoyable.

    Once you start deciding that some parts are fiction and some are real, it’s a crap shoot and anything can mean whatever anyone wants it to mean. Then everyone becomes the evil queen in The Silver Chair (“There is no sun…”).

  65. PJ says:

    John,

    The problem, as I see it, is that you are using moral language (“good”), but really this language expresses arbitrary approval — or disapproval — for some set of sociological circumstances which you find satisfactory (or unsatisfactory, as the case may be).

    For instance, you say that obesity isn’t good for individuals or communities. What you really mean is that obesity has deleterious effects on the physical and emotional health of individuals and on the economic and social and economic health of communities. You are really making sociological observations, or stipulating empirical facts, and expressing them in the language of moral judgment. Yet such moral judgments — “good,” “bad,” “right,” “wrong,” etc. — are utterly nonsensical apart from an objective, transcendent, absolute, and invariable standard against which certain circumstances and actions can be measured and evaluated.

    Note that I am not defending the legitimacy of objective morality in a theistic universe (that’s another argument), but rather denying — or at least seriously questioning — the possibility of objective morality, understood in any classical sense, in an atheistic universe. The closest you can come is some sort of non-theistic Platonism, which is not really Platonism at all, or something akin to Kant’s categorical imperative. Frankly, I don’t see that either of these systems has grounds on which to make objective moral judgments.

  66. Micah says:

    John,

    We are not talking about fallen humanity. We are talking about god. If god is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, then his actions are applicable in any age. Fr. Stephen doesn’t like the linear view of history. So, taking that cue, if we take any of the horrific events mentioned above and plop them into the middle of the 20th century, would the event be seen as moral? I rather think not.

    Look at this another way. If God has joined himself to fallen humanity, then the raft of distinctions that divide and obfuscate truth, cease to matter.

    It’s not that beauty didn’t exist in the Ardèche (say) under German occupation, it did, but, rather, it was well hidden.

  67. Micah says:

    It is important to understand that the EO view of the OT is Christocentric. One can apply this approach to anything – this being the hermeneutical key of the cosmos — as Fr. Stephen’s next post so elegantly posits.

  68. dinoship says:

    If you continue adhering to the Protestant understanding of OT, a highly “personalised” understanding first and foremost – as opposed to a “traditioned” understanding in the Church- then you end up with:

    a crap shoot and anything can mean whatever anyone wants it to mean.

    That is certainly not the case in Orthodoxy; yet, literalistic as it is, I think it is the case in the Protestant influenced West.
    There is no point repeating it again and again is there?:
    We see Christ in all of Scripture, that is the very key you are missing here, the key that “opens the Scriptures to us” (Luke 24:30) But that key is only properly found in His Church… Your key seems to be your own rational comprehension, is it not?
    It is wise to only trust that, once it is double and triple checked with a Spirit-bearing Spiritual Father, as is the tradition here…

  69. fatherstephen says:

    John Shores,
    Re: the reading of Scripture. The occasional allegorical reading of the OT seems to be both common to Christ, as well as to many Rabbi’s before him. The later “historical/literal” readings have more to do with problems that arose in the Christian West (Jerome is one of the contributors to this error) rather than a problem with how to read Scripture. When St. Paul went into a Synagogue to argue/teach about Christ, he doubtless used some of the same allegorical/typological stuff of the NT (in which the story of Christ fulfills things as the fulfillment of a type) that he uses in his letters. And they didn’t run him out of town on a rail for it. Many listened, some converted. It was by no means a reading outside the Jewish tradition.

    You set up false problems. Some parts fiction, some parts fact. It’s not nearly so simple. But it’s a silly problem. You don’t like this collection of ancient writings to be inconvenient – because it fails to meet the simplicity of Protestant idiocy which you already recognize doesn’t work. Orthodoxy does not have a Bible outside the Church. We presume that the Bible is read inside the Church and that those who want to read it have to be taught how to read it. The same thing has been assumed by the Jews as long as there have been Jews. Only Protestants think that any idiot on the street can pick up the Bible and read it correctly.

    Who says “you can’t have it both ways”? Where did that rule come from? It’s our book! We read it as we have been taught to read it and understand it. We can have it any way we want it (within the Tradition). It’s ridiculous to suggest otherwise. It’s like telling me that I’m wrong to point to my garden and say that some plants are for eating and some are medicinal herbs. And that some of the plants outside the garden are poison. You come along and want to suggest that if all plants aren’t the same then we shouldn’t have any plants at all.

    You can’t have real Christianity without a Tradition and the Tradition remembers and teaches us what to eat and what to avoid – what is good for food and what is poison – even how to cook it sometimes. What do you think a Tradition is for?

  70. PJ says:

    I don’t know about this simple east/west dichotomy that is so foundational to the Orthodox paradigm — and, indeed, the paradigms of some western Christians, both Catholic and Protestant.

    My own reading reveals great similarity and agreement between the oriental and occidental fathers, and where there is difference, it is not usually substantial or mutually exclusive. Indeed, the difference is often complementary. For instance, the cross as conquest of death and satisfaction for sins are not contradictory or irreconcilable; rather, they augment, support, and sharpen each other.

    At least to my (admittedly amateur) eye, by and large, with few exceptions, eastern and western Christians (at least Catholics and creedal, patristic Protestants) shared a common mind regarding the Scriptures. If this is no longer the case, then the split occurred not long ago.

    As Father Patrick Reardon wrote: “I see this going on in Orthodoxy all the time. The continuous discovery of new and improbable ‘differences’ between East and West has become virtually a cottage industry among some Orthodox Christians. Many of these alleged differences, however, seem not to have occurred to most Orthodox Christians who lived either before the Russian Revolution or outside of Paris.”

    And David Bentley Hart:

    “The most damaging consequence . . . of Orthodoxy’s twentieth-century pilgrimage ad fontes—and this is no small irony, given the ecumenical possibilities that opened up all along the way—has been an increase in the intensity of Eastern theology’s anti-Western polemic. Or, rather, an increase in the confidence with which such polemic is uttered. Nor is this only a problem for ecumenism: the anti-Western passion (or, frankly, paranoia) of Lossky and his followers has on occasion led to rather severe distortions of Eastern theology. More to the point here, though, it has made intelligent interpretations of Western Christian theology (which are so very necessary) apparently almost impossible for Orthodox thinkers. Neo-patristic Orthodox scholarship has usually gone hand in hand with some of the most excruciatingly inaccurate treatments of Western theologians that one could imagine—which, quite apart form the harm they do to the collective acuity of Orthodox Christians, can become a source of considerable embarrassment when they fall into the hands of Western scholars who actually know something of the figures that Orthodox scholars choose to caluminiate. When one repairs to modern Orthodox texts, one is almost certain to encounter some wild mischaracterization of one or another Western author; and four figures enjoy a special eminence in Orthodox polemics: Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, and John of the Cross.”

    (I think Hart is a bit harsh, but his point is not without validity.)

    Perhaps I am misreading the Orthodox viewpoint, or maybe I am simply ignorant. I admit that I have waded only ankle-deep into the sea of patristic wisdom. Nonetheless, I am deeply saddened by this insistence on difference — from Orthodox, traditional and creedal Protestants, and Catholics — which seems in many ways unfounded.

  71. fatherstephen says:

    PJ,
    On the East-West stuff. Yes, it is certainly overdone and both Fr. Patrick and DB Hart are accurate (though both can be a bit harsh). However, I think that they fail to appreciate or overlook many aspects of the critique. We should all ignore the internet ravings of amateur theologians who merely repeat things without real training. I am not including myself among such, not out of arrogance, but because I am trained – first in Western theology as well as in Orthodox thought. But I’m not an amateur in these matters. As St. Paul would say, “I speak as a fool.”

    Fr. Pat made a telling comment “outside of Paris,” an allusion to the so-called “Parisian School.” This includes such luminaries as Vladimir Lossky, Georges Florovsky, Sergius Bulgakov, Alexander Schmemann, et al. They are called Parisians because of their connections to the Russian Emigre community in Paris and St. Sergius Seminary there. For some extreme elements in Orthodoxy (whose number I hope is dwindling) they are the enemy – accused of many theological things that are not worth repeating. Most of the accusations are ignorant slander.

    They were, to a large degree, a continuation of an intellectual movement within Russia, displaced by the Revolution. They continued their work there. Many see St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York as the continuation of that same tradition. This is accurate only in a nuanced manner. St. Vlad’s has many influences and is not a “movement.”

    Most people fail to appreciate the history of Orthodox thought over the past 2 1/2 centuries. Fr. Pat and DB Hart give this short schrift. Orthodoxy was under the domination of Turks, a Westernized Tsar in Russia who consistently sought to subjugate the Church and more or less Lutheranize it. When freedom came from the Turks, there was a flood of Western “help” that again sought to force ORthodoxy into one Western mode or another. It’s scholars were trained in Western universities where they learned models and methods that were not at all consonant with ORthodox tradition.

    There was a movement, beginning in the 19th century, to break free of these bonds. Part of that was an effort to recover ORthodox sources and methods. The content and spirit of ORthodoxy remained intact within its liturgies and monasteries, but restoring the wholeness of its thought has been a slow process.

    Necessarily, part of that has been a critique of the West – whose domination was a problem. Sorting things out requires such a critique.

    Add to that, a Post-Modernist critique of the West. This has no Eastern roots – it’s a homegrown anti-Western thing. The anti-foundationalists and other philosophical groups have a very strong critique of the Enlightment and the “Project of Modernity.” Sometimes I am influenced by their thought. I studied it when I was in the doctoral program at Duke where it was a dominant part of the university.

    Today it easily becomes a Shibboleth, used too easily and too often. But there is real validity in parts of it and without it, recovery of ORthodox thought would be greatly hampered.

    There is, I think, a vast difference in “ethos” between Orthodox East and Catholic West. The same fathers, read from one ethos say one thing, and read from the other say some else. Ethos is critical. In large measure the ethos differs as a result of scholasticism which dominated the Catholic Church for many centuries. I could add much more.

    In Fr. Pat and DB Hart, you have found two fairly lonely voices within Orthodoxy that defend the West.

    One thing seems clear to me. The “West” is changing, even disappearing. Something else is evolving in its place. In many cases the something else is dark and dangerous. If Orthodoxy disappeared, the critique would remain and the decline of the West would continue.

    I think it is fair to challenge criticism of the West, but also to engage it when it seems valid. I’ve learned much from such an approach. I would add that I am not uncritical of the East – though I write much less about it.

  72. PJ says:

    Fair enough, Father. I suppose that my problem is that I can’t figure our what, or who, constitutes “authentic” Orthodoxy. Perhaps this is just a symptom of my rank Roman popery.

