Glory to God for All Things

Irony and Belief

JourneyIrony is probably too much to ask of youth. If I can remember myself in my college years, the most I could muster was sarcasm. Irony required more insight.

There is a deep need for the appreciation of irony to sustain a Christian life. Our world is filled with contradiction. Hypocrisy is ever present even within our own heart. The failures of Church and those who are most closely associated with it can easily crush the hearts of the young and break the hearts of those who are older.

I can think of at least two times in my life that the failures of Church, or its hierarchy, drove me from the ranks of the Church, or what passed for Church at the time. As years have gone by I haven’t seen less that would disappoint or break the heart – indeed the things that troubled me as a young man barely compare with revelations we all have seen in recent years.

No hands are clean. Evangelical, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, the failures and coverups are in no way the special province of any. The question of truth remains – but in a contest of the pure, everyone loses. Irony remains. Our failures would not be so poignant if the Kingdom were not so pure. Judas’ betrayal is darkened all the more by the fact that his victim is God Himself.

All of which brings us back to the irony that remains. The greatest irony of all is the God who forgives and remains ever faithful to us despite the contradictions.

When speaking with seekers – those who are asking questions about the Orthodox faith – it’s important early on to be sure that they are not in search of the perfect Church. The One, True Church means something quite distinct from perfect. A good read through Orthodox history (which for a thousand years is just “Church history”) refuses to give up an ideal century – the mark and measure for reform. Any student of the New Testament has to admit that there are no Letters to the Perfect. I find it ironic (in another sense) that there are those who search for the “New Testament Church” as though it were an ideal.

This applies equally to those who seek the flawless argument, the reasonable and logical God. That search will also end in contradiction, to be resolved only by irony, for those who can bear it. It is thought by many of the fathers that the very creation is an ironic act – the gift of existence that will require the gift of forgiveness – such is the irony of freedom and the mercy of Divine Love.

From the moment of the resurrection, Christ continues to gather scattered sheep. Betrayal, denial and cowardice were the hallmark of the Church on Good Friday. But from Christ we hear no blame – if only because He never thought us to be other than we are.

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did; but Jesus did not trust himself to them, because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man (John 2:23-25).

And if we are honest with ourselves and know what is in man, then we can only give thanks for the wondrous irony that, knowing all that, Christ gave Himself for us anyway. It is the very character of love.

I have been asked a few times over the years the meaning of St. Paul’s statement that “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). There is either almost nothing to say about it or far too much to say about it. But it is the irony of the Cross: Love enduring all things. If you know the Cross and the Love that is crucified there, then the verse likely needs no explanation. Christ is His own exegesis.

And when I turn myself to the Church (or myself), I can only reach for Christ and the assurance that the contradictions we offer Him will be forgiven. And this is a thought to cling to even in the best of times. For any who would be His disciples, the Cross and its irony is the only path that is ever offered. Glory to His grace!

72 Responses to “Irony and Belief”

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  1. Kevin says:

    “I have been asked a few times over the years the meaning of St. Paul’s statement that “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). There is either almost nothing to say about it or far too much to say about it. But it is the irony of the Cross: Love enduring all things. If you know the Cross and the Love that is crucified there, then the verse likely needs no explanation. Christ is His own exegesis.”

    An absolutely fabulous exposition!

  2. leonard Nugent says:

    It’s ironic the the first thousand years is just “Church history and not the first two thousand years, especially in a church that’s not the perfect church.

  3. TLO says:

    Hypocrisy is ever present even within our own heart. No hands are clean. Evangelical, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, the failures and coverups are in no way the special province of any.

    I wonder why people still become outraged. I think that each of us carries enough personal guilt to offset any thoughts of condemning others.

    And if we are honest with ourselves and know what is in man, then we can only give thanks for the wondrous irony that, knowing all that, Christ gave Himself for us anyway.

    I truly struggle with this. People are the way they are. There’s no getting around it. God had to have known how we’d be. If the Cross was capable of changing me from a scoundrel to a saint, I’d leap at it.

    But my problem lies in thinking that saints are “perfect” (a fault that you mentioned above). Since they are not, since they are as capable of sin as I am, I hardly see the point.

    If I acknowledge my fault and claim responsibility for my actions, how is that any different from repentance? I have done so, for some pretty awful faults, so I know that it can be done without the help of god. Why do I need the Cross?

  4. Rhonda says:

    TLO/John;
    Fr. Ted Bobosh did a 3 pt. blog series on The Purpose of Righteousness. You can find part 1 here: http://frted.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/the-purpose-of-righteousness/

  5. Lina says:

    I will venture to say that we try to change ourselves from the outside. Given the opportunity, God wants to change us from the inside. He wants to go into our very core.

  6. Margaret says:

    Christ is risen! God be praised! Thank you Fr. Stephen for this beautiful post! Your quotation from St. John’s gospel has been more than there for me at so many times in my life. Glory to God For All Things!

  7. Dino says:

    TLO,
    you say again: “God had to have known how we’d be” and thus turn the blame towards God again…
    But, should the Prodigal’s Father not have given him his “share” knowing he would have squandered it?
    That would have made the Father into a policeman and the son into an automaton.
    The magnanimousness of the Father is his ‘scandalous’ respect of His son’s freedom; just as the son’s freedom to fall, is why he is called a ‘son’ (and not a servant).

  8. PJ says:

    Father,

    What of the idea that the Church is the spotless and pure Bride?

  9. Karen says:

    TLO, actually according to Orthodox belief and the teaching of Scripture you are not recognizing your faults, nor taking responsibility for your actions without Christ’s help through the Holy Spirit speaking through your conscience and empowering your virtue (such as it is) by His grace. You simply don’t realize that is what is happening apparently.

    “Faith” is not just mental assent and conscious acknowledgement of the truth of the stories in the Gospels (especially if we aren’t really understanding the meaning and implications of those stories aright!). Faith is responding in one’s heart (in the deep Orthodox, not emotional, sense) and conscience to the conviction of the Holy Spirit about what is good/bad, right/wrong, true-beautiful/false. In that sense, it seems to me you are as much a person of faith as any of us who comments here.

  10. Michael Bauman says:

    “Why do I need the Cross?”

    That is the ultimate question in the Christian life and, John, you demonstrate great faith to even ask it. Father has a series on it from a couple of years ago, but the answer to which I have come is simply this: we need the cross to be transformed, even one’s suffering is transformed. Without the cross it is merely our own will acting and, as you say, God has nothing to do with it. Thus your suffering is just suffering because you still believe you are in control.

    However, if you want to have the image and likeness unique to you revealed and freed with joy bursting forth, the cross is required. Joy is not possible without God (fleeting happiness, yes, but not joy)**.

    I can’t give you a logical/rational exposition of that fact, I just know it is true. Further, how we accept the cross makes a difference. Psalm 22 has been helpful to me over the years. The first time I read it (before being received into the Church) and really heard it, it was devastating. The longer I’ve lived in the Church, the more I begin to understand it and accept what is being communicated there.

    The Cross is the ultimate realism. The fact of the Cross both acknowledges the existential reality of evil, suffering and death and the ultimate powerlessness of those same things. It is a bit like AA on a cosmic scale.

    **My beloved wife of 24 years reposed 6 years ago during Great Lent. It was horrific. I was filled with sorrow and loss. Yet, when Pascha came that year, I felt such joy as never before, even in the midst of the sorrow. Christ is Risen was revealed to me in a manner I had never before experienced.

    My wife was still ‘dead’, I still grieved, yet I knew she yet lived. LIFE was victorious. I embraced one of the crosses that comes with marriage, the loss of your beloved. Then I embraced the cross of living without her and God brought me a new wife and an increase in joy (and of course the certainity that one of us would once again experience the earthy death of our beloved).

