Glory to God for All Things

Saving Communion

Preist-hands(2)_RZFew things are as fundamental to the New Testament as the reality of communion (koinonia). It means a commonality, a sharing and participation in the same thing. It is this commonality or sharing that lies at the very heart of our salvation. This communion is described in Christ’s “high priestly prayer”:

I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me (John 17:20-23).

The unity for which Christ prays is no mere “quality” of our life in Christ – but is our life in Christ. That this unity (communion) is the very life of salvation is made clear in St. John’s first epistle:

This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have communion [koinonia] with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have communion [koinonia] with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:5-7).

Here our communion with God is described as a communion of light - though the nature of that light is made clear: God is light. St. John uses light to say that our communion is a true participation in God, in His very life.

This same saving participation in the life of God is presented in Christ’s discourse on the Eucharist:

Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me (John 6:53-57).

I have written before about the problem of many modern English translations in which koinonia is rendered “fellowship,” a very weak translation indeed. Our very life in Christ is trivialized by unwitting (I hope) translators into a noun used to describe church socials. It is a witness to how far removed many modern treatments of our saving relationship with Christ have become from the classic treatments of Orthodox tradition.

The compartmentalization of theology (ethics, soteriology, ecclesiology, pneumatology – and the list goes on) frequently results in a fragmented, disjointed account of the Christian life. When you view the massive tomes that comprise the average systematic theology it is a marvel that the New Testament manages to be so short.

A telling weakness of many “theologies” is their failure to give account for the most common aspects of our Christian life. Prayer is a very straightforward example. Many systematic presentations of theology have no treatment of prayer whatsoever, despite the fact that we are bidden to “pray without ceasing.” How is it that something so pervasive finds no place in a theological description?

It is just this kind of spiritual myopia that marks theology that has departed from the Tradition of the faith and set off on its own trail of creativity. Thus, much has been written on “predestination” (a word which occurs but a few times in all the New Testament) while prayer is relegated to lesser treatments in what amounts to a category of recreational reading.

The Tradition does not treat prayer in this manner. Prayer is so much at the heart of the teaching of the faith that it is stated: Lex orandi, lex credendi - “the law of praying is the law of believing.” This is far more than saying that liturgy preserves the most primitive and pure proclamations of the gospel (though this is true). It is also saying that prayer itself is a pure expression of the gospel.

This becomes particularly clear when prayer is understood to be communion [koinonia] with God. And it is not prayer alone of which this can be said: the whole of the Christian life – every sacrament of the Church – has as its foundation our saving participation in the life of God.

One of the best places to begin thinking about communion with God is to ask the question: “What is wrong with the human race?” What is it about us such that we need saving?

The answer to that question is perhaps the linchpin of Christian theology (at least what has been revealed to us). Among the most central of Orthodox Christian doctrines is that human beings have fallen out of communion with God – we have severed the bond of communion with which we were created and thus we are no longer in communion with the Lord and Giver of Life, we no longer have a share in His Divine Life, but instead have become partakers of death.

St. Athanasius describes this in his On the Incarnation of the Word:

For God had made man thus (that is, as an embodied spirit), and had willed that he should remain in incorruption. But men, having turned from the contemplation of God to evil of their own devising, had come inevitably under the law of death. Instead of remaining in the state in which God had created them, they were in process of becoming corrupted entirely, and death had them completely under its dominion. For the transgression of the commandment was making them turn back again according to their nature ; and as they had at the beginning come into being out of non-existence, so were they now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again. The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore, when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it; for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good. By nature, of course, man is mortal, since he was made from nothing; but he bears also the Likeness of Him Who is, and if he preserves that Likeness through constant contemplation, then his nature is deprived of its power and he remains incorrupt. So is it affirmed in Wisdom : “The keeping of His laws is the assurance of incorruption.” (Wisdom 6. 18)

This lack of communion with God, this process of death at work in us, manifests itself in a myriad of ways, extending from moral failure, to death and disease itself. It corrupts everything around us – our relationships with other people and our families, our institutions and our best intentions.

Without intervention, the process of death results in the most final form of death – complete alienation and enmity with God (from our point of view). We come to hate all things righteous and good. We despise the Light and prefer darkness. Since this is the state of human beings who have cut themselves off from communion with God, we substitute many things and create a “false” life, mistaking wealth, fame, youth, sex, emotions, etc., for true life.

Seeing all of this as true of humanity – the Orthodox Christian faith does not generally view humanity as having a “legal” problem. It is not that we did something wrong and now owe a debt we cannot pay, or are being punished with death  – though such a metaphor can be used and has its usefulness. Be we need more than a change in our legal status – we need a change in ourontological status – that is we must be filled with nothing less than the Life of God in order to be healed, forgiven and made new. Jesus did not come to make bad men good; He came to make dead men live.

Thus God came into our world, becoming one of us, so that by His sharing in our life, we might have a share in His life. In Holy Baptism we are united to Him, and everything else He gives us in the Life of His Church is for the purpose of strengthening, nurturing, and renewing this Life within us. All of the sacraments have this as their focus. It is the primary purpose of prayer.

Thus, stated simply, to have communion with God means to have a share in His Divine Life. He lives in me and I in Him. I come to know God even as I know myself. I come to love even as God loves because it is His love that dwells in me. I come to forgive as God forgives because it His mercy that dwells within me.

Without such an understanding of communion, many vitally important parts of the Christian life are reduced to mere moralisms. We are told to love our enemies as though it were a simple moral obligation. Instead, we love our enemies because God loves our enemies, and we want to live in the Life of God. We’re not trying to be good, or to prove anything to God by loving our enemies. It is simply the case that if the Love of God dwells in us, then we will love as God loves.

Of course all of this is the free gift of God, though living daily in communion with God is difficult. The disease of broken communion that was so long at work in us is difficult to cure. It takes time and we must be patient with ourselves and our broken humanity – though never using this as an excuse not to seek the healing that God gives.

We were created for communion with God – it is our very life. Thinking about communion with God is not a substitute for communion with God. Theology as abstraction has no life within it. Theology is a life lived in Christ. Thus there is the common saying within Orthodoxy: “a theologian is one who prays, and one who prays is a theologian.”

If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have communion with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

This is our salvation.

