What An Icon Says


According to the Seventh Ecumenical Council, “An icon does with color what the Scriptures do with words.” It is a very simple, straightforward explanation of icons – but it holds within it a world of theological understanding. This morning I had opportunity with a visitor of the Church to fall into conversation about the Scriptures. The discussion turned towards the relationship between the Old and New Testament. My point was to underscore the fact that Christians have a radically different understanding of the Old Testament because of Christ. We should believe that He is the meaning of all of the Old Testament Scriptures, and that they cannot be rightly read apart from Him. Further, we believe that the God who makes Himself known in the Old Testament, is indeed the same as the God of the New Testament. The Old Testament is not about “God the Father,” with the New Testament being about “God the Son.” Rather, “No one knows the Father, except the Son.” The manifestation of God in the Old Testament is through His Logos, just as much as it is in the New Testament.

The discussion, for me, finally went beyond what I could say. Instead I took my visitor into the narthex of the Church. On one wall of the narthex at St. Anne’s, there is a large icon of the “Hospitality of Abraham,” which pictures the visit of the three angels to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18. The icon said it all: the central angel’s nimbus (halo) was inscribed with the cross and the traditional “ho on” with the IC XC on the outside – all of which are the traditional identifications of Christ in an icon. Only here was an Old Testament scene.

The “ho on,” itself is a revelation. In the Greek Old Testament, when God reveals His name to Moses He says, “Ego eimi, ho on,” (I am He Who Is). All icons of Christ identify Him with this revelation (as does the frequent use of Ego eimi, “I am”) in the Gospel of John.

But in this Old Testament scene, the Fathers have seen a prefiguring of the Holy Trinity, but not an embodiment of the Father and the Spirit. Simply an angelic visitation that presents Abraham with the Logos of God. There is a strange movement between the language of the three and the language of one. The inference towards Trinity was inescapable for Christians:

And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground, And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant: Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree: And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said. And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth. And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it. And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat. And they said unto him, Where is Sarah thy wife? And he said, Behold, in the tent. And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also? And the LORD said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old? Is any thing too hard for the LORD? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son. Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh. And the men rose up from thence, and looked toward Sodom: and Abraham went with them to bring them on the way. And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.

After explaining the meaning of the various items in the icon, my visitor stood quiet for a minute or two. It was clear that he understood it all. “They never told us this,” was his comment. Now they have.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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67 responses to “What An Icon Says”

  1. religionandatheism Avatar

    As you’ve no other way of leaving comments apart from at the end of an article, please answer some questions about the remark on the front page of your blog about Good and Evil.
    Firstly, what does it mean that evil is always small? In what terms? Mao killed 60 million people. By what standard is that small? I’d like you to explain that to one of those victims’ families.
    What does it mean, also that God went into hell and it burst? What does that actually MEAN?
    Don’t hesitate to explain these claims. Thank you.

  2. ochlophobist Avatar

    This post and the last one have brought back many good memories.

    Years ago, while still an inquirer, I attended Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in St. Paul, MN. I had become friends with the pastor, Fr. Jonathan Proctor. After listening to a good number of Fr. Jonathan’s homilies, I actually became a bit angered. I had spent years in an Evangelical Bible college and a Catholic graduate school of theology and no one had bothered to teach me the OT like Fr. Jonathan routinely taught it in his sermons. Basic, obvious truths had been left out of my training. Almost every Gospel reading was tied in some fashion to various OT passages. It was my road to Emmaus. My heart burned within me. The OT was made alive, and Christ was everywhere to be found. I wanted to write a couple of deans and ask for my money back.

  3. Alice C. Linsley Avatar
    Alice C. Linsley

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for this lovely story. I too am impressed with the wisdom and understanding of the Church when it comes to the Old Testament. It is seen in icons and in the writings of the Church Fathers.

    Recently I posted an essay on St. Ephrem of Edessa’s exegetical method. There can be no doubt that the old and the new are of one piece when reading St. Ephrem and the other Church fathers. (If interested, the essay is at http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com/)

  4. Benjamin Avatar

    Praise God. You’ll be happy to know, Ochlophobist, that the same epiphanies occur in his parish to this day.

  5. Jack Avatar

    What can “scriptures do with words”? There is the distinct possiblity of a reductive danger lurking in that aphorism for protestants. Icons do things that might suprise the people of the book.

    I think God descended into Sheol (the realm of the biologically dead) and destroyed it. All are resurrected. Whether hell is destroyed might be another question.

    I’ve heard a Proctor sermon or two. He has a gift.

  6. fatherstephen Avatar


    I will quickly grant the horror and nightmare of evil – Mao’s millions are matched quickly by the martyrs elsewhere under the Communist yoke – and all of that only begins to speak about the surface of evil. When I say that evil is small it is to say from a Christian perspective that evil, though appearing large and powerful, is not in fact the power that moves and governs. Even in the camps of the Gulag, under such terrible suffering, good deeds were done by good men and women. Evil cannot forgive its enemies, it cannot weep for its sins, it simply cannot do much at all. Which is greater – to use brute force to murder millions – or to forgive someone who has done so? In my experience it is forgiveness that is triumphant. Even if you kill the one who forgives he can still go to his grave blessing you. That is stronger, “bigger,” than evil.

    As for Christ bursting hell asunder – Orthodox Christian language uses “hell” and “death” almost interchangeably in certain instances. Christ, being put to death, “burst the bonds of death.” He rose from the dead, and, we believe, that he freed all who were held in the bondage of death. Orthodox doctrine teaches that Christ has made a way to life and salvation (right relationship with God who is Life) for everyone. Hell is not a punishment, but a self-imposed exile.

    Christ said, “This is condemnation: that light has come into the world and men prefer darkness to the light.”

    Please forgive this poor explanation. On the page you mention I have tried to say succinctly what normally would take volumes to say.

    A last reflection on good and evil – I am frequently surprised by goodness. Evil seems easy to explain – circumstance, environment, the dark bent of a twisted human will, etc. What is surprising about goodness is that you find it in places where you would not expect. The forgiveness of enemies is most surprising, even overwhelming. It is like resurrection – life from what should have been death. How can there be such love? And yet there is such love. I can only explain such love by belief in good God who graciously loves mankind. Without him I could make no sense of the goodness I see.

  7. Jack Avatar

    Evil is small: Only a very small heart can kill 60 million. It only looks big if you look at it from the wrong angle. Be ye enlarged.

  8. fatherstephen Avatar


    You can never tell what people will do with an aphorism – but it’s the heart of the 7th Council – it was also the heart of my thesis at Duke (thus I confess to pressing it as far as I can).

  9. Benjamin Avatar

    Orthodoxy is a small world (and blessedly so!) when three different folks who have been blessed by the same parish can run into each other without much effort in the vast caverns of the internet.

    and Father, forgive me for hijacking this post to host a mini-reunion.

