God’s Justice and the Fathers


I am grateful for the responses yesterday that were posted on my article Once and For All, and particularly Ephrem’s passages from the Fathers on justice. I have certainly been among the Orthodox writers, speakers, etc., in America who have given short shrift to forensic (legal) imagery when thinking about God and how we understand Christ’s death on our behalf. I want to offer a short defense (for I think I have reason behind my approach to the faith in this regard) but I also want to look briefly at some of the passages from the Fathers that were quoted regarding the justice of God – for I think they are good and utterly worth attention (as if I should judge the Fathers).

First, the defense. I gave a talk a couple of years ago entitled, “Evangelism in the Burnt Over District.” It was a talk given at the annual Pastoral Conference of the OCA to an audience of priests. I did not speak about the Fathers, but about our American context in which we proclaim the Orthodox faith. The point I made there, and reiterate here, can be found in the image of the “Burnt Over District.”

Upstate New York, in and around the 1840’s had earned the nickname, “The Burnt Over District,” precisely because the number of “revivals” that had swept the area had left it “burnt over.” Today we would probably say, “burnt out.” Both the Great Awakenings, but particularly the Second, had their place in this area. By the time of the 1840’s the area was awash with religion, and interestingly became the hotbed of American religious cults (it was the home of Mormonism, the Millerites, etc.). What is there about the gospel that you can hear one too many times?

My contention was (and is) that the popular preaching of American Protestantism, had winnowed the gospel down to a few graphic images, easily preached and repeated. Those images were a caricature of the substitutionary atonement and a simplified version of Christian initiation (“accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior”) that came to be the stock of popular American evangelical preaching. Just think, American campuses were inundated with the “four” spiritual laws. Imagine trying to convey the Orthodox faith in four anything.

My further contention has been that what was once true of Upstate New York is now descriptive of an entire culture. America is the Burnt Over District. Most Americans, if they have heard a version of the gospel, have heard a very truncated, often caricatured version.

Problematic has been the dominance of an atonement metaphor (which is dogma for some) that portrays God as wrathful, vengeful and in need of appeasement. Often, at the heart of this image is an argument that God is “bound” by His justice and that His justice must be satisfied.

In 26 years of ordained ministry I have encountered more than my share of atheists. In the vast majority of cases the atheists, when questioned, have specifically rejected the problematic portrayal of God in popular preaching. It is correct and permissable, and well within the Tradition to speak of God’s justice, even of His wrath, but we have to be careful to whom we use such imagery and be aware of the baggage if often carries with it.

There are reasons the Church does not trumpet (and never has) its most cherished doctrines of the Theotokos. It is dogma, but not necessarily kerygma, to use the technical terms. It is the settled teaching of the faith (dogma), but not the most public preaching of the faith (kerygma). This is a distinction that is historically of importance in the Orthodox faith, and certainly rooted within the Fathers.

Professor Serge Verhovskoy, of blessed memory, is frequently cited as having given this definition of Orthodoxy: Orthodoxy is the absence of one-sidedness.

The Burnt-Over District is a prime example of “one-sidedness” and the bizarre effects it has on religious belief and practice. Thus, although Orthodoxy does use and has examples of forensic imagery, it is by no means dominant (as in having the prime position in the Divine Liturgy). It is not heresy (as is sometimes asserted in extreme reaction to its abuse). But it has been in long need of balance in the preaching of Christ in our culture. If Orthodox preaching today tends to emphasize images other than the substitionary atonement it may simply be a reasonable effort to contextualize the gospel in a culture that desperately needs to hear the good news.

 Now for the Fathers.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem on God’s justice:

For we were enemies of God through sin, and God had appointed the sinner to die. There must needs therefore have happened one of two things; either that God, in His truth, should destroy all men, or that in His loving-kindness He should cancel the sentence. But behold the wisdom of God; He preserved both the truth of His sentence, and the exercise of His loving-kindness. Christ took our sins in His body on the tree, that we by His death might die to sin, and live unto

Interestingly, St. Cyril does not portray a God who is bound by any abstract concept of justice. He has transposed the imagery of Adam’s death into a “sentence of death,” although St. Athanasius was careful to point out that God did not say that “in the day you eat of the fruit I will kill you,” but that death would be it’s result: not a sentence, but a falling back into non-being (this is in his arguments in On the Incarnation of God). St. Cyril has here used legal imagery, but carefully made God’s mercy triumphant. God found the way out for us by killing death. But this is far from the image of punishing his Son in order to pay a need for justice (as the caricature sometimes has it).

