What Role Do the Fathers Play in the Reading of Scripture?


It is easy from the outside to form an incorrect picture of the Orthodox interpretation of Scripture. There is actually quite a bit of variety among the Fathers when it comes to reading the Word of God. Even in the earliest centuries there were noted differences in the approach that obtained among those trained in Antioch and those trained in Alexandria, the two great centers of Christian exegesis. To a large extent, Antioch won (at least on certain points). Antioch was far more literal in its approach, while Alexandria was more enamoured of allegory. Alexandria was doubtless weakened by the excess of Origen’s allegories but mostly by the monophysite controversy.

But on the whole, Biblical exegesis became largely settled by the great doctrinal controversies during the period of the Ecumenical Councils. The deluge of exegesis endured from the proponents of Arianism made the Church as wary of by-the-seat-of-your-pants Bible interpretation as St. Irenaeus had been a century earlier in dealing with Gnostic Bible handling.

The continued appeal to Tradition, that is, the way the Scriptures had been handled in the past by those who were trusted names within the Church made for a fairly conservative approach to Biblical interpretation. Also, it was noted that in the struggle to give proper voice to Christian doctrine, Scripture alone was sometimes insufficient, at least when it came to writing summarizing statements. Thus much of the battle of St. Athanasius’ use of the word homoousios (“of one being”) in the Creed of Nicaea was the charge that he was introducing a word that was not found in the Scriptures. True, he had. But after nearly a century’s debate, it was clear that no single word within Scripture could say what the single word of St. Athanasius had said. Without this word, the truth of the Trinitarian dogma (known in silence) could not have been well-spoken in public and confessed in the Church.

By the same token, later dogmatic questions, such as that of the Personhood of Christ, though informed by Scripture, could not be settled by the citation of verses alone. Clear theological statements such as those of St. Gregory Nazianzus, “That which is not assumed is not saved,” offered a continuing expression of the matrix of belief required in the Church for the same doctrine of salvation to be preached. Unless Christ is fully man, we cannot be saved. Unless Christ is fully God, we cannot be saved, for only God can give to man what man must have in order to be healed from the wound of sin.

Apart from the conciliar debates, another world of Scriptural exegesis became extremely popular, and that was the work of the great hymnographers. Perhaps the one figure who best combined both Scriptural scholarship and hymn writing into one was that of St. John of Damascus. But there were others, both male and female. To this day the richest commentary on Scripture in the Orthodox Church is to be found in the hymnody in the daily round of services that cycle through the Christian year. The language of the Councils was made to sing. St. Gregory Nazianzus, previously mentioned, delighted in writing poetry far more than prose. Theology is not only true – that which is true should also be beautiful.

The comments on the beauty of Orthodox worship frequently neglect to state that though the actions of the services have their beauty, it is the hymnography soaring above everything that transports the service to heaven, or rather imports heaven to earth. And the content of that hymnography is primarily doctrinal. Never was theology made to sing in such beauty – either before or since.

Today, I believe there is a renewed need for Orthodox attention to Scripture – not because there is something lacking in our worship – but because the study of Scripture has been left in shambles in the West after the past 200 years. Liberal scholarship has collapsed into ludicrous games of dropping colored marbles to “vote” on whether a passage of the gospel is authentic and actually attributable to Christ. Thus far, the Jesus Seminar (the voting group) has only attributed a single statement to Christ.

Fundamentalism lost its way before every it got started following the red herring of Darwinian debate.

There is a need for Orthodoxy to draw from its rich history of exegesis and bring it to the table of Scriptural scholarship – a need for the lex orandi (the rule of praying) to become the lex legenda (the rule of reading) In the course of such we should not be ashamed to say that the Scriptures are the book that is uniquely the Church’s book and that the manner of its reading is uniquely the manner of the Church. It is more than history, more than myth, more than any of the current theories floating about. When held in the hands of the believing Church and rightly read, it is the true Word of God unto salvation. Far too few Christians have heard it sung in such a manner. When placed within the matrix of the Apostolic rule of faith, the Scriptures reveal their treasures like a no earthly thing. It is this exegesis that must be taught to the generations of Orthodox clergy being trained and this exegesis that must be preached in our Churches and shouted from the rooftops.