  10. religionandatheism Avatar


    I agree that forgiveness is preferable to the alternative. But this alone does not herald any triumph over evil. Evil, in your terms, persists to this day all over the world. Though it’s not true that “it can’t do much at all”. Look today at Burma, Zimbabwe or Sudan where oppression, starvation, rape and murder and everyday experiences for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people.
    I don’t see why good is any harder to explain than evil. Evil can be a function of ignorance, psychology, political strife, desparation, environment and so on. Good can similarly be a function of learned compassion, sympathy, empathy and even the completely rational deduction based on experience that being forgiving leads to more happiness. In addition to this, there are environmental pressures which have over the course of thousands and millions of years found genetic expression. Even chimpanzees are capable of forgiveness, kindness, compassion, comradery, sympathy, sharing and all sorts of other things. Should we believe this also to be a gift from god for chimps? You could, but there’s no need to do that to understand what is happening. Presenting good as though it was some perculiar mystery is questionable in light of what we already know. And even if we didn’t understand where it came from, what does it help to say “God did it”? That’s no explanation. That’s just a preferred assertion (what religious people seem to like calling Faith, as though that somehow leant weight to the idea). So no, goodness has no inherent mystery. It is preferrable, that’s all. That without God you cannot “make sense of the goodness [you] see” says nothing about the truth of the situation, just how you see it.
    What is truly repugnant is Jack’s comment: “Evil is small: Only a very small heart can kill 60 million. It only looks big if you look at it from the wrong angle. Be ye enlarged.” What a glib response! It might be true that only a small heart can kill 60 million, but there’s nothing about genocide that is small. I’m not saying Mao had a big heart. I’m saying that Evil is not small in scale, and it is powerful. It is powerful and 60 million deaths testify to this fact. Perhaps Jack believes it to be a failure of historians who’ve looked at it from “the wrong angle” and believe it to be a collossal event.

    It does not help the image of Christianity to have its representatives claim that the inconvenience of evil to their doctrines is actually small. It is not and such a claim constitutes a gross denial. Similarly, the superfluous explanations about goodness do nothing to instill confidence that theism considers the problem in a balanced way. The proclamation “I only understand it by looking on it through the eye of faith” is saying something about how much you’re able to understand in general. It leads to obscurantist theology which only hinders understanding and progress towards a world with more good.

    And to make a final remark about the place of goodness and God: consider the Old Testament’s Decalogue. People couldn’t have made it as a society as far as to receive the stone tablets without already knowing that murder, lying and theft were wrong. There wouldn’t have been a society at all had that been the case. Which shows again that goodness has a human source, not a divine one. The 10 commandments added virtually nothing to what must already have been known by people at the time, except that they should prostrate themselves before a jealous God – which is, as far as morality is concerned, completely unnecessary.

    As for the New Testament, Christ’s martyrdom is but one in a whole canon of myths containing the same message (c.f. Kukulkan in Mayan culture). It speaks of the primitive human conviction that wrongs are righted by sacrificing life (read Rene Girard about this for example – and he was a Christian!) The idea that all and sundry are redeemed because someone was murdered by crucifixion is a gruesome thing to say, no matter how passionately the psychological influence of resurrection symbolism reasserts itself in the minds of believers as a literal truth.

  11. -C Avatar

    “when three different folks who have been blessed by the same parish can run into each other without much effort in the vast caverns of the internet…”

    Make that four!

  12. Steve Avatar

    religionandatheism, you may want to familiarize yourself with the Christus Victor model of salvation. Orthodoxy, in general, tends to minimize the sacrificial understanding of Christ’s passion. The sacrificial model of salvation is emphasized in the West (Protestants and Catholics) but not so much by the Eastern Orthodox.

  13. […] Stephen at Glory to God for All Things on the theology of […]

  14. EYTYXOΣ Avatar

    This comment more properly belongs in your The Boundary of Death post, but I just discovered it and I suspect that few people will likely go back 6 days to read the comments box, so please allow me to post it here: Cancer’s Unexpected Blessings by Tony Snow

  15. fatherstephen Avatar


    There is finally no argument I can offer that is convincing in and of itself. But I know the devil (deal with him all the time) and he’s quite small. No priest, much less an Orthodox Christian (which group of Christians have produced more martyrs over the centuries than can be numbered) can take lightly the work of evil (I do not take it lightly in my own life), but I also know God, as He has made Himself known in Christ. You can explain my knowledge anyway you want – you’re free. But I am saying that what appears to be the weakness of good, is indeed the strength and power of God.

    But if you can expalin it all away, then why ask questions? I know Christ and I know that His love will conquer all evil. Good wins. His is not a story like other stories. You’ve been reading the wrong books. But, as Jack suggested, I would recommend Orthodox Christian reading. The other stuff has drifted far from the origins and teachings of Christ in some instances. May you be well.

  16. David Avatar

    I know this icon post has sort of gone a different way, but I am really having my eyes opened about these offerings of faith.

    When I was young icons were always “idolatry” that was used by the Catholic church to deliberately keep lay persons from reading scripture.

  17. Sarah Avatar

    Bear in mind that it is only within the last 300 years that literacy has become commonplace. In times gone by, only the rich and privileged would have been able to read or write. I’m an English Catholic, and believe that in times gone by, icons and other forms of Christian art played an important role in explaining the stories of the Bible to the very young and the illiterate. In some of our ancient medieval churches here in England there still exist gardens where the flowers of different plants were used to tell Bible stories to those who couldn’t read (which in medieval England would have been the majority of the population).

  18. religionandatheism Avatar


    Thank you for your remarks.

    I find it quite presumptuous to be told that I’ve “been reading the wrong books”. Not that you know what books I’ve been reading, but even if you did, what is wrong with them? This smells like religious hubris to me, sorry to say. I don’t mean to antagonise you here. But what is the meaning of your remark about books?

    Unlike you, it would seem, I’m far more pragmatic and interested at what the world is telling me, rather than any doctrine. That Good wins is an unsupported assertion. Wins in what? What does win mean? What constitutes good?

    Finally, you ask “if you can explain it all away, why ask questions?”. I don’t claim to be able to explain everything. And I’m more interested in explaining things than explaining them away. But theological musings of the sort you offer, and indeed of most sorts, explain nothing by invoking God. “God did it”, or “I know it’s true but can’t show you or offer a convincing argument” is not an explanation. And my questions are about why you prefer that kind of strange and closed reasoning to explanations that are based on universally observable things. One of them being, of course, that such evils as war persist in the world and have not been vanquished by good. Or that morality is not God-made but man-made. I feel there’s something escapist about referring to religious doctrines. For one, they’re couched in obscurantist and dense references to such things as hell bursting. Granted, that may be a metaphor, but the energy expended on interpreting such things would, in my opinion, be far better spent on actually countering evil in the real world.