And St. Gregory Palamas:

The pre-eternal, uncircumscribed and almighty Word and omnipotent Son of God could clearly have saved man from mortality and servitude to the devil without Himself becoming man. He upholds all things by the word of His power and everything is subject to His divine authority. According to Job, He can do everything and nothing is impossible for Him. The strength of a created being cannot withstand the power of the Creator, and nothing is more powerful than the Almighty. But the incarnation of the Word of God was the method of deliverance most in keeping with our nature and weakness, and most appropriate for Him Who carried it out, for this method had justice on its side, and God does not act without justice. As the Psalmist and Prophet says, ‘God is righteous and loveth righteousness’, ‘and there is no unrighteousness in Him’. Man was justly abandoned by God in the beginning as he had first abandoned God. He had voluntarily approached the originator of evil, obeyed him when he treacherously advised the opposite of what God had commanded, and was justly given over to him. In this way, through the evil one’s envy and the good Lord’s just consent, death came into the world. Because of the devil’s overwhelming evil, death became twofold, for he brought about not just physical but also eternal death.

As we had been justly handed over to the devil’s service and subjection to death, it was clearly necessary that the human race’s return to freedom and life should be accomplished by God in a just way. Not only had man been surrendered to the envious devil by divine righteousness, but the devil had rejected righteousness and become wrongly enamoured of authority, arbitrary power and, above all, tyranny. He took up arms against justice and used his might against mankind. It pleased God that the devil be overcome first by the justice against which he continuously fought, then afterwards by power, through the Resurrection and the future Judgement. Justice before power is the best order of events, and that force should come after justice is the work of a truly divine and good Lord, not of a tyrant.

This very rich passage – though using the language of justice – is actually an example of the so-called Christus Victor model in which God triumphs over the devil and sets us free. Not every use of justice is a purely forensic metaphor.

Or St. John Chrysostom:

‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us’. In reality, the people were subject to another curse, which says, ‘Cursed is every man who continueth not in all the words of the law to do them’. To this curse, I say, people were subject, for none had continued in, or was a keeper of, the whole law; but Christ exchanged this curse for the other, ‘Cursed by God is everyone who is hanged on a tree’. And then both he who hanged on a tree, and he who transgresses the law, is cursed, and as it was necessary for him who is about to relieve from a curse himself to be loosed from it, but to receive another instead of it, therefore Christ took upon Him such another, and thereby loosed us from the curse. It was like an innocent man’s undertaking to die for another condemned to death, and so rescuing him from punishment. For Christ took upon Him not the curse of transgression, but the other curse, in order to remove that of others. For, ‘He practiced no iniquity, nor was craft in His mouth’. And as by dying He rescued from death those who were dying, so by taking upon Himself the curse, He delivered them from it.

This, indeed, is a good example of substitution being used in Orthodox teaching. But it differs in some ways from more popular usages of substitution in American preaching. Christ is taking a curse upon himself, putting Himself in our place, in order to free us from the curse. But this is a world away from taking a place required by the justice of a wrathful, vengeful God.

As I think we agreed yesterday, there is a very rich inheritance of images used in both Scripture and the Fathers – which is only natural since what is being described is more than any one image can begin to capture. Christ is the “fullness of the Godhead bodily,” and as the fullness, no few words or images could do more than offer an emptiness. He is the “recapitulation” of the entirety of God’s dispensation for us – or as the Scriptures say, “He fulfilled the Scriptures.”

I will endeavor myself to avoid “one-sidedness” and be careful in my speech. But I will also ask of my Orthodox readers to think carefully on the context in which we live and preach the gospel.

My (probably a cliche by now) stock question to most atheists is, “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in. I probably don’t believe in that one either.” It is an effort to disarm people who are often very angry about the God they don’t believe in, and an offer of hope that there is a God worthy of worship. We have to preach the truth in its fullness, but we also have to see some things “unpreached” if I may coin a word.

The hopefulness, the humanity, the utter generosity taught in the Fathers – particularly the Greek Fathers that are such a foundation of our Orthodox faith – is an almost unheard of word in our American religious life. That “He is a good God, and He loves mankind,” which concludes almost every service of the Church, is news to our religious nation. Many people believe this to be true, but do not know that it is in fact the teaching of the Orthodox faith.