  11. Susi says:

    TLO, that you have experienced a changing of the mind in certain aspects of your life is commendable. To assume that you did that of your own merit, without the assistance of God, is just that…an assumption. From where I stand, you are just as much a creation of God as the rest of us. He, therefore, loves and cares about you equally as much, also. Sometimes God helps us whether we like it or not…whether we know or acknowledge it or not.

  12. Sasha says:

    Glory forever!

    > … knowing all that, Christ gave Himself for us anyway.

    And this irony makes His love and sacrifice even more terrible and wonderful.
    Christ is risen, father!

  13. leonard Nugent says:

    We need the cross because…… Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church.

  14. Dino says:

    TLO,
    One of the most profound meanings of the word “Logos” (John 1:1) which is lost in English is “meaning”. So, Christ is man’s true ontological meaning, He is the reason to exist, to desire, to reason, to be, the only possible fulfilment of what desires fulfilment in me. Irrespective of any temporal ‘fall’, (to get back to your issue) man is therefore a creature that was created for Christification. Before or after, in his Father’s house or as a prodigal, as a first or as a second son… Until he actuates this he knows not why he was given this existence.

  15. TLO says:

    Karen:

    In that sense, it seems to me you are as much a person of faith as any of us who comments here.

    And yet I have no desire to cry “Lord have mercy” or ask accept a sacrifice for my faults as a remedy.

    Lewis said:

    Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it.

    -Essay on Forgiveness
    Macmillan Publishing Company, 1960

    I fail to see (and I guess this is your point) how a Holy Spirit has anything to do with it. I want to be at peace with those that I have offended. That is all. Why is that not motive enough?

    Michael

    we need the cross to be transformed, even one’s suffering is transformed. Without the cross it is merely our own will acting and, as you say, God has nothing to do with it. Thus your suffering is just suffering because you still believe you are in control.

    In 43 years of being a diligent Christian, I failed to see any transformation in myself. I still yielded to base desires just as I would have otherwise. Everything you do, everything Paul or Peter or Cyprian did is/was an act of the will. As long as we are on this planet and there is such a thing as “free will” then we are in fact in control. Maybe god offers a path, but it is still up to you to walk that path. Setting foot on it and standing still will get you nowhere. Most certainly, he is not going to carry you down that path and keep your feet from the pitfalls! It is only by an act of your will (daily prayers, participating in Eucharist, etc) that you can even experience the Christian life. You are in control.

    To suppose that god is in control and we are not opens up a whole lot of issues that cannot be addressed here.

    Joy is not possible without God (fleeting happiness, yes, but not joy).

    In 43 years as a Christian I never knew Joy. Angst, constant guilt, shame, paranoia of my own thoughts, and a constant sense of failing and being abandoned by the one I sought, these I knew all too well.

    You remind me of my dad though. Mom passed away unexpectedly March 19th of this year. Dad grieves, to be certain, but he has said time and again, “I cannot be bitter. I got to spend 57 years with the most wonderful woman. How lucky am I?” This from a man who has a twin brother, who has been paired with my mom since he was 16, and who is truly “single” for the first time in his 73 years of life.

    I’m so proud of him and I know that his faith (as well as his character) makes this possible. But there is nothing in me that stirs but disappointment and disillusion when I think of the Christian faith. This leads me to think that either god chose Dad and not me or there is something else going on (e.g. it’s simply personality differences).

    Susi:

    To assume that you did that of your own merit, without the assistance of God, is just that…an assumption.

    The reciprocal is also true. You assume that one cannot be moral without god and that anyone who does not acknowledge god and is yet moral is being influenced by god without knowing it. But this flies in the face of any “free choice” argument I have ever heard. Either we are free to choose good and bad, right and wrong or we aren’t. If we aren’t, then one could also say that when I choose evil it is with god’s help. I don’t think anyone would make that argument though.

    Dino:

    man is therefore a creature that was created for Christification. Before or after, in his Father’s house or as a prodigal, as a first or as a second son… Until he actuates this he knows not why he was given this existence.

    My friend, how I wish that was true! But my most heinous sins were committed when I was a devout Christian. The remorse and repentance came after I left the faith. I wish that there had been a god who would have transformed me and kept me from yielding. But alas! ‘Twas not so.

    Where then could I possibly go for help if the one I truly longed for did not help me when I (and those I hurt) needed it most? Solomon was wrong. It is the fear of consequences that is the beginning of wisdom.

  16. Theo says:

    Dear TLO,

    Is that it for you, no turning back? What if you swallowed it all and turned back and found everything you were hoping for.

    Theo

  17. Karen says:

    TLO, I think you misunderstand. To say that the Holy Spirit empowers the virtue of the one who wills it is not to say that He coerces or controls the will of the one doing the willing. There is an important distinction here. As you probably understand (but perhaps that’s a wrong assumption on my part), we Orthodox are not monergists. We believe synergy is required for salvation, the cooperation of our will with God’s. We do not understand this voluntary cooperation as a “good work” on our part that twists God’s arm or obligates Him to help us out either! It is simply what allows God to do what He wanted to do in the first place, but refuses to force upon us. Also, God is quite willing, if that is what it takes, to be perceived only as an anonymous conviction speaking deep within our heart and conscience about what is true and what is not in terms of our real-world experiences (not concepts we have been taught and ideologies we imagine). Do you have a desire to forgive those who have offended you (just as you desire to be forgiven–at peace–with those you have offended)? In any measure that this may be so, that is evidence of a voluntary cooperation of your will with God’s, whether you realize that or not. Do you realize that Christ’s Incarnation means that God has always looked steadily at you, at your sin “in all its horror, dirt, meanness and malice” and is, nevertheless, completely reconciled to you (which neither I nor Lewis would claim is quite the same thing as being reconciled to your sin)?

    Just for the record, I doubt I would want to pray, “Lord, have mercy” either if I had the understanding or image of who/what that “Lord” is that you do. I’m quite certain I don’t understand the nature of His Self-sacrifice in the Incarnation in the same way that you do either. (This impression is just based on the history of your comments here and the understanding that gives of your Fundamentalist-influenced background.) There is a profound difference between being a “devout Christian” in the Protestant Fundamentalist sense (complete with its distorted understanding of “God” and the whole economy of our “salvation” in Christ) and the kind of faith that spontaneously arises as a result of a real encounter with/or recognition of the living God as He really meets us in our hearts.

    I suspect your most heinous sins were committed when you were a devout “hoop jumper” trapped by your early indoctrination on a religious performance treadmill that kept you alienated from the love of the true God, which alone can transform us from the inside out. I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat myself: getting off that religious performance treadmill was a move in a healthier spiritual direction. I’ll even suggest it was empowered (not coerced) by the conviction of the Holy Spirit! :-)

  18. TLO says:

    I suspect your most heinous sins were committed when you were a devout “hoop jumper” trapped by your early indoctrination on a religious performance treadmill that kept you alienated from the love of the true God

    If this god saw that I was placed in horrid circumstances (the religious treadmill) and rather did not see (or care) that I was trying to reach him, that he did not reach out to rescue me despite my desire to find him says more than anything else.

  19. Anna says:

    TLO,
    Perhaps the Christianity given to you has been damaging enough that the only way for you to find God requires a time of rejection of all you have known of him in order for you to find the God that has found you since before you were born.

    Try not to stress too much about finding God or desiring Him. Just be where you are – you’re angry so be angry. You hate him, so hate him. You’re frustrated, so be frustrated. Worrying about all that will make it all worse. You don’t have to like God. If He is, and if He is who He says He is, He can take it. You can be into a place of not knowing Him, or not even believing that He is. You can reject the Christianity that has so scarred you. In time you’ll come through to the other side into something that will likely look healthier and more fulfilling than where you’ve been.