    All the best.


  19. fatherstephen Avatar

    Religion and Atheism,

    I didn’t presume to dictate what you read, only to suggest that if you wanted to understand what Orthodox Christians believe you read Orthodox Christian books. I do not offer convincing arguments because God is not an argument or a syllogism. As for time well spent – I have spent the better part of 35 years working at making a difference one person at a time. It’s not as grand a scheme as politicians – but as far as I can tell their schemes have changed the world very little.

    I prefer religious explanations because a. others don’t make sense to me and b. I believe in God. I suppose as things go I’d rather throw my lot in with Jesus than with Bertrand Russell or Paul Sartre.

    May you be blessed.

  20. Wonders for Oyarsa Avatar

    Hi Fr. Stephen,

    Thanks for this story – it is wonderful. Though I am not Orthodox myself, I have gained immeasurably from the vision of your church. I am actually going through the Old Testament myself on my site, and seeing Christ on nearly every page. It’s like reading a mystery novel a second time, and saying “I had no idea before, but of course!”

    Rublev’s trinity icon I have found particularly profound. It is currently hanging in our dining room, along with the mystical supper and the wedding at Cana.

  21. cp Avatar

    “I’m far more pragmatic and interested at what the world is telling me, rather than any doctrine”

    Wow. If all I had is what the world tells me, how hopeless life would be!


  22. fatherstephen Avatar

    There’s always the question, of course, “How do you interpret what the world is telling you?”

  23. religionandatheism Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    As I said before, I think it is good that people try to do good in the world and I support your efforts there. I’m sure you’ve made a difference to many people.

    I have no truck with Russell or Sartre. The latter in particular was quite a different sort of obscurantist whose philosophy was the function of a great deal of personal existential insecurity. Russell had great faults as a thinker but was a man of principle and stood up for some great ideals, including opposition to nuclear weapons and the First World War (which landed him in prison and lost him his lectureship). He led by example, and should be acknowleged as a good role model.

    I don’t understand why the false choice though: Russell or Jesus. Why can’t it be both – certainly when it comes to moral guidance. Russell gave his reasons in far more detail than Jesus ever did, which is something to examine at least.

    But then false choices are the norm in religous conviction, they are required. Thus the Bible is the above all others, rather than simply a member of the literary canon generated by all cultures and all ages. It is held up by believers as some kind of final, self-contained cure for humanity’s ills, which it is far from being.
    As I said before, it is simply another story which wrestles with some of the big questions mankind has always faced. The mistake comes in elevating the currency in which these things are expressed – the metaphors, the symbols, the themes – to some kind of historical truths or universal truths. Because it is not these things, theology has a tough time demonstrating anything of intellectual worth – it runs around trying to prove the unprovable or to defend intellectually the non-intellectual. Far better to receive the Bible and its contents, as I say, as another book from which we might learn, but not THE ONE BOOK, and certainly not any of its characters, including Jesus as THE ONE CHARACTER on whom we should base our lives.

    Sad is the admission that non-religious explanations don’t make sense to you. We discussed previously the origins of morality. I contend that it is not from God that morality comes. I’m sure you disagree, but does what I’ve said not make sense to you?

  24. religionandatheism Avatar


    In answer to your remark:

    I AM more interested in what reality is telling me than in upholding doctrines. Father Stephen contends that good prevails in the world. That is surely in keeping with his beliefs about the nature of good and its place in his preferred doctrine. But it is not consonant with reality. Tell the people of Darfur, or Burma or Zimbabwe that good prevails in the world and that evil is small. Tell that to the mother of a child with leukemia. It doesn’t chime with reality. It is a statement about how you like to think of things, not of how things are actually. That is dogma.

    How do we interpret what reality is telling us? Through experience of the world, through being alive and sensitive to it, through sensing, through thinking about what is going on around us. In these ways. Certainly not through adopting narrow frameworks of understanding cobbled together through millenia by disparate authors, many of them of questionable moral standing or historical accuracy in what they said. No, interpret the world for yourselves! By all means solicit guidance and opinion and advice from the experiences of others, but ultimately do it yourselves. Don’t subjugate that independence to some institutionalised ready-made orthodoxy.
    The world is not as easy as might be described in any one book or by any one Church or theology.

    And had you been born in Iran, would you be asserting the veracity of Christ’s divinity, or Allah’s and his prophet’s significance as the one, true way? The accident of birth does not confer the right interpretation of reality in your case at the cost of others’.

    I hope that answers the point about interpretation of reality. But the main point is this: reality around you disagrees with the idea that good triumphs. As I said, explain that to those who suffer unceasingly in the world’s worst places. And tell them their sorrows are small.


  25. Jason Avatar

    Re: “…Tell the people of Darfur, or Burma or Zimbabwe that good prevails in the world and that evil is small. Tell that to the mother of a child with leukemia. It doesn’t chime with reality…”

    Or tell that to the crucified Jesus who has identified with all the human suffering you list. The message of the gospel is that, in the end, all suffering, wrong-doing, hardship, etc. will be made right and that good will triumph over evil. I suppose such a hope could be called wishful-thinking, but what hope or encouragement does atheism offer to the suffering people you list?

  26. EYTYXOΣ Avatar

    But in the grand scheme and full time of things, all our triumphs AND all our sorrows are small. To quote a book I vaguely remember from my college days, A CHILD’S GARDEN OF GRASS: “You’re a short time alive and a long time dead.”

    And, if there is no life beyond the grave, that is the Reality.

    But if there is life beyond the grave, then this 5, 10, 50, 100 years, whatever years that a person may live, whether joyful or sorrowful, whether filled with goodness or evil, is but a drop in the bucket of one’s entire existence.

  27. ochlophobist Avatar

    Ivan K. is ever among us.

  28. Jason Avatar


    Also, as you can clearly see, I’m no apologist and have no desire to be crushed by your superior intellect, but I seriously ask: what hope or comfort does atheism offer the world? If the answer is none (which I don’t see how it can’t be anything but) how would the atheist’s answer, approach, etc. differ from the article, “Cancer’s Unexpected Blessings,” written by Tony Snow (referenced above)? One of the reason Snow’s article resonates with so many people is there’s a thread of hope, courage, and wisdom that provides solace and comfort to the soul that raw atheism just can’t provide.



  29. fatherstephen Avatar

    “…Tell the people of Darfur, or Burma or Zimbabwe that good prevails in the world and that evil is small.