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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35 responses to “What Role Do the Fathers Play in the Reading of Scripture?”

  1. Ron Drummond Avatar
    Ron Drummond

    A helpful reflection, Father. Even though I trained in an “orthodox” Episcopal seminary, I was trained in Scripture studies by a thorough immersion in 19th century German historical-critical models, especially in the OT. NT was taught using some of the newer narrative criticism which is somewhat helpful, but I can recall absolutely no grounding in reading and interpreting Scripture with the mind of the Church (i.e. with the Fathers). In fact, I seem to recall that the only time the Fathers were mentioned was in NT when discussing the dating or authorship of books.

    Not that the historical-critical methods are completely without value. They provide some helpful insights into the Bible as a collection of books written by men in a particular time of history and with particular literary techniques. But it is in ripping the Bible out of its proper context as Book of the Church that biblical interpretation in the west is “in shambles,” as you say.

    As I mentioned in a comment on a previous post, there are some encouraging trends outside of the Orthodox Church in regards to biblical interpretation. A number of evangelical scholars and publishers are devoting ink and paper to “rediscovering” the Fathers and examining the various ways in which they read the Word of God.

    I am not familiar at this point with modern Orthodox biblical scholarship. If there is such a thing (no insult intended), has it suffered from the same maladies as biblical scholarship in the west?

  2. neil Avatar

    Great post, Father.

    I was just thinking yesterday after I had asked for suggested history reading that what I really need to do is get back into the Bible and read the New Testaent fresh from the beginning in the new light of my paradigm being shifted from Protestant to Orthodox. Problem is, I don’t know how to do that. I have been keeping a prayer rule and I know that a reading rule would be greatly beneficial, but other than just starting to read, I don’t know how to go about it. The Orthodox Study Bible will help, I’m sure. And prayer that the Holy Spirit would illumine my heart through the intercessions and guidance of the Fathers and Saints. Am I on track?

    I know the liturgy helps greatly and I expect my journey to be long, but it’s always nice to have some pointers and guidance.

    And I’m still going to read those histories!

  3. Fatherstephen Avatar

    Orthodox Biblical work is sort of all over the place right now. Much has been done in the last century to put in place some of the “neo-Patristic Synthesis” that Georges Florovsky, and to an extent Vladimir Lossky, envisioned. Most Orthodox scholarship owes some debt to them. Although Florovsky wrote on “The Bible and the Church” I do not think that our Biblical scholarship has embodied his vision the way that other studies have.

    I agree that various research techniques of modernity have their use (I was trained in them as well) but we could use some mature use of truly Orthodox models (in Florovsky’s sense) as well. Perhaps in this generation…

  4. handmaidmaryleah Avatar

    Dear Neil,
    I have only been Orthodox for seven years and discover new things during every divine service that I attend!
    To acquire the mind of the church will take you a lifetime, but I have discovered that I really began to “see” everything differently, in an Orthodox manner, about two years ago. So it has taken five years even to begin to begin…
    Pray, pray and then read in conjunction with what your spiritual Father says is good for you, then pray some more. Your prayer life is far more important than anything else. Do you agree Father?

  5. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    We can’t understand Scripture apart from the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who also guided the Church Fathers. The Holy Spirit was promised by Christ God to come from the Father to guide us into all truth. It is good to pray to the Holy Spirit for spiritual sight when reading the Bible.

    Personally, I’m convinced that we are living in a Golden Age of Bible study. Today there is so much supportive information to help us to understand the biblical roots of our Faith. For example. honest scholarship by Christians and secular researchers increasingly supports the assertions of Genesis. I make this information accessable to readers at my “Just Genesis” blog.

  6. kevinburt Avatar

    Thanks, Father. Whenever I hear “Calvinism,” I cringe; it’s not my favorite topic to get into, because some of the texts are, simply put, difficult for me to understand (I’m thinking of Romans 9-11). But, if the mention of the word elicits a series of posts like your last two, let Calvinism be mentioned more often! 🙂 Great posts, and thanks again!

