Glory to God for All Things

Being Saved in Sodom and Gomorrah – The Prayers of the Saints

trinityruThis is an exercise in Orthodox reading of the Scriptures.

The habits of modern Christians run towards history: it is a lens through which we see the world. We see a world of cause and effect, and, because the past is older than the present, we look to the past to find the source of our present. Some cultures have longer memories than others (America’s memory usually extends only the the beginning of the present news cycle). This same habit of mind governs the reading of Scripture. For many, the Scriptures are a divinely inspired account of the history of God’s people. That history is read as history, believed as history, and applied to the present by drawing out the lessons of history. Any challenge to the historical character of an account is seen, therefore, as an assault on the authority and integrity of the Scriptures themselves. But this radical historicization of the Scriptures is relatively new: there are other ways of reading that often reveal far more content of the mystery of God. There is an excellent example in St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians. He establishes a point of doctrine through an allegorical or typological reading of the story of Sarah and Hagar. We might ask, “How can you say that Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia? Where did you get all this?”

His points are clearly not found within historical account. The meaning lies in the shape of the story itself, Christ’s Pascha being the primary interpretative element. Christ is the Child of Promise, the first-born son who is offered, and the ram who replaced him. Abraham’s efforts to create his own version of a fulfilled covenant (having a child by Hagar), is thus seen as unfaithfulness, the rejection of Christ.

I am here offering a similar meditation on the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah – a non-historical reading that offers insight into the mystery of Christ and the way of salvation.

Remove Sodom and Gomorrah from the realm of historical speculation for a moment. What we have is the account in Genesis 18. God appears to Abraham as three angels (the account moves strangely between singular and plural references – the Fathers saw this as a foreshadowing of the Trinity). In the course of His visit God speaks:

“Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice, that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.”And the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know. Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD.

Abraham’s intercession for Sodom and Gomorrah begins:

And Abraham came near and said, “Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? So the LORD said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.” Then Abraham answered and said, “Indeed now, I who am but dust and ashes have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord: Suppose there were five less than the fifty righteous; would You destroy all of the city for lack of five?” So He said, “If I find there forty-five, I will not destroy it.” (Gen 18:17-28 NKJ)

The conversation continues until the Lord promises to spare the cites even if only ten righteous are found.

The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are the world in which we live. They are very similar to the description of the world in the Genesis account of Noah:

Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the LORD said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Gen 6:5-7 NKJ)

Christ compares the world of Noah to the world of our age (Luke 17). In the same place Christ compares Noah’s world, the world of Sodom, and the world at the close of the age (the present).

We see Christ in the story of Sodom. Just as in story of the Flood, the righteous in Sodom are saved (Lot, his wife and his two daughters). St. Peter compares the souls in Noah’s ark (eight souls) to those of us who are saved in Baptism (1 Peter 3:20-21).

But we should think to place ourselves within the story as well. For we are not living at the time of the destruction of the world, but at the time of Abraham’s intercession. In the Genesis account, the men (angels) “turn away from there and went toward Sodom” (just so the angels will act at the close of the age – Matthew 13 – and interestingly, the angels are concerned not to destroy the wheat). But the remarkable turn in the Genesis story begins precisely at this point. Though the angels have turned away, Abraham “stands before the Lord.” And there he begins his prayers. While he prays, the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah waits – it hangs in a balance. Will the Lord spare the cities for the sake of 50 righteous? 45? 40? 30? 20? 10? It is with fear and trembling that Abraham is bold to bargain with God. It is with fear and trembling that he asks, “Will the Lord destroy the righteous with the wicked?”

But he does not ask the Lord to destroy the wicked. He asks the Lord to spare the wicked because of the righteous. It is little wonder that Abraham is called God’s “friend forever” (2 Chr. 20:7). We live at the time of the intercession of the saints. The cry of “how long, O Lord” (Rev. 6:10), uttered by the martyrs beneath the throne of God, must be placed alongside the prayer of Abraham, “Will you destroy the righteous with the wicked?”

I find it interesting that in our day and time, many Christians number themselves among those who call for the destruction of the wicked. Had we endured martyrdom, such a prayer might have the tone of righteousness. But we do better to stand with Abraham and pray that God spare the world of the wicked on account of the presence of the righteous. This, it seems, is the heart of prayer in the lives of the saints.