    I’ve heard before that atheism can be a great gift to a person because it allows them to reject the god that they have been given but is not real and come into a deeper understanding of the God that is real.

    You don’t have to fight us or feel judged, because I think that each of us has gone through cycles in life of turning away in deep disappointment and confusion because what we had thought was the real thing turned out to be a painful sham. And it takes time, tears, and sadness to strip away those ways of looking at things. But I’ve started to find that afterwards what I had thought to be true is replaced by something much more peaceful, beautiful and real than what I had clung to before.

    Forgive me for even offering advice as I am young and just starting out on this journey. Be at peace.

  20. Dino says:

    TLO,
    having seen the value of compunction and contrition in my past, it took me a very long time to accept (and to start understanding) what my Spiritual Father was struggling to impart to me when he really started “sowing”, (the exact same idea that the Elder Aimilianos comes back to time and again), that a Christian that has no Joy is not a Christian and has never been a Christian, in fact, if someone calls himself a Christian and has no Joy, he is “the greatest defamer, a libeller and a slanderer of Christianity”. He does the Devil’s work instead of the Devil and better than him, he does it towards others and towards himself…!
    Besides, Joy is what feeds healthy humility and compunction as well.

    The first thing, the ‘Alpha’ we must start from is Joy, until we get there, our ‘supposed’ relationship with God, all our thoughts and feelings, in fact, are poisoned… Can one be SUCH a beginner for 43 years? Yes. even for 80 years! Not that he does not learn stuff, but until he has that one month or one year or 10 years at the end of those 80 when he discovers this other God of Joy, (such Joy that he can pull off “bloody sweat and tears” without this “default” state of Joy ever even flinching), all the stuff he has learned is not yet helping.
    So, when you say

    In 43 years as a Christian I never knew Joy. Angst, constant guilt, shame, paranoia of my own thoughts, and a constant sense of failing and being abandoned by the one I sought, these I knew all too well.

    I am thinking you have formed an opinion using the wrong data. Let’s not rush to blame any “placement in horrid circumstances”, we can be assured that there are far worse circumstances in which people have triumphed, and we have not yet finished our earthly existence in order to be able to make that judgement clearly…
    You can acquire great discernment and invaluable experience by simply concentrating on the God you know not, knowing that he is the true God if you see Joy accompanying your thoughts of Him. If not, it is the god that the devil has always portrayed, irrespective of what other reasons you might find to blame ‘god’ for allowing this. Those reasons come from the vile marriage of Ego and the Enemy…
    You can move forward and acquire a rare discernment and experience this way. Only this way my friend.
    Until we actuate that we will not even start on the path of knowing why we have been given this existence.
    Ignore the weeds that are grow with the wheat, heed not the bad seeds that spring up in your mind, only water the good seeds. It is certainly not impossible, in fact, once we do that, we suddenly see how easy that previously arduous task becomes.

  21. PJ says:

    “In this you greatly rejoice…” (1 Peter 1:6)

  22. Karen says:

    TLO, forgive me if my suggesting you were a devout “hoop jumper” offended. I don’t mean at all to make light of your former struggles and sense of desperation, which from your perspective have gone unanswered and unaddressed. Your struggle is quite understandable given your childhood experiences. What I was meaning to point out was that the true God is not looking for a religious performance from us. (We learn that from others and take it upon ourselves–it never comes from God). Nor, it seems to me, can God respond to that kind of thing without reinforcing that it is exactly what He wants from us and also giving us the impression that our false concept of what He is like is true!

    It’s certainly not your fault that you’ve had such a difficult time coming to terms with all that–you were just a kid, after all. The abuse and the mind-screwing stuff was very severe in your case. Not having lived through quite the same thing, I should probably just stop making comments and pray for you (which, of course, I do as well). It strikes me that your background warrants really expert professional level spiritual and psychological care, and I’m obviously not qualified. I don’t even qualify as a fellow sufferer really, because although I’ve certainly had to shed false concepts of God and struggle with religious performance and long periods where it felt like God was nowhere to be found though I sought Him, I’ve not had to deal with anything like the depth and severity of deprivation that you have. I was never abused at such a vulnerable stage of life, and any abuse I suffered in childhood was mild by comparison and, most critically, it was not done in Christ’s Name. A certain teaching of Jesus’ about millstones, stumbling blocks and little children comes to mind when I think about that kind of thing!

  23. TLO says:

    Anna:

    You don’t have to fight us or feel judged…

    Please don’t misunderstand me. I have nothing but the deepest respect for Fr. Stephen and the members of this community. Do you have any idea how few Christians are able to articulate and dialogue without feeling threatened by questions? Altogether too few.

    Y’all believe. It makes no sense to me. But that’s OK. That you are willing to listen and respond without bickering is what sustains me. I hope that I do not come across as bickering either!

    …atheism can be a great gift to a person…

    I agree! I would rather believe in a hands-off, nebulous god or no god at all than one that appears to be evil.

    I don’t know that there are any true “Atheists.” Even Dawkins does not call himself one, though others do. Any intellectually honest person cannot go any further than agnosticism. “I don’t know” is a very comforting place to be, when it’s the truth.

    Michael and others:

    Even belief is an act of the will. “Surrendering” is a choice too. That others have made this choice and found solace is no mystery to me. It seems to be common to many religions, this letting go. And, in a way, I have surrendered as well, though the thing to which I have surrendered is “I don’t know and I cannot possibly ever really know.”

    Also, please understand that what seems like anger over the “Fall” story is largely based in a conviction that if there is a personal god that he must be good, better than any human. When the story offered to me makes him appear to be poor or unjust or more ignorant than a mere man, I reject it outright simply because I don’t want a terrible god. I’d prefer one that is confirmed by natural laws and observations and scientific discovery, not one that is called into question because what he allegedly revealed in the past is shown to be erroneous.

    Karen:

    forgive me if my suggesting you were a devout “hoop jumper” offended

    No offense taken! It’s not your fault that no god showed up. In some ways, I prefer to be a “hoop jumper” than one who sits in the mud and does nothing. :)

    I have the highest regard for you and appreciate your thoughts and the time/effort you put into responding to me. The desperation was real for a very long time and these conversations tend to revive the passions.

    I am extremely reluctant to enter into a faith that will lead to more hoops and no solutions. If this god person ever shows up for me, y’all will be the first to know!

    In the meantime, in the words of Gandhi, “I do not seek redemption from the consequences of my sin. I seek to be redeemed from the sin itself, or rather from the very thought of sin. Until I have attained that end, I shall be content to be restless.”

  24. Margaret says:

    I have read these comments and can only add that it is not a bad thing to be angry and shaking a fist at God because of the very verse quoted here in Fr. Stephen’s post and also because it has been requoted in these comments. God knows what is in the heart of man. We do not always know what is in our own hearts — well, I will speak for myself. I have almost always thought that I knew what was in my own heat. It is through years of anger and “why?” that God reveals to me what is actually in my heart, some I confess and repent of, some I take and run with because My Father has shown me an amazing amount in life and it is not finished. God bless us and keep us all close to Himself!

  25. mary benton says:

    TLO –

    I wrote a piece for you some days ago, offering another perspective on the Fall but it got lost in spam filters. If you are not sick of people responding to that, I will try again to post it. I wrote it for you. (Let me know.)

    I wonder if you have considered that all of us here who have responded to your questions and objections do so out of love. Love for you.

    While I’m not saying that we are not a fine group of recovering sinners, I believe that we love you because God’s love for you lives in our hearts. Perhaps God IS showing up for you?