  7. Canadian Avatar

    Go easy on us (waning) Calvinists 🙂
    I have been thinking lately about something and maybe Father Stephen or others could help me here. If, as the Councils say, Christ is consubstantial with the Father according to his divine nature, and is also fully consubstantial with us according to his human nature then did Christ die for human nature, human persons or both? If he died for human persons then limited atonement is possible if in fact those “persons” are the elect. If he assumed and died for human nature then all men were afforded some benefit from Christs death and resurrection (even the lost will be raised) yet may not actually be redeemed.
    So would you say that the healing of human nature by the person and work of Christ is a “monergistic” act for all, while the application of the actual SAVING benefit of that act is synergistic through repentance, faith, the sacraments etc? Some direction here as it relates to Calvinism would be greatly appreciated.
    Forgive me if this all sounds so “western” but that is where I am, and if Calvinism is incorrect then it must fall on the sword of truth by the Church showing me how I have read scripture falsely. Sorry for veering a little off course here

  8. neil Avatar

    This is perhaps a little further off course, but if I understand God’s desire to redeem all of nature to be correct, was that redemption included in Christ’s sacrifice, as well?

    Just curious where and how that fits.

  9. kevinburt Avatar


    No criticism intended, except perhaps of my own intellect. I’m the one who has a hard time with the passages! I’ll let others answer your questions, for the same reason…

    Thomas Kevin

  10. David Avatar

    It is my prayer that my own churches of Christ find the Fathers and see in them a reflection of themselves. Instead of seeing them “corrupted” by the time and place they lived in, see the continuity available for all time.

    In many ways the debates I hear in certain honest Bible studies reminds me of Irenaeus’ work and what I’ve read of the councils. This is most true in the case of St John’s writings which are less possible to walk far away from the Fathers.

    If only my brothers could see what might lie just outside their understanding. I believe if they could be shown this, there would be the very revival of Patriotically informed Biblical exegesis that would astound the world.

    But alas, an anti-intellectual, anti-mystical almost populist approach has come to dominate all arguments. Either isolationism out of fear or pride-filled inclusionism. It’s strange that some people identify the truth of their beliefs by the number of other people in their community. That if by being almost alone or by believing they represent “everyone” they are somehow more “right”.

    I once asked my father (whom I love and owe my faith) why he didn’t trust me. He told me “I don’t trust myself.” How could I expect him to trust the Church?

  11. fatherstephen Avatar


    Gosh, the questions make my hair hurt 🙂 I’m not sure I would use the phrase “die for human nature,” but it is certain that Christ took human nature to the grave and resurrected it, and that all human nature has been effected by that. And yes, each person must embrace that act of grace for it to be perfected in their persons. I get shaky on the question of “monergistic,” it was not an act of his human nature alone (each nature has its own energy according to the Councils).

    Vladimir Lossky probably develops the notion above rather fully in his Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, though I tend to prefer Zizioulas and the Elder Sophrony when I’m pushing that deep.

    But the notion of “dying for persons” has in it an extrinsic view of salvation (such as the penal substitutionary atonement, or imputed righteousness in its weaker sense) that would be more or less foreign to Orthodox understanding.

    The death and resurrection of Christ and His atonement are very much matters of “union” with Christ (buried with Him in Baptism, raised in the likeness of His resurrection), that imply something quite ontological and not merely voluntary, etc.

    I don’t know if that’s a helpful thought for a start or not. I can say more if it is.

  12. david+ Avatar

    Dear Father, thank you for these many wonderful posts. I am constantly humbled and blessed by reading your thoughts.
    I’ve been doing a little study and felt as though I might contribute these few ideas regarding “new” Orthodox study of the Bible: Of course I am reading from an outsider’s point of view; however, good Orthodox friends have said I have a good nose for what’s Orthodox and what’s not… 😉
    Fr. John Breck’s “The power of the word in the worshiping church” is really good. Not only is it a wonderful historical overview of how scripture is understood, but the very nature of hermeneutics is engaged with the purpose of focusing biblical interpretation within the worshiping community. Theodore G. Stylianopoulos has written an accessible introductory work entitled “The New Testament: An Orthodox Perspective.”
    IMHO, I find the Very Rev’d Paul Nadim Tarazi’s works to be very suspicious because of their heavy reliance on western critical (i.e., higher German) thought.