When I first read Vladimir Lossky’s Mystical Theology of the Orthodox Church (when I was in college), I wept. I do not recommend it to others as the book to start with in exploring Orthodoxy. But I wept because it was the first time I had ever heard the good news that actually sounded like good news. I wept because I was discovering that everything I had always hoped was true was not only true but was actually the Orthodox faith. What I heard in Lossky was my first account of union with God as taught in the Fathers. It wasn’t the mystery of it, but the simple goodness of the teaching that God became what we are that we might become what He is. The imagery of union with Christ was largely new to me (having been raised in Southern one-sidedness).

What a joy it is to actually discuss the Fathers together in this format. May God enrich us all!

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





23 responses to “God’s Justice and the Fathers”

  1. […] stuff on Fr. Stephen’s blog today. Read it all here, and here’s a few […]

  2. Clint Avatar

    Fr, Thank you for all your thoughts on this topic. As a protestant minister who is searching for the true church it has been most helpful.

  3. Alyssa Avatar

    Thank God for this and the previous post & comments! Some of these concepts or rather, distinctions and nuances, are still somewhat difficult for my mind to fully embrace as it has been so saturated with the one-sided perspective (what a great quote, btw). Having said that, I feel welling up inside the same things you felt as you read Lossky the first time, as this has been part of what has drawn me towards Orthodoxy. Simultaneously, its funny how I have some feelings of betrayal–that by embracing this new/old way of understanding God and the scriptures–that “I” am betraying all the people who taught me otherwise the past 20 years. And perhaps even betraying God. Old habits die hard.

    Thank you for not only posting the quotes from the Fathers, but also for your comments on them. So very, very helpful.

    Extremely grateful,

  4. Lucas Avatar

    Father, bless.

    I’m afraid my question is not on par with the importance of your post, which series I’ve found edifying like all your posts, but here is the question just the same: where do you find such beautiful, hi resolution images of the Holy Icons? I looked for a decent digital rendering of the Theophany, but in the end said to myself, “Well, we shall just have to wait until Father Stephen posts his.” Now, you’ve also posted this excellent icon of the 4th Ecumenical Council and was hoping you’d share your source with us.

    Please forgive my relatively mundane question amid all this theological beauty.

    pray for me, a sinner.

  5. fatherstephen Avatar


    So, I need to make confession… The images usually of icons are from those on the OCA website for the saints of the day. If you go to the saint of the day, and click on its icon, you get a very sharp image. We frequently we print that image on high quality gloss and put it in a frame for use on a Sunday if we have no other icon to set out. The OCA.org website is a treasure trove of information and resources. Some of the best work that they’ve done over the past five years or so.

  6. fatherstephen Avatar

    By the way – to any and all…does anyone know how to acquire and embed the Youtube things I’ve seen on some sites? There are some incredibly wonderful Orthodox things that I would love to share occasionally but don’t know how to do it.

  7. Barnabas Powell Avatar

    Well, father, I should have read your post above before I posted my response to the Once For All post.

    You expressed what I was trying to say.

    I find myself in agreement with those who state that some are being unfair in their critique of Western theologies. I find that to me true myself. Heck, as being a former Pentecostal, bashing Roman Catholics was almost a regular sport among us. It is something for which I continue to repent.

    However, we cannot ignore the practical results of our preaching in the lives of the everyday folks.

    If a certain overemphasis of a particular theological metaphor creates atheists, then let’s put that metaphor away for a while till hearts have healed.


  8. Andy Avatar

    As a Protestant who checks your site every day, I would like to add that agree with much of your critique of the way much evangelism and preaching has been done.

    I have many questions regarding this and some other Eastern Orthodox views, but I’m not sure if a blog is the best place to discuss them.

    Thank you for this wonderful blog.

  9. handmaidleah Avatar

    I just did the youtube thing on my site, Fr. Stephen and it is actually quite simple Here is the code:
    This part: NcnquxAvQ88 is the id of the youtube clip that you want to paste onto your blog, just copy it behind v=
    and put the whole thing into a post and VOILA
    you are in business! WordPress does the rest!
    the handmaid,

  10. Ephrem Hugh Bensusan Avatar
    Ephrem Hugh Bensusan

    I have some difficulties with this line of thought, mainly because I have a hard time with the idea that even the reductionist Gospel we hear preached by some American evangelicals is somehow the wellspring of athiesm, and that the athiest (or any other kind of humanist) is somehow the victim of an inadequate form of Christianity rather than of his own desire to put away God from himself and be an autonomous god on his own.

    For me, one of the most insightful passages ever written on the human condition is Romans 1:18-32

    “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold [suppress] the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.”

