The Great Crisis

I wanted to write a bit more on “crisis” following up on my previous article on Dostoevsky, et al. The “Great Crisis,” if I can coin a term, is the threat of non-existence, or relative non-existence. Classical Orthodoxy, following St. Athanasius does not threaten humanity with pure non-existence, but with a dynamic movement towards a “relative” non-existence, which some have described as a “meontic” existence (to get a little technical).

If you want more on the word, just enter meontic in the search box on the blog and it will take you to more articles that involve this topic, as well as some good discussions.

This same Great Crisis is the absolute epitome of what the Orthodox faith understands to be sin, or the root of sin. Sin and death are deeply intertwined.

The Great Crisis is therefore not at all the same thing as an impending punishment from an angry God. This is not our fate. Rather it is the continued living in increasing modes of non-existence as we refuse to live in communion with the Only True God Who is the Lord and Giver of Life.

It is for this same reason that everything within the Orthodox Christian life is understood as a means to living more fully in communion with the One, True God. Every action of the Christian life exists for that purpose.

Because this is true, every work of our salvation begins in communion with God, continues in communion with God, and is fulfilled in communion with God. Thus our lives can never be defined extrinsically (from the outside), but only mystically and existentially. The mystery of our communion with God is not always manifested outwardly, but it will be, inevitably, because it becomes the true source and character of our existence. Thus we look towards the resurrection of the dead, and find nothing odd about the miraculous things associated with the bodies and relics of saints who have “fallen asleep” in the Lord. Nor are we surprised that God uses the material world as a means of communion with us, for all things are being gathered together in one, into Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:10).

And, of course, I only use the term “Orthodox” in describing these things, to note that there is and has always been a living, continual witness to this fullness of life in Christ, in full historical continuity with the Apostolic Church, proclaiming and living the same, one, true Life. This is the Orthodox Church.

The Great Crisis is answered in Pascha (the fullness of Christ’s resurrection) and has never been answered in any other manner. All things that seek to make themselves alien to Pascha, unite themselves to the Great Crisis.

The Great Crisis is not a problem peculiar to the modern world, nor any other period, but has always been present since the moment of man’s rebellion. It is manifest in many ways throughout human life and history, but is always the same – an abandonment of communion with the true and living God.

May God bring us all into the fullness of His Life.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

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


11 responses to “The Great Crisis”

  1. Ioannis Freeman Avatar

    I read, in this entry, the need to identify the cause of anxiety that holds this world by mortal grip. But even the grip of sin is not “mortal” in the sense that sin threatens so-called human existence or “pure existence.”

    How does St. Athanasius use “relative non-existence” to threaten human beings as opposed to fear of non-existence?

    [Continued reflection on the question that I raise]:
    The will and memory of human beings must be connected with relative existence or relative non-existence. In other words, human beings must first decide to engage in willful acts of disobedience, and then remember that these willful acts preceded relative non-existence. Otherwise, there would be no reason for human beings to relinquish their victim roles in the mystery of salvation, and instead join the vessel of Church with and in Christ as active participants in working out their salvation with fear and trembling.

    Thanks for your considered response, and the care you extend in Christ.

  2. fatherstephen Avatar

    The “existence” which we presently enjoy, is, itself, something of a “relative non-existence,” that is, we’re not yet what we were created to be. It’s not the threat, I think, that draws us to God, but the promise of True life which is found in Christ.

  3. shevaberakhot Avatar

    Right on Father!

  4. Alice C. Linsley Avatar
    Alice C. Linsley

    Martin Heidegger wasn’t far off when he said that true existential freedom requires facing the reality of our non-existence. He said, “As soon as man comes to life, he is at once old enough to die.”

    The Pleromic Reality is all there is and it is in Christ, as the Creeds affirm.

  5. Robert Avatar

    Woa! This pleromic, meontic existential relative non existence is getting a bit heady for me! 🙂

  6. Robert Avatar

    May be that is our “great crisis” – we like to make things more complicated than they need to be. 🙂

  7. shevaberakhot Avatar

    Matthew 25 ought to sort you out Robert! 🙂

  8. Ioannis Freeman Avatar

    Thanks for your response, Father Stephen.

    My question flowed from my mis-reading of the following sentence: “Classical Orthodoxy, following St. Athanasius does not threaten humanity with pure non-existence, but with a dynamic movement towards a “relative” non-existence…” My mistake.

    The steps by which I mis-read this last sentence of paragraph one were as follows:

    1) ‘if not one threat’ or “pure non-existence” (“…does not threaten humanity with pure non-existence…”),

    2) ‘then another threat’ or “‘relative’ non-existence” (“but with a dynamic movement towards a “relative” non-existence…”).

    I was thinking that you might have been alluding to Athansius’ treatise against his enemies among the Arians, and this Father’s argument in favor of letting God decide when a human being was intended by God to pass from this life. With genuine interest in the direction that you were headed, I had recalled at least half of the treatise having been dedicated to this point alone as Athanasius defended himself against charges of cowardice. That was the only place of “threat” that I had thought about prior to getting stuck on the sentence from the entry. So I genuinely doubted my memory, and was looking for clarification.

    The irony is that “crisis” never phased me in the prior message.

    [Life (as ‘relative’ non-existence) is enough motivation to move many of us toward Christ — maybe sufficient to move most if not all human beings.]

    Now that I understand, I offer thanks again.

    I guess that Shevaberakhot’s response, “Right on, Father!” is a statemnt of agreement. If so, I like being on the same page with friendly company and welcome the opportunity for dialogue.

  9. Steve Avatar

    “Rather it is the continued living in increasing modes of non-existence as we refuse to live in communion with the Only True God Who is the Lord and Giver of Life.”

    I think I finally get this. It’s not the first time you’ve said something like this.

  10. fatherstephen Avatar


    Once in a while it’s nice to indulge a bit of theological vocabulary. It’s from the Greek!

  11. Robert Avatar

    I was only kidding, over-simplification is not much of an alternative I do realize. I was surprised to hear such language here, it is unusual.

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