    Fr Stephen, you mentioned Fr. Georges Florovsky: One of the things that I most appreciated about reading his works is how engaged he is with respect to the “scholars” of his day. He brought Orthodox theology and Patristic wisdom to the table as he carried on his discussion with the (mostly) protestant scholars. Having heard (only some of) his lectures, I think Fr. Hopko is squarely within the tradition and style of Fr. Florovsky when he discusses Scripture and its interpretation.
    Just a few thoughts to hopefully add to the conversation.

  13. ochlophobist Avatar


    You must also be having beers with Fr. John Behr. This is the best succinct offering of the thesis I first learned from Fr. John Behr that I have ever read.

    I am told, by the way, that the Antioch/Alexandria contrast is now under dispute. There are too many Antiochians who were far from literalists and too many Alexandrians who turned first to a literal interpretation. There were definite hermeneutic postures which can be classified as embracing first this or that interpretive method, but some are now making the case that this is less a matter of geography than intellectual pedigree. We should also keep in mind those fathers who defy classification in their interpretive technique. Literal here. Allegorical there. All that said, I think that there is something of an Antiochian reserve with regard to biblical interpretation, and that tends to warm my heart. But St. John Chrysostom won me over as exegete par excellence years ago. When he uses allegory, as he does not infrequently, he gives one the sense that the narrative demands it, and was intended for it.

    I remember the first time I heard the book of Proverbs chanted in an Orthodox church. I had always thought of Proverbs in a judicial light, one which mercilessly judged me for all the ways I transgressed the law. But when one hears it chanted, one hears the pleading of a mother for the salvation of her son. The whole context and tone changed. It went from strict teacher who loves only the best of students to the forgiving mother who will not forsake any of her children. My life was a bit of a mess when I first heard that chanting. I remember as if it were yesterday – having to go out for a smoke when the chanting of Proverbs was done, tears running down my cheeks. Here was a place where texts I had known as condemnation and futility were sung into mercy and help. Instead of knocking me down, they invited me. No that is not right. They invited us, and I was included in that us.

    Years later, as a catechumen, I heard the story of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. My historically-critically trained mind thought, “uh, well, isn’t that pious.” A few days later I sang the hymn texts at the Vigil the night before the feast, and I thought, “this has to be true.” How could it not be true if Christ is Christ?

    Finally there was the first Orthodox funeral I attended. The scriptures and other hymn texts sung there were unlike those of any funeral I had ever attended. I thought to myself, “when I die, I want these people to sing for me.”

    In so many respects, my way into Orthodoxy was sung.

    “It is the hymnography soaring above everything that transports the service to heaven” – very well put.

  14. nancy Avatar

    The hymnography of the Church is very much our teacher. In the Church I have attended I notice that among the converts, there is a clamoring for “Bible studies,” usually taught by an ex-Protestant, not unlike those I was a part of before I became Orthodox. While this is a model found in Protestant churches, it doesn’t seem to be adequate in an Orthodox setting. Others have pointed out the biblical foundation of Orthodoxy which is there for those who attend and and are attentive to the service, and no amount of current biblical “scholarship” can be any kind of substitute for the theological depth of Orthodox services.

    After almost ten years in the Faith, I truly believe that the essence of Orthodoxy MUST be found in its hymnography (and certainly in an understanding of its iconography). Unfortunately, in many places the services where these beautiful messages are given to the listener, either few attend to hear them or the chanters are not able to convey the message in a clear, coherent manner.

    These comments are not to deny or belittle reading and studies of Scripture, but simply to point out that Orthodox Christians are blessed with the wealth of theology for those who seek to understand their Faith, and they need not look elsewhere.

  15. fatherstephen Avatar

    Ocholophobist – thank you for the kind remarks.

    Nancy, you are both so right about the hymnography. I think an excellent study would be to take Met. Kallistos’ Festal Menaion and in the weeks leading up to a feast study its texts and follow it to the Scriptures it uses (which would be all over the Scriptures) and do a Bible Study like that.