This reading of Genesis 18, also points to the deeply important role in our salvation played by the intercession of others (both the living and those who have died). The Orthodox faith teaches that our intercessions continue beyond death (like those of the martyrs in Revelation). We ourselves are beneficiaries of the patience of God, whose mercies are supported by the prayers of the faithful. The dynamic within the story of Genesis moves the center of action away from a pre-determined fatalism (wickedness must equal punishment), and places it within the life of God’s people. This reading also shifts the story of Sodom and Gomorrah from the pages of moral debate and to the place of the heart (where the story has always belonged). Whatever the wickedness that was present in those cities, Abraham prayed.

Many Orthodox services conclude with the petition: O Lord, through the prayers of our holy fathers, have mercy on us, and save us! Even so.

32 Responses to “Being Saved in Sodom and Gomorrah – The Prayers of the Saints”

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  1. Corey says:

    People often ignore the fascinating nature of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah: Abraham argues with God, even tells Him that what He has proposed is evil, and God does not rebuke him. Again, Moses stands before God on Sinai and argues with Him in order to save the Israelites. And again, Jacob defeats God in combat. Obviously God let’s him win, and obviously God was going to do what was right in all these cases regardless of what humans do. But there is something significant about the name of Israel: “You have striven with God and prevailed.” I’m reminded of something one of St. Silouan’s disciples said, that monks sometimes end up, in a friendly way, quarreling with God. I have only the foggiest idea what that means, however.

  2. Dante says:

    Inspired by what you and Corey said, intercession is a very biblical notion – that is, the intercession or, to use Catholic parlance for a moment (moving beyond the indulgence issue, which is something I have a difficult time with), merit of the saints working on behalf of the pilgrim Church. In Jewish tradition, the sacrifice of Isaac – that is, a sign of patriarchal faithfulness and great love of God – is the affirming sacrifice which became the basis for the Abrahamic Covenant. Later, when the people are enslaved in Egypt, God was said to “remember” (which can also be translated as “invoke” [using the Name, in a ritual setting like an epiklesis]) the patriarchs and on their behalf free Israel. Later, to protect the Israelites from the Angel of Death when he is set loose, God orders Moses to have the Israelites take the blood from their feast Passover – a sacrificial feast which Moses and Jewish people had been observing possibly before in invocation of Isaac’s covenantal act, at least according to Jubilees – and splash it on their doorposts. In effect, the sign of Abraham’s Covenant protects them. Later still, Moses will invoke or intercede using the Abrahamic Covenant on Mount Sinai following the Golden Calf incident. Within Temple cult, the daily Tamid was a ritual sign of the Abrahamic Covenant – at least according to later Jewish tradition – reaffirmed by a recitation of a “sacramentum,” an oath consisting of the Shema and the Ten Commandments (saying what it meant to be a member of God’s people, the yoke of the Kingdom).

    In addition, God was said to “remember”/”bring to mind” the creation when invoked with the rainbow as a visible sign of His faithfulness following the sacrificial invocation of the righteous man, Noah. This Creation/Adamic Covenant and the Oath, which were first solemnized on the primordial Sabbath Day was ritually “remembered” on the Day of Atonement when life-blood “touched” (metaphorically) God in the Ark just as the sweet scent “moved” God after the Flood. Thus the Day of Atonement lay in parallel with a new post-Flood Creation, reoccurring annually as judgment and merciful renewal.

    Of course, medieval Jewish legend moved beyond these ideas of intercession by the Patriarchs, Moses, or Noah and even speculated that about the certain quota of saints, hidden in the world, whose good deeds and righteousness held off the dissolution of the creation.

    Interestingly, all of these ancient streams were united in Christianity when the Crucifixion was likened to all of these events by Jesus Himself and St. Paul – the Day of Atonement/Perfected Creation, the new Passover and cosmic Exodus from the powers and principalities, and the new Isaac forming a new People of God.

  3. What is Abraham had had the hutzpah to push his bargaining down to one righteous man?

  4. Justin J. says:

    Fr. Aidan,

    “What if Abraham had had the hutzpah to push his bargaining down to one righteous man?”

    Well, then, he would have sounded like God in Jeremiah 5.1:
    “Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man,
    one who does justice and seeks truth; that I may pardon her.”

    So there’s that.

  5. fatherstephen says:

    Justin, well played! Fr. Aidan and I spoke on the phone this afternoon and concluded that the one lost sheep and the 99 also fit the model. Your citation is spot on!

