Within A Mandorla

There is a small class of events within the gospels that are treated in a special manner by iconographers. This special treatment reflects the language of Scripture as well. In the icons of the Transfiguration, Pascha and the Ascension, there is a particular artistic device used called a Mandorla. Sometimes circular, sometimes almost star-shaped, it serves as something of a “parenthesis” within an icon. What is being set in the parenthesis is an event which somehow transcends what most of us think of as normal. Revealed in the context of a mandorla is that which we know by the revelation of Scripture but which might not have been witnessed by the human eye – or – if witnessed – somehow transcended the normal bounds of vision.

In the icon of the Transfiguration, the transfigured Christ stands within the mandorla. The Church’s hymns remark on this in their own manner:

You were transfigured on the mount, O Christ God,
revealing Your glory to Your disciples as far as they could bear it.
Let Your everlasting Light also shine upon us sinners,
through the prayers of the Theotokos.
O Giver of Light, glory to You!

In this text for the Troparion (Hymn) for the Feast of the Transfiguration, Christ’s glory is described as having been revealed to his disciples “as far as they could bear it.”

The Kontakion of the Feast carries the same message:

On the Mountain You were Transfigured, O Christ God
And Your disciples beheld Your glory as far as they could see it;
So that when they would behold You crucified,
They would understand that Your suffering was voluntary,
And would proclaim to the world, That You are truly the Radiance of the Father!

The disciples are described in the Scriptures as having been “afraid.” St. Peter speaks of building three tabernacles, “because he did not know what to say.” The experience is more than even the words of Scripture can express.

The depiction of the Ascension in iconography has this same artistic device. Some would perhaps wonder why an event that is described in a prosaic manner “a cloud received him from their sight” should need to be framed within the parentheses of a mandorla. Of course, this description is given only in the book of Acts. Mark and Luke simply say that he was “carried up into heaven.” We are at a place where language has a limit. Indeed, Mark says that he was “carried up into heaven and seated at the right hand of God.” This last formula is a creedal confession – but not an eyewitness description. That Christ was taken up and that He is seated at the right hand of the Father is the faith and dogma of the Church. But the Church knows this in a mystical manner and not in the manner of a newspaper reporter.

To acknowledge this is not to weaken the witness of Scripture or to make a concession to the historical uncertainty of liberalism. It is simply to recognize the nature of the Biblical witness. The iconographic witness of the Church affirms this – placing the Ascension of Christ within a mandorla – recognizing that this will only be known and understood by the mystical knowledge of faith (and by faith I do not mean an intellectual leap of judgment). I will return to this matter of faith shortly.

Very similar to this event is Christ’s Descent into Hades, the traditional icon of Christ’s Pascha. In this icon we see what is referenced in several places within the Scriptures and upheld in the Church’s dogma – that Christ descended into Hades and “trampled down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowed life.” But when we confess this cornerstone of our faith we are not reciting what is known by eyewitness account. Eyewitnesses see Christ’s crucifixion and eyewitnesses place Him in the tomb. Eyewitnesses return to the tomb on early Sunday morning and find the tomb open and empty.

The resurrected Christ appears to his disciples. In St. Paul’s recitation of the “tradition” (for that is the word he uses to describe his recitation, we hear:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles (1 Corinthians 15:3-7).

There are interesting descriptions that accompany the Scriptural witness of Christ’s resurrection appearances. St. Mark says:

After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them (Mark 16:12-13).

This, of course, is St. Mark’s brief account of the encounter with Christ on the road to Emmaus, described in detail in St. Luke’s gospel. We could add to that St. Mary Magdalen’s mistaking the resurrected Christ for “the gardener” until he speaks her name.

Such statements are not accidental “slips of the tongue” in which the gospel writers leave clues that indicate doubts about the reality of the resurrection. This is a silly conclusion drawn by some modern, liberal scholars. The gospels are carefully written. It is absurd to assume anything accidental within their pages.

What we have instead is a “verbal mandorla,” a description that points to a reality that impinges upon our reality but which has a depth that transcends anything we could imagine. This is the manifestation of the Kingdom of God in our midst.