  16. nancy Avatar

    Absolutely!! A splendid idea for Great Lent, and proof positive for skeptics who do not recognize that the fullness of Scripture is found in the Church services. For the Advent Fast, theology and Scripture are all there in the hymns, It might be lost on some, but not on the Choir if participants understand what they are singing. It’s true for all feasts, and witness the hymns relating events in the lives of the Saints. What a rich heritage we have, and unfortunately sometimes neglected for Bible studies. (And please understand that I do believe that Scriptures is the core and foundation of our Faith, but we have it also in the richness of our liturgical Tradition.)

  17. Canadian Avatar

    Thanks for your reply.
    You said:
    “but it is certain that Christ took human nature to the grave and resurrected it, and that all human nature has been effected by that.”

    So does this action of Christ ontologically accomplish anything for us, or does it only enable the POSSIBILITY of the human person being united to Christ later? (Because even though Christ raises human nature itself, all are not saved as a result. We are not universalists, after all.)

    You said:
    “The death and resurrection of Christ and His atonement are very much matters of “union” with Christ (buried with Him in Baptism, raised in the likeness of His resurrection), that imply something quite ontological and not merely voluntary, etc.”

    I have been pushing this with my Baptist brethren recently, along with my very patristic views of Baptism and the Eucharist. But I really need a reliable Orthodox theological source to engage my own concerns with Calvinistic theology. I know Perry Robinson has discussed some of these issues, but I find it tough sledding at times and it comes in short snippets. What are my best sources to find out the mind of the Church when it comes to all things soteriological? Please note, I am not looking for information as if it were candy for the mind. If this wonderful blog and Orthodoxy itself have taught me anything, it is that the living water which quenches the thirst of my heart is far more satisfying than all the theoretical musings of the “second storey.”
    Soli Deo Gloria.

  18. Lucian Avatar

    Yes. It’s true. The Antiochian school isn’t “literal”; it’s Christological. And the Alexandrian school isn’t “non-literal”; it’s spiritual. The first one tries to see how the said passage reflects Christ; the second, how this is appliable in the day-to-day Christian life.

  19. William Avatar


    One universal effect of Christ’s renewal of human nature is that all humankind will be resurrected, the righteous as well as the unrighteous. This was not the case before Christ’s death, descent into Hades and resurrection. I call it a universal effect, but this of course is not universalism.

    A soteriological book you might find helpful is Kallistos Ware’s “How Are We Saved? The Understanding of Salvation in the Orthodox Tradition.” It tackles the question from multiple angles and incorporates or expands views from Catholicism and Protestantism.

    God bless.

  20. fatherstephen Avatar

    Canadian, Perry does go deep.

    Worth reading, but don’t be offended by its occasional harsh tones to the West, is The River of Fire by Kalomiris. It’s scripture and patristic citations are worth the read and his presentation is roughly accurate. It might be stated slightly different by different Fathers, but is, on the whole, a good source.

  21. AR Avatar


    Surely the Lord knows the intent to honor him by which we chose the harder of the ideas available to us. I love ideas and I love trying out my ideas to see whether they work. There is no question for me that Calvinistic ideas were both nobler and worked better than my former me-centered understanding of God. My first truly religious experience involved accepting God’s right to deny me anything; or rather my inability to coerce him by a “sinner’s prayer” or any other inducement to save me. But later, from my rather John Piper-ish corner of the Edwardsian Calvinist platform I could almost reach the hem of Lewis’s…er…trousers. And when I had scrambled up beside him, Orthodoxy was in sight. Now to have begun that climb only to find that I must renounce that way by which I came…I’m willing, but like Michael Bauman I find the “how” harder and I’m conscious that I can’t cut off my Calvinistic ideas any more than I can summarily execute my mind. Their hard formulations somehow morphed into more mystical ideas before I had done and I’ve long since gone from talking about the will to talking about the heart.