64 Responses to “Saving Communion”

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  1. Steven Clark says:

    As St. Maximus the Confessor said: Theology is prayer; prayer is theology. Theology without prayer is demonic.

  2. Steve says:

    Theology without prayer is demonic.

    Theology without prayer more often than not, is a babbling stream.

    Theology without love, can be demonic.

  3. PJ says:

    Wonderful thoughts, Father.

  4. Dino says:

    Steven C and Steve,
    that is a quote of profound depth within its original context, (although I think it is: “Theology without practice is the Theology of demons”). Thanks for the reminder!

    It takes time and we must be patient with ourselves and our broken humanity – though never using this as an excuse not to seek the healing that God gives.

    shows that patience is discernment and discernment is patience.

  5. Margaret says:

    Thank you for this encouraging post! I especially appreciate the encouragement to be kind with ourselves and to remember this as you say here: “We were created for communion with God – it is our very life. Thinking about communion with God is not a substitute for communion with God.” God bless you and yours, Fr. Stephen!

  6. Steve says:

    I find I need at least 2-3 hours of contemplative prayer each day to still the logismoi. Obviously, modern life by its very nature can be very hectic. This seems to be the bare minimum necessary for the light of the inner candle (the holy spirit) to truly illuminate and infuse mind, body and soul.

  7. Susi says:

    Beautifully written. Immersed in love.

  8. davidp says:

    The Body & Blood/Bread & Wine…as the Orthodox believe that it is the Real of the Living & Resurrected Christ…has brought me abit closer to this communion with God the Father and His Christ through the Holy Spirit. This is why I love the Saturday evening Vesper service to prepare me for what I can partake in the Sunday morning Liturgical service.

  9. George Michopolos says:

    I feel so close to the love of Christ… yet so far at the same time. I fear I will die and be tormented by the knowledge of how close I was to salvation, yet nothing will be able to change how eternally far I will remain. I need help, and I pray that my salvation occurs.

  10. Steve says:

    George, the unnatural fear of death is removed at a time of God’s choosing. Pascha is not theatre, but rather, a sublime immersion in the divine immanence. The fear of living in anything less than the fullness, is however, often up to us. These are not be confused (as often is the case). I hope this alleviates unnecessary suffering on your part and I shall offer up prayers for your salvation.

  11. Dino says:

    George,
    There is so much to say on that subject you bring up!

    better ponder on this fact:
    ‘God always has and always will be merciful on man even though he deserve Hell.’
    Remember not that you are “χρεώστης” (debtor) as much, but that you are “ελεημένος” (forgiven), it breeds a deeper and healthier humility.
    My/yours enslavement to sin is worse than we suspect, yet He blots out all of it in His mercy. Man has the potential (each one of us does) to be worse than Lucifer, yet God saves those who are not reconciled with that.
    That day we come face to face with His all-forgiving countenance, our gratitude will therefore supersede our shame – we know in the Holy Spirit that His love is that immense.
    If we look towards Him and only Him (and not towards our self-justification I mean), these above statements are certain.
    Saint Silouan’s “Keep thy mind in Hell and despair not” could then be worded as: “remembering that I deserve Hell makes everything feel Paradisial” or : “forgetting that I deserve Hell yet God grants me Heaven makes me into a complaining demon”
    If we ponder on this ‘knowledge of things unseen’ (God’s Kingdom freely bestowed on us unworthy traitors), fear is transformed into sweet compunction…

  12. Margaret says:

    I appreciate your statements very much George, and often wonder/suffer similarly to your expression here; however, since becoming Orthodox Christian and involving more prayer in my life “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner” as well as the rite of confession and the Sacrament as Christ instructed through the Divine Liturgy, and the prayers asked of the saints and the Theotokos, I find I enjoy also an abiding sense of peace more often than before. I’ll pray for you and ask intercessions. Could this be part of working out our salvation with fear and trembling?

  13. Michael Bauman says:

    “Fear is transformed into sweet compuction” Only if we are not using our fear as a weapon to keed God at bay or somehow believe that our sins are simply too great for even God to forgive.

    I am the chief of sinners because my sins destroy me while no one else’s can unless I allow them to through harboring them in my heart and making them my own.

    We fear the strange comfort of the old man, the man of flesh even as we see the glory of the new.

  14. mary benton says:

    George –

    That you want to please God, pleases God. Do not be afraid to trust in His grace and mercy. It is infinite.

  15. TLO says:

    My carnal mind has a hard time with some of this.

    This lack of communion with God, this process of death at work in us, manifests itself in a myriad of ways, extending from moral failure, to death and disease itself.

    So, why don’t those who participate in this communion live longer, healthier and with less moral distress? When was the last time that a holy person was bitten by a serpent without suffering any ill effects? Why do some good and holy people suffer from cancer, ALS, and other terminal illnesses?

    God always has and always will be merciful on man even though he deserve Hell.

    For being as god has made us? For this we deserve hell? I have real issues with labeling normal human behavior as “sin” then consigning mankind to hell for it. And somehow god is to be thought of as magnanimous because he forgives us for being the way he made us?

    It’s a classic marketing strategy: “You’re not good enough. Buy our stuff.” I get nauseous just thinking about it. I would hope for something better from a being that is supposed to be higher than us.

  16. Eleftheria says:

    Dear John (TLO),
    You wrote: I have real issues with labeling normal human behavior as “sin” then consigning mankind to hell for it.

    God does not consign us – yet(because it is not yet the Final Judgment)…rather, we consign ourselves the further we withdraw from Him. Hell is actually the darkness we consign ourselves to when we live without Him, His light, His love.

    What you and I might regard in this day and age as “normal” is actually our fallen state. God did not make us “the way” we have become…So, yes, this means that the abyss of His love is greater than the abyss of our sins – our “un-normalness”.

    As to your questions about when was the last time holy persons were bitten by serpents and lived – everyday saints are all around us; so because people (esp Orthodox) do not normally talk of miracles does not mean that they do not occur everyday. As a matter of fact, the recently published book EVERYDAY SAINTS is full of up-to-date accounts (while not of serpent bites)of recent (within the past 30 years or so)miraculous events.