This brings me back to the question of faith. There is a form of Christian literalism which belongs to a secular culture. The world is rendered only in a secularized, objective manner. Nothing is ever set within a mandorla. There is no perception of the mystery which has come among us in our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. In such a form of Christianity, faith is simply a description of what someone accepts as a set of “facts” in the same manner that we accept or reject what we read in a newspaper, etc. The facts are as static and empty as our perception. No change need happen in the witness of such facts. Either it happened and you saw it, or it did not happen. But the Scriptures themselves indicate that the nature of the witness has a radically different character:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted (Matthew 28:16-17).

If Christ appears to them, how is it that some doubted? The Biblical witness would never have allowed such a statement if it was trying to defend the modern literalism of secularized Christianity. Instead, the witness of Christ points us towards the depth of the mystery that is the truth of our relationship with risen Christ. We know Him and perceive Him not simply through a set of intellectual arguments, or even simply through our trust in reliability of historical witness. A “faith” which is founded on argument, no matter how sound the argument, still fails to change the one who accepts it. The result of such “faith” is opinion, not true faith.

True faith ultimately requires a union, a participation, in the very life of the risen Christ. Thus, we are not Baptized into opinions, but into the very death and resurrection of Christ. To use the language of icons, our life is plunged into a mandorla which is nothing other than the Kingdom of God. We are called to live within that parenthetical state – where our lives constant refer and point to the reality which has now filled us. Such a life transcends the literalism of doubt and opinion and enters into a union with God that is itself a witness to the coming of the Kingdom. It is the banishment of secularism and affirmation of the living truth of Christ.

I would not dare to shake the faith of any nor suggest an element of doubt with regard to the events of Christ’s Transfiguration, Ascension or His Descent into Hades. Instead I want to push us towards a deeper perception and participation in those realities – for this is the very root of the Christian life.

The Fathers taught us: “Icons do with color what Scripture does with words.” The iconic grammar of the mandorla, points us to the great mysteries made known to us in Scripture and make it clear that such mysteries may be known and entered into. Glory to God!

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.





66 responses to “Within A Mandorla”

  1. […] abweist, der… »See All Of This Item By Clicking Here!« ☆ ☆ ☆ 3) Within A Mandorlahttps://glory2godforallthings.com/2012/05/23/within-a-mandorla-2/By fatherstephen on Wednesday, May […]

  2. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    Father, this is lovely and so edifying! Thank you.

  3. dinoship Avatar

    Thank you so much for this Father!!

  4. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude

    Very edifying, Father.

    I do, however, have a question: Isn’t it possible to take Scripture at face value while simultaneously recognizing a deeper meaning? I don’t know if the choice between the literal and the mystical needs be either/or.

  5. fatherstephen Avatar

    Philip Jude,
    Of course the Scripture can be read at “face value,” or “literally,” though in doing so, you’re inherently reading from some point-of-view – there’s no “objective” place to stand when reading something. It could be of use – but should not be confused with “authoritative,” (as in – “the Bible says”) or “Christian.” The Christian reading of Scripture is the scriptures read by the Church in the Spirit, following the Tradition given to us in Christ. So, today’s gospel:

    (Lk. 224:44-45) Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.

    There is no “face value” in this statement. If it was face value, why would they need to have their understanding “opened”? Nor was he just showing them a chain of “proof texts,” for he had already said of the Scriptures (OT), “These are they which speak of me.” The whole OT speaks of Christ – every jot and tittle. According to St. Ignatius, even the “silence” between the worlds speaks of Christ.

    There is no independent, rational point (such as “face value) to which we can “fall back,” and uphold the Christian faith as it was given to us. The face value is of some use, but we were established on the “understanding” given by Christ to his apostles. That understanding is of a piece with his Pascha and his Ascension (and the whole of his work) and is just as “miraculous.” There is no understanding of the Scriptures apart from the incarnate crucified and risen Christ, nor do we know Christ apart from the understanding he has given us in the Scriptures (“according to the Scriptures”). It is all of a piece. That understanding sometimes seems more “mystical” sometimes more “literal,” but it is either all given by Christ or it is of no value. “It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no use. The words that I speak to you are Spirit and they are life” (Jn. 6:63).

    Too many have left this behind and have become Christian “rabbis,” reading the text and expounding on it according to their reason and not according to Christ.

    The question, it seems to me (or as I am hearing it), is, “Can’t we just occasionally relax and read things like any secular guy? Does it always have to be this mystical stuff?” To that I would say, “No.” If you don’t mean a reading that any secular person can do, then what do you mean by “face value” or “literal?”