    Strangely enough, the people of Darfur, Burma and Zimbabwe are almost all believers of one sort or another. Apparently the actual people who endure this suffering are more drawn to God than those who are upset by their images on television and stories in the news. I’ve buried a child myself, and God is good. These are arguments that come from an abstract rationalism. If you care about Dafur then go there. You’ll meet believers. They can help you.

  30. Fellow Sojourner Avatar
    Fellow Sojourner

    “If you care about Dafur then go there. You’ll meet believers. They can help you.”

    Amen, Amen, Amen.

    This is probably the hardest pragmatic truth for the atheist/agnostic to explain. Those that suffer most, believe and worship most. They are the first to say that “God is good.” Alas, the paradoxical teaching of Jesus that life comes from death is hard to argue.

  31. Chip. Avatar

    Religion – The charge of Christians as happy fantasists, wishfully denying the obvious, is hard to take. After all, we worship as G-d the One who endured shame, torture and death. We are promised no happiness in this life; instead, we are warned that those “living godly in Messiah shall suffer persecution.” The saints depicted in the icons, and our Lord Himself, did not escape from evil but rather were made perfect (complete) through suffering. As EYTYXOΣS and our Scriptures point out, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” 1 Cor. 15:19.

    You seem to urge knowledge through individual rationality. That project presupposes both soundness in our “doors of perception” and our accuracy in analysis. But in the end, we see in part – indeed, our eyes are sick. One can listen to what the world is telling you, but our ears deceive us. And, in the end, we are hearing from a world that is passing away.

    We understand and sometimes share your impatience for convincing (philosophical) arguments. But one of the saddest days of my life was when I realized that Anselm’s ontological proof is true, or at least is irrefutable within the scope of pure rationality. Of course it’s a fallacy – but its fallacy is inherent in the Western philosophical project. Russell trucked with solipsism, a line of thinking that has always shown itself to be intellectually sterile. And trucking with pure pragmatism – please. “Whatever works” requires knowledge of the end (or, for moral philosophy, the “ought”). Since we Flatlanders are limited in access to the fourth dimension, pragmatism provides no insight at all.

    You seem to imagine we are blind to evil. While I did not endure Darfur, I have lost a child. I need no one else to tell me of that pain. Suffering has an answer in the way of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Darfur itself is creating more martyrs, if not more icons. Socrates and his children stand mute in the face of such tragedies.

    Fr. Stephen – In the olden days of an undergraduate studies, various majors sported their recruiting posters. The one for the philosophy department showed a young man seated in front of a high pile of books with a caption that read, “Philosophy. It won’t earn you a dime.” For some reason, that poster is no longer in use.

    Just wondering if you caught that one.

  32. Wonders for Oyarsa Avatar

    That is so true, Fr. Stephen. My brother had essentially rejected his faith, finding it just implausible to posit a good God in a world full of suffering. And then he went on a medical relief trip with an Christian organization in Kenya to work with AIDS victims. This was the beginning of the renewal of his faith, and it was largely due to the witness of those suffering from these horrible diseases TO him. Their joy, faith, hope, love, and confidence in God was absolutely corrosive to his cynicism and doubt. He found it absurd to harbor anger at God for their suffering when those suffering did not themselves.

    RaA, this is the experience of the life of faith – that there is no dark hole so deep that God is not deeper still. This quote was made by Corrie-Ten-Boom in a Nazi concentration camp. It is those who experience the worst of the evils that the world can throw at them, and who still keep hold of Christ who see his goodness most clearly.

    This is why we cannot accept the notion that Jesus had some good moral teaching for society. Society has no shortage of good moral teaching – as such he is useless. But if he is who he claimed to be, the embodied face of the invisible God himself, who suffered the worst torture man could devise, died abandoned by his people, was left cold in the tomb, and then came bursting forth to life again, trumping the apparently unstoppable power of death itself, promising to raise us from the dead to life again…if he is THIS, then, we have a hope we never would have dreamed to hope for. For it is in the darkest and worst of evil that God shines his goodness through most brightly, relegating it ultimately impotent.

    This is not to say that evil is trivial, or that this world we live in is basically as it should be. We insist very loudly that the world is not as it should be, that evil is a plague upon it, and that God is committed to setting it right. Christianity begins with this assumption. Evil is not trivial, nor to be taken lightly. But consider – would if what we believe about the resurrection is true? Would if God has the power to raise the dead? Would if those in Darfur will be raised to life again? Does that not indeed make one inclined to hold such evil in contempt, to mock it, knowing that it’s power is only temporary? Not “pie in the sky” but the renewal of creation itself, the resurrection of all that is good and right in our world, and the destruction of evil. That is our hope, and that is the hope that drives us to shape our world in anticipation of this reality. This is what drives the many who suffer these atrocities to hope in God despite the despair, to love despite the hate, the forgive despite the unspeakable harm, to live despite the death. Tell me, what moral philosophy could one have to compare to this hope? What hope for the human race is there but Christ?

  33. cp Avatar

    Thanks for your response. I don’t happen to agree with any of it, but it was kind of you to bother.

    Your interpretations of “reality” and what the world tells us and my interpretations are so different that I don’t believe I will even attempt a counter response.

    That you persist with such arguments in this particular forum does leave me wondering, though, who you are really trying to convince.

    I will pray for you.


  34. religionandatheism Avatar

    Your implication seems to be that persistence betrays a lack of conviction. That’s a very subtly underhand remark. It’s trying to undermine what I’m saying merely on the basis that I care to say it. All I meant in writing what I did was to answer your question about interpreting reality and how I saw that issue. That’s all.

  35. religionandatheism Avatar


    You make a very interesting point. Of course I’ve no doubt that a very strong message about overcoming suffering is contained in the Christian story. That’s fine. There is, of course, a difference between recognising that the story speaks of a truth about mankind, and actually asserting that the resurrection and concomitant metaphysics are true in a historical sense.

    But aside from that, atheism is not any kind of doctrine or ideology (something critics don’t seem capable of understanding). It is not a system of thinking or of believing. It is simply a denial of theism. So in and of itself you wouldn’t expect atheism to offer consolation to the Burmese or to a woman whose children have cancer.

    But that this is so does not, of course, mean that the religious belief that good triumphs, or even the hope of such a thing, chimes with reality. It obviously does not.

    No ideology or doctrine can accomplish perfection, and most a very long way from it. But giving false hope ought to be considered a moral crime, since it potentially prolongs suffering. To be told that Jesus loves me does nothing to ameliorate the experience of being raped, for instance, unless you’re somehow drunk on the strength of the putative “truth” of the narrative – a state of inebriation of course on which religion is very keen in order to keep a following. And of course the very fact of the rape (or war or disease…) hardly fits with the idea of a loving God. Theology’s traditional answer to that is that it is we who have fallen away from Him. Except that such an answer blames the victims, doubling their sorrow, and hardly explains natural disasters. Apart from that there’s nothing wrong with it.