    The gerondes tell us that good, even holy, people suffer, that the young suffer with terminal illnesses for a variety of reasons – known to God. But some of those reasons include (as these gerondes have said): to avoid causing greater harm either to themselves or others in their future – this in the case of young lives snuffed out by illness (which is understood as God’s mercy); to attain humility (in the case of those suffering from such illnesses) – which is referred to as “spiritual laws” at work in our lives (These laws are explained by +Geronda Paisios in FAMILY LIFE, which has just come out in English for the first time.); and to remind us all of death. These are just some among many other reasons given by these gerondes – not that it makes the suffering palatable – but at least it’s explained in ways that we can readily understand.

    May God enlighten us all and may He grant His mercy to us all!
    Eleftheria

  17. Dino says:

    TLO,
    sorry for that confusion re “God always has and always will be merciful on man even though he deserve Hell.”, such statements are paraenetic, they are not to be understood the way you explained it but are to be used in order to achieve a healthier, secure state of humility, something that makes us ontologically closer to Christ more than anything. It is unbelievably difficult for man to remain truly humble, partly because of his actual greatness in Christ (we say about the Mother of God for instance that she is “incomparably greater than the Cherubim and Seraphim”!), but it is that humility itself (that knowledge that: cut-off from God we are nothing) that raises us up.

  18. fatherstephen says:

    TLO,
    Good questions. I find the parenetic language of “deserves, etc.” to be problematic and don’t use it. For similar reasons I find most discussions of “morality” to be useless as well. We have an ontological problem – we’re on the verge of blinking out of existence, if you will.

    So your questions “why don’t those who participate in this communion…” etc.

    Well they do…though there are very few yardsticks with which to compare. First, they could only be compared to themselves – because we’re apples and oranges. Also, many if not most, live their Christians lives largely on a “moral” or psychological level rather than truly in communion. So, you can’t just round up all nominal Christians and do statistics.

    The communion we have with God begins an ontological change in us – the birth of a new kind of existence – not simply an improvement in the one we’ve got. It’s a much larger question about disease and death – which obviously continue.

    Lastly, nobody deserves hell, ie an eternal torture, etc. I find the thoughts that flow from such a concept to be equally nauseating.

  19. fatherstephen says:

    TLO,
    This entire question goes to the very heart of things…I have much to say and will write later today. This morning I’m offering the Divine Liturgy. I will pray for all of us.

  20. PJ says:

    “Why do some good and holy people suffer from cancer, ALS, and other terminal illnesses?”

    Perhaps precisely because they are holy and God wishes to sanctify them even more. Suffering and holiness are inextricably linked in some mysterious fashion which defies — and, as your reaction proves, even repulses — our earthly minds.

    “For being as god has made us?”

    We are not as God made us, nor are we as God wishes us to be. This is a central Christian claim. Without this, there is no Christianity.

    “I have real issues with labeling normal human behavior as “sin” then consigning mankind to hell for it.”

    Of course you do. So do I. This desire for self-justification is deep within our fallen, corrupt hearts. Most people, when they say, “Lord, have mercy!” don’t really mean it. At least, I often don’t really mean it. I think, “Well, I’m not so bad…Perhaps a bit mean at times, a bit naughty…But not evil!” But the saints — the saints understand their own crookedness. It’s like smudges on a window: you can only see them when the light shines through the pane. In the darkness, they are invisible.

  21. PJ says:

    John,

    Might I suggest a book? “The Communion of Love” by Matthew the Poor. It is a profound collection of writings on God, man, and the gospel, by one of the great saints of our age. It is extraordinarily insightful and compelling, yet eminently suitable for struggling, disoriented spiritual novices like you and me. I promise you that you will not regret the money and time spent on it. Heck, I’ll buy it back from you if you aren’t satisfied. I want to give a copy to everyone I know. Money back guarantee! How can you say no? ;-)

  22. Steve says:

    The danger of making such powerful (normally self-directed) paraenetic statements in a public forum, is that they can be misunderstood. In the worst case, weaker souls might even despair or lose hope entirely. Such strong words are given to those in whom the “burning” light of the morning star has shone, which is also to say, those who have become witnesses of the true Pascha, where it is impossible to even countenance death, less still hell. Perhaps this is why Jesus asked Peter three times if he truly loved him, before telling him to feed his sheep…

  23. fatherstephen says:

    TLO,
    Well. Finished Liturgy and morning coffee…
    The questions go to the heart of things, because it many ways the issue is the difference between a truly personal existence, versus an existence that is constituted and dominated by nature. Our nature, like that of all creation, is simply unable to sustain itself. Things fall apart, they disintegrate, they cease to be (and their molecules become something else). That’s “normal,” in a universe that is constituted purely by nature. And it’s not a moral failing or anything that deserves punishment or reward, etc. It just is what it is. It’s quite possible to make peace with it – I would assume that a non-believer would make peace with it since it’s all there is for them.

    The Christian witness is of another “mode” of existence – the Personal. Our profession is belief in a personal God (not a private God, or “my very own Jesus” – not the sense of personal as in “private” etc.). Rather, it is belief in a mode of existence whose basis and ground is Personhood not nature. Personhood is constituted in freedom and love. We tend to know each other as a collection of “stuff” (biological existence) that behaves in a certain way and has a history, etc.. Christ bears witness and is the Incarnate example of true Personhood. The faith would say that Christ is the first man to reveal the truth of Personal existence. Resurrection is precisely the triumph of Personal existence over everything. It does not make the material (biological) to not exist – but as its constitution, the material exists in a different mode.

    That’s quite philosophical/theological – but you asked the question.

    Most people, including believers, most of the time (pretty much all the time) experience life in a purely natural mode. When St. Paul says, “You are dead. And your life is hid with Christ in God.” What does he mean? How are we dead. He doesn’t say, “It’s as if you were dead, and as if your life were hid with Christ in God.” Nor does he say, “It’s like I am crucified with Christ.” No. He says, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me.” What does he mean?

    He means that Paul, who existed according to the “elements” (“Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world Gal 4:3 KJV), no longer exists in such a manner (or is beginning to exist in a new manner). That new manner is “In Christ.” It’s not a morally improved Paul. It’s not Paul behaving better. It’s not Paul with a new philosophy. It’s a newly constituted Paul – who now exists (or is beginning to exist) according to a personal manner. He is becoming a Person, as the Father is a Person, as the Son is a Person, as the Holy Spirit is a Person.