    Nothing I can prove, of course, but knowing God and finding joy in Him can begin only with knowing love. If you cannot yet use the word “God”, please still allow our love and prayers to surround you and hold you.

  26. Margaret says:

    And I am American, I read Ghandi quoted above by TLO: “I do not seek redemption from the consequences of my sin. I seek to be redeemed from the sin itself, or rather from the very thought of sin. Until I have attained that end, I shall be content to be restless.”

    And come away thinking Ghandi was content when what he was was restless. :)

  27. Karen says:

    TLO, thanks for that quote from Ghandi, which demonstrates a very Orthodox Christian heart (as so much of his life also did, but, of course, he did get his inspiration from Jesus, especially the heart of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount). That was one of the greatest draws for me to Orthodox Christian faith. I didn’t just want to be off the hook from my sin. I wanted to be cleansed from it completely. Until that is completed (I dare to hope it’s in progress), I consider a hopeful restlessness a gift from God.

  28. Дејан says:

    I reject it outright simply because I don’t want a terrible god. I’d prefer one that is confirmed by natural laws and observations and scientific discovery

    But what does that mean that “god” could be confirmed by scientific discovery? Does that mean that, epistemologically speaking, science is able to discover everything there is in Reality, or does scientific method have its own restrictions that are making it limited in its scope? For example, how could science measure something that is infinite? Or, is purity of the heart important or irrelevant for scientific investigations? Does microscope or telescope give us better results provided that scientist who is using them has pure heart or it does not matter? In what way then can science approach hypothesis such as “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”? Finally, what exactly does it mean to be “pure in heart”, could that purity be somehow measured scientifically one day in the future?

    I am struggling to understand limits of scientific method, at least to try to verbally express to myself what is not clear to me. I got some books about it, but I must admit that sometimes I feel woefully inadequate while reading them :) I just need to be patient, science is so vast, it requires patience.

    What I like about scientists is that they reject to be limited by any preconceived ideas – they are open to any truth that experiment will bring forth, however unexpected.

    What I like about Orthodox monks (and in so many others in different religions) is that they refuse to be packed in any preconceived mental idea about their Beloved, they are searching for Him in silence, with quiet longing, sweet nostalgia they feel in their hearts.

    Finally, what I like most about Christianity is that during its history some saintly people manifested, reflected in their lives, more or less integrally, verse from the Matthew 5:43-45. Attitude that mother Theresa manifested is a miracle for me – I could not love humanity so much now, but it is comforting to know that there are such selfless people, that it is possible.

    Interestingly enough, science gave to humanity some saintly personalities, whose life story is all selflessness for betterment of humankind, such as Nikola Tesla for example.

  29. Michael Bauman says:

    Let’s consider four premises: 1 There is no God or divinity of any kind only the material; 2. God is a sadist who gets off on our suffering; 3 God created us and everything including the physical laws and left us to soldier on without Him; 4 God is a loving creator who loves us and the rest of His creation so much He became one with it by taking on our nature.

    A lot of modern science is conducted on the first premise. A lot of people live by #3 and popular Calvinistic thought presumes #2, or so it seems to me. #4 is the Christian understanding as revealed in the Gospels and the Apostolic tradition. It leaves us with the intriguing possibility that we find God in ourselves and in other people. It takes work to get through all the accumulated garbage but it is the testimony of all the saints.

    #4 is the most lucid, complete and hopeful. It also presents us with the best foundation for investigating the material creation

  30. Dino says:

    Michael Bauman,
    you reminded me of the sad fact that most people (naively) believe in science with a religious belief they are unaware of. They fail to discern that there really is no ‘scientific impartiality’, but ‘science’ is largely permeated by that first premise and will inevitably be “influenced” (#1) – whether one way or another…

  31. Michael Bauman says:

    Dino, to me much better science can be done on the basis of #4.

  32. Dino says:

    Yes, of course, but it feels that the days of that science (based on #4) are largely over…

  33. Michael Bauman says:

    Dino, I think science would have a good chance of that happening if scientists were as open minded as our friend above thinks they are.

    But too much of science has been corrupted by grants and materialistic ideology. However not all scientists have.

  34. Michael Bauman says:

    One addition to my assumptions. Knowing God in and through other people is not the only way under assumption #4 as it also leaves the door wide open to experience Him directly in prayer , in the sacraments and in a variety of other ways simply not available otherwise.

    Interpretation of data is always ruled by one’s assumptions about how the data should be interpreted. Thus those operating under any variation of the first three simply reject much of what we consider evidence and substitute their own reality.

    God, being God after all, can still penetrate our hearts but we do make it difficult for Him

  35. Dino says:

    Very very true…

  36. TLO says:

    Mary:

    I wrote a piece for you some days ago, offering another perspective on the Fall but it got lost in spam filters. If you are not sick of people responding to that, I will try again to post it. I wrote it for you. (Let me know.)

    Absolutely. And if it gets spammed again, feel free to email me at slave2six at gmail dot com.

    Дејан:

    I reject it outright simply because I don’t want a terrible god. I’d prefer one that is confirmed by natural laws and observations and scientific discovery

    But what does that mean that “god” could be confirmed by scientific discovery?…

    I would settle for some basics such as:

    1) It’s a physical or mental illness, not a demon.

    2) The Earth was not created before the sun and the stars.

    3) Humans have been around for 100,000+ years or so and didn’t begin with Adam –> Seth –> Enosh –> Etc. (this literalization of how many years Adam lived before he begot Seth etc makes it all the more difficult to accept that the “Fall” story was not intended to be taken literally.)

    4) There may have been a localized flood in the time of Noah but there was never a world-wide flood. (There is literally not even the most remote possibility that Noah could have taken two of each of the 10 million species of animals on a boat with him.)

    You know, simple stuff like this. It bothers me that things like heliocentricity cause such an uproar and force religious institutions to revise their position on the nature of the universe. You’d think that a god capable of “inspiring” people to write incomprehensible prophecies (e.g. Daniel) could find a way to clue them in on some essentials (e.g. the Earth is round).

  37. Karen says:

    TLO, regarding your last comment, please do yourself a favor and drop over to Alice Linsley’s blog site (linked as “Just Genesis” on Fr. Stephen’s home page). She (an Orthodox Christian who also happens to be an anthropologist) explains why 19th century Fundamentalist Christian hyper-literalist readings of Scripture are off the mark for many different reasons. You should know that most Orthodox today don’t read Genesis in that manner (and never have historically either, which should encourage you because Orthodox Christian faith is arguably the oldest continuous Christian tradition still represented today within Christendom of any stripe). The Orthodox Church doesn’t find any conflict between science (properly understood) and Christian Tradition (including Scripture, properly understood). Between the philosophy of Naturalism (part of Darwin’s theory) and Orthodox Christian faith, however, there is real conflict, but that’s a separate issue.

  38. Dino says:

    TLO,
    the basics you refer to when saying:

    I would settle for some basics

    are clear signifiers that you confuse science with religion, something congruous with your background but incongruous with Orthodoxy. Is this perhaps a big part of your issue with Christianity?
    As Karen rightly said:

    The Orthodox Church doesn’t find any conflict between science (properly understood) and Christian Tradition (including Scripture, properly understood).