    I think it’s possible that those who started in a better place don’t always understand what we fled from, and therefore why we fled to Calvinism. I would like to ask someone similar questions to yours because I still can’t fathom rationally that there is another choice than these two: the God who can save all but (for reasons known only to him) doesn’t, and the God who means to save all but fails. It’s brutal. But given that choice again I would still choose the God who accomplishes whatever he pleases and the salvation that requires perseverance…

    Thankfully, I have come far enough on this journey to understand that wrong theological answers are most often arrived at by asking wrong theological questions. I hope and believe that my either/or is a fallacy and that the reality is both so great and so good as to escape my question-asking abilities at present. Meanwhile, what a salve to the soul to pray to that Lord who not to me alone shows “his usual love for mankind.” God bless your quest.

  22. fatherstephen Avatar


    “I hope and believe that my either/or is a fallacy and that the reality is both so great and so good as to escape my question-asking abilities at present.”

    I suspect that this is so – for us all.

  23. AR Avatar

    Thank you, Father.

  24. Canadian Avatar

    Father Stephen and William,
    Thanks for the recommendations!

    Wow! I see you have walked this path before me. The distaste of thinking I could coerce the Sovereign of the universe led me from legalistic pentecostalism to silly evangelicalism to the warm bath of John Piper’s work, ever longing for God but never finding the Church. Right now I’m at the “Orthodoxy’s in sight” spot you mentioned, but not sure how or if I should proceed. Like you said, proceeding means renouncing, which I would freely do if I was convinced that the Father’s were right and the Reformers wrong. So I am asking theological questions, hopefully not the wrong ones, but my desire is union with Christ. I believe that the life of Christ in the Church and her sacraments are indispensable in this regard, but I can’t proceed much further until I can in good conscience look into the faces of my children and my wife and say “I have found the one holy catholic and apostolic ancient faith. So for now I cling to Him who does whatever he pleases in heaven and earth.
    Psalm 135:6

  25. kevinburt Avatar


    “…but I can’t proceed much further until I can in good conscience look into the faces of my children and my wife and say, ‘I have found the one…faith.”

    Being the father of four young children and a saint of a wife, I can fully empathize. I can also tell you, from within the Church, I can now look with overwhelming joy at the faces of my children and wife as they themselves radiate joy in the liturgy, at our nightly home prayers, and as we walk this path together.

    I’ll pray for you! Please pray for my family and myself.

    Thomas Kevin

  26. AR Avatar


    I also sympathize. I’m so glad that my husband chose to walk this path with me. At first he was more interested than I but he casually brought it up whenever he ran across Orthodoxy in the news or in history or on the web. For over a year we talked candidly of our doubts and hopes. Sometimes he was more hopeful and I was more doubtful, and sometimes it was the other way around. Sometimes he found good sources, sometimes I called things to his attention. But on the same Sunday we walked into our present parish and said, “This is it; this is what we have been looking for.” I thank God it happened that way and pray for the same blessing for you all.

    I cannot tell you to what extent the Reformers were wrong. As I mentioned it appears to me that they were addressing questions that were not necessary in the East, because they were dealing with a corruption, sometimes subtle and deeply rooted, that the East was not facing. And how we ask which questions with what assumptions does determine the answers we get.

    However, that the Fathers cannot be ignored without the decay of religion resulting, history itself witnesses. “By their fruits you will know them.” I think the shift in my mind happened when I stopped trying to trace the Church backwards from where I was (such a method assumed a priori that I was in the Church) and tried instead to trace the Church forwards from the Beginning (if it had ever been anywhere, it was there.) That’s a very enlightening study; from that perspective, the Great Schism becomes definitive in answering these questions. But having married a history buff, I tend to see everything in those terms.

  27. handmaidmaryleah Avatar

    Fr Stephen, I have gotten quite a bit from reading Fr John Romanides. Not just the River of Fire, but his Cure of the Sickness of Religion…
    What do you think of his other work?

  28. Andreas Avatar

    Dear Canadian

    It all boils down to that: Are you experiencing a life of wholeness right now or not? If you don’t then you have got things wrong and you should either search for a different way within your own church, or search for a different way in another church.