    Yes, as Person, he sheds a snake bite like it was nothing. And he’s not even impressed by the fact. Yes, he heals the sick, etc. And he does so in thanksgiving, but not in surprise. As Person he sees and knows that all things are possible.

    Personhood in the image of Christ is an existence within the believer that is beginning to come forth. Just as in the Scriptures, it is manifest in “miraculous” things sometimes – it continues to be today – and always has been. Many times it is manifest in ways that do not appear so miraculous. The sacraments of the Church are such things. The bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ – not just that we think they are or simply consider them to be. They are – because they are now Personally constituted by the Risen Lord. When I eat them, I have participation and communion with the Person of Christ.

    I think most believers live in a two-storey world (as I written about at such length). They take the “natural” world – the world constituted according to the “elements,” as what’s normal, and more or less have an imaginary world of God, saints, faith, belief, etc. If I write anything to believers, it is to convince them that Christ did not come among us to tell us about life upstairs. He is the union of heaven and earth and the New Creation. He is existence as it is meant to be and it begins now in him – even though it is not always “obvious.” But I believe it to be true and continue to have enough confirmation of that – in a thousand ways – to keep me pressing forward.

    Your question, to a degree, is “Why doesn’t this new existence simply overwhelm the other and show itself plainly?” I would say that to do so would simply to be the same. There would be no possibility of responding in freedom and love. You don’t need to love a bacteria in order to have a relationship with it. That’s the natural order.

    The Christian life is not the smashing of the present world and its existence – it’s a reconstitution according to Christ.

    For me, belief in that begins with the Resurrection of Christ. Everything rises and falls on that. If it’s true, as I believe, then the rest follows, and I can (and do) stake my life on it. I am struggling day to day to live according to the new man – according to an existence constituted in Christ and not by the world.

    And it is a struggle. It’s not magic and it’s not Protestant (“walk the aisle and I’ll give you a new existence, “Poof!” You’re new!”).

    That’s about it for today. Much to do. Blessings!

  24. Michael Bauman says:

    TLO. You ask why people who receive communion don’t live longer?

    I can tell you for a fact that I am alive today because I began to enter into communion with God 26 years ago.

    I longed for God and had followed false paths. I had become a self- hater tormented by demonic suggestions of suicide. Even though I knew they were demonic, sooner or later I would have given in: the critters are nothing if not persistent.

    When I was baptized and chrismated and received communion, joy blossomed in my heart and the critters went away. Confession and continued participation keeps them away. I know many others who have similar stories.

    Now, I am still attached to the darkness of the flesh that passes for normal but as I continue in communion I get a glimpse of the person God created. Maybe some day I’ll be able to cut the bonds the try me to the world and the flesh. I hope for that, but at least I’m still alive to be able to struggle. I was bitten by the serpent of despair and God saved me solely because of His ineffable love.

  25. PJ says:

    Father,

    Have you read much John Paul II? Your words have a lot in common with aspects of “Person and Act” and “Love and Responsibility.” Though you might be a little skittish about the great bishop’s Thomistic influence.

  26. TLO says:

    Hi Michael – I don’t think that Fr. Stephen was so much talking about the act of receiving the body and blood (“receiving communion”) as being in communion with god (which is possible, I suspect, even if one does not receive Eucharist). To my understanding, Eucharist is to the Christian life what sex is to a marriage. It is an expression of deep connection but it is not the connection itself. I may be wrong about that but I hope not.

    Fr. Stephen: Thank you for the thorough reply.

    It’s not a morally improved Paul. It’s not Paul behaving better. It’s not Paul with a new philosophy. It’s a newly constituted Paul – who now exists (or is beginning to exist) according to a personal manner. He is becoming a Person, as the Father is a Person, as the Son is a Person, as the Holy Spirit is a Person.

    I am having difficulty grasping this. If behavior, understanding and morals are not improved by this transition, where is the benefit? (Without these, anyone who performs miracles (for example) is a magician, is he not?)

    When you talk of “He is becoming a Person”, how do you contrast this against the idea that we are all created in god’s image? Said another way, are we not already “Persons” regardless of our awareness of that personhood?

    Yes, as Person, he sheds a snake bite like it was nothing. And he’s not even impressed by the fact. Yes, he heals the sick, etc. And he does so in thanksgiving, but not in surprise. As Person he sees and knows that all things are possible.

    Can you give an example of anyone alive today, within the last 100 years, or within the last millennium who fits this description?

  27. Anglican Peggy says:

    TLO,

    If I may venture to answer your question, I think that what Father is saying is that moral improvement is not the main idea. He is not saying that it isn’t present. It is rather a part of the ongoing overarching process which is a vastly bigger deal. The overarching process is the forest and moral improvement is but one of the trees to use the old saying. If we don’t participate willingly in that process then we might find a part of the formula of transformation but without the whole formula, that part is inert or it works improperly. One has to be part of the entire program for each part to contribute successfully to the desired outcome.

    I think this is the reason why Paul was so adamant about works not being what would save us in the end. Its not that he was against good works but that he was against us missing the point to think that we who were dying without communion with God could save ourselves without communion God. It is like trying to run without legs.

    Finally, communion with a Holy God would not be possible unless one actually agrees to be in communion with him. You could say that agreeing to live in communion with him includes an earnest effort to live a moral life since a willful unholiness simply cannot co-exist with God. But the ability to actually live a more moral life, once we assent, is only possible within that communion. The whole larger project is for most of us lifelong which means that we aren’t instantly transformed into perfect people. Most of who are not saints are constantly gaining one step and falling two steps back as we do battle to stay within that communion. So we still experience moral failings. We still experience death and disease. In the end, we hope and pray to have gotten as close to perfection as we are going to get in this life. Some might not make much progress while others die with the light of heaven shining from their faces. The saints take that a step, or many, further are witnesses to just what is possible through Christ. They are signs to us in whom the light of God shines like the sun through clear glass. But even then, it is not their own effort that achieves this. They would be the same as us without God no better and perhaps maybe worse.