    The Fundamentalist understanding of science through Religion as well as the understanding of Religion through science are both sure paths to delusion, whether you are Orthodox, Protestant or a Hindu…
    Orthodoxy might have had what looks to us today like “hyper-literalist readings of Scripture”, but it also has the ‘phronema’ (way of thinking) that guards against the blanket, eternal application of such.
    We must need to be on guard, all of us, as to not fall into the trap of looking for answers to the ‘how?’ or ‘when?’ of creation through religion; equally we must be on guard as to not fall into the trap of looking for answers to the ‘why?’ or the ‘Who?’ of creation through science. Doing either of those two means we are creating a problem and then assigning it to either science or religion; but the problem is ours… That is not true Orthodoxy TLO, even if some call themselves Orthodox and think that way! We have had this conversation many times here before…

  39. Dino says:

    In other words the fact that God, although perfectly “capable of “inspiring” people to write incomprehensible prophecies (e.g. Daniel) does not “clue them in on some essentials (e.g. the Earth is round).” has never been a problem and never will be to those who make that clear distinction. However, the western confusion that results in the said ‘conflict’ is something that does not bother (believe it or not) Orthodox scientists who are also monks. A good example is the now Metropolitan Nicholaos Hatzinikolaou, who was a professor in Harvard before with specialisations in genetics, haemodynamics, astrophysics.

  40. PJ says:

    John,

    I know a man who would strongly contest your easy dismissal of those “crazy” Biblical ideas (many of which reappear in the wisdom traditions of other civilizations). He has majors in Physics, Philosophy, and Mathematics from Cornell; an M.S. from Purdue in Theoretical Physics; and a PhD in Mathematics from Columbia. So, he’s no dummy. His name is Wolfgang Smith and I strongly recommend “The Quantum Enigma” and “Cosmos and Transcendence” if you think that modern, materialistic, secular “science” has settled such matters.

  41. Dino says:

    PJ,
    I doubt whether Professor Wolfgang Smith has any first-hand experience of the direct supra-natural knowledge God sometimes (rarely) imparts through His Grace to those special souls, which we favour so much in Orthodoxy, the sort that illiterates such as Elder Porphyrios were granted and were capable of knowing what goes on at the other side of the planet while praying in a cave…
    HOWEVER, anything I have read by him demonstrates a most brilliant and tempered Philosophical mind of the highest calibre, he really has a voice that requires far more attention – especially considering his experience as a scientist. Many of the things he says are in total agreement to Met Nikolaos I mentioned earlier…

  42. TLO says:

    Karen:

    Thanks for the referral. “Young Earth Creationism” is, as I have always (as ana dult) believed, idiotic on every level. That 4th grade science quiz was typical of the stuff I “learned” in k-8. I started public school in grade 9 and it was such a relief to be given the data!

    Alice’s insights do not speak to the “Fall” though and that’s principally what flummoxes me about the early chapters of Genesis. It would have been better to have started Genesis with Abraham, IMHO.

    Dino:

    The basics you refer to when saying “I would settle for some basics” are clear signifiers that you confuse science with religion.

    I have no (0, null, nada, walapa) interest in religion. None whatsoever. What I am talking about is a personality that allegedly attempted to make contact with human beings via revelations. I am interested in that person. I don’t give a tinker’s cuss about anything else.

    the western confusion that results in the said ‘conflict’ is something that does not bother (believe it or not) Orthodox scientists who are also monks.

    It sounds a bit harsh but why should I care whether it bothers them or not? Similar blokes weren’t bothered by the idea that the Earth was the center of the universe until it was proven otherwise.

    PJ:

    I know a man who would strongly contest your easy dismissal of those “crazy” Biblical ideas….if you think that modern, materialistic, secular “science” has settled such matters.

    I’m getting a little frustrated that I am not being understood here. I never called any of those ideas “crazy.” If I was to look at the Bible from a strictly anthropological point of view, I’d say it makes perfect sense. People simply wrote about things as best as they understood them, however inventive they may have been. There was a story of Ra passing through 12 gates beneath the Earth which represented the 12 hours of the night. That people of that era had working out a 24 hour day is astounding and demonstrates an intensely keen intellect.

    But the Bible is allegedly inspired by the main Designer of the whole thing. Now, if I was trying to get through to beings that I created and that I knew to be very intelligent and for who, if they put their heads together “nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them,” then I’m pretty sure I would make some things plain (e.g. those things that can be verified) in order that those things that cannot be verified would be believable.

    Modern science has settled nothing regarding god! (Then again, neither has religion of any sort.) It has only raised more and more questions and opened wider the door of doubt. But the silence of this alleged deity is deafening.

    As it stands, I am screaming into the vacuum of space, “Where is god?!” and the questions reaches no further than my own lips.

  43. fatherstephen says:

    “Screaming into the vacuum of space,” which is probably the wrong place to look for God. In a way, you’re a 21st century man (more or less), looking for a 13th century God (more or less).

    I have no problem whatsoever anthropologically describing the OT, and, on one level, do not need to see it as more than that. “Inspiration” is grossly misunderstood and misused by a ton of Christians, including people who should know better.

    “Inspiration” is a word that means that we find God, that God speaks, that Christ is made known, in these texts. The manner of that knowledge is frequently deeply removed from a literal reading. You will find no help from me in explaining how these texts are ok on a literal basis. Sometimes they’re even repugnant on a literal basis – as you’ve noted.

    But I’ll move the discussion to a slightly different playing field.

    How did you become the kind of man who could love a woman, be faithful to her and become the father of children (whom I know you love and cherish)? It’s actually hard to do and is very far from guaranteed in our culture. I say, “How did you become the kind of man…,” because that’s closer to the question of knowing God than screaming into the empty vacuum of space. It’s possible that you were just “lucky,” that a remarkable woman found you and helped you become such a man (I think that’s close to my own account).

    But what kind of man can find God in a 3500 year old text, full of anthropomorphisms and other primitive oddities?

    What kind of man could encounter such a “personality” despite all of the utter nonsense spewed forth in His Name? What kind of a man could forgive the nonsense endured over the course of a lifetime?

    I’ve written earlier about beauty as one of the avenues for perceiving the existence and truth of God. Belief in God entails (from a Christian point of view) accepting that Beauty is not an accident but reflects something else. That goodness is a manifestation of grace, of a Goodness that is upholding all that exists.

    Yes, there are plenty of evil and terrible circumstances. As such, a Christian comes to grip with some kind of understanding of a “fall,” that despite the Goodness we can see, there is something else at work as well.

    We could be sort of philosophical, kind of yin and yang about all of it, and say there is a Tao of the universe and it includes good stuff and bad stuff, etc.

    We could say something a little similar to that as Christians. There is a Tao (the Logos) of the Universe. But He is not the author of the evil. The evil is something else, a by-product of the freedom with which everything was endowed. But in the Christian account, this Tao (Logos) has entered into His universe, making visible what would otherwise be invisible, and making it clear that Goodness is the truth of the Creator and not evil.

    What kind of a man could look at the universe and see in it the outworking of the grace of Christ? If you are happily married (which your comments seem to indicate), then you’re not a truly rational man (no joke intended). You clearly are able to live at a level that transcends simple evidence. You must perceive things that are not obvious to all and be reconciled with that.

    Knowing God is not unlike this – except that He’s invisible and even less obvious – until He becomes so obvious that He overwhelms.

  44. Dino says:

    “But the silence of this alleged deity is deafening.”
    “What I am talking about is a personality that allegedly attempted to make contact with human beings via revelations. I am interested in that person.”
    “As it stands, I am screaming into the vacuum of space, “Where is god?!” and the questions reaches no further than my own lips.”

    My thoughts are the following concerning God’s hiding “in the clouds” as an inevitable necessity to protect our freedom and our possibility for salvation:
    It sounds like we have a mathematical impasse here though, one known to Christianity from the start, one seen in the lives of the miraculous Martyrs and their ‘deaf’ and ‘blind’ persecutors (where one ‘sees’ for some reason and another doesn’t and as always ultimately blames Him for it) :

    It is only safe for a person to have God appear to him (only) once they have learnt, through faith, love and humility, the truth that He is God, the One that truly exists, and they are the most infinitesimally miniscule creature, with a devilish tendency to want to be the centre of the universe (the one that truly exists).