  6. Bill M Avatar

    I’ve been thinking of the “literal” vs. “christological” reading since last night. One of the Ascension vespers readings is from Isaiah 63:1-3 —
    Who is this who comes from Edom,
    With dyed garments from Bozrah,
    This One who is glorious in His apparel,
    Traveling in the greatness of His strength?—

    “I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.”

    Why is Your apparel red,
    And Your garments like one who treads in the winepress?

    “I have trodden the winepress alone,
    And from the peoples no one was with Me.”

    The interpretation as explained by Father during the service is that Christ is the one who comes, in the flesh, and his apparel is red because of the wine of his blood, poured out to save, and he alone has done it (“no one was with me”).

    It was a beautiful reading, in the context of the vesper prayers and songs, and of Pascha and the Ascension.

    Then, when I got home, I read the rest of the chapter in Isaiah, and the very next lines read:

    For I have trodden them in My anger,
    And trampled them in My fury;
    Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments,
    And I have stained all My robes.
    For the day of vengeance is in My heart,
    And the year of My redeemed has come.
    I looked, but there was no one to help,
    And I wondered
    That there was no one to uphold;
    Therefore My own arm brought salvation for Me;
    And My own fury, it sustained Me.
    I have trodden down the peoples in My anger,
    Made them drunk in My fury,
    And brought down their strength to the earth.”

    In the context of the scripture itself, and at “face value”, that’s a VERY different reading than the interpretation given by Father during the service.

    I’m still nibbling at the edges of Orthodoxy, so this approach to scripture is new to me, and often puzzling. But I go back to the Luke passage you quoted here, and try to understand how to read in the light of Christ.

  7. PJ Avatar


    I’m not sure if we’re talking past each other or getting lost in semantics. Let me try again.

    “The question, it seems to me (or as I am hearing it), is, “Can’t we just occasionally relax and read things like any secular guy? Does it always have to be this mystical stuff?” To that I would say, “No.” If you don’t mean a reading that any secular person can do, then what do you mean by “face value” or “literal?””

    I’m not suggesting that we read Holy Writ like a “secular guy,” but like the fathers, who understood that Scripture has multiple dimensions.

    For instance, Genesis is an historical account: Adam and Eve were truly the first man and woman; they truly lived in a paradisaical garden and ate from the forbidden tree in violation of God’s law; the human family truly sprang from their loins and their loins alone.

    Yet Genesis is also typological: Adam is a sign and shadow of Christ; the bread and wine of Melchizedek anticipate the Eucharist and point to Jesus as High Priest.

    This is consistent with the tradition of the Church. The fathers accepted without hesitation the historicity of, say, the stories in Genesis. This is beyond evident from their writings, which speak of Adam and Cain and Noah and Shem and Lot as though they are speaking of Hannibal and Livy and Nero and Caesar and Epicurus.

    Consider St. Chrysostom’s exhaustive homilies on creation.

    “But perhaps someone will say: How is it that Cain had a wife when Sacred Scripture nowhere makes mention of another woman? Don’t be surprised at this dearly beloved: it has so far given no list of women anywhere in a precise manner; instead, Sacred Scripture while avoiding superfluous details mentions the males in turn, though not even all of them, telling us about them in rather summary fashion when it says that so-and-so had sons and daughters and then he died. So it is likely in this case too that Eve gave birth to a daughter after Cain and Abel, and Cain took her for her wife. You see, since it was in the beginning and the human race had to increase from them on, it was permissible to marry their own sisters” (20.3).

    Isn’t he talking about Eve and Cain like any old “literalist”? If he had a time machine and went back to Year 0, he would expect to find Adam and Eve lounging naked under shady tree.

    Even a poetical and mystical mind like St. Ephrem had a solid sense of Scripture as history. This is evident from his own reflections on Genesis.

    “No one should think that the Creation of Six Days is an allegory; it is likewise impermissible to say that what seems, according to the account, to have been created in the course of six days, was created in a single instant, and likewise that certain names presented in this account either signify nothing, or signify something else. On the contrary, one must know that just as the heaven and the earth which were created in the beginning are actually the heaven and the earth and not something else understood under the names of heaven and earth, so also everything else that is spoken of as being created and brought into order after the creation of heaven and earth is not empty names, but the very essence of the created natures corresponds to the force of these names. ”

    He also speaks of Moses as a historian recording the whole course of cosmic and human events up until his time.