  73. PJ says:

    This is the problem I am wrestling with:

    I am disappointed that while I see a great effort on the part of Catholics to understand the eastern fathers, I do not see the Orthodox trying to understand the western fathers. Catholics are even attempting to familiarize themselves with the likes of Palamas and Cabasilas, as well as more recent sages like St. Silouan, yet Catholic luminaries from the same era are dismissed as crypto-Protestants or suffering from prelest, etc.

    I’m not one for feel-good ecumenism, but it seems that the Orthodox have largely rejected Latin Christianity, thus making any holistic understanding of the faith impossible, for Christianity has never been limited to the Greek, Slavic, and Syrian world.

    I say this with all due respect for the witness, suffering, and theological achievements of the eastern church. I have long been pulled toward Orthodoxy, but these doubts will no abate.

    What would you say to these hesitations and suspicions, Father, which I offer in friendship and charity?

  74. fatherstephen says:

    Part of the ethos question is somewhat analogous to the question of 2 versus 3 dimensions. There is a kind of “flatness” to much that is “Western” and to much that is “Eastern” as well. For example, St John Chrysostom is, in his sermons, one of the more 2 dimensional fathers of the East. He tends towards moralizing rather than mystery.

    The “West” from its earliest days always tended towards a rather “matter of fact” approach to things – especially when compared to the East. For example, the tendency of early Rome was to settle matters with a rather frank formula – Una Substantia in Tres Personae (for example). It never did the very tedious, subtle work of the Eastern Fathers of what is precisely meant by substance, person, etc. Instead, it sort of settled things with a good formula. Leo’s Tome has much of this about it as well. Of course, the East spent over a century in great turmoil trying to make Leo’s Tome actually useful (so called Neo-Chalcedonian Orthodoxy). His work was correct, but flat and “final.” We still use its language but with over one hundred years of needed nuance.

    Early Rome was famous for this. It’s formulaic approach gave it a rightly earned reputation for conservatism and orthodoxy. It did not veer from the slogans. But no one turned to Rome (the west) for subtlety or nuance.

    Scholasticism is, strangely, less than nuanced. Reason has a hard time with nuance and the like. The “ethos” of the two worlds is different almost from the beginning. It is certainly arguable that both have their place. No ethos is definitive. Neither is an ethos itself deficient. Thus it is wrong, I think, to say that the Church is not “whole” unless it has East and West. It would be interesting to see both in union and what exactly that would mean.

    One of the “critiques” from the East is whether the Western ethos is able to carry the fullness of the Church’s life. I think that this is less and less of a question. Cultures are blending. The West is probably more aware of the East today that at any time since the early centuries. There is less and less room for a merely formulaic Christianity. Catechisms are insufficient. The larger problem today are the vast inroads made by modernity into Catholicism since the mid 60′s. Time will tell.

    But, it is good to read widely in Orthodoxy. I occasionally use the work of Fr. D. Staniloae, a great Romanian theologian of the 20th century. He works quite comfortably with K. Rahner’s stuff. It’s interesting. Many Orthodox theologians are quite conversant with Western theology and do not apologize for its use. When I wrote my exams prior to my ordination as an Orthodox priest, the material clearly expected me to be familiar with Western work. I used Pannenburg extensively in one paper, and a fair amount of Western work on liturgics. Most of the men I know at St. Vlad’s know their way around the major Western writers. European Orthodox, of the educated sort, are competent as well.

    On the other hand, there are Orthodox who would treat me like a pariah for quoting Barth, Pannenburg, Rahner, etc., were I to do so approvingly. This, I think, is just ignorance and lack of good education (theological). But ignorance is never in short supply.

  75. dinoship says:

    Thank you Father for putting all this clearly.
    Another aspect I have found to be a source of misunderstandings is the lack of true hesychastic, completely “imaginationless” sobriety in the West, at least not of any true depth. Couplde with some form of persecutions or other of the Hesychasts (and the Orthodox in general) from some westerners (which continues in some parts to this day, some examples of the past century are beyond!) this makes many Orthodox speak harshly sometimes…

  76. Micah says:

    Fr. and dinoship: The answer therefore, inasmuch as one can call it that, is hesychasm. This, thankfully abounds, though, one must look well. Hesychasm considers neither east nor west as “something to grasped”, to use NT language. It is the orthopraxis of heaven, the cause of all things, Pascha..

  77. fatherstephen says:

    Micah,
    I’m sure Dinoship would agree – that there are no Hesychastic fathers of the Eastern Church who would say that being Orthodox (in true, full communion with the Orthodox Church) is not important. Apophaticism is not a way to avoid the difficult choices of our time.

  78. Micah says:

    Father, if I may be so bold: I have much encouraged by the good work of the Ecumenical Patriarch. Indeed.

  79. PJ says:

    “The answer therefore, inasmuch as one can call it that, is hesychasm. This, thankfully abounds, though, one must look well. Hesychasm considers neither east nor west as “something to grasped”, to use NT language. It is the orthopraxis of heaven, the cause of all things, Pascha..”

    This sort of thinking makes me uncomfortable. What of the 99% of Christians who aren’t hesychasts? Who haven’t even heard of hesychasm?

    No, the orthopraxis of heaven is love, itself a gift from God, which we receive in Christ and because of Christ. And love manifests itself in many ways, shapes, and forms.

    St. Paul’s famous hymn to love was written precisely to rebuke the Corinthians for placing their confidence (not to mention their energy) in mystical disciplines and charismatic experiences at the expense of ordinary charity.

    This isn’t to say hesychasm is illegitimate. Certainly not! I just don’t think that it should be used as the ultimate standard for Christian sanctity; nor should it be held up as the only authentic means of communion with God. Catholic, orthodox Christianity is big enough to accommodate more than one school of prayer; more than one model of holiness; more than one path to sanctity.

  80. PJ says:

    (As if there is ever anything “ordinary” about charity!)

  81. Micah says:

    Hummm. A discerning father knows what his child asks for, but does not presume. True charity remains hidden. I’ll stick with this, thanks.

  82. Micah says:

    PJ, my apologies if my previous post came across as rather brash. My point about hesychasm is that we cannot really articulate the divine will unless we first enter into the deep world of the nous. Merely giving away our belongings (as you rightly point out) is not necessarily a work inspired by the Holy Spirit.

  83. Michael Bauman says:

    Micah, on one level you are correct on another, it simply is not that difficult, and you come across as being a bit haughty which I don’t think you mean to.

    “Love God with all of your heart mind, soul and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.”

    We pass from glory to glory as we grow in communion with God, there is no ending. It is illegitimate to create unnecceary burdens of a particular practice on everyone.

    Jesus parables were all about practical life, no mystical experience (which is higly subject to delusion and oft misunderstood even if real).

    Every act of self-denial done with God in mind bears fruit, even the offer of a cup of water.

  84. Micah says:

    Michael, I appreciate your post and apologise if I have offended in any way.

  85. John Shores (TLO) says:

    You set up false problems.

    You lost me there. How is it a false problem that an infant was killed as punishment for David’s sin? It was god who carried out the sentence. It was not allegory. Nowhere is it read as anything but a factual event. What am I missing?

    It’s our book!

    Verily. Therefore you can say that it means whatever you wish. The issue I have is when one is expected to accept your traditions as “truth” when those “truths” do not resonate with him.

    Dinoship stated that god is the basis of morality, not some objective criteria. To refine this, we can posit that the god of the Orthodox Christian church is that basis (therefore the god of the protestant Christians is not that basis). And yet, god is not held to the same standards by which humans are held.

    This makes no sense to me.

    If we are to imitate god, then he ought to behave in ways that we ought to imitate.

    If we are to say that god is above the law and morals, then there has to be some objective basis upon which morals are based rather than basing them on god.

    Which is it?

    If it is the former, then the arguments I have presented must be valid.

    If it is the latter, what are those objective criteria?

  86. Michael Bauman says:

    Again, read Christologically, the innocent dying for our sins.
    I must say that not coming from Protestantism such things have never for an instant bothered me even before I was received into the Church.

    Course, being a student of history, I always knew there is no such thing as “literal history”. History, at its best, reveals truth, it does not explain truth or document truth. One must understand the context in which it was written and for whom it was written and associated connections.
    The Bible is iconic an essential part of a worshipping community. Outside that community the Bible may suggest the truth to some or be considered gibberish.

  87. fatherstephen says:

    Christ is the “criterion” if you will. We hold that Christ is the revelation of God – He is the “exegesis” of the Father, according to St. John. Yes, we re-read the OT and correct its presentation of God according to the image of Christ. Does God punish men by killing their children – no. So what about the story of David? We do not take from it the information that God kills children to punish their parents. Rather, we take from it that our sin has consequences – even consequences that harm the innocent. But not because God is punishing.

    Does that mess with the story – absolutely – on its literal level. What did the author intend. I have no idea and I don’t care.

    Christ is greater than the book. The Scriptures are radically re-interpreted in order to conform with the image of God revealed in Christ. If that means reinterpreting a story in various manners – so be it.

    Now, a story can be told and a moral can be drawn from it (our sins have consequences). But theological information regarding the character of God cannot be drawn if that character contradicts what is made known to us in Christ.

    Christ is God, in accordance with the Scriptures, and the Scriptures are truly the Scriptures when read in accordance with Christ. Otherwise they would lead us to terrible conclusions.

    Some quotes – this is Met. Hilarion Alfeyev on St. Isaac of Syria:

    Thus Isaac claims, one should not interpret literally those Old Testament texts, where wrath, anger, hatred and other similar terms are applied to the Creator. When such anthropomorphic terms occur in Scripture, they are being used in a figurative sense, for God never does anything out of wrath, anger, or hatred: anything of that sort is far removed from His nature. We should not read everything literally, as it is written, but rather perceive within the Old Testament narratives the hidden providence and eternal knowledge of God.

    From an article by Fr. George Morelli (just so you see that it isn’t just me):

    As previously discussed, the writers of the Old Testament, in their literal presentation of God’s actions or commands, were creating a God as they knew Him, from their own experience of His actions, and shaped by their times. It is the Scripture writers’ spiritual perception, not their literality, that is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Fr. John Breck (2001) points out that the Fathers of the Church understood the true meaning of Sacred Scripture more “holistically.” Their understanding is based on theoria. Theoria “refers to an “inspired vision” of Divine Truth as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ and in the biblical witness to Him.”

    Thus ,the Old Testament writers did not describe God as He truly is spiritually, but wrote of Him as He appeared to them through their human, historical-cultural perception. It would take God, Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, to lead His people to see the Divine, to a new level of spiritual development:

    You can reject the Protestant use of the OT – but we reject it as well. What I have said is that you can learn to read Scripture as the Orthodox do – would that all Christians did. Their misuse of Scripture has led many astray and injured the faith.