  6. John says:

    So, how is your health and how is Gable? I was wondering if you had Syria and the U.S. in mind with the destroy the righteous with the wicked quote.

  7. Rhonda says:

    “I find it interesting that in our day and time, many Christians number themselves among those who call for the destruction of the wicked.”

    Not only do they call for destruction of their fellow men, but many feel that they are fulfilling God’s will & purpose by actively trying to hasten that destruction sooner. I find it all very sad.

  8. Karen says:

    Rhonda, indeed!

  9. Erin Pascal says:

    This is a great gospel reading to contemplate on. I have been struggling on how to fully understand bible readings and I thank that I found this blog to visit once in a while. I have just started with reading the bible and in truth, there are really a lot of things that I do not understand. As they say, great wisdom is needed when reading and understanding the verses in the bible and I’m glad that I found some explanation here. Thanks!

  10. Andrew_C says:

    So are you saying the story has no “historical” component? – to use the conventional meaning of the word as something which actually happened at a time before this. I can appreciate that the story as it is now recorded (which does end, after all, with the unrighteous being blasted) has been worked in such a way as to impart an inner message about God, our approach to Him and to others, but to remove all notions of the historical diminishes it: it’s a nice story but just a made-up story nonetheless.

    But I get the point, too, about truth not being entirely a matter of what actually happened. For example, think of Oscar Wilde’s story The Selfish Giant. I don’t think there ever was such a giant with a garden and the children where the spring never came. It is a simple yet profound story: does it matter that it never happened? Can our reaction to it be then reified (that is, an idea turned into something which actually exists)? Are we not in danger of creating a zoo full of things based on wish-fulfillment?

  11. jamesthethickheaded says:

    I think as christians, we find the message of history read as history removes much of the power gained in reading it as an outward, visible and real series of events that nevertheless speaks of the inward struggles and battles within the spiritual life… and the less we understand of particular passage, the more likely we may be at one of those spots in the narrative where the spiritual context is paramount.

    Seems as well that those Fathers who prayed for God’s mercy upon the wicked more often knew their own failings far better than we typically admit of our own – even to our deepest selves, and wouldn’t think the waywardness of their fellow men and women – especially those here – as different from their own in more than accidentals. As with psalm 50/51, it’s not the burnt offerings of the righteous, but “…a sacrifice unto God is a broken spirit..” as though a heart broken on behalf of the others were more in keeping with the spirit of God’s commandments in lead us to realize our failed (or inadequate) self-sufficiency.

  12. Rhonda says:

    Andrew_C,

    “So are you saying the story has no “historical” component?”

    No, Fr. Stephen is not saying that by any means. His point is that Orthodoxy does not restrict itself to declaring the story as only an historical event. Nor is the lesson to be learned from the story merely one based on learning historical facts. The purely historical approach is a relative newcomer to scriptural interpretation along with its Siamese twin literalism.

  13. Phil says:

    Andrew_C,

    Fr Stephen addressed a very similar question in another poat about a month and a half ago. You can read it here: http://glory2godforallthings.com/2013/07/11/reading-the-real-bible-and-notes-on-the-real-hell/

    I highly recommend it. : )

  14. Corey says:

    It’s important to keep in mind Ezekiel 16: 53-55 when reading about Sodom and Gomorrah: “However, I will restore the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters and of Samaria and her daughters, and your fortunes along with them, so that you may bear your disgrace and be ashamed of all you have done in giving them comfort.And your sisters, Sodom with her daughters and Samaria with her daughters, will return to what they were before; and you and your daughters will return to what you were before.” The first time these verses were pointed out to me in blew my mind. I mean, Sodom and Gomorrah are the poster children for God’s wrath. The picture changes somewhat here.

  15. “So are you saying the story has no “historical” component?”

    Strange. There are Christians who say just this, that what is important are the lessons you can derive form the story. these are, of course, the Modernists, those smirking evil twins of the Literalists. Of course, anybody who has ever sat on a jury where a considerable amount of money is at stake appreciates how very difficult it is to get at what “really, really, truly, by God really,” happened.

    Tweedledum and Tweedledee are still fighting over this broken rattle.

  16. fatherstephen says:

    Andrew,
    There is a great anxiety about historical matters in our modern world. As I noted in the article, we think history is the matrix of reality, it is what is real. That position is utterly fraught with difficulties. First, it’s always impossible to actually know what happened historically in a complete sense. Some can posit a historical inerrancy in Scripture, but that is simply a bald assertion and doesn’t actually solve anything. The frequent use (even for doctrine in St. Paul’s case) of an allegorical treatment raises the possibility (as I have) that history is not the location of truth.