    Now, if those parts of Scripture which reveal distant events are read plainly and accepted meekly, why shouldn’t all parts of Scripture be approached in such a manner? This is not to say that the typological, the moral, the mystical must be excluded — every dimension forms an important part of the whole, which is together greater than the sum of the parts.

    P.S. Sorry to bring up Genesis, which is always controversial: it’s just too full of ripe examples.

  8. fatherstephen Avatar

    Excellent example – both as to why this passage is appointed by the Church for the Vigil of the Ascension – as well as why the “mystical” or “Christocentric” reading is utterly necessary to understand the Scriptures rightly.
    The red, Bozrah in Edom, is the flesh. Thus, Christ has come in the flesh, and the winepress is our salvation (His shed blood, etc.). The passage following is just as germane.
    But who has he trodden? what has been trampled in fury? What day of vengeance? what year of the redeemed?

    This is so wonderfully jam-packed, I wish I was only writing commentaries on Scripture (perhaps I am).

    There are a couple (at least) ways to handle this. On the literal level you get the worst (even harmful) reading. Some sort of “God’s wrath smiting His enemies – maybe I should do the same – nonsense”. Who has He trodden and what has been trampled in fury, etc. Two examples: the adversary (Satan and his minions – my sins, death, etc.) have been trampled in fury. It refers to Christ’s crucifixion and triumphant burial. Or, we can read it referring to the “inner Pascha” that takes place within us. Thus, the enemy is the unruly “mind” whose ungoverned thoughts lead me to judge, to condemn, to compare, to worry, to engage in all of these things that take me away from God.” Christ descends into the hades of my mind to lead me up to the paradise of the heart. Both of these, depending on which father you read, are not uncommon readings.

    Also, the sweet phrase: “the year of the redeemed.” What is this “year”? It is Christ’s Jubilee (of which the 50 year jubilee of the Law is a mystical type). In that 50th year, all debts are cancelled, land reverts to its original owners, etc. This is the “acceptable year of the Lord,” the great jubilee expected at the manifestation of the Messiah. It is Christ’s Pascha where the “blind see, the lame walk, the poor have good news proclaimed to them.” For we are set free from our debts (sins) and reestablished in the land (paradise, the Kingdom), given true spiritual sight and the power to walk in it.

    What a great feast! What a comfort in the Scriptures!

  9. PJ Avatar

    I am thinking more in terms of the historical reliability of Scripture.

    If you went back in time, would you find Cain bashing in Abel’s head?

    Most of the fathers I have read — including such eastern luminaries as Chrysostom and Ephrem — would seem to say, Yes. They speak of Lot and Noah like they speak of Livy and Caesar: real men in the real course of real human events.

    Is there any reason not to take Scripture at “face value” in the sense that, when it speaks of X doing Y, you should believe that X really did Y?

    My comments keep getting swallowed up. Hopefully this gets through.

  10. eternallypresentfillingallthings Avatar

    Great stuff as usual, Fr. Stephen. At Divine Liturgy for the Ascension this morning our priest also spoke of the mandorla at length echoing many of your thoughts. On the mystical vs. literal aspect he also noted that St. Paul is depicted with the disciples. Historically, St. Paul did not witness the Ascension as at that time he was still a Jewish pharisee who would soon begin persecuting the Church & martyring Christians. What a great divide between the literal vs. mystical!

  11. Andrew Avatar

    A firm favourite, this icon — thank you Fr.

  12. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    PJ, to me your question would only make a difference if the Scripture itself is thought of as history in the normal sense of the the term. Its not. It has some historical elements because Christ’s work with us has historical elements. But salvation is not linear. It is more like a mobius strip — the interweaving of the fininte and created with the infinite and uncreated, the seen and the unseen, the past, present and future.

  13. PJ Avatar


    The fathers evinced a strong interest in the historical nature of the Scriptures. This was not their sole concern, but the historical reliability of the Word was a real and pressing concern, and a point of contention between the pagans and the Church. The fathers often quote non-Christian sources to support Biblical claims (about the flood, for instance). This is the case with Christians in the east and in the west: Jerome and Chrysostom, Ephrem and Augustine, Lactantius and Eusebius.