    You ask for an example of a saint after St Paul within the last hundred years and I think that is the wrong question. I think the saints speak to their own times and circumstances as much as they point to eternity. Yes, there have been saints in the past 100 years and there are probably some alive even now. But they won’t be just like Paul any more than they are just like anyone else. Their circumstances aren’t the same as his. Their missions aren’t the same. But all of them, in all time and places, radiate that light. That is how you know them. Maybe some of the people around here can name some that are living. I would name John Paul II as a saint who already has two miracles attributed to his intervention in which two persons were inexplicably healed of illness. John Paul himself may have lived with Parkinsons to his dying day, but there is a nun living right now who is cured of it. As I said, different people, circumstances and missions. All of them saints.

  28. Dino says:

    TLO,
    “Can you give an example of anyone alive today, within the last 100 years, or within the last millennium who fits this description?”

    I have suggested Saint Silouan (who died in 1939) to you before (“Saint Silouan the Athonite” by Elder Sophrony), that book is actually addressed to an audience of your background -well, far more so than other books on contemporary saints like the book on Elder Porphyrios “Wounded by Love”.

  29. Dino says:

    TLO,
    concerning the use of “deserve” in my previous statement:
    (“remembering that I deserve Hell makes everything feel Paradisial” ) although that thought in itself (without someone revolting against the use of deserve of course) has immense power (it was used to cure someone of truly unbearable panic attacks) it is indeed not appropriate for a blog, and as Steve pointed out, is used paraenetically and directed to one’s own self; notwithstanding the problems associated with its misunderstanding and with the correct anthropology on using “deserve” or not, as clarified by Father Stephen, there are times when one must fight the most powerful weapon of the Enemy called pride (and its various offspring -such as discontent) when only such language will do.
    Christ’s words to Saint Silouan “Keep thy mind in Hell and despair not”, are pregnant with the possibility for misunderstanding too, that does not mean they shouldn’t be used when they were the only words that could save Silouan from Hell. He acquired a permanence of such a degree of Grace that few others ever did through living those very words. Our Church hymns are full of the statements of deserving (“worthy of”) Hell or not deserving (“unworthy of”) Heaven yet, taken out of that compunctionate context and used philosophically/anthropologically misses the point.

  30. Steve says:

    John, if I may: miraculous healings are a dime a dozen. There are many well documented supernatural healings of terminal illnesses. You may wish to Google the healing of Bishop Panteleimon (George Lampadarios), Metropolitan of Pelousion.

    The question goes far beyond mere physical healing. It would be pointless for God to heal a physical ailment if the underlying deficit (in the soul) is left unaddressed. Thus does God address first the soul’s wounds. Physical healing follows.

    Or, it may be the case that the Saint wishes to continue working in the kingdom invisibly, in which case, he or she will ask the Lord to depart this life whereupon the wounds become deified and integrated with the wounds and Person of Christ, for instance as with Saint Faustina.

    Another Saint, Saint Silouan for instance will continue to exercise the particular charism he exercised in his earthly existence.

    It’s all very mundane John. There is nothing random about heaven (though it may seem at first to us, weighed down as we are with a most imperfect knowledge).

    I might add that in Orthodox iconography, the Mother of God’s womb is depicted as a universe within a universe (as a “mandorla”, typically three concentric circles of graded blue, the symbol of heaven and the divine glory). This universe is infinitely more spacious and wider than the universe we can measure and study:

    “For, whereas the great expanse cannot circumscribe the Lord; now He is circumscribed by the Virgin’s womb”.(Christopher Klitou, Discovering the Icon).

    Amen.

  31. Michael Bauman says:

    TLO: yes, communion is more than partaking of the Euchrist, but I was initiated into that communion. Oh, I’d had sporadic contact with our Lord prior to that but in the Church the prsence is constant.

    There is certainly a conjugal element to the Eucharist as somthing that binds us together in a hypostatic manner. Just as at Cristmation, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit and that give is sealed in us.

    Without the sacramental turbo charging, the communion in other ways just gets dimmer and dimmer, at least for me as the old man just takes over.

  32. mary benton says:

    Fr. Stephen – your lengthy comment is outstanding in its clarity and helpfulness. Thank you.

  33. Anglican Peggy says:

    After my initial comment, something occurred to me that I thought might be good to add to it. Taking the example of John Paul II again, in his case it is well known that he accepted his Parkinson’s as his cross to bear because he saw it as an opportunity to teach. I am sure that if he could have been cured without compromising that teaching, he surely would have agreed to be cured. But he was at peace with his disease because he had his eyes on other goals and higher rewards. I think that this is a good illustration of why the saints also suffer like us. They are each unique as individuals within their unique contexts and in each, God performs a unique work with, this is important, that saints fullest cooperation. Like John Paul, many saints willingly accept their sufferings in order to better serve God. If you are looking for invulnerable superheroes with miraculous powers and unnaturally long life spans, you will not recognize the true saints even if one was right in front of you.

  34. Karen says:

    Can you give an example of anyone alive today, within the last 100 years, or within the last millennium who fits this description?

    John, I can recommend a book that has been mentioned here, Everyday Saints and other Stories. There are several lengthy chapters available to read online here: http://everyday-saints.com/7.htm. I can also recommend the book Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit.

  35. Dino says:

    If you are looking for invulnerable superheroes with miraculous powers and unnaturally long life spans, you will not recognize the true saints even if one was right in front of you.

    goes without saying!
    We don’t preach “God”, we preach “Christ and Him crucified”.
    Shocking as this is, it is a fact that you could count on one hand the persons – like the thief (Saint Desmas)- that recognised Christ as God when he was dying on the Cross, giving no other sign than his humility, while others demanded a sign of power.
    (the earthquake etc. followed rather than predated this recognition)
    As they say, history repeats…

  36. Dino says:

    I must remember this succinctly stated gem Father:

    The Christian life is not the smashing of the present world and its existence – it’s a reconstitution according to Christ.

  37. Steve says:

    Well said Dino!

  38. mary benton says:

    This discussion about the saints and suffering reminds me of the book of Job – Job BEFORE his afflictions. Satan was saying to God – ‘of course he is loyal to you! Look what a great life he has!’