    In my experience with athiests and other humanists, which has likewise been very extensive, I have found that, even though they somehow use this argument about God as popularly preached, when pressed beyond the surface, it is used simply as an excuse for not believing. The deeper level objection I find is that the person wishes to reject the moral demands of Christian faith (especially in regard to sexuality), the limits placed on his own autonomy by the existence of God, and the idea that he, who considers himself relatively good, should be condemned before the the bar of any divine justice.

    The obvious objection here would be that, even so, we shouldn’t provide them with easily accessible excuses. I agree. But I think the case against using the language and images that are so commonly objected to is a bit overstated, if for no other reason than that this language and imagery is part of the way God has revealed Himself to us.

  11. fatherstephen Avatar


    There may be a generational difference here, too. Younger atheists often have a different take than many I’ve known in my generation and older. But, I’ve had this conversation with Fr. Thomas Hopko – actually based on some comments he had made in a talk – in which he spoke of in some cases rejection of a false god itself being an act of grace. He talks some about this in his recent tape series on the Apocalypse.

    I would agree that the point I’ve made could be overdone. We have to preach the fullness of the truth – but we have to pay attention to context and, at least for some, the context is as I’ve described, I do believe.

    Not that I would argue with Romans. St. Augustine once said, “There are some whom God has whom the Church has not, and some whom the Church has whom God has not.”

    Statistically, (I would not apply this to my congregation, indeed) but Christians in America are pretty much on a par with non-believers in their sexual behavior – including the rate of abortions. Apparently Augustine was right.

    But preaching the gospel is always a dialog – there is what you know to be true according to God’s Word and Holy Tradition, and there’s what you know to be true about those to whom you’re speaking. And you have to pay attention to both.

    I can only speak from my experience and describe things as I think they are.

    I know that my first rejection of God in my life (which was at age 13) was a rejection based on the angry preaching of the little Baptist Church I was raised in.

    In rural South Carolina, where I was raised, Church was often not a very pretty picture, at least when it came to preaching. The love of God was in short supply.

    That may very well have changed today and I may be speaking about something that has gone the way of black and white television. Billy Graham softened up with the years.

    Sounds like I need to have a conversation with my kids (20 somethings).


  12. Death Bredon Avatar

    The Gospel preached as literally Good News! Yes — that was my first reaction to the Greek Fathers too (similarly filtered through Lossky, Meyendorff, and other great, contemporary explicators).

    Still, I believe it a tragedy that I had to read these secondary texts to learn the authentic, classical, and apostolic Christus Victor/Recapitulation theories of Atonement. Indeed, as most of the Anaphora’s of St. Basil and Chrysostom, which express this Good News wonderfully, are commonly said “secretly” in Orthodox worship, one can attend many Eastern Liturgies and never learn the core of the Eastern Faith! What a pity.

    I remember something about hiding one’s light . . . .

  13. fatherstephen Avatar

    In my entire diocese (South, OCA) I don’t know of a single place that does the anaphora silently.

    But coming to the Church, you do learn the content of the anaphora if the priest is worth his salt as a teacher.

    My Archbishop who converted at age 16 in 1940 was 21 before he ever heard the service in English, and thus a language he understood. But God’s grace is such that he preserved him.

    Sometimes you don’t put the light under a bushel, but you do close the curtains. 🙂

  14. Ephrem Hugh Bensusan Avatar
    Ephrem Hugh Bensusan

    You wrote:

    “I can only speak from my experience and describe things as I think they are.

    “I know that my first rejection of God in my life (which was at age 13) was a rejection based on the angry preaching of the little Baptist Church I was raised in.

    “In rural South Carolina, where I was raised, Church was often not a very pretty picture, at least when it came to preaching. The love of God was in short supply.”

    This disparity in background may go a long way to explaining the differing directions from which we approach this issue. I was never part of that milieu.

    I was, rather, the product of the liberal academic world. My parents were typical of the generation of University faculty that immediately preceded and reigned through the Student Revolution – not radicals themselves, but the “open-minded”. Dad was an agnostic when I was growing up (though he began to turn New Age in the 80s); Mom was a 4th generation member of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a non-polytheist form of Mormonism that, under the leadership of her generation, and during my formative years, was transformed into another branch of Protestant Liberalism, just one with an explicitly open canon of Scripture. (They changed their name to “Community of Christ” several years ago, and pride themselves on their committment to peacemaking.)