    Though God is “dying” to appear to me, He knows I am better off in ‘the dark’ of not seeing Him and trying to believe Him, He protects me from my subsequent Luciferean pride too (“I am the one who sees God – ME…!”)…

    He therefore protects me by not appearing to me in ways that can be interpreted by me either this way or that way (especially when He is the object of my inquisitive desire “to see” ) while He actually appears to those who already ‘see’ Him not as an object but by having a relationship with Him through Faith first, Hope later, and Love finally…
    My acceptance of their testimony -disregarding my selfish need- is not a requirement I must blame God for “conjuring up” as the first step to the first step of Faith. Especially since I never accuse anyone for this acceptance of what others say as the first step to know most things in Life…

  45. mary benton says:

    TLO (here’s my attempt to re-post, with a few revisions),

    I am going to offer my own response to your dilemma about the fall (and I’m asking everyone else to refrain from arguing with me about evolution – that is not my main point).

    Suppose we were to read Genesis a bit more allegorically. Rather than viewing it as a historical account of two people, think of it as a summation of the human dilemma. If God created human beings in a gradual fashion from the earth, there came a time when those early humans were able to “eat the apple” so to speak, to have knowledge of good and evil – to know the difference between them. This development of humanity could be viewed as analogous to the development of the individual – who begins life without the maturity to know the difference but grows into knowing.

    If this was bound to happen by natural development, one might wonder why scripture has God telling people that they will die if they “eat this apple”, if this knowledge is an inevitable part of their development. Perhaps once we know the difference between good and evil we begin to NOT WANT to die. (Plants and animals instinctively try to survive, but do not have the capacity to resist death in a conscious manner.)

    Consider then that the primary temptation, once humanity had this level of understanding, is/was to say “I want to be god,” (i.e. I don’t want to be finite and die). Rather than following the Way which God established for all created things (to live in harmony and have our natural bodies die), we humans want to follow our own way (resisting death because we don’t trust that The Way will fully take care of us). Choosing our own way brings us out of unity with God. This is original sin – not because it was the first sin, but because it is the sin upon which all sin is based. My way, not God’s.

    So, if this desire to be god (sound like ego?) is our temptation, why would God create us with such a flaw? It seems to me that the “flaw” is essential to the freedom which comes with the awareness of good and evil. He could have made us all daisies and we would live in harmony with the Way (accepting our death and finite nature), but we would not be able to love. If we are good only out of the necessity of nature, we do not love. We were made to be able to choose to love.

    At the heart of all of this is a most fundamental difference between the “eternal life” that we imagine making for ourselves when we resist death (so we can be gods) and the eternal Life that believers hope to receive from following the Way (choosing to love, even unto death). Not only is the process hugely different but the nature of the Life bestowed by God in eternity is very much more than the finite life we know now.

    One might ask: could not God have just made us gods with this Life and saved a lot of bother? However, to create us makes us “created” and so He could not make us “uncreated”, i.e. gods, could He? And if He somehow could, that “god” status would not be a freely chosen consummation of love (and therefore not very God-like, as Father, Son, Spirit are bound into One by Love).

    Another question may arise though as to whether our evil tendency arises from the necessity of nature – could humanity do anything other than fall prey to this temptation to try to be gods? This is a tough question – if tackled without any faith perspective. I believe that Jesus was fully human. The temptations we are told He experienced were precisely ours. You might say His temptation to be god wasn’t the same as ours if He really was God – but the temptation was to make it all about Himself (there’s ego again) and He did not. He made it about us. He did not sin. He did not resist death – but accepted it (thereby conquering it and becoming the Way for us). He did not accept it easily – he agonized – but He accepted it.

    I realize this part about Jesus never sinning cannot be proven. There is still the faith leap to be made that He actually is one with the Father and rose from the dead. No human argument will ever be able to prove this. However, I have written all of this in hopes of making it seem at least possible that such could be the gift of a loving God in response to our “fall” from union with Him.

  46. mary benton says:

    TLO/Fr. Stephen,

    I tried to re-post my comment – probably got stuck for being too long. I will e-mail it to you, John. Fr. Stephen, if it shows up in spam, you can decide what to do with it. I get a bit carried away when I write.

  47. elizabeth says:

    i just want to thank Anna, young and new to the journey, for her comments. they were helpful to me having a daughter who is struggling with the same arguments as those she comment on. thx Anna!

  48. Michael Bauman says:

    However we decide to couch our questions or our struggles we don’t struggled with God or against Him. We struggle with the darkness and the hardness of our own heart. That is why Jesus told us that only the pure in heart see God.

    The fall, whatever else it may have been was first and foremost the darkening of our own heart so that we love the created thing more than the creator. So it took God’ s unfathomable act of kenotic love–His Holy Blood dropping form is torn side, wounded limbs, his flayed back and horribly lacerated scalp to begin to soften our stoney hearts so that we could even begin to whisper: Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord. Hosana in the highest. Then with softer heart yet, our throats yet parched for the Life-giving water to stutter Christ is Risen.

    It always begins with suspending our disbelief just long enough to aceept our Lord and our God as good and loving. I’m not sure there can be a greater act of faith than that in this proud and idolatrous generation in whom is no belief.

    Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs (us) bestowing life. Surely we are no so mean and thankless a people as to not at least say “Quite right old chap”

    INDEED HE IS RISEN, ALITHOS ANESTI. AL MASHI QAM. ADEVERAT A INVIAT.

    I believe O Lord, help thou the unbelief of us all and turn our hearts of stone into hearts if flesh.

  49. Dino says:

    Mary</b.,
    v. well said…
    TLO,
    we mustn’t forget that we all, every single one of us, become what we believe; we therefore ourselves off in a certain trajectory of interpretation through what we choose to believe in.
    You mind find this article by Professor Wolfgang Smith (whom PJ mentioned) quite foundation shaking (in terms of belief and science)

    http://www.worldwisdom.com/uploads/pdfs/237.pdf

  50. Dino says:

    I meant:
    we mustn’t forget that we all, every single one of us, become what we believe; we therefore startourselves off in a certain trajectory of interpretation through what we choose to believe in.
    You might find this article etc etc etc…

  51. Dino says:

    You mind find this article by Professor Wolfgang Smith (whom PJ mentioned) quite foundation shaking (in terms of belief and science)-www.worldwisdom.com/uploads/pdfs/237.pdf

  52. TLO says:

    Fr. Stephen

    If you are happily married (which your comments seem to indicate), then you’re not a truly rational man (no joke intended). You clearly are able to live at a level that transcends simple evidence. You must perceive things that are not obvious to all and be reconciled with that.

    Knowing God is not unlike this – except that He’s invisible and even less obvious – until He becomes so obvious that He overwhelms.

    Being rational when dealing with the opposite gender is challenging, I’ll grant you that. The woman is crazy, plain and simple. Of course, I too am crazy, just not the same kind of crazy she is. It sounds a bit flippant but in a way it’s the case. After 20 years, we’ve been through enough to know each other well. And we have come to grips with our differences.

    My struggle through this whole god thing is the idea of a personality of any sort. It’s difficult enough to accept and embrace someone with whom you have enough in common to know where the differences lie. If I had to follow in the wake of my wife, never seeing her, hearing her, etc. and just taking the evidence she left behind, we could not have a relationship at all. There has to be common ground and mutual interaction. Either god is too big for such a thing (which I can easily accept as being the case) or if he has become small then reading about his actions is not the basis of a relationship any more than reading the biography of George Clooney makes me his friend.