  88. dinoship says:

    John Shores,
    I think it was PJ who said that concerning morality…
    I did state that “everything that happens in the OT must be, at the very least, evaluated by the reader as good or bad not based on an objective moral criterion, but rather on whether it contributes to the manifestation of God and promotes the plan for the salvation.”
    The emphasis being here, “at the very least”. In other words if you have to read it outside the Church, then, at the very least, try to take away something useful rather than your own interpretation by evaluating based on that…
    In the Orthodox Church we do not do what you do however, which sometimes leads to all those false problems (“the punishment for David’s sin” as you mentioned…).
    In fact, our spiritual life is guided by a spiritual Father. We even ask him to indicate what and when to read as well as to explain it correctly if the need arises.
    Scripture is like the dangerous direct light of the afternoon sun, (as the famous “Way of the Pilgrim” says) we need sunglasses (In “The Way of the Pilgrim” these sunglasses are described as being “The Philokalia of the Neptic Fathers” BTW) to be able to gaze upon it.
    The fact that we read the same account and you see death when we see transition to true life, you see life when we see continuation in futility and sin, you see a punishment with no further hope when we see a chastisement with salvific repercussions beyond what is apprehended by our 5 senses this side of the grave, that you see an inexplicable atrocity of an individual when we see Christ in Gethsemany bearing up the hardness and egomania of every single individual – when you see God acting out a punishment although we see God respecting Man’s freedom and allowing for its consequences even unto ‘the Cross’ of another death, shows that there is a huge gulf in how you read some parts of Scripture and how we really should be reading them…
    But, that reading only happens rightly within that living tradition of the right reading.
    You also keep forgetting that it is absurd to judge a situation, a law, or an action of ancient peoples – many events happening during the prehistoric era – with the data of the 21st century!
    There are preparatory stages for everything that later seem wrong, although they were right at the time. (Even for the entirety of humankind over its history.)
    If for instance I am a an agnostic drug addict that hit rock bottom and go to a confessor spiritual Father for some help, he might advise I try to keep off the crystal-meth and I take up some pretty intense sport (if he sees I am that way inclined), if however I become baptised and even become a novice monk after 5 years, he might then advise I keep off the bodybuilding and take up the Jesus Prayer with prostrations…
    You want him to tell me to go straight to this last stage from day one?
    I would have given up!
    So, Elijah might have ordered the killing of the false prophets that beguiled Israel, but 1200 years later the Apostle Karpus was rebuked for desiring such a punishment of those who led Christians astray…
    He then realised that the God of Elijah was not of the Spirit that the story outwardly shows, even though He had allowed for Elijah’s chastisement of Israel.

  89. Rhonda says:

    Fr. Stephen:

    You can reject the Protestant use of the OT – but we reject it as well. What I have said is that you can learn to read Scripture as the Orthodox do – would that all Christians did. Their misuse of Scripture has led many astray and injured the faith.

    Well said & Amen!

  90. Brian says:

    John Shores,

    You wrote, “I see no need for a literal redemption story if there was no literal fall and all of the stuff in the OT is simply narrative fiction.”

    Frankly, I agree with you – on these points at least. There is much discussion here (and it is largely true) about the Christo-centricity of history and Scripture, as well as the pitfalls of holding to a linear view of history and an overly literal interpretation of Scripture. But I personally feel that SOME (not all) of it has been overemphasized almost to the point of absurdity merely in order to counter the prevailing (and erroneous) views to which most Evangelical/Protestants hold. What many here have been trying to communicate is true and needs to be said. Everything – matter, space, time, humanity, Scripture, “whether things in Heaven or things on earth…”everything has its origin and its ‘end’ in Christ. He is the meaning and purpose of all things. Thus everything is allegory that reveals Christ. Nevertheless, there is no contradiction between allegory and actual (one could say ‘literal’) reality, whether past or present, whether matter or spirit, time or space. It is all real. There is no fiction about it.

    So at the risk of offending some here (including you, perhaps) whose comments I appreciate very much, I will state what I have been hoping others would.

    There is no reason (scientific or theological) not to believe the revealed account. There is, however, every reason not to superimpose our own present-day experience upon it. When we do, it becomes ridiculous – as well as meaningless. There isn’t space here to answer every objection (“Where did Cain get his wife?” etc.), but it can easily be shown that there are very reasonable answers to such questions…perhaps another time.

    In any case, since this seems to be a major stumbling block for you, I will repeat what St. Paul was not afraid to say:

    “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth…” – Paul’s address to the Athenians (Acts 17)
    “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men… For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many…. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ… Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. ” – Epistle to the Romans (Chapter 5)

  91. Brian says:

    Obviously, my previous comment was too long and awaiting moderation (if it is allowed at all).

    Part2:

    Moreover, since we are not Fundamentalists who interpret Scripture apart from the Tradition and worship of the Church, I repeat here what we are not afraid to say as the Church:

    “…He was God before the ages, yet He appeared on earth and lived among men. Becoming incarnate from a holy virgin, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being conformed to the body of our lowliness, that He might conform us to the image of His glory. For since through a man sin entered the world, and through sin death, so it pleased Your only-begotten Son Who was in the bosom of You, the God and Father, to be born of a woman, the holy Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary, born under the law, to condemn sin in His own flesh, so that those who were dead in Adam might be made alive in Himself – Your Christ. He lived in this world and gave us commandments of salvation. Releasing us from the delusions of idolatry, He brought us to knowledge of You, the true God and Father… Having cleansed us in water, and sanctified us with the Holy Spirit, He gave Himself as a ransom to death, in which we were held captive, sold under sin. Descending through the Cross into Hades that He might fill all things with Himself, He destroyed the torments of death. And rising on the third day, He made a path for all flesh to the resurrection from the dead, since it was not possible for the Author of Life to be overcome by corruption…” -Excerpt from the Liturgy of St. Basil

  92. drewster2000 says:

    Concerning the OT:

    Fr. Stephen, I appreciate the ongoing discussion of the Old Testament that rears its head every so often. I think it does that because it is simply taking a lot of chewing,digesting,etc to be resolved.

    A new revelation (don’t let that term make you nervous) to me was that the following could be a likely scenario:
    -David desired Bathsheba, had Uriah sent to the heat of battle, committed adultery.
    -Nathan the prophet delivered some message to David from the Lord concerning this event.
    -David prayed and fasted.
    -The child died.
    -The story was recorded, with the actual message from the prophet not necessarily being the original.
    -The story gets handed down, eventually becoming part of OT canon, the moral lesson being that there are consequences for our actions, no matter what how close we are to God or what status we hold.

    Interesting thought….the possibility of the old “telephone” game being involved in some Bible stories as well as the rest of human relationships.

    Again, starting with “we know Christ” and interpreting everything with “how would Jesus deal with this?”.

    Interesting….

  93. drewster2000 says:

    Concerning East and West,

    I tend to support PJ’s basic motivation when it comes to looking for unity.

    Fr. Stephen says: “Thus it is wrong, I think, to say that the Church is not “whole” unless it has East and West.”

    This seems to be a key statement worth exploring. Many ecumenical types have as their longterm vision a church that is one large organization or body, but maybe they’re looking for the wrong thing.

    What if a unified church in this broken world looks like Orthodoxy, RC & others working side by side to fulfill to gospel as Christ pronounced it? Taking care of widows and orphans, etc. Just as a man and wife have become one flesh in marriage, is it not true that they also stay two distinct persons who are not perfect and who in fact could separate if no work is done to maintain the “one flesh”? And yet the marriage is not considered a failure because this one flesh still looks like two.

    Fr. Stephen spoke of Leo’s tome and Rome in general as being flat, practical, formulaic, while the East is more mystical and reflective of the whys and the details. I propose that a very common mistake is for one of these ways to be put forward as being supreme. Is it not quite possible that both of these ways of being are not only good but in fact necessary in order to better be the Church? Just as a man and woman are both needed in order to better portray the communion of God to the world?

    Orthodoxy is known for “both and”. I think that applies here as well. Once again just because many of us are from different “families” doesn’t mean that by default we must be at odds. There is no need for competition in this matter.

  94. fatherstephen says:

    Drewster,

    One of the ongoing problems with OT question, is the utter marriage to the concept of “history.” Protestant/Western thought is deeply committed to a notion that historical=literal=true=what really happened. One of my points is that with many things in “history” you cannot know “what really happened.” You can know what a writer writes about it, but that is something different than “what really happened.” Indeed, the whole concept of “what really happened,” is somewhat problematic. We can ask, “Did thus and such event actually take place?” And perhaps arrive at an answer, or a good guess. But the telling and relating of an event is something other than the event itself. It involves interpretation and such. When we have an account that God killed someone’s Baby, it’s somewhat problematic, because you cannot arrive at a “history,” that precisely determines what God does and doesn’t do. Instead we have a text.

    As Christians, the text of the OT is considered inspired and authoritative, inasmuch as “these are they which testify of Me (Christ).” That’s a very different statement than “these are authoritative because they are all literally true and happened just the way they say.” But this latter sense has become the commonly received sense in many Christians circles. And it creates all kinds of problems.

    It’s little wonder that Calvinists feel comfortable with their abominable portrayal of God. They didn’t have far to go to get it. Start with certain historical assumptions about the OT and you’ll get there, too.

    The OT has all kinds of material in it. And some of the “historical” material is what it says it is, but is not independently revelatory of God apart from Christ. “No one knows the Father except for the Son.” The OT is not a revelation of God. Christ is the revelation of God and only through Him and in Him can the OT Scriptures be read rightly.

    Those who treat the Scriptures as revelatory of God are wrong. Christ reveals God, and He opens our understanding so that we can read the Scriptures. To read them like a Protestant does not require any opening of understanding. Any rational man can do the same.

    What I’ve set forth here, as hard as it is to come to, is both Biblical and Patristic.

  95. drewster2000 says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    I totally agree with you….but I don’t think I could have said that a year – and definitely not twenty years ago. You’re making me older.

    I realize that the ongoing OT discussion can be tiresome and frustrating, but my getting older doesn’t usually happen in one instant with one key phrase; often it happens by hearing something different ways over time and in different circumstances. One of your missions (which I think you fully accept) is to the Protestants you came from, and some of those ways of being and looking at everything is so ingrained in them that it takes a long time.

    If someone had told me even two years ago that something in the Bible didn’t happen just like it said, I would have dismissed them into some category of ignorance or heresy and moved on. My father is still there, and I may never see him out of it. I suspect you have many loved ones there too.

    So I would ask you to please be patient with these conversations. They, like PJ’s concerning East & West, may well end up being key to the salvation of many. And that…is worth a lot of trouble and frustration.

    yours in Christ, drewster

  96. Margaret says:

    I so appreciate this blog post and these comments, thank you Fr. Stephen!

  97. fatherstephen says:

    Drewster,
    You’re probably dead-on as to the nature of this ministry. God give us all grace.

  98. Michael Bauman says:

    drewster2000. Many of the comments you make on working together to reflect the unity of Christ are quite right. However, I would caution you agianst the step of assuming that there is then an eguality in the sense that the very real theological differences no longer make any difference. Unfortunately, they do.