    Thus I was raised in a world in which what you heard in church was alien, or just the subject of derision. What another of your commentors (on another post) characterised as the Mister-Rogers-God was what I heard in church (I usually went with Mom, and was part of that group by default until I was 18). Dad taught Popular arts and Religious Studies, and, when he was friendly to religion at all, exhibited the same sympathies as my mother (though I must say he was quite a bit deeper in his thought, despite his lack of any formal religious committment).

    While I was formally RLDS, my thought then went in different directions altogether. I was the kind of teenager that stayed home with my nose buried in Wittgenstein, Camus, Kerouac, Dostoievsky, Kierkegaard, and Eliot, looking for something bigger than the rather narrow (yes, I mean narrow) academic world I lived in.

    This coalesced when I first heard the Gospel in a life-changing way, which, ironically, happened in an independent Pentecostal church during a sermon on the 84th Psalm (KJV). That course led me in and out of the Episcopal Church, to several years as a Reformed Presbyterian minister, and ultimately to Orthodoxy.

    The commentor, Reid, on your other post wrote:

    “Alongside all the “sinners in the hands of an angry God” preaching, this society holds another view (perhaps in reaction, I do not know), epitomized in the sign I saw recently at a storefront church: “God isn’t angry with you no matter what you’ve done.” It pictures God, if I may say it reverently, in cuddly universalist terms, welcoming everyone with open arms, without repentance, simply overlooking sin because we are all His chilren. His warm, fuzzy love just overwhelms such trivialities as sin and morality. So we should all just accept each other and get along.

    “Such a view is, of course, no Gospel at all, yet it appears to me that it is the de facto Gospel of much of the pagan society around us and some portion of what calls itself the church. I do not think anyone on this blog is advocating such a position, but when I read the suggestion that we should rid ourselves of the notion of an angry God, this sort of “Mister Rogers” picture is what leaps to my mind.”

    This was very much the milieu I knew growing up. I also rejected the other idea – I have never had any conception of this “Volcano God”; it never even occurred to me, even when reading Jonathan Edwards. But that could be because of an a priori I carry, that God is never self-contradictory, and all language about God (much less all such language) must be understood contextually and according to the larger picture. Or in other words I’ve used her, in a holistic and expansive manner that fully accords with His self-revelation, neither turning to the left or to the right.

    It has been said that I “must only have interacted with rather sophisticated Protestants” if I don’t see this “Volcano God” thing out there in the popular preaching. That’s probably true. Perhaps some of it is my sheltered upbringing.

    Still, the ultimate conclusion I arrived at is the the Orthodoxy of the Fathers was that which apprehended all of the language of God’s self-revelation in the correct and balanced way, not unduly dismissing anything, but taking a comprehensive view. And what I see often in Kalomiros and Khrapovitsky, etc., are particularly modern concerns that echo what I always considered to be the same blind spots in the varied teachings of my parents and their worldview.

  15. Alice C. Linsley Avatar
    Alice C. Linsley

    I have enjoyed reading this piece and the comments, especially Ephraim’s personal journey.

    I find that females and males react differently to theological disputes. Winning the argument is often less important to women than preserving the relationship. When there is disagreement men tend to assert their position and females tend to subordinate themselves. When fear enters the picture we have exactly what the Bible describes in Genesis 3:16.

  16. David_Bryan Avatar

    Just something I noticed–there seems to be a blending of two ideas in the minds of several Orthodox believers w/whom I’ve spoken about this subject: substitution and satisfaction. The former is all over the New Testament and Greek Fathers and is (imo) perfectly compatible with the merciful justice of God the Father; the latter is where we get into trouble and the caricatures appear. I agree with the sentiment that what “really matters” is what the folks in the pews (or, in our case, the nave) feel and hear in their prayers and from the pulpit; I said here that the implications of a doctrine are often more pervasive and influential than the doctrine itself.

    Wonderful couple of posts, as always.

  17. Steve Hayes Avatar

    One of the most balanced presentations of all is in the Anaphora of the Liturgy of St Basil.

    As we were preparing for the Nativity, our priest was talking to the choir and said they should sing something long because the Anaphora was longer. I suggested that he should rather say it aloud, and immediately regretted it, because he is Romanian, and reading rather complex theological language in English is hard for him, but he immediately agreed, enthusiastically.

    In our parish we have had a tradition of doing that, from when we had English-speaking priests, and I found that there were so many memorable phrases that have sunk into consciousness, and, I believe, help to keep me from straying too far into one-sidedness.