    Although I am nowhere near being a saint, I am mindful that, if I reached holiness and never experienced physical or mental afflictions, if I never had doubts or times of spiritual barrenness, it would be too easy to be faithful. (I can hear TLO asking “why shouldn’t it be easy?” :-) )

    The reasons are thus: I am afraid that I might follow God for the wrong reasons, if my life was one in which I basked in heavenly joy, without suffering, without challenge. I might follow Him because it felt good, not because I truly loved, trusted and surrendered my whole self to Him. In other words, I might really be loving myself and my comfort and (even worse) attributing my fine life to my own goodness. While some rare souls might be able to avoid this pitfall, I am quite sure that I could not.

    Another really important reason, even if I could be so holy as to avoid the pitfalls, is that it would be hard to make a connection with those who were not so far along the way. How could a sinner relate to the “holy” person whose life was perfect? (“easy for YOU to be holy”, they might rightfully say). Also, how could I connect with the suffering people I am called to serve if I did not ever suffer myself?

    This leads to the most important reason, as others have stated, and that is that God Himself chose to suffer in order to reach us and “reconstitute” our existence in resurrection. If God in Christ chooses suffering, I, as follower, must be willing to walk the same path when called upon to do so.

  39. mary benton says:

    Added note: sometimes when I am experiencing an affliction or just a time of spiritual dullness, I give thanks to God for not “overindulging” me. I know my weakness in this regard and am grateful to be humbled.

    (Note that I said “sometimes”. There are, of course, the times when I just complain :-).)

  40. Steve says:

    Indeed Mary, in the Catholic/ Orthodox view, all suffering is a means to a higher end…

  41. fatherstephen says:

    TLO,
    Further thoughts on Person and Nature – for this is important. We live according to our natures. There’s something quite “solid” about natural life. Things are, literally, what they are. That’s the nature of a nature: it’s the “what-ness” of existence. And it dominates our existence. No matter what I might want (or will), I cannot be other than what I am. It also makes things predictable, reliable, etc. The what of things will remain. So, your question, viz., saints, miracles, and the transformation of which I am writing, is looking for a new what-ness. Surely, we think, if something has changed, then it should manifest itself in a similar, though new way – reliably, predictably, repeatably, etc.

    But the very character of Personal existence is not described by “what.” For the change in our mode of existence is a change first and foremost in “who.” The Who (Person) becomes primary. Freedom and Love become prior to nature, prior to the what. It’s thus inherently less observable.

    We see this in the resurrection experiences of Christ – which is the only truly complete example of Person ever made manifest among us. They “see” Him – but don’t recognize Him. That’s not the property of a nature (what). Every example given to us (of the few) in which He is unrecognized and then recognized – it is Person that makes the difference. Mary Magdalene thinks He’s a gardener. But He calls her by name – and she recognizes Him. The disciples on the road to Emmaus, have their hearts “burning” within them as He opens up the Scriptures, and finally, in a Eucharistic event, they recognize Him – and He disappears (an over-the-top example of Person being prior to nature).

    There have been and are “thaumaturge” saints – “wonderworkers” – who have manifested this many times. In modern times, the Elder Paisios, comes to mind (died in the 1990′s). I’ve heard private stories about Met. Leonty, an Orthodox bishop who died in 1965. Dino mentioned some others. They’re not “a dime a dozen,” but they are the “tip of an iceberg,” when it comes to those who have begun to live a life of true Personhood.

    Which brings us to your other question. Are we not already “persons?” Of course. But our personhood is dominated by its nature. In that sense, who I am is constantly frustrated by “what” I am. And most people make a kind of peace with such an existence – “It’s only natural.” But drawn by the love of Christ, some press forward, yearning ever more for Him and union with Him. In that lifetime of true devotion, they grow in transformation. The stories from the lives of the desert fathers are replete with examples of true Personhood.

    I visited a monastery some years back that is renowned for it’s devotion to St. Silouan of Mt. Athos and for living very fully the life which he taught and exemplified. I don’t know how to describe this very well. But the monastics whom I met there and engaged in conversation (over the course of a week or so), were “large.” That’s the word that has stayed with me. I was frequently in the presence of someone “large.” It was not something in my head. I’ve spent time with plenty of famous people – well-known religious figures, etc. It wasn’t that. There was room for me when I was with them – it wasn’t a large ego I was encountering. Love and freedom were pre-eminent. It’s the most memorable part of that visit.

    Those are thoughts in this afternoon. Be well. God bless.

  42. dino says:

    Fabulous clarification Father Stephen (to TLO)

    Our personhood is dominated by its nature. In that sense, who I am is constantly frustrated by “what” I am. And most people make a kind of peace with such an existence – “It’s only natural.” But drawn by the love of Christ, some press forward, yearning ever more for Him and union with Him. In that lifetime of true devotion, they grow in transformation

    This is a key point, and it is a point we never forget -even when we take the license of using language that can easily be misunderstood or that sounds like we have forgotten this point.
    The “growing in transformation” is so vast (through the Grace of Holy Spirit), that all notions and all use of language thereafter is also transformed. However, this must be taking place in the listener too. Or else misunderstandings follow. Language is still a part of creation, whereas God’s Grace is Uncreated.
    All of creation (the words of the Saints and of Scripture included), the entire universe, the Earth and the Heavens, are nothing other than the “shirt” that hides, clothes, conceals, yet also manifests and declares the Uncreated God.
    But a transformation in the “perceiver” is required too. Or else misunderstandings follow.

  43. TLO says:

    Anglican Peggy:

    The overarching process is the forest and moral improvement is but one of the trees to use the old saying.

    It seems to me that morality has to be more than just one of the trees in the forest. Indeed, it seems to be most if not all of the forest. If it was merely one small part of it, why is so much worry and effort put into it?

    This lack of communion with God, this process of death at work in us, manifests itself in a myriad of ways, extending from moral failure, to death and disease itself.

    Yes, as Person, he sheds a snake bite like it was nothing. And he’s not even impressed by the fact. Yes, he heals the sick, etc. And he does so in thanksgiving, but not in surprise. As Person he sees and knows that all things are possible.

    John Paul himself may have lived with Parkinsons to his dying day, but there is a nun living right now who is cured of it.

    One of these three doesn’t play well with the other two.

    I rather liked JPII as a person and I think he lived an excellent example of goodness and forgiveness. If being in communion with god prohibits disease and death then I would certainly have thought he would have fit the bill. Be that as it may, it seems that to follow god is an invitation to disease, discomfort and disaster.