    Just as the OT is cannot be understood aside from Christ, neither can the Church. Ecclesiological statements and beliefs are Christological statements and beliefs. So are anthropological assumptions and understanding.

    How far one can go before disappearing into beliefs that endanger salvation is not mine to say, but there is a point where that is so.

    What one believes has consequences.

  99. John Shores (TLO) says:

    Just as the OT is cannot be understood aside from Christ…

    I would very much like to understand what this actually means.

    I don’t know set of people who agree on much of anything. Heck! I bet there are people who know you who also don’t necessarily agree with “who” you are. Certainly your wife has a far different view of you than your children do and their view is far different from your friends, acquaintances, etc.

    Gandhi’s view of Christ was vastly different from Mother Teresa’s and her’s was worlds apart from Martin Luther King Jr’s view and all of them (I suspect) had views that differ greatly from yours or Origen’s or Cyprian’s.

    I am still trying to figure out the essence of this whole concept and failing miserably (largely because of the myriad of teachings floating about out there).

  100. John Shores (TLO) says:

    the text of the OT is considered inspired and authoritative, inasmuch as “these are they which testify of Me (Christ).” That’s a very different statement than “these are authoritative because they are all literally true and happened just the way they say.”

    This being the case, the OT can be reduced to Aesop’s Fables. I hardly see the point of going on about Nathan calling on David to point out how naughty he has been and concluding with “Lucky for you God’s not gonna kill you but just your kid. And, by the way, The woman that you stole from that dude that you murdered is gonna become the mother of the wisest ruler of all time. So, all in all, it works out pretty well, yeah?” if such an event never actually took place.

    The original writers could not have had Christ in mind when they wrote what they did. So their intent had to have been either to relate actual events OR to scare kids with Grimm-style fairy tales.If it was the latter, then it is quite easy to simply dismiss the entire Bible as narrative fiction and having little to no importance except as a set of Parables such as we find in the gospels.

    I would actually prefer if this was the case because then not only would none of it makes any difference whatsoever but I am then free to think of a far more decent deity than the Bible portrays. As an added bonus, I have would no real reason to take anything in the NT seriously either. That would be most convenient.

    I know this sounds flippant but I honestly see no alternatives.

  101. dinoship says:

    John S,
    you seemed to have brushed over Father’s key sentence completely:

    The OT is not a revelation of God. Christ is the revelation of God and only through Him and in Him can the OT Scriptures be read rightly.

    Those who treat the Scriptures as revelatory of God are wrong. Christ reveals God, and He opens our understanding so that we can read the Scriptures. To read them like a Protestant does not require any opening of understanding. Any rational man can do the same.

    Or else, I cannot see how you could say:

    This being the case, the OT can be reduced to Aesop’s Fables. I hardly see the point of going on about Nathan calling on David to point out how naughty he has been and concluding with “Lucky for you God’s not gonna kill you but just your kid. And, by the way, The woman that you stole from that dude that you murdered is gonna become the mother of the wisest ruler of all time. So, all in all, it works out pretty well, yeah?” if such an event never actually took place.

    The original writers could not have had Christ in mind when they wrote what they did.

    Besides, it is not that the writers were consciously portraying Christ, or that the events of the OT that show Christ through God’s hidden providence were not also completely naturally occurring due to people’s free wills…
    It is paramount that we remember that God works through us, He wouldn’t have waited to be enfleshed that long, awaiting the ‘natural’ occurence of the “Theotokos” otherwise!

  102. fatherstephen says:

    “reduced to Aesop’s Fables.”

    No. Aesop’s fables have a very different context and are not historical in any sense, nor does Christ say, “Aesop’s fables testify of me.”

    But you are insisting that only a conservative Protestant historical reading is actually acceptable.

    The text of the OT has been “chosen” by God, if you will, to bear witness to Christ. On the one hand, this affirms that Christ is the hope of Israel, the fulness of the revelation of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses, etc.

    But there are many things within the OT that are read and interpreted in a very different way from a Christocentric reading. For instance, the idea that God is going to kill your child to punish you, etc. Even worse, God is going to kill that guy’s child to punish him, etc. How do I know to read this differently? Because it clearly disagrees with God as He reveals Himself to us in Christ.

    So how do we read it. It clearly has some history – and David himself draws the lesson of the consequences of his sin. Sin brings forth death and destruction – not because God punishes us with it – but because sin is alienation from God Who alone is Life. But it would be a mistake to draw conclusions about the character of God from the story.

    This you find upsetting and confusing. So did many of the early Christians. So much so that there were early heresies that said the OT God wasn’t God at all but the devil. It was a heresy, not because the Church defended the actions often described within the OT. But the Church has “re-read” the OT from the beginning.

    Can you imagine a more decent deity than Christ?

  103. PJ says:

    John,

    While I don’t think you’re quite grasping what Father is saying, I do sympathize with your frustration. I, for one, take a more “literal” view of the Old Testament, but then I’m willing to grant God a … shall we say, latitude of action … what some here find impossible to accept. And so it goes.

  104. drewster2000 says:

    Michael,

    I didn’t make judgements on the equality of the different groups or characters that made up the Church. I didn’t rank them. I wouldn’t even begin to know where to start in that process.

    I understand your reaction; you’d like to see how this played out. You’d like to look over maps and see it all come together. So would I. But this is the folly of our fallen race: to play God’s role.

    It is better to approach the issue as the children (of God) that we are. Could my church hold a soup supper with your church and invite all the neighboring poor – even once a year? No master plan. No set of contingencies or signed agreements. We need to start in such a simple way.

    Continuing in the vein of the child’s approach where it concerns our theology, here is a maxim: in all things, walk toward Christ the Light, be Christ, reflect Christ. If you encounter darkness, check yourself and get back to the light. Otherwise press out the faith daily “with fear and trembling”. Knowing how easy it is us to stray when we try to find our own way, keep your hand in His and “lean not unto your own understanding.”

    I’m well aware that my words above can sound very Protestant, all the more so because many of us here have been there. But all the Protestant abuse of God, His word, His world, His church does not negate the truth. It’s still true that we “must be as one of these (children) if we are to enter the Kingdom.”

    I’ve spoken too much but I hope at least to make clear that I did not make judgements on who was more right or closer to God and so on. It is this kind of thinking that helped divide us in the first place. I only suggested that there was room for all of God’s children in His Kingdom and that He didn’t make them to all look the same. In this instance I’m not talking about right and wrong; I’m talking about differences that purification won’t wash away.

  105. Karen says:

    John S. writes:

    The original writers could not have had Christ in mind when they wrote what they did. So their intent had to have been either to relate actual events OR to scare kids with Grimm-style fairy tales.If it was the latter, then it is quite easy to simply dismiss the entire Bible as narrative fiction and having little to no importance except as a set of Parables such as we find in the gospels.

    This either/or premise you propose seems very flawed to me. Why not rather think outside the box a bit and entertain the possibility that the OT biblical writers did not yet have the full revelation of Christ, so their understanding of God was partial. They told about events as they understood them (being creatures of the culture of their times), treating the natural consequences of sin as the deliberate punitive act of God. They used a lot of such anthropomorphisms that should not be understood as a literal revelation of what God is like, as Fr. Stephen has explained. Christ is the revelation of God, and He alone can explain (and did to His disciples on the road to Emmaus, etc.) how it is that the OT speaks of Him. I’ll be interested in your response to Fr. Stephen’s last question to you, John.

    Joyous Christmas to all!

  106. fatherstephen says:

    Drewster,
    I think that we cannot begin in such a simple way – because in our culture(s), the message would be something that we don’t mean to say. The culture is on the side of Protestants (in terms of self-understanding) – who have no ecclesiology and pretty much no boundaries. When you deal with a person who has no boundaries, you have to be more clear about your own than otherwise. The Churchless Christianity of modern Protestantism (I don’t mean that there aren’t Protestant organizations, but they have no ecclesiology, no understanding of the Church in a manner recognizable from an Orthodox perspective. As such, Protestantism is dangerous as an organization – not as individuals – nor as Christians, per se. But their organizations are actually destructive of the very concept of Church. Orthodoxy is and will be swimming upstream on ecclesiology as far as I can see into the future. It will be a struggle to help our own people understand, accept and believe in “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.”

  107. mary benton says:

    Well said, Karen.

    John S. – There may be a “far more decent deity” than the one that emerges from a literal interpretation of the OT. But taking the leap to know Him, to leave the literal for relationship, may feel very risky – understandably for you and others who have been hurt by misguided teachings. Along with Karen, I encourage you to ponder Father Stephen’s question. It is a good one for all of us to ponder…

  108. Michael Bauman says:

    Drewster2000. Unfortunately, the rejection of such seemingly simple cooperation in my experience been from certain protestants who don’t think we are Christians.

  109. Rhonda says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    It will be a struggle to help our own people understand, accept and believe in “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

    Oh, how true! This “struggle” is on the agenda for our next Council meeting. I would be interested in hearing some ideas for us to consider on this matter.

    In the past month we have lost 2 long-time members of our very small parish; 1 a cradle Orthodox who returned to her spouse’s mainline Protestant church & 1 a 17-year convert from RC who returned to the RCC. While there is debate about whether the elderly person’s judgement was truly sound at the time or not & the Protestant group is suspected to have taken advantage of a mental incapacity, the other individual was very much aware of his choice, adamant that the RC & EO believed the same doctrines being 2 lungs of the same Church. Ironically, this individual is one of the founders of our mission. This individual was also 1 of 2 that helped me decide to become Orthodox over the RC of my husband 10+ years ago.

    We were recently visited by the father of one of our parishoners who is a retired Episcopal priest. He too was adamant that we all believe the same things & were part of the same church. During fellowship he sat with 3 devout Orthodo women; a middle-aged woman preparing for seminary & the Matushka (both Protestant converts) & a cradle Orthodox woman (former seminarian). This amounted to a veritable “cross-fire of Orthodox theology” delivered as only 3 very devout Orthodox grandmothers can ;-)

    I find it ironic that the heterodox always seem to claim that we all believe the same thing or that our differences are irrelevant/minor, but inevitably tell the Orthodox that we’re wrong!

  110. Rhonda says:

    Michael;
    <blockquote.What one believes has consequences.
    Well said!

  111. mary benton says:

    drewster wrote:

    “It is better to approach the issue as the children (of God) that we are. Could my church hold a soup supper with your church and invite all the neighboring poor – even once a year? No master plan. No set of contingencies or signed agreements. We need to start in such a simple way.”

    Father Stephen wrote:

    “I think that we cannot begin in such a simple way – because in our culture(s), the message would be something that we don’t mean to say.”

    Forgive me if I am misunderstanding or taking remarks out of context – but this is how I read it. While I certainly agree that there is great danger in watering things down to the point of implying that we all really believe the same thing, I believe there is also harm in being too insular.