  18. Fatherstephen Avatar

    We do all the anaphora aloud in my parish and across the diocese here. And I think David is correct that we should not confuse Substitution and satisfaction. The book, problems with the atonement, which I’ve mentioned in these posts, is a good read for a careful analysis of the various images, including OT background, and the changes they go through in the New, as well as the frequent combination of metaphors. The author does some stuff that seems a little strange to me (as in his moral application example), but still the research was very helpful.

    And finally, it is certainly true that our backgrounds make a difference in our experience. Listening and sharing are vital. I hope we will continue to listen and to share on this blog. It builds a community (of sorts) that will help and feed us in small ways.

    It’s been great so far. I’m enjoying myself.

    I’m probably going to post earlier (since I can control what time the post actually appears). We have a growing number of European readers and their day starts a lot earlier than mine (Eastern Standard Time, U.S.). It’s a big world out there.

  19. An Anxious Anglican Avatar
    An Anxious Anglican

    Father Stephen: You wrote,

    “When I first read Vladimir Lossky’s Mystical Theology of the Orthodox Church (when I was in college), I wept. I do not recommend it to others as the book to start with in exploring Orthodoxy.”

    Slightly off-thread, but I must ask: what book(s) do you recommend to others as the book to start with in exploring Orthodoxy (assuming one has read Ware and Hopko)?

    BTW, your blog is magnificent! Thank you for your effort.

  20. Fatherstephen Avatar


    (Know the feeling).

    I think people probably start reading almost too much doctrine, or too much spirituality (such as the Philokalia) when the doctrine is not answering specific questions or the Spiritual writings are not anywhere close to where our own life is being lived.

    Thus I think books that give an overview like Ware and Hopko are places to start. But then, I think a major place to concentrate is on lives of the saints. Zander’s Seraphim of Sarov is always a must read. Recently, the two volumes on Father Arseny have been very helpful for many.

    I think some of what is of value here is the taste and feel of Orthodoxy (if you’re not able to attend services). Nothing communicates the reality of Orthodoxy more than the lives of the Saints.

    I tend to find Greek-written lives of the saints a little too much (sort of like Greek Baklava is too sweet when I compare it to Romanian – which is more nutty).

    One of the questions of what to read is to share some of your questions with someone (I’d be quite interested). What interests you? What confuses you? What repels you?

    I liked Anthony Bloom’s (late Met. of Sourozh)works. They were introductory on prayer but spot on.

    Schmemann’s For the Life of the World is a very important read. Also his Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy is one of the most honest histories of Orthodoxy you could possibly find.

    If Icons interest or puzzle you, it would be good to read in that area. Ouspensky has 2 volumes that are the definitive works in English, but may have more information than you want.

    These days I would highly recommend the 3 books published by Fr. John Behr. Particularly his The Mystery of Christ.

    Above all don’t forget to read Scripture and to pray. Pray simply and pray honestly. There really is a God and He gets us through this stuff. It’s hard – but it’s meant to be a little hard. We need it.

    You’ll have my prayers. Thanks for the compliments on the Blog.

  21. Exploring Atonement

    So, over the next [I don’t know how long] I have decided to do a series on Exploring the Atonement.
    Being the seasoned theologian and all (sarcastic), I thought it would be a fantastic topic to get to know better – especially since I’ve hea…

  22. Patrick Pummill Avatar
    Patrick Pummill

    Dear Father Stephen,
    Father Bless! I am trying to reach Ephrem Bensusan. I cannot find any of his websites anymore. I do not know if he took them all down or what, but in any case I need to contact him to discuss some things that we share in common. Christ is Risen! Patrick

  23. Cheryl Avatar

    “When I first read Vladimir Lossky’s Mystical Theology of the Orthodox Church (when I was in college), I wept. I do not recommend it to others as the book to start with in exploring Orthodoxy. But I wept because it was the first time I had ever heard the good news that actually sounded like good news. I wept because I was discovering that everything I had always hoped was true was not only true but was actually the Orthodox faith. What I heard in Lossky was my first account of union with God as taught in the Fathers. It wasn’t the mystery of it, but the simple goodness of the teaching that God became what we are that we might become what He is. The imagery of union with Christ was largely new to me (having been raised in Southern one-sidedness).”


    I feel this way all the time now. Thank you for your posts, for this blog…it’s part of many things right now that point me to Orthodoxy, where I keep finding that the things I’ve “always” believed, always hoped were true…are Orthodox and part of the Christian faith. I no longer feel caught between the wrathful God(the Father) bound by a harsh justice and His merciful Son. The false dichotomy is no longer there.

    Orthodoxy feels [for lack of a better word], in many ways, like coming home.


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