    God is truth. God is what is real. Everything is real and true only in relation to Him.

    Parables in the NT are true and real, not wish fulfillment or fantasy. The historical status (in the modern sense) of many OT accounts will always be a matter of debate – but their use as authoritative texts in the life of the Church – within the Tradition of the Church – is not effected. The historicization of the text is largely the product of the Reformation, in which the drive was to establish Scripture on some form of foundation independent of the Church itself so that it would be a self-contained source of authority. That has been an utter failure and has wreaked havoc on Christianity. It’s also a departure from Tradition and worse – simply not true.

    What I am saying, viz Sodom and Gomorrah and the history question, is that the historical character of the account might be of interest but not for the purposes to which I’ve used it. It is a literary account – authoritative in the life of the Church – revealing of God – His inerrant word. But we do well to begin considering the nature of our historical anxiety. Where does it come from? Why do we need it? What is the place of history in the life of the faith? These are interesting and important questions. I think it’s important to raise them.

    I also think it’s important that a voice (such as mine) raises them – because my voice is not that of a modern liberal who has an agenda of using historical anxiety to overturn the Tradition. I think that the Tradition overturns historical anxiety. Tradition is a silver bullet for modernism.

  17. John says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you for your thought-provoking posts and for your service to the Church.

    Are you familiar with the work of N. T. Wright, the Anglican theologian and historian? He would argue, I think, that historical knowledge is often critical to a proper understanding and application of the text, and as a safeguard against its misuse. While he would not discount allegorical readings of the text, he would make them contingent upon a primary, historical reading — at least for those texts that present as history. The resurrection is perhaps the clearest example. To ignore a historical reading of the resurrection texts is to run the risk of gnosticism.

    I have oversimplified the issue, to be sure. It seems that you are perhaps tethering the truth of the text solely to the Church (tradition) while Wright is tethering it to history and the Church. To him that is important because he thinks the Church can and has erred in its interpretation of Scripture, while I suspect you do not. Have I expressed this fairly from your standpoint?

  18. Corey says:

    John,

    The Church approaches different parts of Scripture differently. Which is hardly novel, Judaism has been doing it for thousands of years. The Gospels are necessarily historical in ways the account of the invasion of Canaan is not. The Gospels are a different sort of thing from the rest of Scripture. St. Gregory of Nyssa was quite adamant that the 10th plague did not happen, for example.

  19. Dino says:

    The precedence in Orthodoxy is always given to the resurrection. We do not give priority to anything else, and that even includes history… What I mean to say is that the interpretive key to the one unshakeable truth is Christ – the Cosmic Logos of all, Christ is the Truth (the Truth as Person) and Christ’s Pascha is the very core of this interpretive key.
    The undeniable fact that (what could sometimes be described as “Protestant style” – and very commendable at that) apologetics can provide an indisputable ‘proof’ of Christ’s historical resurrection does not concern us that much when the far, far more robust ‘proof’ of this is a Saint’s first-hand encounter of Christ’s Uncreated Light – the Hypostatic Light of the resurrection- or, in other words: the encounter of Him Whom we recognise as the enhypostasized resurrection (“I am the resurrection”).

    The disciples historically encountered (‘outside of them’) the resurrected Christ, Thomas touched him. But Thomas and the others might still have trembled and denied Him or even doubted their own historical experience of seeing Him outside of them, and in front of them, if confronted with martyrdom straight afterwards – and they therefore still hid.
    It is their encounter of Him inside of them, their becoming ‘Christs’ through the descent of the Holy Spirit that bestowed their unbeatable certitude in Christ – (Christ ‘the Resurrection’)
    This is the first-hand experience of the Saints – the true matrix of reality…

  20. John says:

    Corey,

    Thank you for your comment. I wonder how Fr. Stephen would respond to your statement that the “Gospels are necessarily historical”? Upon what basis does one decide that the Gospels are privileged over other Biblical texts (those that present as history) with respect to historicity?

    On another note, does the fact the St. Gregory denied the historicity of the 10th plague make it so? Does the Church ever deny historicity or merely relativize it by saying — as Fr. Stephen seems to — that the truth of the event lies not in the history, but in the Church’s understanding and use of the narrative?

    I am not trying to be argumentative; I’m just attempting to understand better Fr. Stephen’s position — and yours.