  14. PJ Avatar

    Just flip through St. Ephrem’s “Commentary on Genesis.” It’s an exhaustive study of that book — and thoroughly historical in the so-called “modern” sense.


  15. PJ Avatar

    By the way, does this mandorla have any relation to the halo?

  16. Andrew Avatar

    If I may, PJ:

    While the mandorla says something about the universe, the “halo” says something about God (about the incarnation to be precise). Both of course, do with colour what Scripture does with words.

  17. PJ Avatar

    Interesting thoughts. Thank you.

  18. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    PJ, I am aware of what you say and there is a considerable amount of historical evidence that confirms the reliability of which you speak but even there the reality of the events always partakes of both the seen and the unseen, i.e. the mystical. There is never a case when something is just a thing in itself or just historical at least none that I know. To do that leads to the de-sacralizing of the creation, one of the very things that Christ incarnated to overcome.

  19. Brian Avatar

    Some modern Christian minds tend to see only history, completely overlooking the types and allegories and missing their significance. Other more ‘enlightened’ minds see only types and allegories while dismissing the importance of the history. I have always been of a mind that it isn’t either/or, but both/and. And both are equally important.

    The importance of the both/and approach lies in the fact that it is real people having real experiences that reveal/testify to Christ, which is to say that they lived the life of Christ (or his enemies) whether they realized it or not, just as we do now whether we realize it or not. To say that persons and the stories of their lives are types or allegories of something much larger than their ‘individual’ lives is to AFFIRM the significance of their personhood rather than to question the reality of their historical existence or to say that their existence as persons is insignificant to the overall message of the narrative. This can be said of Moses, David, all the prophets, indeed all the persons in Scripture – and in particular the Mother God, a true a person whose significance extends far beyond her ‘individuality’ as a woman in the historical sense. She is (both in her person and in type) the Church, the Ark of God, the New Jerusalem, Zion, the dwelling place of God Most High, etc.

    And so it is with our very real lives, the significance of which extends far beyond our individuality. As members of His Body, our personhood matters. We are not incidental to a larger, more important story. In union with Christ we are that story.

    Notwithstanding the above, it is clear even from the writers of the New Testament that they most definitely did not view Scripture as MERELY history, nor did they think of Scripture in linear historical terms. We read, for example, in Matthew’s Gospel:

    “…that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’”

    Yet here are the prophet’s words in context:

    “When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    And out of Egypt I called My son.
    As they called them
    So they went from them;
    They sacrificed to the Baals,
    And burned incense to carved images.”

    Even a casual study of the prophesies cited in the New Testament as having been fulfilled in Christ would scandalize those in our modern era who ever-so-worried about “taking Scripture out of context” if they didn’t already accept the New Testament as the Word of God. But seeing Christ everywhere throughout all of Scripture and understanding Him to be the WORD of God, the Church has no such qualms. It has been so from the very beginning, as testified by citations of the Scriptural authors themselves.

  20. fatherstephen Avatar

    Of course there are fairly “historical” treatments of Scripture – primarily of a “tropological” interpretation – drawing moral lessons from the stories. This is clearly Chrysostom’s great strength. It is relatively pedestrian when compared with the Cappadocians or the hymnography of the Church. However, their question is not really the same as ours. Our history tends to be about veracity. Theirs has this question as well – but is being contrasted to the fantastic stuff of Hesiod and Homer. Compared to them, the Scriptures are historical in the extreme. But that is not quite our question.

    I was trained in the historical-critical method in college, seminary and later in graduate school. I found it interesting but of little use to the Christian life and faith. I grew up within a part of the world where the cultural faith in a literal Bible is dominant. Every day the newspaper is full of Bible quotes in the letters to the editor. Most of the “historical” questions that occupy peoples’ minds are of the “veracity” sort. Did thus-and-such actually happen, and did it happen in this way?

    As a historical question, it is generally unanswerable. There is simply the assertion within the Scriptures of the story. What Lactantius thought about the historical veracity of a Bible story is interesting – but still has no bearing on the actual veracity of the story.

    A tropological interpretation always uses the story in a “literal” manner. It’s the moral point of the story that it seeks, and thus the story always stands as it is. But the beliefs of various fathers about many data of history has never been seen as a datum of faith. It’s simply in the range of an opinion, affected by many things.