    I cannot think of one example of a person who god had “chosen” who didn’t then undergo all manner of torment and agony.

    I am not saying that these are bad things. They may in fact be necessary and ultimately beneficial. I just have trouble equating “communion with god” with health, moral triumph, and victory over “this process of death” that was mentioned.

    If there is a formula, I think there is more evidence to support that “communion with god leads to agony” (albeit purifying agony) than that “communion with god leads to good health and happiness.”

    Health and Wellness are Western gods, methinks.

    (My favorite goddess, bye the bye, is Anoia. The minor goddess of Things That Stick in Drawers, she is praised by rattling a drawer and crying “How can it close on the darned thing but not open with it? Who bought this? Do we ever use it?” As she says, sooner or later every curse is a prayer. She also eats corkscrews and is responsible for Things Down The Backs of Sofas, and is considering moving into stuck zippers.)

    Dino: I have added “Saint Silouan the Athonite” to my Amazon wish list.

    If you are looking for invulnerable superheroes with miraculous powers and unnaturally long life spans, you will not recognize the true saints even if one was right in front of you.

    I look for nothing of the sort. I expect that which is. This is why I posed the question. It seemed rather formulaic to say that “as Person, he sheds a snake bite like it was nothing….” That sort of thing leads to weirdos handling snakes in church to find out how holy they are. Personally, I expect anyone (sinner or saint) to die if a cobra bites him.

    Steve:

    The question goes far beyond mere physical healing. It would be pointless for God to heal a physical ailment if the underlying deficit (in the soul) is left unaddressed. Thus does God address first the soul’s wounds. Physical healing follows.

    “You’re forgiven. Pick up your mat and take a hike.” That is all good and well. But I think this is a rarity when it comes to being tight with god.

    it may be the case that the Saint wishes to continue working in the kingdom invisibly

    I have often wondered about sainthood. It seems to me that to be a saint means that you suffer and are generally abused by the public while you’re alive then when you die you’re annoyed and bothered by the problems of the general public who pray to you. What kind of person wants that for himself? :)

    Karen: Thanks. I’ll read those.

    As an aside, did you ever live in San Diego? You rather remind me of a Karen I once knew who had a tender, wise and insightful heart.

    Fr. Stephen

    But the very character of Personal existence is not described by “what.”

    My questions were mainly in response to what appeared to be something other than what you are saying here.

    I am convinced that there is no one-to-one correlation between a closeness with god and a general improvement of one’s health, temperament, morals or outlook. I think that if there is such a thing as a “new creation” as Paul speaks of that it is something completely separate from our biological existence.

    To be perfectly honest, I have a hard time trusting any Christian who is excited about extended one’s stay on this Earth and who fears the life to come. If I believed there was an afterlife, I wouldn’t be looking for ways to lengthen my days. That’d be like choosing to stay in the hospital when you have no more illness from which to recover.

    The best I an make of any of this supernatural life idea is that this planet and this universe are like being in a mine in which we dig for rare, precious ore and that death is simply leaving the mine with the ore you’ve retrieved. Mines, by all accounts, pretty much suck while you’re in them but if you find what you seek the suckiness is outweighed by the reward. It may sound trite but I don’t mean it as such.

  44. Anglican Peggy says:

    TLO, I think you took my words way too literally. I can just see you literally comparing the one tree with a whole forest. Please understand that I am using a figure of speech and I’m not proposing a mathematical equation in which morality equals 1 tree.

    I used the example of the nun to illustrate something. Sainthood for the saint isn’t characterized by health but it can sometimes mean performing a miracle that restores it in someone else instead. The nun’s disease was well documented btw and her cure is unexplained. None of this is really in dispute although there may be disagreement as to the cause. You seem to think that its all or nothing. Either you suffer with God or you don’t. To me JPII and the nun are two sides of a coin. The one doesn’t exclude the other. Both are signs that point towards God.

    But I’ll say no more. I’m just a water girl among major-leaguers around here.

  45. Karen says:

    TLO, thanks, that’s very sweet. I haven’t lived in California, no. Nice to know there’s another Karen giving that name a good reputation. :-)

  46. Dino says:

    TLO,
    there is a correlation between closeness to God and health but not exactly the way we tend to understand health…
    Elder Porphyrios was a fabulous example of this, his fasting and ascesis was such that it went beyond what one would call (in the west) healthy, he had a ridiculous amount of health problems all in one person (I mean completely defying scientific knowledge) and still somehow carried on, but, when you went to see him (he lay on his bed and had lost his sight and kept thanking God for the “present of cancer”) you had (everyone would come out saying this in fact) the most convincing feeling that here lies a person bursting with tons and tons of health, energy, joy, love, vastness, and no matter how fit and healthy you were, you realized you had a long way to go… It sounds weird until you experience it.

  47. Dino says:

    In fact, Elder Porphyrios (although this is not so evident from the book “Wounded by Love”) was the living explanation of “my strength is made evident in weakness”.
    The Elder Ephraim of Katounakia was another such example, I recall him being brought out held by two of his monks (he was extremely frail and couldn’t walk in his late 80′s) and all four of us visitors still have a distinct memory of him as a most radiant giant, contagious with joy, true freedom and fiery zeal…!

  48. PJ says:

    John,

    The road to sanctity is characterized by great suffering. Even Jesus Himself was made “perfect through sufferings” (Hebrews 2:10). The Lord clearly stated that to follow Him is, more often than not, to drink from the cup of tears and endure the fiery baptism. “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Revelation 3:19). In his “Introduction to Christianity,” Pope Benedict XVI reflected eloquently on the intimate connection between love and pain: at some point, it might be worth reading (it’s in the section about the crucifixion).

  49. Rebecca says:

    TLO,

    Recall that this same Paul, who shook off the snake bite like it was nothing, also endured great suffering: was beaten multiple times, left for dead more than once, shipwrecked three times, and on the list goes. But Paul glories, not in his health, but in his weakness. (2 Corinthians 11)

    Earlier in the same book, he says,”But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-11)

    That is the paradox of true Personhood in Christ.