  21. Michael Bauman says:

    Father Stephen, we need history in the modern sense to give the material/dualistic culture a foundation that does not seem to pass away. Of course that is not true as history is reinterpreted with each generation. Hence the drive of many moderns to do away with history altogether so that each generation will be free to reshape its own future independent, or so they think, of all that went before.

    If one is looking for the truth, the truth will find him. If one is looking for anything else, he will live in the lie of his own fabrication subject to the winds of the moment and the mind of the world.

    The Incarnation changed the meaning, if not the actual happenings of all history, past, present and future. The revelation of Christ is all in all. Certainly there is the continued movement of the Holy Spirit throughout time, but the more one is in Christ, the less time actually exists, I think.

    Life in Christ is a continuing encounter (body and soul) with the Holy and a continual leaving behind of all that is not Holy, or it should be.

  22. Corey says:

    I should perhaps mention that treating different parts of Scripture differently isn’t limited to Orthodoxy by any means. My undergrad Bible classes in a Protestant university typically taught that Job was not likely to be historical, nor Jonah. There is a certain story told two different ways in 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles (David buying a threshing floor) that cannot both be historically accurate. I haven’t anything like a set of criteria to pick out which sections of Scripture are historical and which aren’t, and I don’t think the Church has issued forth a list on the matter or anything like that. And of course St. Gregory ‘s comments don’t make it so, I was merely noting a particular example. But the fact that St. Gregory was holy – that he had an experience of God and was greatly filled with the Holy Spirit – better equipped him to discern such things than most.

    I don’t think that Fr. Stephen (Father forgive me if I’m about to misstate your position) is saying that the truth of Scripture is based on how the Church sees it, but rather the Church recognizes the reality and the truth present in the Scriptures. Icons are a good illustration here. Icons are spiritually but not necessarily historically accurate. Icons of St. John the Baptist sometime depict him with wings. Obviously he didn’t have wings, but the wings echo those of the angels (Greek angelos: messenger) in order to indicate that John was a messenger. I should confess that I am hardly an expert on this matter, Father could probably illuminate the issue better than I can.

  23. Michael Bauman says:

    On a further note, that the modern ‘scientific’ history is largely a product of the late 19th century. Prior to that history was the story of a peoples passed down from generation to generation for the propagation of virtue and the ethos of a peoples. It was true because the life of the people testified to its truth. Yet there was always the point where the truth and the temporal reality intersected as ‘fact’.

    As concrete as we tend to think ‘facts’ are, they are quite mutable. Kurosawa’s great film, Rashomon is an example.

    Unless truth is a person of the Godhead, there is no truth historical or otherwise.

  24. fatherstephen says:

    All,
    In terms of the NT (yes some part of Scripture are more “historical” than others), the most fundamental historical accounts center on the resurrection – Christ’s Pascha is the center of all things – on it the faith rises and falls. The central historical account is in 1 Cor. 15. There St. Paul quotes from what is apparently an already settled, or settling, form of the Tradition (he uses the verb for Tradition – Paradidomi), something that Irenaeus will call the Apostolic Preaching, and which subsequent generations would call the “Apostles’ Creed.”

    1Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
    3For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.

    And Paul pushes the historical nature of the account – citing eye witnesses, arguing that if Christ be not raised then our faith is in vain. It is a passage whose purpose can be said to be solely “historical.” It is not shaped in any way, other than by the form by which it comes to be “recited.”

    But a key element is the “died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” That is more than a historical claim – that is a claim that the historical event of Christ’s death is also the event of our atonement. I believe it is incorrect to think that the Apostles’ Creed is quoting St. Paul in its early forms, rather than the other way around.

    Gospels contain this material, but also shape it for doctrinal purposes – for history is not sufficient – the meaning of the events have to be properly included within the telling of the events themselves, and they are. In that sense, the Gospels have an “iconic” form. Like an icon, an event is pictured and related, but not like a photograph. It is related in a manner that you will understand and believe.

    As an Orthodox Christian I not only am comfortable with that – I prefer it. However, many Christians, having been deluded by a false historicization of understanding and faith are made insecure with the nature of the gospels. I’m sorry they feel that way, but, I think it is the product of a “false consciousness” that is born of the modern age. That same consciousness is also often anti-sacramental, or destructive of the true meaning of symbol and sacrament.

    I’m not anti-historical. I certainly believe “literally” (I dislike the word) in the historical fact of the resurrection of Christ. But I am saying more – not less.