  36. religionandatheism Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    Again, a very strong point you make. I very much appreciate the opportunity to converse like this with you.

    That people in time of stife reach for religion is hardly a surprise. The vulnerable and distressed are desperate for a way out, for hope, for someone or something to love them.

    None of this makes it true.

  37. EYTYXOΣ Avatar

    religionandatheism wrote:

    But that this is so does not, of course, mean that the religious belief that good triumphs, or even the hope of such a thing, chimes with reality. It obviously does not.

    Your “obviously” is not so obvious to some of us.

    But giving false hope ought to be considered a moral crime, since it potentially prolongs suffering.

    Why is this a “moral crime”? Or a “moral” crime? And why is potentially (or actually) prolonging suffering wrong? It’s just tissues and nerve endings and electrical signals, and about as amoral as volts running through my house wires or a vulture feeding on a carcass. It’s just the selfish gene doing its thing – maybe not in a way we would like it, or like it done to us, but the gene has its reasons. It just is – isn’t it? Why get “moral” about it?

  38. religionandatheism Avatar


    I think you make a good point about our ears misleading us. I did not assert above that examining at the world does not entail a responsibility to make sure we’re hearing and seeing it as best we can. The lens of theology distorts the project, not the other way around.

    I’m not saying you’re blind to evil, either. I’m saying that the claim “evil is small” is, at best, inaccurate (depending on how it’s meant, of course).

    Finally: access to the fouth dimension?

  39. religionandatheism Avatar

    Many of you seem to repeat the same argument: that Christianity offers hope in suffering.


    So does the belief that aliens will swoop down and end it all and tell you it’s all a big test and take you to another planet and treat you like a king.

    The difference is that your preferred story is couched in effective symbolism (God, messiahs, sacrifices, familiar metaphysics) that speak to and reflect the needs of the human psyche much more effectively than the other example.

    But the hope you speak of does not demonstrate reality or truth.

    The aliens don’t exist. And the resurrection isn’t factual. It is a wonderful allegory found in, essentially, a fictional narrative. But to base your life on that…


    I’ve made it plain already.

  40. EYTYXOΣ Avatar

    religionandatheism wrote:
    But the hope you speak of does not demonstrate reality or truth.

    “What is truth?”

  41. David Avatar

    It is a strange thing to admit, but R&A is propelling me towards the Orthodox church. I read some of my own posts and I read his and I feel a connection, one I don’t want.

    When people look for something called proof, what they are really saying is, come up with an unassailable argument, devoid of logical and semantic flaws, in line with my current morality and that I can understand.

    Even if the first were possible, the second would be arbitrary and the third probably contradictory to the first two requirements. That is, if it were flawless, moral and simple, he’d already believe it.

    The Christian looks at all the same data as the Atheist, uses the same toolset and comes to a different conclusion about what he sees. Is this genetics? A lump on my brain makes me think of God? Or psychological, a father figure not adequate in childhood? Or random chance?

    The funny thing is, that even if it were a lump on my brain that wouldn’t bother me. I’d just love that lump, my divine lump. I’d see that lump as proof that God loved me enough to give me a lump.

    Same data, same tools, different conclusion. It appears that faith is not so much about the world as it is about the faithful.

    I paraphrase Puddleglum from “The Silver Chair” by CS Lewis. “I would rather believe that there is a Narnia and be wrong, than believe that this is all their is and be right.” (call it a modified Pascal’s wager)

    By the way R&A don’t speak for parents of children who die from cancer. My son died two years ago. And I give God the glory for getting me and my wife through that valley. Let me tell you this, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life, horrifying as it was, to see God’s people enter my family’s life and care for us as human beings ought to always care for one another.

    I saw Christ in their faces. You can never take that vision from me.

  42. fatherstephen Avatar


    A great difficulty in discussions like these is the fact that generally, atheists don’t know much about Christians, or only know Christians who are caricatures of the faith. Your comments, for instance, about the Bible is really a very deep misunderstanding of what Orthodox Christians believe about Scripture. Or your comment that when suffering people reach out for religion to help them is just profoundly uninformed about suffering people. It’s a make-believe world, not the real one that’s out there. You talk about a religion that you only know in your imagination – not as it is experienced in the life of a believer.

    It’s the problem I find in all of Dawson’s writings. His knowledge of religion and Christianity is abysmal. If his knowledge of physics (or whatever his field of science) were as poor he’d have no job at all.

    Rather than firing shots at straw men, it would be better to actually learn something about what Orthodox Christianity (I cannot speak for Protestants or Catholics) actually believes.

    By the way, if Christian hope is a “moral crime,” then I will not be surprised when they start arresting us again for having it. Atheists murdered Christians by the millions in the last century. Do we have to go through that again this century? Atheism has not made the world a better place. It gave us the French Revolution (and several others) and has yet to give a decent account for itself. Judaeo-Christianity, on the other hand, pretty well invented compassion, hospitals, charity of every sort. Christian history has its crimes – usually when men used power in decidedly unChristian ways. On the other hand, Christianity has shown a remarkable ability to be self-critical and to be corrected. Atheism has had no such mechanism. Only the grace and mercy of God have brought to an end the terror of atheist regimes that gave us the bloodiest century in history. I’ll pray for them all, but I’d prefer they not run the world.

  43. religionandatheism Avatar

    Firstly, I’m not asking for proof.

    My original point, if you track back this discussion sufficiently far, was that all the effort theologians put into substantiating religious claims a. lead nowhere; b. would be put to better use in other ways.

    As for your Pascal’s wager argument: fine. You have every right to deceive yourself and be happy with it. Go ahead.

    An atheist would argue that living with the realisation that all there is is this life, the move to live it more intensely becomes more pressing. Though, I fear, everyone here will claim the same thing for theism, so I’m hardly interested in pursuing this – you’re all just going to say the same about belief, I presume.

    As for the humanity of the Christians who supported you: great. I’m all for people being compassionate to each other. Fantastic.

    But you don’t need religion for it, much less dense theology and fancy metaphysical sophistry – what a waste of life that is!

  44. Wonders for Oyarsa Avatar

    RaA – I don’t know where you get this notion about the resurrection being essentially a fiction narrative. Certainly not from reading the Gospels – you don’t say “we know this, because of the testimony of people who saw it” if you’re just pulling stuff out of thin air. The witness of the apostles before the world was that Jesus had really risen from the dead. They may have lied, or been delusional, but those are the only other options – they really did say he was raised, and that’s how people interpreted what they said.

    The point is that, mistaken or not, we say that, against all expectations, despite all precedent, Jesus rose from the dead. That is the basis of our hope. That is Christianity. If we are wrong, we are pathetic. If we are right, it is the most brilliant and unusual thing that has ever happened. If we are wrong it means nothing. If we are right, it is the most important thing that has ever happened.