  29. Lisa Avatar

    Regarding the choice of “wants to save all but fails” vs. “could save all but chooses not to”. I may be way off base here but when I was considering these topics I found that it helped me to stop thinking of “saving” like pulling a drowning man out of the water (or some such). I had to come to grips with some variation of synergy (which is hard I admit). I found that understanding “saving” as healing helped me some as did understanding salvation as a right relationship – in a real personal relationship point of view, not a legal one.

    The most helpful was revamping my understanding of the Fall itself – understanding the rift and break in relationship. And this has been over a period of years that I’ve had to refine my view of the Fall.

    The marriage metaphor, with God as husband always willing and working to be reconciled and me as stubborn bride refusing His advances helped me to understand that “willing that all be saved” and “some might not be saved” doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as when I was locked in the “drowning man” metaphor. Love is not coercive. The salvation as healing and synergy helped as well – Christ told the man to get up and walk – but what if the man didn’t attempt to get up?

    Just my humble thoughts as a 7-year inquirer. Open to correction and additional explanation on all counts.

  30. AR Avatar

    Handmaid Mary-Leah,

    I went and looked at some of that stuff. Romanide’s history is shocking and I don’t know what to do with it, but that theology does have the tang of Truth, doesn’t it? I’m also interested to hear what Fr. Stephen will say but as of now I’m glad to have read something that sets out theological distinctions so plainly and rigorously.


    Thanks for your comments. I’m sure that what you are saying is true…but the difficulty for me is to conceive of God as the cause of something (me) that he is no longer able to cause without coercion. In other words, I had come up with an idea that God didn’t need to coerce me in order to ensure that I would do his will, because his sustaining grace was behind my very mind, will, heart, etc. Esp. after reading the article I just looked at, I really feel that I have no clue what I am talking about and that once I get some of my assumptions straightened out what you are saying will make a lot of sense. I’m dealing with a whole other reality than the one I had imagined.

  31. fatherstephen Avatar

    AR and Mary-Leah,

    I’ve read most of Romanides and used him in some courses. My experience is that he often has very biting insight, but often paints the West with too broad a brush. I consider his own situation and understand. He had to defend his thesis in Greede because it disagreed with Thomas Acquinas (such was the Western Captivity of the Church). But I tend to take from him things that are useful and cut his criticisms by several factors. His positive statements might be the best way to take him and let God deal with the West. Don’t use him as fuel to chew on others.

  32. handmaidmaryleah Avatar

    Why do you find Romanides’ take on history to be “shocking”? The fact that there is no such thing as Byzantine but that those who lived in New Rome or Constantinople considered themselves to be Roman citizens is a fact and one born out by history.
    One thing, and Father Stephen will back me up on this, when reading various Fathers, or when reading various theologians like Fr. John Romanides, one must keep their back stories in mind and where and what they have come out of…
    History is not always what we have been taught here in White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant America, there is so much more, so much more…

  33. AR Avatar

    Oh, I didn’t mean shocking in the British sense, like dreadful or reprehensible. I meant that some of his assertions are amazing (to me) with a hint of the scandalous. Not the part about the Byzantine Empire really being the Roman Empire, that’s easy to accept from someone who ought to know.

    One thing is very interesting about (what I read of) his interpretation of what happened to the West: he does not blame it on some mysterious fatal flaw inherent in Western thought just by virtue of not being Eastern. Rather he pinpoints the misunderstandings of one theologian, a subsequent politically-driven campaign by a specific ruler, and a resulting heterodox school of thought foisted off on everyone who didn’t know better. He also says that pockets of orthodoxy have remained in Western Christianity and I don’t think he’s talking about Eastern Orthodox missions. I do think his ideas are very interesting and plausible. It would help if I had found in his articles the measured, even presentation I have come to associate with the most methodical historians. But I’m far from dismissing it. And the theology is magnificent, or at least what I understood of it is.

  34. handmaidmaryleah Avatar

    Thank you for clarifying, very much.
    As you can tell, I enjoy Fr. John, probably because he is so different from most of what I have been taught in school, he also jives quite well with Metr. Hierotheos Vlachos and their curing of the soul with Orthodoxy.
    Fr. Stephen is right though one must never bludgeon another with what one has read.
    A blessed Nativity dear, AR, He is soon to be here…

  35. AR Avatar

    Indeed. To you as well.

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