    I say this as a lifetime RC who grew up believing that mine was the only “one true church” – to the point of never learning anything about anyone else’s believes, fearing some sort of excommunication if I did so. Ecumenism has enriched my spiritual life greatly. I do not need to hold all beliefs in common with someone to serve the poor at their side. Yes, we need boundaries – but I do not think they need to be brick walls.

    I’m sure you don’t mean that either, Fr. Stephen, or you wouldn’t be allowing me to be part of this conversation. It seems to me that the dilemma is how and where to draw the lines. When I began following this blog some time ago, I commented on how little most RC’s know of the Orthodox. Perhaps if we “served soup together” in our communities we could know each other and heal some unnecessary rifts.

  112. dinoship says:

    mary benton ,
    This might seem very self-assured I guess, but, I remember many years ago coming away from a talk with Pere Placid (Deseille) an Orthodox (convert) Abbot who was a well known RC equivalent before, thinking that, indeed, there is much to be had by the many denominations that come into contact with the Orthodox Church, while, there is far less to enrich an Orthodox that looks elsewhere, looking deeper inside would yield far more. Sorry!

  113. fatherstephen says:

    Mary,
    I do not think the problems within Orthodoxy are to be found in too much insularity – but being too insular from Christ Himself. I do not think there is some portion of Orthodoxy that has been lost to this group or that group, or that anyone is maintaining a witness that Orthodoxy lacks. If the Church is the Church, then it is the fullness. That said, it is easy to mistake something minor and relative for something major and the fullness. There is certainly a need for people to know one another, and for love to increase. But, as noted before, the ecumenical onslaught is alive and well and desperately wants Orthodoxy to abandon its self-understanding, which is the understanding given us by Christ. If that understanding were diminished or sacrificed, the Church would cease to be. It’s not something to be modified, but something to be understood and lived.

    I make no comment on the present state of the Roman Catholic Church, but the Church that once insisted on its self-understanding now sees its attendance to be similar to Protestantism and its boundaries to be increasingly porous. It’s doctrine has largely become of the “cafeteria” style, with members picking and choosing as they like.

    The same culture forces impact Orthodoxy – thus my observation that we will do well even to keep our own.

  114. drewster2000 says:

    OK, lots of good comments. Let me make this suggestion: Let’s take the emphasis off any unification efforts. Let’s simply stop looking at any joint ventures and the lens of who is better, who could become more like whom and so on.

    If an Orthodox parish were to put on a soup supper with a Protestant church….isn’t that OK? No expectation that they will start having monthly Bible studies, no pressure for one church to ever darken the doors of the other, no judgements on each other’s faith. Can we do that?

    The story of the good Samaritan comes to mind. Nowadays that title evokes feelings of saintliness but back then they were the scum of the earth. If they can do it…

    I think this fits into the category of “pray as you can, not as you can’t”. Instead of looking at all the ways we cannot coexist with other groups, what about all the way we can?

    In fact we should work hard to drop the labels. When we look at a crowd, instead of seeing Orthodox….Jew…Muslim…Protestant…..instead we should be seeing children of God that are at one and the same time beautiful, broken, containing goodness, containing evil, God having plans for them.

    We need to drop the ecumenism, the anti-ecumenism, the “church” glasses – and be willing to do the things Christ called us to: care of widows, orphans, homeless, our families, our neighbor.

    The group identities remain and have their importance but they should not dominate everything we do and affect our vision of everything we look at such that Muslims and atheists are welcome to our home & table than our Protestant relatives.

  115. fatherstephen says:

    Drewster,
    My parish has done Habitat for Humanity with Protestants. No problem. However, you don’t understand Orthodoxy when you suggest that we “drop the Church glasses.” We don’t think there is a relationship with Christ apart from the Church.

  116. Michael Bauman says:

    drewster2000, we don’t need to drop anything but we need to pick up tending to the poor, etc. In fact there is alot of that going on. For instance, my parish maintains a rotating schedule of voluteers for a local Episcopal ministry called the Lord’s Diner which serves meals to the homeless and others. We donate 10% of the proceeds of our annual Big Dinner to various charities in the city.

    Two years ago we fixed up the parsonage of the Unitied Methodist American Indian Misson.

    The ability to do those missions and many, many others comes from our self-understanding as the Church, the Body of Christ, the pillar and ground of the truth. We are able to see truth where it is.

    Dropping any of that makes our ability to see the truth much more problematic and the much more likely that we will succumb (at least in part) to the secular/nihlist tide that wants to destroy us.

    Having spent more than half of my life wandering in the wilderness of kumbaya faith, I won’t go there again.

    I respect and honor those that serve God no matter where I find them but I will not soft-pedal or apologize for the Orthodox Church. I firmly believe that whatever truth other traditions believe and live comes through the Church and they are sharing the overflow and the crumbs of what is in the Church.

    We have done an exerable job of authentic witness (Fr. Stephan is a notable exception). That I will apologize for. I will not defend obvious sin just because it is committed by a fellow Orthodox, but the Church is the Church.

  117. dinoship says:

    We don’t think there is a relationship with Christ apart from the Church.

    Indeed!
    There is a hidden meaning in tomorrow’s reading from Matthew (the Genealogy of Jesus) concerning the Church.
    Every Father begets a son (e.g Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob etc…), yet no one begets Christ, He is born (His action) of the Virgin, (“Mary, of whom was born Jesus”). Something lost in some translations but not the KJV.
    It is only in the Virgin – the symbol of the Church par excellence – from whom Jesus is born into a person’s heart. I cannot give birth to Him outside of Her, but He is born in me when I am in Her.

  118. John Shores (TLO) says:

    Can you imagine a more decent deity than Christ?

    Yep. With very little difficulty. But then, I have a rather fertile imagination.

  119. drewster2000 says:

    Fr. Stephen & Michael,

    I want to commend you for the efforts you have done on behalf of others. If it wasn’t obvious, I was intending to speak from the 30,000ft level and forgot that I am more or less just speaking to the choir. I don’t really mean to shame anyone in this online community.

    And yet sometimes the conversation goes such that a reminder seems in order. When I talk about dropping our church glasses, I’m not at all talking about being the Church. I’m referring to the mindset that we easily slip into when we start talking about “us” and “them”, when we start getting into who is Church and who is not.

    Yes lines must be drawn and no we’re not one big happy family and no we don’t all believe the same thing, but sometimes we get so focused on who is or is not in the circle – and how much – instead of turning our attention to Christ who is at the center of it, that we start to fall into the same ruts and rituals that the Pharisees did.

    When we turn to help people outside the circle, the point is that we turn to help them – not that we are inside and they are out. Reality remains (we are in, they are out, the line is somewhere in between) but once again where does our motivation lie? Are we busy measuring who is who and how much? Or are we busy loving, reflecting Christ, trying to fulfill the example and the 2 primary commandments that He gave us?

    Two people can do the exact same things, but where is the heart of each of them? That’s what I’m referring to.

  120. mary benton says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you for taking the time to address my comment. I wasn’t intending to criticize the Orthodox – or you – as too insular but simply to point out that I believe there is danger in such an extreme. (I do not claim to know how much insularity is too much…)

    With respect, is not Christ to be found in the hearts of all genuine believers (even if doctrinally misguided)? If one isolates from them, is there not an isolating from Christ Himself? When I shared about my own learning, it wasn’t that I learned good doctrine from my ecumenical experiences. Rather I encountered different expressions of Christ-among-us in some very beautiful people.

    dinoship – What you wrote concerns me because it sounds like you are saying, “You can benefit from knowing me, but I cannot benefit from knowing you.” To speak of Church as fullness, I understand. It can be a slipperly slope to thinking of it as MY fullness. But perhaps I misunderstand you…

  121. dinoship says:

    John Shores,
    if Christ-God appeared to you in the ‘Burning Bush’, in a similar fashion to Moses’, his name would most surely be “I AM NOT THE GOD OF ALL YOUR PREVIOUS UNDERSTANDINGS”
    :-)

  122. mary benton says:

    Hi John (TLO)

    I’m curious. How about Alsan? (assuming you could get to Narnia)

  123. dinoship says:

    Mary,
    of course it is not MY fulness. Nothing that can be called MINE would ever be. It is the Church’s fullness. Everyone is called by the Lord, irrespective of baptism etc… And it is Christ that is the utmost desire as well as the fulfillment of that desire of all, baptized or not, conscious of that or not… And we can encounter all possible combinations of these categories in humanity.
    But the “total fulness” to which we are called can only be found (“most safely” one could perhaps add) through the New Eve (meaning the true Church in this context) eternally springing forth from the side of the New Adam slain from before the foundation of the world.

  124. easton says:

    mary, your comments speak to the heart…thank you.

  125. mary benton says:

    dinoship-

    Thanks for the clarification. From your previous posts, I suspected that I had taken your meaning incorrectly.

    Perhaps my observations come from knowing that a good many churches or sects consider themselves “the one true Church” (including my own RC, at least at some points in history). I am often uncomfortable with such assertions as I know how easily we humans fall prey to error and then attempt to defend it with such claims. On a large scale, wars have been fought; on a small scale, people can feel judged.

    HOWEVER, I am not saying that Orthodoxy is not the one true Church. Perhaps it is. I am certainly impressed with the depth of thought and sharing that takes place here. Yet my focus remains on Christ and sharing in Church as community of genuine believers striving to know and understand the truth revealed to us in Him.

  126. Micah says:

    Dinoship, very well said, thanks.

  127. John Shores (TLO) says:

    if Christ-God appeared to you in the ‘Burning Bush’…

    That’s an awfully big “if.” If something like that ever happened, all bets are off. Not holding my breath though.

    I’m curious. How about Alsan?

    That’s definitely a step in the right direction (although I am allergic to cats). However, that too is fiction.

  128. drewster2000 says:

    Mary said:

    “HOWEVER, I am not saying that Orthodoxy is not the one true Church. Perhaps it is. I am certainly impressed with the depth of thought and sharing that takes place here. Yet my focus remains on Christ and sharing in Church as community of genuine believers striving to know and understand the truth revealed to us in Him.”

    Very well put. I would stand behind that statement.

  129. mary benton says:

    John (TLO) – kind of you not to point out my typo (of course, I meant Aslan).

    What do you think would happen if you let go of the literal? If you allowed your spirit to seek – and perhaps find, without having to know precise fact?

    If someone came up with definitive evidence that Jesus never really existed – yes, that would disturb my faith greatly. But if someone came up with proof that He had slept in a bed rather than a manger those first nights, it would make little difference.

    To know with the mind is a powerful thing. Yet it is little compared to knowing with the heart. (You see, I cannot dismiss Aslan as fiction…)Silly me.

  130. Micah says:

    Dinoship says:

    It is only in the Virgin – the symbol of the Church par excellence – from whom Jesus is born into a person’s heart.

    Yes, you are very right Dinoship. To paraphrase Fr. Stephen, a symbol in the archaic, makes present that to which it points.

  131. John Shores (TLO) says:

    To know with the mind is a powerful thing. Yet it is little compared to knowing with the heart.