    For myself, I live and write in the modern period, as a missionary of the Orthodox faith in that same period. There is, I think, a very important task of Orthodox apologetics with regard to Scripture, and that is the revival of the use of Scripture in its liturgical and mystical (there’s got to be a better word) interpretation.

    The literalism of the fundamentalists fails in so many ways that it’s impossible to list them all. They have almost brought the Bible into abject ridicule. The historical-critical method fails under the weight of its own unbridled speculations and specious conclusions. The Jesus Seminar is a joke. What remains is a vast wasteland of people who need to know a reading of Scripture that has largely been lost – but is the treasure of the Orthodox faith at prayer (and lived).

    Of course there’s always a balance – but many times the “balance” question can be simply a kind of conservative nervousness about the text. I respect that – but it’s just not much of an issue for me. I admit that I “push” the various “allegorical” methods because so very few others are – and experience tells me that it is of great use to many (not to all). I find it of particular use if you are simultaneously struggling to have a prayer-life and to discover the place of the heart.

    BTW, Michael, I utterly agree that “There is never a case when something is just a thing in itself or just historical.” Quite.

  21. PJ Avatar


    You make good points. Thank you.

  22. dinoship Avatar

    What a riveting conversation!
    May I add that in the Orthodox Church we also always have this, other, underlying position concerning (any kind of) reading of Scripture: that, “the truly humble person is the only one who is truly safe from delusion in his readings…”

  23. PJ Avatar


    Are there available volumes of Orthodox hymnography? If so, where might one acquire them?

  24. PJ Avatar


    At some point could you write a post about the Fall from a non-literalist perspective?

  25. Karen Avatar

    Father, bless.

    Case in point from my own experience about the historical vs. mystical interpretation: A relative loaned us a DVD of a popular Evangelical preacher giving a tour of Holy Land sites. I recently returned it, mostly unwatched, because it could not hold my attention, focussing as it did on the events of salvation history mainly as concrete *history* with its moral implications (which, of course, I in no way wish to deny). However, being Orthodox, I find I am actually now living within the life of the Church, within the very living Spiritual Reality of those historical events and which is continually made present, alive and real to me within the liturgical life of the Church. Living the reality is infinitely more satisfying than simply observing archeological sites and affirming them as discrete events in history (though, that is a given).

  26. fatherstephen Avatar

    There are volumes such as the Festal Menaion or the Lenten Triodion, translated in part by Met. Kallistos Ware. The regular Menaion, comprises many volumes (it occupies an entire lengthy shelf at my parish). However, on this site, there are fair translations by the Monk Ephrem Lash. The web site is a little oddly constructed. If you click enough times you eventually get to texts.

    The Festal Menaion might be the volume with the easiest access (all of these volumes are “Church” volumes, constructed for the services of the Church rather than for reading). But that volume is the least confusing.

    The construction of Orthodox services is, well, Byzantine. 🙂

  27. PJ Avatar

    Thank you, Father.


    The west has always been more interested in the economy of salvation, which led in turn to a preoccupation with the history of God’s work in time. This is reflected in the difference between the baptismal creeds of east and west. The Latins were shocked at Nicaea to learn that their Greek brethren knew nothing of the Apostle’s Creed, which was typical throughout Europe, especially Gaul and Italy.

  28. fatherstephen Avatar

    What’s your source for the story on the Apostles’ Creed? It is simply the baptismal creed of Rome (which then began to be used elsewhere in the West). But baptismal Creeds were pretty universal, with some variety, all dating back to the Apostles. It was such a Creed, from Ephesus I think, that was altered and amended for what became the Nicene Creed. Also, the West’s interest in “history” is not nearly as straightforward as you suggest, though I would agree that the West was, on the whole, far more pedestrian than the East, and not versed in the intellectual questions of the day.

  29. dinoship Avatar

    Apostolic thought, the Epistles, the Acts, the Gospels, are all written (almost exclusively) in the Greek language. I believe this is no small reason for the Latinized world (especially when not admitting there could be an issue with their translation, and especially when removed from the life of the Church) sometimes “amending” away from the Truth. On the other hand, the Cappadocians -steeped in the original language of the Gospel – amended closer and closer to the Truth…

  30. fatherstephen Avatar

    There is a fairly interesting turn taken by St. Jerome viz. the nature of the biblical text (it had great impact on the West).