  50. mary benton says:

    Perhaps it is when our hearts are so totally given over to God that we are willing to suffer anything out of love for Him – perhaps it is then that suffering is transcended. At such a point we would hardly notice the snake biting, so absorbed we would be in His great love.

  51. Dino says:

    well said Mary. One aflame with God’s love paradoxically rejoices more in suffering for his beloved than in rest. Look at St Ignatius! One (as well) who is truly wise and knowledgeable of the benefit thereof, is also glad in the midst of suffering.

  52. Lynne says:

    I was preparing to print Psalm 1, New King James Version, and I thought I would compare it with the New International Version. There were some differences that illustrate this topic:
    Verse 2 in the NKJ says, …”in his law he meditates day and night.” The NIV says, …”who meditates on his law day and night.”
    Verse 6 NKJ says, “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous…” The NIV says,”The Lord watches over the way of the righteous.”
    As Father Stephen says, “We share in his Divine Life.” We are in his law and he knows us.

  53. Keith Lyding says:

    Father Stephen,

    You said, “Lastly, nobody deserves hell, ie an eternal torture, etc. I find the thoughts that flow from such a concept to be equally nauseating.”

    How do you reconcile that with Romans 6:23? Just curious?

    Respectfully,
    Keith

  54. fatherstephen says:

    Keith,
    Well, for one, there seems to be a world of difference between saying the “wages of sin is death,” and “you will be tortured for an eternity for the things you have done wrong.” The first is a simple statement that sin turns us away from the only source of life and light for all existence – God. The other would be a statement of a positively torturous thing being done.

    As it is, I think that one of the things “death” looks like is what we call hell. That fact is one of the reasons why I think the imagery of burning, worms, torture (etc) is only one image and is only true in a certain sense. It is not a “newspaper” account of a negative outcome in the life after death question. Actually, it is imagery that, combined with punishment theories of the atonement, can yield an image of God that is simply not consonant with the revelation of God in Christ.

    Is that a straight-forward answer? Death is one thing. Hell is another. And eternal flames, consuming worms, gnashing teeth and torturing demons is yet another.

  55. Keith Lyding says:

    Father Stephen,

    Thank you for your reply. While I agree that Hell can seem kind of ambiguous until Revelation. In Revelation 20:10, the Bible describes the Lake of fire and specifically says, “tormented day and night forever and ever.” Then in verse 15, it says that anyone whose name was not in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire.

    So again, I’m still struggling with this. Your thoughts?

    Thank you,
    Keith Lyding

  56. fatherstephen says:

    Keith,
    Yes, the Revelation 20:10 verse is one of a number that are obviously understood to refer to an eternal torment. Of course, the Revelation verse only refers to the Devil and the Beast being put there. But such verses “where the worm does not die,” “fire is not quenched,” etc. easily have the force of unending about them. If that were not so, none of this conversation would be taking place.

    It is the force of other verses, and other statements within some of the fathers, as well as simple meditation on the mercy of God, that make some wonder otherwise. They cannot cite a verse, else the discussion would not be as lively as it is. There is, instead, a deep hope raised against an obvious interpretation of certain verses. Given that we are told very little, such hope cannot be utterly dismissed – though it seem impossible to some.

    And that is all that has been said here – a hope – even a strong, determined hope – but hope is not the same thing as a dogma.

    It is not the Orthodox Way to have to decide a position on something just because it is a question. There are many things about which we can say little, even if we can quote a Scripture, because the Scripture was given to us to know (in a deeper way) and not just to quote. To “know” the deepest meaning of Rev. 20:10 is a serious thing. I’m not certain, for example, how much I want to “know” about hell just yet.

    Soldiers preparing for war have to endure boot camp first. There they are made to suffer little things (like a really mean first sergeant, etc.). The small suffering of their very severe training prepares them for the unimaginable horrors of real war. If they saw real war for even a moment before boot camp, most would disgrace themselves and run as cowards.

    But too often we have Christians, who having not even taken on the struggles of boot camp, have read the “manual,” and discuss all the details of the battle and judge those who have actually seen the war.

    Thus, St. Silouan, who endured the black darkness of hell of 15 years! all during which he maintained his life of prayer while being taunted by demons, etc. all this before he was delivered and given peace – I for one – am very interested in what he has to say about the battle – and if he says some extraordinary things (which he does about hell, etc.) I can only scratch my head and allow him the space and credence his life deserves. Especially when, with full knowledge of his words, the Church glorifies him as a saint.

    But then, it’s also possible to take his words, and turn them into our “manual,” and become battle experts again without the experience.

    I hear St. Silouan telling me to be courageous, gird up my loins and join the battle (or at least get serious and quit griping about boot camp and how lousy my first sergeant is).

    I also hear his witness telling me that I should have no doubts whatsoever about the love of God.

  57. Rhonda says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    As one who has endured boot camp, manuals & war…well said!

  58. fatherstephen says:

    Some people seem to be stuck hanging around the door of the recruitment office all day as if that’s where the battle was being fought…

  59. Michael Bauman says:

    Was it Sarte who said, “Hell is other people”? Who ever it was got it dead wrong..

    Marriage has revealed so much to me both the communion of heaven and the separation of hell. It seems that we have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death to get to the sweet water, the living water.

    Hell is real, but in one sense it doesn’t matter and perhaps we talk about it so much because we are too familiar with it.

    The vulnerability that seems to appear in openness is actually God’s strength. It is only our fear of the Cross that leads us into the hideous strength.

  60. Sartre, who was the source of that quote, was only half right.

    Heaven, as well, is other people.

  61. Dino says:

    I always thought that Sartre and St Silouan are the examples of the two different interpretations of the same thing. As in the river of Fire notion, for Sartre “others are Hell” (think of the elder brother of the prodigal son not wanting to enter his father’s house -paradise- because others -his brother- made it hell for him). For St Silouan ‘others are heaven’, their joy is his joy, their paradise is his paradise, his will has become one with God’s will which is that ‘all be saved’, but this is entirely God inspired and Grace driven.
    So we might clarify again that it is not a ‘psychological love. The 2nd commandment here is simply the proof of the all pervasive 1st commandment.

  62. Michael Bauman says:

    It is not the Orthodox Way to have to decide a position on something just because it is a question

    Father, thank you for this observation, It is something I need to remember.

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