    You don’t have to agree – but you need to understand what Christianity is.

  45. Wonders for Oyarsa Avatar

    But you don’t need religion for it, much less dense theology and fancy metaphysical sophistry – what a waste of life that is!

    RaA – listen to yourself! Is this a statement based in reason? Did you learn that a deep knowledge of God and religion are useless and wasteful by careful examination of the evidence? Did you pick a control group and an experimental one to determine this?

    Or…is it just possible…that you base such a statement entirely on prejudice? Put aside emotion for a moment and examine yourself. Use reason!

  46. kevinburt Avatar

    Hungry people are desperate for food. Ought we doubt the existence of food, or count it simply as a metaphysical projection, simply because it is hoped for most strongly by those who are hungry? “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

    I have known many suffering people. I’ve known parents who lost children, had patients who sat in my exam room and wept as they spoke of their deceased spouses, or their own imminent death from cancer. And, as Fr Stephen said, I have seen the greatest faith, hope, and love amongst these dear souls. Call it “projection” or some other analytical term that actually says nothing, if you choose to; but, THIS is “what reality is saying.” I begin to wonder what right a person has to determine that reality is only what may be measured in a test tube? I have spent years over a test tube, and subsequent years looking into a patient’s eyes and hearts, and I have no hesitation in telling you what is truly real.

    Oh, yes, Ochlophobist, Ivan is alive and well.

  47. religionandatheism Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    I have less experience of Orthodox Christianity than of other religious traditions, that is true. But I was raised raised a Catholic so I know Christianity from that perspective.

    It will encourage you to know that I also don’t agree with Dawkins (not Dawson, and he’s an ethologist). He is ignorant in many respects and he often misrepresents bits of theology. As a philosopher he’s useless too – quite some handycap for a talking head aspiring to a high callibre.

    It is true that atheists killed many Christians in the 20th century and I deplore that. However, they did not kill BECAUSE of their atheism (i.e. merely because they denied the existence of God). They killed for ideologies, because they were drunk on power, and because they were fanatics. Not solely because of their disagreement with theists on the matter of God’s existence. I think it’s a poor inference to try and indict atheism on the basis of what Stalin and Mao did, for example.

    I’ve even heard it argued that atheism informed Marxist thinking, which inspired such people as Stalin and Mao, or was at the root of their doctrines. But that’s to misread Marx for a start, and it’s to neglect that it was fanaticism and totalitarianism, not denial of God by itself somehow, that ended the lives of so many religious people (and not only Christians, by the way – just look at what Mao did to Tibetan Buddhism!).

    And anyway, a calculus of deaths is neither appropriate nor exactly a good way to decide whether God exist. Though certainly in the OT he didn’t mind turning the odd person into a pillar of salt or destroying a city here or there.

  48. religionandatheism Avatar

    Ok, so I’ll ask another question of you believers:

    Do you believe in the resurrection of Christ as an event in history in the sense that it would be impossible, even in theory, for human archeologists to discover his remains one day?

    (leaving the question aside as to how it could be proven that the remains are his – I’m just asking about the nature of your belief in the resurrection.)

    So, to be clear. It’s a simple yes or no:

    Do you agree with the following statement:
    “Christ rose from the dead and this means that it would be impossible for his remains to be discovered by archeologists.”

    Yes or no?

  49. Wonders for Oyarsa Avatar

    Absolutely. If you get a body, and were able to prove it is his, then we’re basing this all on a mistake. And we might as well be Jews or Buddhists or just about anything. As St. Paul says:

    If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

  50. Wonders for Oyarsa Avatar

    (What I meant by mentioning Jews and Buddhists wasn’t a slam on them – it was only to say that we’d need to convert to something else, or give up on religion altogether)

  51. EYTYXOΣ Avatar

    religionandatheism Says:
    July 26th, 2007 at 10:55 pm

    Ok, so I’ll ask another question of you believers:

    Why won’t you answer my questions that I asked of you (or, more exactly, asked with respect to some of your statements – but the questions were directed to you since you made the statements I quoted)? Again:

    Why is this a “moral crime”? Or a “moral” crime? And why is potentially (or actually) prolonging suffering wrong? It’s just tissues and nerve endings and electrical signals, and about as amoral as volts running through my house wires or a vulture feeding on a carcass. It’s just the selfish gene doing its thing – maybe not in a way we would like it, or like it done to us, but the gene has its reasons. It just is – isn’t it? Why get “moral” about it?


    “What is truth?”

  52. David Avatar

    I love a good circular argument R&A. How about this one?

    According to you, I am choosing to delude myself.

    I’m fascinated by the phrase “waste of life”. On what basis do you claim I am “wasting” my life? By your very premise, isn’t any metaphysic a delusion? Do you accept proof by contradiction?

    You deny metaphysics, but use your own metaphysical framework to judge my actions and the value of my beliefs.

    I think you should stick to being strict empiricist, there is the only self-consistent choice available to you. The devil you must become if you truly believe that there is no meaning apart from self-delusion will be a testament against you.

  53. religionandatheism Avatar

    What is a moral crime? I meant by this to say that it is morally wrong. It is wrong to give people false hope. To persuade them to base their actions in this life on the belief that they have another to look forward to. There is just no reason to suppose that is true.

    “Why is potentially (or actually) prolonging suffering wrong?”

    If you think prolonging someone’s suffering is not wrong you’re on a par, morally speaking, with a torturer.

    Why get moral about pain? Pain is universally acknowledged as undesirable. We can act to minimize it, and lessen suffering. That’s why.

    As for what truth is, we hardly have room to keep the ball rolling on the other subjects and engage in a discussion on epistemology here. Forgive me for that, but I can’t see an end in sight for that. Positivism, realism, anti-realism, objectivism, evidentialism, relativism. There’s just no room here.

  54. religionandatheism Avatar


    There’s circular arguments, and then there’s making up stuff about what I claim. I don’t say there’s no meaning in life apart from self-delusion. You invented that one and put it in my mouth.

    I didn’t say that you specifically are wasting your life either. I was making a general remark about the fact that human energy expended on intellectually defending literary symbolism as though it was literal truth is a waste of energy.

    So there’s circular arguments and then there’s reading what I said more carefully.

    And in any case, what are is my metaphysics by whose standards I’m allegedly judging yours?

  55. EYTYXOΣ Avatar

    religionandatheism says:
    Why get moral about pain? Pain is universally acknowledged as undesirable. We can act to minimize it, and lessen suffering. That’s why.

    A leper would LOVE to feel pain.