    I have said all along that god can find me if he wants. If such a person exists, He knows where I am and how to communicate with me. At that point, things will be very different.

    Some have told me that this would kill “faith.” I don’t think so. I have faith in many differnt people who I know well and that faith is based on how I know them. They may disappoint but I am prepared for that. That is the kind of faith I can accept. If by the term “faith” people mean “the evidence of things not seen” then that again depends on the faith I already have in the person.

    When my father’s best friend, Peter, tells of his childhood and his family’s escape from Russia, I believe every word of it, including that the places he describes are real, because I know him and have faith that he would not invent such a thing. If you picked up a bit of paper that had that same story written down, including the names of the people involved, you would not know whether the story was fiction or not. If someone who did not know Peter told you he was a real person and there are other stories that will help you know him better and then I came along and said, “Yeah, he’s real. I’ve met him.” this would in no way constitute a relationship between you and Peter. You could mentally accept the stories and the person as fact but that’s it.

    That’s precisely where I am. I’ve been given a story and I’ve even been told by others that the person in the story is real. Doesn’t make that person real to me, does it? Not until that person introduces himself to me. Thus far, it hasn’t happened.

    I’ll add this last tidbit as well. I have a fantastic imagination. Therefore I don’t trust stories as being anything but stories. My wife’s presence wipes away any illusions I might have built up about her.

  53. TLO says:

    Michael:

    We struggle with the darkness and the hardness of our own heart.

    People, by and large, are not as bad as so many preachers try to make them. To my ears it sounds very like making the proposition that “God intended us to be complete extroverts” and then measuring people based on how introverted they are.

    We are the way we are. Throw god into the mix and you can only conclude that we are the way that we are by design. Period. End of story. We cannot be “perfect” (whatever that means). It is simply not possible. And striving to be that is like striving to be the ultimate extrovert.

  54. TLO says:

    Nature is beautiful. But if you look at it closely, it’s disgusting.

    I think many religious people tend to look too closely at humanity (particularly themselves) and see the “gross” rather than looking more objectively and seeing the incredible beauty that is there.

  55. Dino says:

    Regarding your last comment TLO on Nature etc….:

    There is sometimes great wisdom (that many people do not even suspect), built up from extensive experiences of the “spiritual warfare”; including long trials, tribulations, delusions as well as sobering yet wonderful realisations, and an eventual astute discernment (that intentionally chooses) to side with the “lessons of God’s Grace”, especially the lesson to “see others as saints, and see ourselves as the only sinners”, (even in the absence of that Grace’s action that teaches this).

    Regarding “He knows where I am and how to communicate with me”, I think Father Stephen’s last article is pertinent :

    it is not at all true that God could make the case for His existence in a manner that would be salvific if He but accommodated Himself to our objective requirements.

    As in In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16)

    That is one reason I have always admired those rare, noble, humble, earnest, genuine souls who possess that rare integrity, (unlike myself), to “own up rather than blame”, concerning the real reasons for what is ‘bothering’ them -at any time… Especially concerning the God-man relationship.
    Confucius’ celebrated saying, to attack the evil that is within yourself, rather than attacking the evil you see in others, is surely applicable to the biggest thing ‘bothering’ man, his inability to “see” the core of all his desires – God-, to relate to Him in truth. To not ask “He knows where I am and how to communicate with me” but to seriously suspect that there is perhaps something other stopping OUR perception of Him….. So, the way to “see” Him, as He has already clearly stipulated to us is this:

    we must strive to acquire “Purity of Hear”…

  56. Dino says:

    “Purity of Heart” :-)

  57. Michael Bauman says:

    Dino, I am a poor warrior who barely knows how to use the weapons God has given me and yet, somehow, as I stay as constant as my fickle heart allows and struggle for greater constancy, He begins to unfold to me who I really am and the joy of his presence. Just glimpses here and there to be sure. It is something I did not really know 26 years ago when I was received into the Church. I couldn’t even hope for it. I wanted one thing. To know the truth. During the brief and spotty cathechsis I went through and attending the Divine Liturgy regularly, I saw enough to suspect that the truth could be experienced in the Orthodox Church.

    I had alot of heretical beliefs at the time that I had to let go of particularly about the person of Jesus Christ. I was mostly Nestorian actually (without knowing it).

    The rest has been the gradual and continually realization of how selfish and willful I am

    One of the literary metaphors for the process that I particularly enjoy is from C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. One of the characters has been turned into a dragon. As a dragon he learns to be somewhat less selfish. Ultimately, he is returned to his humanity by washing in a pool and Aslan (the Jesus analog) gradually peels the dragon skin off of him like and onion. An artichoke would do perhaps even better as an analogy.

  58. Dino says:

    But how to achieve that purity of heart which starts us off on the path of the knowledge of God amidst the constant distraction of a secular world?
    I think that Elder Paisios actually points to the first steps towards ‘purity of heart’ when (although he is talking about something entirely different when he explains this) he turns the “blame” for everything -no matter what that might be- to ourself a deep wisdom we see in many ancient cultures too, by saying:

    “excuses” have nothing to do with the spiritual life. I must understand that when i try to justify myself with excuses, I’m in a wrong state of mind. I cut off my communication with God and am deprived of divine Grace, because divine Grace does not come to one who is in a ‘wrong state’. The moment a person justifies the unjustifiable, he is separated from God. A form of insulation intervenes between God and man. Can an electric current pass through insulation? No. Isolation. Isolation from God and man. There is no stronger barrier to the Grace of God than excuses! It is like building a wall and separating yourself from God; by making excuses, you cut off all ties with Him.

  59. Michael Bauman says:

    It is that wall that repentance and participating in the Eucharist chips away at. The world tells us we don’t have to be responsible for anything. Of course we must avoid the hubris of believing that our sins are too bad for even God to forgive. Perhaps the “unforgivable sin?”

  60. Michael Bauman says:

    Monastics use bulldozers while we use small, blunt rock hammers.

  61. Dino says:

    TLO,
    I would like to quote the Elder Aimilianos, an illumined and most experienced seeker and finder of God:

    If you wish to see God, my beloved children, there’s only one thing to do: go to Church filled with longing to see His face, filled with divine and heavenly desire to be able, somehow, to feel the presence of your Helper and Defender. When you do this, your soul will experience an initially strange feeling; it is God touching your heart. And what will the heart do in response? Will it laugh and rejoice? No. It will be filled with a blessed, Godly grief, and begin to weep and lament! In the presence of the Lord, you’ll feel your heart – which is like a useless sack – filling to the brim with the sense of its own emptiness and thereby overflowing with tears. And these tears will be its secret cry, saying:
    “Where are You, Lord? Have mercy on me.”
    “Where are You,Lord?” That is the heart’s first cry. But it immediately realizes that it’s not able to see God, and that, if it did, it would lose its life (cf.Ex 33.20), correcting its mistake, it continues:
    “Grant me Your mercy. You are my mercy. Yours is the mercy, I am Yours, and You alone can have mercy upon me; You alone can bring me up from the pit of tribulation, from the depths of Your absence and my absence – Your absence from me, and mine from Your own spiritual life.”

    When the soul begins to cry – and it cries to God, my beloved, very easily indeed, because God, in a sense, is the soul’s only surviving relative, and what could be more natural than that it should seek Him, and that it should cry when it realizes that it cannot see Him? When you allow your soul to cry, when you reject everything that cuts off the flow of your tears, then you’ll have a feeling of much greater intimacy with God… You’ll understand that now someone else governs your life. You’ll sense that now someone else has grasped the tiller, someone else has taken hold of the wheel (indeed of your own hands) and is now directly guiding you Himself. You become someone guided by the grace of God.