    The heart is deceitful above all else.

  132. drewster2000 says:

    John Shores,

    Yes, the heart IS deceitful above all else. And yet that is the playing field of life. People are deceitful above all other creatures. And yet it is these who He has made most in His image and likeness.

    God is not safe – but He is good.

  133. mary benton says:

    John (TLO)

    I understand what you mean – the fear of trusting some sort of knowing that isn’t based on reason. (My questioning mind has been active lately.)

    Yet when I wrote of knowing with the heart, I am not talking about the passing human emotions. I am talking about learning to “know” from the core of my being. I do not know how to explain this well.

    It is relationship – and therefore feels as certain as the most certain love I could imagine. But it is also leap of faith, which feels as uncertain as that trust exercise where you close your eyes and allow yourself to fall backward hoping that the person standing behind you really will catch you.

    This sort of knowing is, I believe, a Gift. Many blessings as you await the Gift meant for you, in your own time and space.

  134. Brian says:

    Mary’

    Your words are well seasoned, dripping with grace.

  135. John Shores (TLO) says:

    I am talking about learning to “know” from the core of my being.

    To be perfectly honest, I am completely flummoxed by the ethereal. Some people I know are very much in to the “Seth Speaks” (Jane Roberts) belief system. Others are very much into “Conversations with God” (Neale Donald Walsch) which is also an interesting read. I have Mormon friends as well as Muslim friends. Each one finds solace in their belief system and none are willing to give much credence to anything outside of their particular faith. Why? Because they “know from the core of their being” that they are right.

    So who’s to say that any of them are either right or wrong? Certainly not I!

  136. PJ says:

    John,

    What is solace without truth? It is delusion, and so often delusion is dangerous. If you think a person is wrong, and that his error poses a risk to his health — be it emotional, psychological, spiritual, physical, whatever — then you do have a duty to try and enlighten him — albeit gently, with great charity and patience. This is why Penn Jillette actually appreciates Christians, Muslims, etc. who try to “save his soul”: If you think that someone is in eternal danger, and do nothing, you are wicked. “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”

    Even as an agnostic, I thought that certain religions were more plausible than others. Even in the realm of faith, there is data to be logically examined, though at the end of the day logic is not enough. Still, it can take you a certain distance — and that distance is enough to discount most religions. Or so I’ve always thought.

  137. John Shores (TLO) says:

    Even in the realm of faith, there is data to be logically examined, though at the end of the day logic is not enough.

    Would you agree that the reliability of the data is of paramount importance?

  138. John Shores (TLO) says:

    I’m on the same page with Penn J.

  139. Brian says:

    To be honest, John (Shores), I wouldn’t use the word solace to describe the Faith of Jesus Christ – at least not in the sense that solace implies rest. There is a brutal honestly about myself inherent to this faith that doesn’t seem to allow for solace as long as I am in this body of death. There is grief that gives birth to ever increasing joy, pain that gives birth to ever deeper love, and struggle that gives birth to ever greater inner peace. But what I would describe as solace is given only in fleeting foretastes to those of us like me who remain hesitant to die to ourselves.

    I would be the first to admit that there are times when I wish it were not so, but this is the Way of Christ “Who for the joy set before Him…” and the path to the Kingdom of God within. I THINK I want it to be easier and more enjoyable, but when I try to avoid His Cross I inevitably fail to share in His Resurrection.

  140. Micah says:

    John Shores says:

    Would you agree that the reliability of the data is of paramount importance?

    John, if I may. Yes of course you are right. Data integrity is central to closed loop predictive type experiments involving the natural laws. CERN’s attempt to unravel the secrets of the elusive Higgs Boson (the so called “God particle” – a misnomer of the highest order) is a good example of this. Almost certainly next March, CERN will confirm the discovery of the Higgs.

    Don’t hold your breath. When it comes to dogmatic consciousness, a different set of rules apply. Scrubbing latrines at a Crèche for example, is the ontological equivalent of a coveted seat at the Great Banquet (and without putting too fine a point on it, is a good example of Fr. Stephen’s post on the Divine Reversal, to boot).

    Too easy, I hear you say!

  141. John Shores (TLO) says:

    Brian – I was thinking more in terms of general acceptance that “this (and not some other) is the true faith.” Regardless of how uncomfortable you may think such a doctrine makes you (and certainly the daily demands of Islam are far more restrictive than in Christianity), there is a measure of comfort that you experience by saying that it is the true path, is there not?

    Micah – I was thinking not so much of closed-loop predictive experiments but more in terms of evaluating “eyewitness testimony.”

  142. Michael Bauman says:

    The difference between Christianity and you all other faiths is the person of Jesus. If one accepts Him as Lord, God and Savior–fully man and fully God, one of the undivided Holy Trinity (the bare minimum). Then other faiths are not and cannot be true. If one does not confess Christ, then take your pick.

    Proper Christian praxis is far more demanding than Islam because Christian praxis is all about kenotic love in all aspects of one’s life at all times. We are to pray constantly, not just 5 times a day. Most don’t meet the standard but that does not make the standard any less real–holiness/theosis, i.e. realizing God’s life fully in your particular uniqueness. Christianity is about experiencing God. Islam just requires submission in behavior.

    Once a commitment has been made, in love, to Jesus the question becomes where do I find Him? Hands down the Orthodox Church.

  143. mary benton says:

    John (TLO)-

    I agree with much of your comment about people who embrace different religions:

    “Each one finds solace in their belief system and none are willing to give much credence to anything outside of their particular faith. Why? Because they “know from the core of their being” that they are right.” (I commented elsewhere about some of my reservations about churches declaring themselves the “one true church”.)

    When I wrote about a knowing from the heart (i.e. core of my being, not emotions), I was referring to a knowing that is not primarily cognitive or about being right. Even more important, it does not originate from ME or from my intellect. While my intellect cooperates with this knowing, it can actually get in the way of it at times.

    I referred to it as “Gift” because it is, I believe, something given by God – or rather, is God giving Himself to dwell within me (and you). My heart, my inmost being, needs to be open to receive, to be empty enough of my messed up self to allow this, to experience this, to KNOW Him dwelling within.

    The prayer offered for you was that, in your own time and space, you might experience this gift of knowing and being known. (I believe it is already given to you – and given to all – but how/when we come to know it is part of our unique life paths.)

  144. dinoship says:

    Mary,
    I fully agree with you here…
    You reminded me of:

    “We may study as much as we will but we shall still not come to know the Lord unless we live according to His commandments, for the Lord is not made known through learning but by the Holy Spirit. Many philosophers and scholars have arrived at a belief in the existence of God, but they have not come to know God. To believe in a God is one thing, to know God another.” (St. Silouan)

  145. dinoship says:

    A few more pertinent quotes from Saint Silouan on the knowledge of God:
    “The Lord is made known in the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit pervades the entire man – soul, mind and body.

    After this wise is God known in heaven and on earth.
    …the holy Apostles and a multitude of people beheld the Lord in the flesh, but not all knew Him as the Lord; …the Apostles, and after them the martyrs and holy men who wrestled against evil, went forward with joy to meet pain and suffering. For the Holy Spirit, sweet and gracious, draws the soul to love the Lord, and in the sweetness of the Holy Spirit the soul loses her fear of suffering.
    The man who has known the Lord through the Holy Spirit becomes like unto the Lord, as St John the Divine said: ‘We shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.’ And we shall behold his glory.

    Many numbers of people, you say, are suffering every kind of adversity and from evil men. But I entreat you: Humble yourself beneath the strong hand of God, and grace will be your teacher and you yourself will long to suffer for the sake of the love of the Lord. That is what the Holy Spirit, whom we have come to know in the Church, will teach you.

    But the man who cries out against evil men, who does not pray for them will never know the grace of God.
    To believe in a God is one thing, to know God another.

    Both in heaven and on earth the Lord is made known only by the Holy Spirit, and not through ordinary learning. Even children, who have no learning at all, come to know the Lord by the Holy Spirit. St John the Baptist felt the presence of the Lord while still In his mother’s womb. St Simeon Stylites was a seven-year-old boy when the Lord appeared to him and he knew Him; St Seraphim a grown man of twenty-seven when the Lord showed Himself to him during the Liturgy; and another Simeon was stricken with years when he received the Lord in his arms in the temple, and knew Him.

    Some there are who spend their whole lives in trying to find out about the sun, or the moon, or in seeking like knowledge; yet this is of no profit to the soul. But if we take pains to explore the human heart this is what we shall see: the kingdom of heaven in the soul of the saint, but in the soul of the sinner are darkness and torment.
    O Lord grant to all nations to know Thee by Thy Holy Spirit. As Thou didst give the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and they knew Thee, so grant to all men to know Thee by Thy Holy Spirit.”

  146. mary benton says:

    Thank you, dinoship, for sharing this… it has helped me with a recent inner struggle.

    Comment on “solace”: true believers are not free from doubt and struggle. At any point we need to be ready to be knocked off our horses (in the manner of St. Paul), for we may be in error in some aspect of our belief, even when we think we are giving ourselves completely to God.

    This is another reason for recognizing that the gift of knowing does not originate in me – for, of myself, I am far too easily led astray and prone to error.

  147. John Shores (TLO) says:

    PJ (and any former agnostics here): I wonder if you can lend me your thoughts.

    I have, for many years, been fascinated with discoveries in neuroscience. For example, it has been well documented that there are areas of the brain that are more active in those who are religious than in those who are not.

    It has also been well documented that people suffering from seizures often experience the same kinds of “visions” as reported among people like Saul of Tarsus (hearing a voice, seeing a bright light, temporary blindness, etc}.

    We all know that Peyote and other narcotics can induce a deeply religious experience.

    Finally, there are specific areas of the brain which, when stimulated with electrodes, cause a person to have an “out of body experience.”

    These have come up recently as I was reading up on the possible neuroscientific bases for morals in human beings (a most intriguing topic).

    It would be quite simple to look at the brain, see that it simply functions in certain ways among certain people, and say,”Ah, well that about covers it” then dismiss the notion of the supernatural entirely. But I am not the sort to simply accept “the answer” and leave it at that.

    Have any of you considered these factors? If so, how did you overcome them or deal with them in light of your faith?

    I mention this here because part of what I have been reading deals with how memory works and essentially gives proof that eyewitness testimony is extremely unreliable, particularly as more time passes. Unless something is written within hours of an event, the brain continually reinterprets the story, alters it based on new perceptions or hearing others report on it or simply as the brain ages. I didn’t want to get into a discussion about the gospels in this regard but I am curious about these other matters.

  148. drewster2000 says:

    John Shores,

    Interesting thought. This would actually go quite well with what Fr. Stephen was saying about the OT. Example:
    –David steals Bethsheba
    –Prophet delivers some kind of message
    –Firstborn son dies

    And then the story gets recorded as God allowing the baby to die – due to how the collective memory of those around David.