  25. Dino says:

    I would like to add and reiterate that there is also more than a world of difference between the historical encounter of the resurrected Christ “not in the Holy Spirit” and the same encounter -as in St Paul, or in St Silouan: “in the Holy Spirit”.

    It is as if the perception of reality one has without the Spirit of Truth is, of necessity, less that real. Moreover, only through the Spirit of Truth will we recognise the truth, both the ultimate, eschatological truth, as well as, the truth of what is now in front of me. And, -I am thinking of some of Elder Porphyrios’ astounding clairvoyant experiences through the Holy Spirit here,- one can even miraculously be transported to what actually once happened (in the literal/historical sense) eg: with the tenth plague.

    As extreme as this type of statement comes across in our secular world, it does hold true that without Him (the Holy Spirit) we are in blind darkness, no matter how perceptive and clever we might otherwise be.

  26. John says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you for your response. At the risk of reductionism, may I try to summarize it? Certain parts of Scripture are historical but never merely so; the meaning of Scripture transcends its historical content and is preserved and transmitted in the Tradition of the Church. To argue the historicity of the text, therefore, is often to miss its point.

    Is my summary essentially correct?

  27. Karen says:

    Dino, your last comment also reminded me of the account of the disciples on the road to Emmaus after the Resurrection. They encounter the Lord on the road and pursue a discussion with Him about the events culminating in His death, but they do not recognize Him until He blesses and breaks the bread. Their encounter on the road was surely historical and real, but they didn’t understand its significance until the Lord opened the eyes of their heart (the Spirit’s inner witness) in the breaking of the bread.

  28. fatherstephen says:

    John,
    I think that sounds about right. Very important to properly understand what I mean by Tradition. Tradition is not simply the “other historical stuff” passed down from generation to generation. It is the living knowledge of God in the Church – it is the very life of the Church – indeed, it is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church. That is Tradition.

    Tradition is that which held the content of the teaching of the Church before a single line of the New Testament was written. It does not disappear at that writing, but continues within it and around it, allowing us to understand and rightly read, live and embody the true knowledge of God. If such an understanding of Tradition is removed, the result is a secularized, historical Church, which would have quickly run off the rails (as do all merely human endeavors) and have degenerated into a mere secular squabble of opinions and have dissipated long ago. But this is not the experience nor existence of Holy Orthodoxy. It is, at present, a growing part of cultural Christianity which, having separated itself from Holy Tradition, has become “merely human,” a secularized set of ideas and squabbles. Many of those ideas are similar to the teaching of Holy Tradition, but frequently change. Their increasing fragmentation is similar to the shattering of a glass. We are witnessing the dissolution of cultural Christianity. Modernist historicity was one of its foundational ideas (and squabbles). It is not the proper ground or foundation of the faith or the Church. Such a grounding creates a secularized merely human Christianity rather than the Divine/Human work of Christ.

    Sorry to expand the reduction!

  29. fatherstephen says:

    Karen,
    Amen! Amen! Amen!

  30. Corey says:

    “…never merely so…”, yes I like that quite a lot. Christ’s Resurrection happened in history, but reaches out of it into eternity as well. Sometimes in Orthodoxy we like to say things like “Today Christ is risen.” This is indeed true: His resurrection is present with us, especially so on Pascha.

  31. Andrew_C says:

    Thank you all for the many helpful replies.

  32. Dino says:

    Karen et all,
    indeed!
    And the significant thing that is often missed is that the disciples weren’t recognising Him while he was present but the instant He disappeared at the breaking of the bread.
    The hidden and sublime meaning here is similar to that of the Ascension.
    Seeing in front of me in a finite area of space Christ bodily, in a finite sector of history, in a small fragment of the Cosmos, is not what the Truth in all its profoundness is about.
    Only through the Holy Spirit can one see Christ (Who must of necessity “disappear” from one’s physical and historical eyes) EVERYWHERE as the Alpha and the Omega.
    Of course one cannot deny that there are degrees of this, a small degree of encountering God’s uncreated Light is seen when “They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour.” (John 1 39-40), a far greater in the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, a perfect at the eschata when we are transformed in order to ‘bear’ “bathing” in the fulness of the Hypostatic Light of the Kingdom of the resurrection, the Light we had been only ‘sipping’ from on this Earth.

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Orthodox Christianity, Culture and Religion, Making the Journey of Faith
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