  31. Joel Watson+ Avatar
    Joel Watson+

    If I had any doubt that as an Episcopalian I am a member of the one holy catholic and apostolic church, I.e., the Body of Christ, I would become Orthodox this very moment because of your wonder full “Within a Mandorla” today Father, you The Golden Pen! Bless you and Blessed be God for his shining through your head, your heart and your hand.

  32. PJ Avatar


    My source is “Introduction to Christianity” by Benedict XVI, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, pg. 84.

    “In the East this Roman symbol remained unknown; it came as no small surprise to the Roman representatives at the ecumenical council at Florence in the fifteenth century (!) when they learned from the Greeks that the symbol presumed to stem from the Apostles was not employed by them.”

  33. dinoship Avatar

    Due to its early origin, the ‘Apostle’s Creed’ doesn’t concern itself with the Christological issues defined in the Nicene Creed. It reads like a very basic early version of the Creed (Nicean) and says very little (explicitly) about Christ’s divinity and about the Holy Spirit. In fact, (!) it is accepted by many Arians (also by Unitarians)…

    All seven ecumenical councils (recognized by both Orthodox and Roman Catholics) were called by the (Byzantine) Emperor, held in the eastern part of the Roman Empire and none were attended by the Pope (although he sent legates to a few). As Father said, the East, was (and still is today I believe) far better versed in pertinent intellectual questions.

  34. PJ Avatar

    Who said Greek hubris was dead?

    The basis and essence of Chalcedonian Christology is the Tome of Leo, the Bishop of Rome.

    Considering that vast segments of the east didn’t and still doesn’t abide by that Christology, it’s hard to see how it somehow has intellectual primacy over the west.

  35. fatherstephen Avatar

    Later historical studies have shown such Creeds, certainly Apostolic in origin, to have been employed throughout the ancient Church, the East included, but not the specific Apostles’ Creed of the West, which was the ancient baptismal creed of Rome.

  36. fatherstephen Avatar

    You do understand that Dinoship is Greek? Your statement is a bit impolite.

    The essence of Chalcedonian Christology is not the Tome of Leo. You need a more complete understanding of Chalcedonian Christology. Leo’s Tome was flat, without the sort of nuance that was capable of dealing with the real problems. (It helped create the problems that the East spent several centuries trying to repair). The Chalcedonian East holds to what is generally referred to as a “Neo-Chalcedonian” Christology, as articulated by the subsequent Councils, especially in the work of St. Maximus the Confessor. The reaction of the non-Chalcedonian East, was not the reaction of heresy (they held to the language and teaching of St. Cyril) – they had a deep mistrust of what seemed to them to be an incipient Nestorianism. If you read the material of the Oriental Orthodox today, it is difficult to find much fault with their positions, other than continued difficulty of language. I do not endorse an “easy ecumenism,” but to wave a hand towards “vast segments” (gosh, that really overestimates the number of non-Chalcedonians) of the East and simply dismiss them is both historically and intellectually inaccurate.

    Any decent treatment of Christian thought in the 5th century would be quite clear about the “intellectual” primacy of the East at the time. Rome had many virtues, but intellectual primacy was not one of them, nor did it claim such a thing. If anything, Rome was probably suspicious about the East’s intellectuality in that century.

    Of course, the West continued its great intellectual dominance, with some of its later kings actually owning and reading a book. And the influx of Byzantine scholars after the fall of the Empire had absolutely nothing to do with the Renaissance. I am a Westerner and a son of the West. But I know when to be grateful. It’s not hubris when you’re telling the truth.

    I would recommend Meyendorff’s Christ in Eastern Christian Thought for a good treatment of the period. A necessary read before making pronouncements.

  37. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick

    “Considering that vast segments of the east didn’t and still doesn’t abide by that [i.e. Chalcedonian] Christology, it’s hard to see how it somehow has intellectual primacy over the west.”

    PJ, I think it a fair and accurate generalization to say that many “eastern” Chalcedonian Orthodox Christians hold more hope for reunion with some of the non-Chalcedonian eastern churches than for reunion with Rome because the primacy issue is intractable. Discussions among eastern Christians often reveal that the separation is not altogether due to substantial differences. Misunderstandings have been acknowledged by both sides.