  56. Wonders for Oyarsa Avatar

    What is a moral crime? I meant by this to say that it is morally wrong. It is wrong to give people false hope. To persuade them to base their actions in this life on the belief that they have another to look forward to. There is just no reason to suppose that is true.

    R&A – this is just dogma. You are saying “given Christianity is false, it is immoral to tell people it is true.” There’s no need to go there. It’s truth or falsehood is exactly the matter at hand. If we knew it to be false, we would indeed be immoral lying to people. Same for you on the flip side. But it’s silly to talk this way when that is exactly what we disagree about in the first place.

  57. fatherstephen Avatar

    When I was a guest writer on Pontifications, I created a rule based on my observations: when responses to a post exceeded 50 they tended to degenerate. We’re getting there.


    Yes we believe that the resurrection of Christ means that His body is no longer here. He is not here, he is risen.

    If you want to read a serious philosophical case for the existence of God, I would recommend Richard Swinburne’s The Existence of God. Or some of the works by Plantinga. Both are very serious Christian philosophers who would at least offer the kind of philosophical rigor you might appreciate. I found Swinburne a difficult read but I’m not a philosopher. I understand that he is now an Orthodox Christian (having converted from some other form of Christianity).

    If you’re serious in your questions that would be time well spent. I’m heading to bed (its Eastern time USA here and late) but around the world – goodnight.

  58. Wonders for Oyarsa Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    I do apologize if I’ve contributed to any degeneration around here. I know this is an Orthodox blog, and I certainly don’t want to wear out my welcome, or turn up the heat on debates that aren’t going to be productive.

  59. religionandatheism Avatar

    Ok, if the feeling is that this is getting nowhere, then I’m happy to quit whenever you are and call it a day. But just to respond to a couple of the last comments:

    “A leper would LOVE to feel pain.”

    Obviously pain needn’t be physical. Wouldn’ t it be more accurate to say a leper would love to feel in general, not just physical pain? Besides, which leper would?

    My statement that Christianity is not true is not dogma. It is assertion at worst – and I’ve tried to argue the point throughout. There’s simply more satisfactory explanations than having to rely on the testimony of people 2000 years ago which are found in a very questionable document. Not to mention that many other mythologies and religions claim things very similar to Christianity.

    Why aren’t you convinced of the truth of the resurrection of the Mayan figure Kukulkan? He was crucified, came back to life, promised to return and spoke about a final judgement…

    Just to call what I write dogma is not an argument in itself either, please note.

    Father Stephen,

    I am well familiar with Richard Swinburne and Alvin Plantinga. I’m afraid to say that neither of their arguments are very persuasive. It’s too long to go into here, but generally speaking they’re both intent on defending the intellectual rigour of Christianity and have both completely failed to impress philosophers outside of the faith. Swinburne’s theodicy in particular is laughable. Keith Ward, Alister McGrath – these people aren’t strict enough with themselves either. They are revered amongst theologians, but not philosophers. Plantinga, for instance, is particularly praised amongst believers for being a theologian in the analytic tradition. No one else is impressed with this, since his arguments, outside of theology, are actually very weak.

    Thank you for the suggestion, but I’ve already tried these people. I can go into it in length if you like, though probably there’s no room. Do say, if you want me to though.

    All the best.

  60. Rob Grano Avatar
    Rob Grano

    As it’s a metaphysical issue, the existence of God cannot be either proven or disproven in a positivist sense, i.e., by logic or empirical evidence or a combination of both. The best that can be hoped for is a weighing of the evidence on both sides, and a conclusion being drawn. A decision either way requires some measure of faith. And then, even should one reason one’s way to belief in the existence of a Supreme Being, Christian theology is unanimous in stating that this ‘God of the philosophers’ is not the Christian God, whose identity is known only by his self-revelation.

    The argument against atheism that seems most compelling to me is the moral argument: to quote Dostoevsky, “If there is no God, everything is permitted.” If there is no higher standard of good than the human, then human morality is completely arbitrary and there is only personal choice and the will to power. This does not mean that atheists cannot be good people; it means that their being “good” cannot be described as strictly rationalistic. They haven’t rationalized their way to the good, but presume it. As Alasdair McIntyre as summed it up, when it comes to ethics and morality, the only two real options, logically speaking, are Aristotle and Nietzche — either belief in an absolute Good, or nihilism.

    On another note, there is a marvellous new book out from SVS Press on Rublev’s Trinity, by a Benedictine monk named Gabriel Bunge. Very much worth picking up.

  61. fatherstephen Avatar


    I’ll make a point of looking into the book. I’m a great admirer of St. Andrei Rublev.

  62. Wonders for Oyarsa Avatar

    R&A – I’d be happy to correspond with you further on this by e-mail if you’d like. Pop on over to my site and hit “contact me”.

  63. Xochical Avatar

    I’m no philospher, but I think the problem is esentially an epistemological one. I tried, once upon a time, to go through the mental gymnastics and find a reason for believing in God, or basically to find an alternative to Camus’ ultimate question, “Suicide, any one?”. I applied my mind to the reading of philosphers, and in the end I had to throw my hands in the air in desperation. They, the “philosphers” could tell me nothing. Each one claimed to hold the truth, even if that truth was that there was in reality no truth. As R&A has pointed out, even the most celebrated philosphers of our day, religious or non-religious, contradict each other and do not, and cannot satisfy the human thirst for meaning.
    What is it that we’re missing? Where is the probelm? To make a long story short, for me, the problem was that all these philosphers had placed all their trust in only one faculty of their being, i.e.: their mind. At what point in history did we decide that the mind that its function was to be the sole arbiter of “truth”, or the sole arbiter of whether there is “truth” at all? Why not the emotions? Why did we decide to trust our minds so whole heartedly to tell us anything at all about reality? Can I trust my mind to tell me about who I am or who the “other” is? Sufice it to say, ask 10 humans, and you’ll get 10 different anthropologies.
    Who said the mind is fit for such a task as deciding what “reality” is, or what “truth” is?

    Our minds have done a great deal of damage, I’m afraid and lost their credibilty, at least in my estimation. Whether by Atheists or Religious, the mind has been used to concoct and justify all manner of atrocities, hypocracies and delusions. I say, its time for us to look to a different way of finding reality.

    LSD, crystal meth, cocain? Those have been some ways our race has tried to penetrate the abyss and transcend the limitations of our brain, but they haven’t gotten us very far.

    I’m not eloquent, my “logic” is probably full of holes, and maybe I don’t make any sense. That’s OK, I won’t be judged on those criteria, by a human or Divine court. What humanity values, what it admires is not the correctness of one’s logic, but the ferver of one’s love. I don’t see anywhere on our calender, “Adolf Hitler” day, or “Fascist day”, or “Bertran Russle day”, of even “Plato day”. What I think humanity responds to and understands is love. That’s why we have “mother’s day”, Martin Luther King day”, “Veterans day”, etc.
    It seems to me that only love can make sense of this world. It seems to me that it is only a person who has given him or herself over to love can tell us something true.