    Is this not entirely possible?

  149. Michael Bauman says:

    John, the answer to your question depends on the nature of one’s belief.

  150. Micah says:

    John,

    You might want to narrow it down a bit. Elsevier have published over 7,200 academic papers on the suject; though, A primate model for the study of hallucinogens by R. Francis Schlemmer Jr, John M. Davis (1986) seems as good a place to start as any. Alternatively, if you are serious about the subject you might want to peruse Bishop Hilarion’s excellent lecture on the divine descent. A little closer to the heart of the matter. Probably.

  151. Brian says:

    Excellent comments, Michael and Mary.

    John (what does TLO mean, by the way? I must have missed it),

    “There is a measure of comfort that you experience by saying that it is the true path, is there not?” In my experience the answer to this question is both yes and no. Yes, there is great comfort in knowing (by which I mean experiencing) the love of Christ. And no, “saying that it is the true path” brings no comfort to me at all. I cannot speak for others, but when conversations turn to questions about “the true church” – even the Orthodox Church of which I am a member – my eyes glaze over because it is most often an attempt to prove that someone is ‘right’ in their belief. Not to say that such questions don’t matter (they do), but truth to me is ultimately not something that is ‘authoritative,’ external to the Person of Christ, or proven by strictly rational means. It would be like arguing about the quality of a marriage by pointing to the validity of a marriage license…so what? Besides, being ‘right’ is an empty victory that only tightens the vice of pride and proves how ‘wrong’ I actually am.

    I empathize with you more than you may suspect. Statements such as “we believe” or “the Church teaches” mean very little to me in and of themselves. What someone happens to believe has no bearing on what is actually true. Nor would I believe what the Church teaches if I didn’t find it to be trustworthy in my own experience over many years. My experience, however, has led me to an ever increasing trust in what the Church teaches even though it may initially elude my own reason, not to mention my willingness to submit to it.

    Christ’s insightful statement along these lines is worthy of meditation.

    “If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know [experientially] concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.”

  152. Brian says:

    “Excellent comments, Michael and Mary.”

    Sorry Dinoship. I meant to include you as well. I have never found such beautiful simplicity as is found in our father among the Saints, Silouan.

  153. Micah says:

    John,

    Another one for you: On the specificity of a cat behavior model for the study of hallucinogens by James L. Marini, Michael H. Sheard (1981). For what it’s worth, cat and primate response to hallucinogenic stimuli seems to be broadly similar, viz, “limb flicks” and “grooming” for cats versus “limb jerks” and “social withdrawal” for primates. No evidence of “religious” experiences, in either cats or primates — in these experiments at least.

  154. drewster2000 says:

    Brian,

    Well put concerning “the true church”.

  155. mary benton says:

    John (TLO)

    I cannot really count myself as a “former agnostic” – for I am more of a momentary one (ever questioning and doubting but coming back to faith). However, I will share a couple of thoughts with you regarding neuroscience from my personal and psychology background.

    There is some good scientific evidence that people can change the activity and structure of their brains through certain practices such as mindfulness meditation practice. Thus, the increased activity in some part of the brains of religious people may be because of how they use that part of their brain – not because they were born that way. (Mindfulness meditation has much in common with contemplative prayer, though theistic content is not specified since it has Buddhist origins.)

    Another interesting report is by Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon, who was in a coma after contracting a rare meningitis that shut down his cortex. He experienced things that he himself admitted could not be explained by brain function, since his cortex wasn’t working. His brain activity was being closely monitored while he was in the coma. (I haven’t read the book so I’m not vouching for it, though I have heard other reports that defied logical explanation as well.)

    I personally believe that we cannot draw too sharp of a boundary between the biological and the spiritual, as though they were completely independent of each other. For example, dreams are a biological experience but I have had some deep spiritual experiences while dreaming.

    (I won’t go into more detail here because I don’t know if what I am relating is what you are seeking and I don’t want to go too far off topic. I also know that none of these things are “proofs” but I find they have helped my intellect get past some hurdles at times.)

  156. fatherstephen says:

    John Shores,
    I’ve thought about this – I have an interest in neuroscience myself. Watched a vid recently on the substance dimethyltryptamine, a natural halucinogen that seems to be produced within the brain. Interesting.

    It seems to me, in the religious question, that just as we notice that the brain responds in certain ways to light, is only an example of the brain responding to light, not an explanation of “Ah Hah, there really isn’t any such thing as light.” Thus the fact that our brain may respond or be describable in religious experience is by no means evidence that it is the “cause” of religious experience. Quite the opposite, I might think.

    Orthodoxy – when rightly – I emphasize when rightly – understood – would insist on this. The bifurcation of spiritual/material is ultimately heretical from an Orthodox understanding (particularly hesychastic understanding which should be definitive for Orthodox believers). We decided this most emphatically in the Hesychast Councils of the 14th century. Spiritual experiences are not to be understood as standing apart from physical experiences. Human beings are a somato/psychic/pneumatic reality – Body, Soul and Spirit. To say that a spiritual experience has no accompanying physical element would be to raise some doubt about it in a proper Orthodox understanding. This bifurcation is rampant throughout most Christian understanding and is not without its victims within Orthodoxy. It is among the points that I try to drive home in my work on the One-Storey Universe.

    Very good question.

    C.S.Lewis, in an apologetic point, argued that the fact that human beings actually have a spiritual hunger is evidence that there actually is something spiritual for which we are hungry. “Why would we be hungry for bread if there were no such thing as bread?”

    I would insist, in a related manner, that we should understand that all material things are spiritual in nature. The division in Orthodox understanding is not between material and spiritual but between created and uncreated. We have far more in common with an angel (creature) than we do with God (uncreated).

  157. John Shores (TLO) says:

    Drewster:

    …due to how the collective memory of those around David. Is this not entirely possible?

    Certainly. What does this do to the validity of that text? Would it be reasonable to ask whether the entire story was fabricated? Perhaps her husband died in battle without David’s intervention at all. Perhaps Bathsheba seduced David? Is there enough “reasonable doubt” to discard the entire story?

    Michael:

    the answer to your question depends on the nature of one’s belief.

    I don’t understand what you mean. Can you give me examples please?

    Micah:

    I am confused by the documents that you cited. The Schlemmer/Davis study does not specifically address the idea of religious experience in the summary and the articles that it references cannot be viewed without a purchase.

    Bishop Hilarion’s essay does not address the biological functions of the brain that lead to “religious” experiences. Rather, it discusses the Literal and Metaphorical views of the descent of Christ into Hell.

    My question might be better phrased: If religious experiences can be induced through physical manipulation of the brain, does this not demonstrate that the experiences are biological rather than “spiritual”?

    Brian:

    (what does TLO mean, by the way? I must have missed it)

    PJ dubbed me “The Loyal Opposition” some time ago. I kinda like the title.

    What someone happens to believe has no bearing on what is actually true…

    No argument here! One of my favorite passages is:

    Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things that a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love, true love never dies.

    You remember that, boy. You remember that.

    Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.

    That’s the kind of belief that I can grasp. I struggle with the idea of eternity and whatnot though.

    If anyone wills to do His will…

    Are you talking about living according to the sermon on the Mount or are you talking about doctrine as it is expressed in ideas such as Christ’s descent into Hell? If the former, how would someone who behaves well and yet does not believe in god “know” that it is from god? Moral behavior does not bring a revelation of something outside of human beings, does it?

    Mary:

    I don’t know if what I am relating is what you are seeking

    You have an uncanny ability to always understand what I am saying and to respond intelligently. I appreciate that about you.

    I agree that there is far more that we don’t know about the brain than that we do know. And I think there is a distinction between the “brain” and the “mind.”

    I am only speaking to things that we do know. The temporal lobes are active during the perception of a religious experience and during auditory hallucinations. Stimulation of the right angular gyrus reliably produces out-of-body experiences. The frontal lobes become active during meditation. The left brain interpreter makes up stories and beliefs (of various kinds). One neuroscientist put it this way:

    Humans are belief machines. We form beliefs fast and firmly, and then deepen them. We quickly lose insight into their origins or their frequent strangeness and hold them to be meaningful, guiding presences in our lives. We become beholden to them and will adhere to them even in the face of information to the contrary. It seems to be what our human brains do.

    This is true of scientific, personal, or religious beliefs.

    My journey seems to be a search for origins upon which the beliefs of so many rest. My difficulty is in the fact that religious experiences can be artificially fabricated. This brings into question their veracity. That is the hurtle that I am trying to get over.

    Mary:

    It seems to me, in the religious question, that just as we notice that the brain responds in certain ways to light, is only an example of the brain responding to light, not an explanation of “Ah Ha, there really isn’t any such thing as light.”

    Agreed. Moreover, the brain does not respond to all forms of light (ultraviolet, radio, microwave, etc) but only certain frequencies of the light spectrum that help us survive.

    I also agree that what is termed a “religious experience” has some value in changing the structure of someone’s brain patterns and these can result in positive behaviors.

    But it is clear that an out-of-body experience is not real although it may alter the structure of a brain in profound ways and alter behavior. (I cannot say things like this to my wife. Her fascination with out-of-body experiences is so firmly fixed that proof of it being a biological event simply upsets her and ends in us arguing. I have found this same sort of reaction among other religious people as well.)

    Why should other “religious experiences” be anything more than an activity in the brain that serves a similar function? It does not have to be real or true to have such an impact on the brain, does it?

    human beings actually have a spiritual hunger is evidence that there actually is something spiritual for which we are hungry.

    I don’t know that I would go straight to “spiritual hunger” but rather say that we are constantly making stories (even about ourselves and our own personal histories) and that this is as essential to human activity as is breathing. The presence of so much inventive fiction is evidence to me that we like to be creative in our story telling but does not correlate to a “spiritual hunger.” Indeed, the whole idea of the “spiritual” seems to me to be an extension of our egos; we cannot imagine a future in which we do not exist and yet we know that all humans die. What is more natural than to make a story in which we don’t really die?

  158. John Shores (TLO) says:

    Sorry. That last entry was for Fr. Stephen.

  159. Micah says:

    John Shores says:

    My question might be better phrased: If religious experiences can be induced through physical manipulation of the brain, does this not demonstrate that the experiences are biological rather than “spiritual”?

    John, thanks for narrowing down the hypothetical question.

    The etymology of psychedelia — a term coined in the 50s and synonymous with hallucinogen is a good starting point (“Psyche” = mind or soul and “delos” = manifest or reveal in Ancient Greek we are told).

    Shamanistic use of psychedelic substances is well documented from Paleolithic to modern times.

    In keeping with academic guidelines of data integrity, here’s a link to an Abstract outlining how Buddhist monks in the 2nd- and 9th-centuries used fly agaric to achieve inner enlightenment.