    We are guided by God’s grace, to which you can surrender yourself in all confidence. Indeed, it is impossible for you to do the slightest thing without it. Consider the glory of the stars, the magnificence of the heavens, and the wonders of the earth: none of these can give you anything at all. The only thing that can fashion a new heart within you (cf.Ezek 11.19), rendering the old one utterly useless, is the power of God’s grace.

  62. TLO says:

    Dino and Michael

    Have I not stated clearly that I accept the responsibility of my actions that have resulted in harm (“sin” if you will) and have made efforts to make amends and alter my life accordingly? Why do you insist that I am trying to blame god (or anyone else) for my actions?

    And why is it that god is always innocent and credited with good but that he bears no responsibility for anything evil even indirectly? That’s rather like praising the inventor of the combustion engine but saying it’s not his fault that these things pollute the atmosphere.

    If you wish to see God, my beloved children, there’s only one thing to do: go to Church filled with longing to see His face, filled with divine and heavenly desire to be able, somehow, to feel the presence of your Helper and Defender. When you do this, your soul will experience an initially strange feeling…

    This is fanciful. I did this for decades. Nothing.

  63. Michael Bauman says:

    Forgive me John, I was not speaking to you specifically. Your struggles are far beyond anything that I can illumine. I would that it were otherwise. I was merely stating my personal reactions to what Dino had said.

  64. Dino says:

    I am very sorry TLO, as Michael also said these things are universally applicable -certainly not directed personally to you. In fact Elder Aimilianos obviously directs his words to Orthodox speakers and clearly means “go to the Orthodox Church filled with longing to see His face”.
    Starting with the prior belief in God’s “innocence”, and my own searching for what MY impurity is and where it lies is the only way to ever get to see… The other way is not a way that, if pursued to the end, will ever get someone to see; it is the way of fallen man and fallen angel perhaps, but it will never get anyone of us to where we actually really want to get…

  65. Dino says:

    TLO,
    a little explanation on Elder Aimilianos since you mentioned that

    This is fanciful. I did this for decades. Nothing.

    the Elder clearly means (in the above quote) that in this initial, very first stage you contemplate the One Who Is( Ex 3.14) coming towards you as a contemplation of the depths of your soul being kneaded by grace, like dough being kneaded into bread. Through great acsetic Orthodox struggles, always involving fasting and prayer according to the Orthodox tradition with an experienced Spiritual Father. It is your soul that becomes a malleable lump kneaded by the hands of God. You see your soul being worked on, passing through His fingers, and you’re happy, so happy, at being in His hands, and watching them at work. Do you see His Face? Not yet. His back parts? (cf.Ex 33.23) No, for that would require the power and holiness of Moses. All you see is His hand, as we see it in certain Orthodox icons, emerging from a cloud in order to bless the saint standing below it. And now you are standing next to God watching His hand as it kneads you soul.

  66. Dino says:

    Further on the F. Aimilianos… It is also crucial to realize that (as the Elder later explains and clearly states) only after that stage one actually begins to pray! Whatever one has done up until that (quite initial) stage of his spiritual odyssey, whatever I’ve said, even if I was praying, was nothing more than childish prattle, the nursery songs and infantile outbursts of my soul(cf.1 Cor 13.11). They were expressions of my ego, and as such did not enable me to ascend to God. But now I am praying, and this prayer is given to me, placed within my heart, by the Holy Spirit, Who intercedes with sighs too deep for words(Rom 8.26). Now grace itself, God Himself, places prayer within my soul, in the mouth of my soul. Now I am praying.
    Realizing the existence of this formidable distance of the initial stages of proper spiritual life from what I have done mustn’t throw me into any despair or make me grumble, bemoan and protest at the apparent difficulty of the way ahead… it should simply make me trust God more and my struggles less, and then I will see that the “sharp mountains have suddenly become easy to walk through fields”

  67. Michael Bauman says:

    Dino, IMO a great purity is necessary to approach what you describe. For me, I try to follow, haltingly, a couple of the steps outlined in Unseen Warfare. “A daring trust in God and a complete distrust of oneself” (especially as regards my feelings). Frequent attendence on the Holy Mysteries partaking weekly of the Euchrist (unless restricted for my benefit my my bishop). Regular confession (not often enough).

    I cannot say with any real certainty that I have ever experienced the acutal presence of God, but I have changed over the years. More joyful, more patient, less angry.

    Living in a worshipping community in the presence of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is a bit like being in a lapidary polisher where the stones bang against each other and gradually polish one another.

    However, following John 6, I’m not sure such a process gets very far if one is not in the presence of the Euchrist and partakes of it in the the attempt to live a repentant life.

    A note: I have found repentance to be more than a bit tricky. Like everything else in the Church, i.e. the Orthdox Church, it is organic, a true mystery and different for each person and goes beyond just a laundry list of wrong things done, felt or imagined.

    BTW your quotes and descriptions move my heart

  68. dino says:

    Michael,
    yes, some purity perhaps is necessary, but, this (what was described above) is there to be tasted -right there in front of me- through what you just described, through a most “daring trust in God and complete distrust of oneself”, but it must entail a committal decision of no return for this to happen so ‘easily'; is that not what made St Mary the Egyptian change from a most perverted, seasoned nymphomaniac to a beholder of God’s Uncreated Light in just a few days, while still in the excruciating pain of her former passionate enslavement, yet without allowing herself to act on it anymore and shedding copious tears towards the Mother of our Lord in the desert…?

  69. Michael Bauman says:

    Dino, I think I see your point. I am reminded at the difference in the How is this to be? questions of Zacharia when the angel told him his wife would bear a son and of the Holy Theotokos. In Engish the two questions are almost identical in the words used, but obviously one is a question of scepticism, the other of humility. The skepticism is met with silence and the humble question answered.

    I have found over the years as I have talked with various cathechumens that many have questions that are not answered until they commit to renounce satan and all his works and unite themselves to Christ–really commit with no intent of ever turning aside no matter what or as one more step on their journey.

  70. dino says:

    Michael,
    I think that the ultimate test of how fervent one’s repentance is, is this most joyous, total commitment. The stronger and purer it is, the most astounding and immediately obvious the effect. This (very much) is what we glean from Elder Aimilianos.
    But, (getting back to some of TLO‘s questions here too), this commitment invariably results in a most fiery desire for asceticism (as understood in Orthodoxy). A most joyous and fervent struggle.

    In my trust, I care not what He does for me (in a certain sense), but what I do for Him…

    But,

    “What can I do for God? Nothing. In fact, I can’t even seek Him; I can’t even repent.
    But what I can do is to struggle. This means that I can commit myself to a life of asceticism, to the practice of spiritual exercises. And I will undertake such a commitment in a manner appropriate to my way of life, that is, depending on my situation, character, physical strength, psychological disposition, my history, my heredity, in terms of my gifts and so on. Whatever role these factors play, there will be a commitment to asceticism.
    We often say that “pain begun with the experience of pleasure”. Of course, man wanted only the pleasure, not the pain… But now I must embrace pain in order to regain true pleasure. Why? Because we were created for pleasure. This is signified by our placement by God in “the garden of delights”, for this is what the word “Eden” means.
    … asceticism is a way in which I, as a human being, set about attracting the attention of God. … Does God have need of such activity?
    I will say only this: it is something I can do, and God wants me to do what I can. …It’s my preparation in order to seek, want, actively desire, love and finally, receive God. What we’re attending to now are the preparations, just as we would sweep the house in preparation for a visit… Thus I give expression to my inner disposition by enduring the coldness, and filth that is within me, and accepting my nakedness and acknowledging it before God. Asceticism is the way I cry out to Him.”

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