    My theory, not really my theory, but I don’t think that love originates in the mind, but in the heart. I think the heart is much bigger than the brain and can enclose within itself the myriad of contradictions and paradoxes and still love. The mind at the first sign of contradictions is ready to withold food from the poor begger who sits by the road, day after day. It is the mind that rationalizes, “he looks fit to work, he should get a job”. However, it is the heart that feels a twinge of pain as you drive off, having done nothing. You see, the heart looked past the obvious and understood the heart of the matter: love your neighbor as yourself. I think we listen to our brains to much, and not enough to our hearts.

    If we listened to our hearts and obeyed it all the time ,things, I think, would be different. If we fed that poor man on the side of the road today, tomorrow, and every day henceforth, our perspective would change a little. If we not only fed him, but the begger the next road up, then the 3 or 4 on the next couple of streets, then the dozens downtown, then we visited at least one leukemia ward and “mourned with those who mourned”, then took a plane to Darfur, El Salvador, or New Orleans to lend a helping hand to those in chronic suffering, then I think we would begin to see life very differently. We will burn with love for those suffering, and yet feel an extreme pain ourselves at our inability to diminish in any signficant way all the pain and suffering around us. But why, why does suffering persist? As we look around us, the answer becomes obvious: the lack of love for one another, especially of those who have, towards those that have not.
    We would like to force people to love one another, but as Russia in 1917, or the end of apartied in South Africa has shown us, you cannot force the “haves” to love the “have nots”.

    Love is only love when given out of a free and unconstrained will.

    The earth is the dominion of man, man must work out his problems, man must love man in order to heal the ills of our world. Evil exists because man refuses to love, and for no other reason.

    But how is man to love, love freely and love unconditionally?

    I suppose it is a matter of conditioning the heart, of excercising the heart in love, in loving acts, acts of kindness and sacrifice for one’s neighbor. Maybe its a matter of going with him 2 miles if he ask you to go 1. Or giving him your shoes and shirt, when all he ask you is for your shoes. Or maybe not seeking revenge when he has offended you. Or maybe doing something good for him when he has done something evil. Or maybe even laying down your life for one who has wronged you?

    If you get that far, you are not far from the kingdom.

    Some of us would like to think R&A is far from the mark, but I think he is closer than we think and likely closer than most of us. His heart, it seems to me, aches at the sight of suffering in the world and is revulsed by the hard-heartedness of man towards man.

    Yet, I think ,within his “worldview” the “why” is left unanswered. And as such, loving is simply optional. “Why love”. “Why endure suffering”, “Why endure watching the world suffer?” Why don’t I jump off the cliff and thus avoid being eaten by my predator? I gain nothing, and lose nothing”

    It is this “Why” that R&A can’t get his mind around. Maybe what he wants to know can’t be known with the mind but with the heart. Maybe if he gives his mind a break and dedicates his heart to loving more he might come to some satisfactory conclusions. Maybe if we all gave our minds a break and loved more we would be on the right track.

  64. fatherstephen Avatar

    Thank you for our words – there is so very much in them. Those of us who have embraced the Orthodox faith will find very much in them with which we agree. Let everyone speak! Let God draw us to Himself is this tiny conversation. We are all just silly men – may God come done in the midst of our conversation and help us.

  65. Xochical Avatar

    I just felt the need to add, that loving is no simple thing. When one sets out to love unconditionally in the world one must be willing to accept each individual’s response. Some will respond kindly and return love for love. Others will return evil for good. One must be willing to accept that, if not, he will turn into a self-righteous complainer.
    But, that is the reality, that is, love, more often than not, is met with evil. Why? Because we are free to do so.

    I read and reread R&A comments and feel where he’s coming from. But, how would he feel if this God of theists, or of christians in particular, came down and in a snap fixed all the ills of society, and all began loving each other, we all loved each other equally and treated each other equally, not by choice but because we were magically transformed, or programmed to do so? Would that make him feel better?

    I doubt it. Love, must be given freely and with an unconstrained will. If he laments the “failure” of good and the “triumph” of evil, he must realize that in a world of free individuals, the blame falls at the feet of xochical, of R&A, of Fr. Stephen, and each one of us who fails to love his neighbor.

    When one has loved enough and recieved enough evil for good, and yet persist in love, then I think one can begin to see the truth of the Christian message. God, who loves mankind, has given us the freedom to love Him and each other. He has given to us the realm of earth, for us to fill it with Him, with Love. If we have failed to love each other and in failing to do so, have created for us a living hell, is He to blame?
    He has loved us and come among us in the form of a man to tell remind us of our calling again: to love God and man. But his love was met with rejection and ultimately the cross. That is what the cross ultimately signifies: man’s rejection of God’s love. The cross wasn’t some alter on which God let out all his wrath for man’s offenses against him. That is a carnal theology, and theology of merely the mind. The cross wasn’t how God wanted man to respond.
    But, he took it, he didn’t complain. He took man’s evil and turned it into good. How? By submitting to death in the flesh and soul, but by His Divine power raising both the flesh and the soul from death, and doing what no human had ever done: return from the dead. You see, R&A, Christ took the crosss, accepted death, and as God rose from the dead. He took our evil response to his love, and turned into good. And that goodness he turns around and gives to any who wish to recieve it. What is it that he imparts, exactly? His own life. And it is his own life that gives the believer strength to love unconditionally, to take his cross, to recieve man’s evil responses, and continue loving.

    This cannot be comprehended by the brain, by the mind, only with the heart. Yet our hearts are not completely well themselves. They need a lot of cleaning. We need to remove all the hate and egotism and fill it with love for our neighbor. The more we fill it with love for our neighbor, the more we can see and accept God’s love, God’s truth in the person of Jesus Christ.

    If you are willing, R&A, God can fill your heart with love, and even more, he can expand your heart and give you love for the whole world. In such a world you don’t see religious or atheist, black or white, Christian or Muslim, rich or poor. All you see is a human being, and by virtue of belonging to that noble race, you love him.

    Maybe its worth a try.

  66. Lucian Avatar

    But in this Old Testament scene, the Fathers have seen a prefiguring of the Holy Trinity, but not an embodiment of the Father and the Spirit. Simply an angelic visitation that presents Abraham with the Logos of God.

    Thanx. — I meant to ask You about this, but I hesitated (for over a year, or two…)

  67. […] or may not be received by the Church catholic when a new portrayal is rendered. Father Stephen at Glory to God for All Things in the example cited uses as illustration the famous Rublev icon displaying the Trinity in an Old […]

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