    Aldous Huxley apparently used it to enhance his creative powers as did his psychiatrist Humphry Osmond, according to an article published by the BMJ:

    Huxley:

    To make this mundane world sublime,
    Take half a gram of phanerothyme

    Osmond’s response:

    To fathom Hell or soar angelic,
    Just take a pinch of psychedelic

    It stands to reason that since cats and non-human primates are not fashioned in the image of God (or “a god” in your motif), psychedelic stimuli will not produce enlightenment in these types. Thus in the abstract examples provided, we see only behaviourisms conforming to specific mind types. The cat becomes obsessed with grooming and the primate becomes withdrawn.

    A exception to the rule is documented in Numbers 22:28; viz, God sends an angel to speak audibly to Balaam, through the mouth of an animal. Of course, if one does not give much credence to such holy scribblings, it would be pointless to pursue this particular avenue further.

    Actually the condition you describe viz, a shift in the brain’s language centre is a medical condition called aphasia, a form of brain damage normally associated with traumatic brain injuries such as strokes or gunshot wounds. This recent case should be of interest.

    Simply put, a psychedelic (or pyschotropic) stimulus or traumatic event may manifest hidden but very real aspects of the mind. Eastern Orthodox teaching on the matter, particularly as articulated by Cyril of Alexandria & Athenasius the Great here, is quite something else. It is the articulation of the entire range of human ontological experience, from heaven to hell. This is fact, is what is implied in the word Orthodoxy (= “the right glory”).

  160. dinoship says:

    John TLO,

    If religious experiences can be induced through physical manipulation of the brain, does this not demonstrate that the experiences are biological rather than “spiritual”?

    Saint Silouan indirectly addresses this by saying:
    “The Saints speak of that which they have actually seen, of that which they know. They do not speak of something they have not seen. (They do not tell us, for instance, that they have seen a horse a mile long or a steamer ten miles long, which do not exist.)”
    Their experience of the Uncreated light is astoundingly consistent for thousands of years, while the experiences of those who have hallucinogenic and psychotropic drug induced visions are a different legion.
    The closest person/friend to me (of my youth) has had both. I do not see him as often as I used to now as he has become a monk in the Holy Mountain but he is a man of considerable experiences. Experiences of God’s Grace as a child, the most extreme and extensive hallucinogenic visions during his “prodigal son phase” and experiences of God’s Grace again after his repentance. The difference is one of taste and authenticity beyond any argumentation that cannot be adequately described in words.
    It is also validated by other, discerning spiritual elders.
    He did indeed wonder for many years how a delusional (demonic in a sense) drug induced experience can be ever ‘allowed’ such intensity that rivaled the real thing! At the same time though he could clearly recognize the profound difference in the authenticity of the real thing.

    He likens it to comparing the real relationship of, say, Ella Fitzgerald who came to sing in your living room for your birthday because you were all alone, vs. the cheap replica: a robot that has been created with a virtually identical to Ella’s voice and has been sent you for company at your birthday… Only infinitely more pronounced.

  161. dinoship says:

    Far more important however, in the discernment of the Holy Spirit induced experience from the non-Holy Spirit one (whether natural, delusional, demonic, dimethyltryptamine, hallucinogen or other induced experience) is the criterion provided us by Christ Himself:
    “you shall know them by their fruit”

  162. dinoship says:

    All this does not preclude the symbiosis of Holy Spirit induced experience and biological consequent changes of course.
    One’s triglycerides level, for instance are favourably altered after an encounter with God’s Grace as Elder Porphyrios used to say, but, proportionately, that is the least of our concerns.
    :-)

  163. Lynne says:

    I work in stroke rehab. We used to say that if a blockage or a bleed in the brain occurred in a certain place, then there would be certain deficits. Like right-brain damage results in left-sided weakness or sensory deficits.
    Now, however, the research is showing that damage in one area can produce a wide variety of deficits in many kinds of brain functions.
    So those brain imaging studies of “locations” of religious experience don’t capture the complexity of the brain and sensory systems.

  164. Micah says:

    Well said Dinoship. We can safely assume that the Great Banquet will involve real butter & silverware too!

  165. Michael Bauman says:

    John, facts don’t speak for themselves they have to be selected, prioritized, arranged and interpreted in order to mean anything. Even in carefully controlled, double blind research studies experimenter bias can have a satistically significant effect on the results.

    So, if one believes in God and Jesus Christ, how one deals with facts, even seemingly incontrovertible empirical facts is going to be quite different than if one does not. If one does not believe in God at all, but believes only in the material with the concomitant philosophical naturalism that accompanies such belief (particularly in science) all of the assumptions that go into identifying, selecting, prioritizing arranging and interpreting will be fundamentally different from one who knows Jesus Christ. Thus not only the ‘meaning’ of the neuroscience will be different, but the very nature of the exploration of man’s body in the first place.

    We are never removed from what we study. The state of our heart and soul will always be integral to the study. There literally is no such thing as objectivity.

    Even in classical physics the repeatability of certain things can never be proven, it is always assumed. In modern quantum physics well…. suffice it to say it is a bit of mystical experience on many levels.

  166. drewster2000 says:

    John Shores,

    Be careful. You’re trying to spin too many plates again. Including 50 people in one reply comment would seem to be efficient. You can successfully pass thousands of people on the street, but you can only successfully have one wife. Each of these conversations represent a relationship that is somewhere in between those two extremes.

    So take your time. Enjoy them. Appreciate them. Care for them.

  167. drewster2000 says:

    John Shores said:

    “Certainly. What does this do to the validity of that text? Would it be reasonable to ask whether the entire story was fabricated? Perhaps her husband died in battle without David’s intervention at all. Perhaps Bathsheba seduced David? Is there enough “reasonable doubt” to discard the entire story?”

    Excellent point. And it is at this exact point that I turn to a God and ask Him to show me the truth. I know that the OT account could be skewed somewhat by the recorder of it, but I accept that God allowed/caused the story to be in there for a reason and turn to Him for understanding.

    As they say in AA, there is a God; I’m not Him; I will not be anything or go anywhere without Him.

  168. Michael Bauman says:

    John Shores, to put it more simply: faith preceeds knowing. Rational thought and exegesis is always a product of faith. Identify the faith and it goes a long way toward identifying the outcome.

    A person is always free to change his faith, to allow his faith to deepen, or to leave it largely unexamined.

    My own faith began with the teaching and example of my parents. Each in their own way proclaimed by word and deed, “There is a god”. My mother, when I was about 15, sat me down, gave me a copy of Huston Smith’s “Faiths Men Live By”. She told me specifically that there is a god, and somewhere in that book he was described. My job was to find him.

    Both my brother and I ended up in the Orthodox Church. He is a priest. My parents, memory eternal, never understood why we made the choice we made, but given all that they taught us, it was the only rational decision to be made. A great deal of experience and evidence has flowed from that.

  169. mary benton says:

    John (TLO)

    You wrote: “My difficulty is in the fact that religious experiences can be artificially fabricated. This brings into question their veracity. That is the hurtle that I am trying to get over.”

    This is, indeed, a significant hurdle to get over. Allow me to create a metaphor. Suppose we think of the human brain as a piece of equipment that has the capacity to give and receive signals. A piece of equipment can function properly, it can malfunction because of defect or damage, or it can purposely be made to malfunction (think of testing your smoke alarm battery – you push a button making the noise, sending a signal that there is smoke when in reality there is none).

    If we think of brain experiences, one can have sensory experiences that are “true”, i.e. ears/brain are accurately detecting sound waves. One can also have “false” sensory experiences that result from illness or injury, such as the hallucinations that go with schizophrenia or seizures when there are no sound waves. (I have hallucinated, by the way, likely due to a mild neurological issue, and it can be quite convincing – though my reason tells me that what I “heard” was not possible.) Furthermore, one may also have an intentionally induced false sensory experience, such as drug induced or experimentally induced with electrodes, etc.

    I’m sure you can see my point. The fact that a religious or out-of-body experience can be intentionally induced on a biological level does not provide any information about whether there are “true” experiences of this type. It only tells us that false ones are possible with this particular piece of equipment.

    Our brains are amazing organs. If there is a God, it would seem that a developed nervous system would be a prerequisite to having a cognizant relationship with Him. (Plants and animals do not have the cognizant part because of their limited or nonexistent capacity for self/other awareness. They cannot choose to follow or not follow the path for which they were created – unlike us.) Hence, we have this marvelous “piece of equipment” in our heads that may give us the capacity for conscious relating to God – but it also may be used (or misused) in a variety of other ways. I suspect that most of us are seriously under-utilizing our equipment.

    Having already gone on too long, I will relate one account of a near-death experience that has stuck with me for 35+ years. I heard Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D. speak in the mid-1970′s and she told of a relatively young person who had a near death experience. Afterwards, he was relating to his family how odd it was because he encountered someone who said he was his brother but “I don’t have a brother”. It turned out that the parents had had a son who died prior to this child’s birth and they had never spoken of him. Lack of oxygen to the brain cannot explain this one…

    Anyway, thanks for the thought-provoking questions and blessings to you as you try to sort things out. I continue to stand by my knowing from the heart – but I know that our intellects can get stuck on certain questions. I hope this helps a bit.

  170. Brian says:

    JS (LTO),
    Second Hand Lions is a favorite of mine. Wonderful quote! Absolutely wonderful!

    No, beliefs of this nature cannot be proven by strictly rational means. They cannot be objectively verified by scientific methods. “It doesn’t matter whether they are true or not” in that sense because they can nevertheless be known/experienced and thereby ‘proven’ true to the nature of our humanity for those who believe and practice them.
    Your question about how “moral” behavior could reveal God to a person is a good one, but it reflects perhaps a very different understanding of morality than Orthodox Christians would accept. The Orthodox Christian understanding of morality is quite different than most people, even many Christian people, think. Moreover, when morality is viewed in the way most people think, Orthodox Christians would largely agree with those who say non-believers can be just as moral, if not often more so, than a believer. I’ve sometimes heard nominal agnostics say things like, “I’m a good person. I keep the moral code. Why can’t God just leave me alone? Why do I need all this Jesus stuff?” Contrary to what some might say (“But all have sinned/broken the moral code.”), an Orthodox Christian would not reference the moral code at all because our problem is not that we don’t live up to a moral standard; our problem is death. While not denying that ‘the rules’ are good for us and for society and that they were given by God, we emphatically affirm what should be obvious (but rarely is): none of them is capable of uniting us with God who alone is eternal so we can share His eternal ‘kind’ of life – not a quantity or duration of life, but rather a quality, the kind of life shares by the Persons of the Holy Trinity.

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

    The things that a man should believe because they are worth believing in go to the heart of who we ARE as human beings, created by design to share in the eternal life of God.

  171. Michael Bauman says:

    Paul Evdokimov wrote in his book “Orthodoxy” that salvation is ontological, not legal.

    As Brian points out it is LIFE that we long for and that Jesus gives in abundance.

  172. drewster2000 says:

    Excellent words Brian. Well said.

  173. dinoship says:

    Well said Brian!

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