    BTW, “vast” is a strong word. If Wikipedia is correct, roughly 10% of “eastern” Christians are non-Chalcedonian.

  38. PJ Avatar

    “You do understand that Dinoship is Greek? Your statement is a bit impolite.”

    But it isn’t impolite to belittle the intellectual achievements — past and present — of half of Christendom?

    “Of course, the West continued its great intellectual dominance, with some of its later kings actually owning and reading a book.”

    What do kings have to do with anything? Probably ignorant kings is a good thing. Wherever there were well-educated courts, theology became a plaything of the government. The east should know all about this unfortunate phenomenon.

    “Any decent treatment of Christian thought in the 5th century would be quite clear about the “intellectual” primacy of the East at the time. Rome had many virtues, but intellectual primacy was not one of them, nor did it claim such a thing. If anything, Rome was probably suspicious about the East’s intellectuality in that century.”

    Dino wasn’t restricting his comments to the fifth century. “[T]he East, was (and still is today I believe) far better versed in pertinent intellectual questions.”

    And even so, the fifth century saw some of the greatest intellects of western history, including Augustine and Jerome and Leo.

    ” I am a Westerner and a son of the West. But I know when to be grateful. It’s not hubris when you’re telling the truth.”

    Perhaps this is exactly the problem. I know too many westerns who, upon joining the Orthodox Church, turn their back on anything associated with Latin civilization. They regard it, with typical Greek/Byzantine pride, as backward and barbaric. I have heard this language numerous times on this very blog (typically the comment section, but your discussions of western soteriology make such implications on occasion, too).

    For every great Greek father there is a great Latin father. Ambrose; Gregory; Bonaventure; Jerome; Cyprian; Augustine; HIlary; Irenaeus; Isidore; Aquinas; Bernard; John of the Cross; Leo; Albertus Magnus; Catherine of Sienna.

    “Gratitude.” That’s exactly it: we have reason to be grateful to the east and the west. This incessant pitting of one against the other is not just pointless and baseless, it is uncharitable and even sinful. I am guilty of this as anyone, I confess. We should stop this childish you-know-what measuring contest and start seeing each other as brothers with valuable contributions to offer.

  39. dee Avatar

    I am sorry if it sounded in some way prideful, but my main point is that historically one cannot deny that:
    1) Ecumenical councils were an affair of the pre-schism world firmly grounded in the Greek speaking East.
    2) it is in the Greek language where you get 100% of the unadulterated meaning of the original…
    (and little stands up to the original Gospels, to the Epistles, to the Cappadocians, to St. Maximus the Confessor or even to -post-schism- St. Gregory Palamas).
    Any supposed ‘Papal primacy’ has no grounds here and therefore sounds, just like a human difficulty to recognize that maybe, if not the true fullness, at least the original clearest stipulations lie elsewhere, in another way of thinking and in another language altogether…
    I will not talk stronger about “knowing the trees from their fruit” concerning the Latin world vs. the Orthodox East, but I must reiterate that concerning these kind of issues here, one would certainly be “punching above one’s weight” if one was to profess “Papal Primacy” in an Orhtodox Blog…

  40. fatherstephen Avatar

    It’s not a question of belittling – but there are questions of historical accuracy. Jerome and Leo are not great intellects (Jerome is a good translator – but not a theological intellect). Leo simply isn’t viewed as a great intellect. It’s not accurate history. Augustine certainly is a great intellect – though his absence of Greek knowledge left him unable to deeply engage in the conversation that took place in his century surrounding the Trinity – not in a way that had bearing on the wider Church. His legacy, is that as a towering Latin intellect, he became by default the dominant intellect of a West that ceased to be able to read Greek, which had been the language of the NT, and of the Councils, and the language in which the great conciliar discussions were taking place.

    There have obviously been remarkable Western intellects. It would be useful, I think, to consider why the East sees the West in certain ways rather than feeling the need to immediately jump to its defense. Most of us in the West know almost nothing about Byzantine history, much less about the subsequent history of the Turkokratia and the Balkans. I have a classical Western education. Classics major in college with an MDiv from an Anglican seminary and an MA in theology from Duke. There would have been virtually no knowledge of Byzantine history or the Eastern fathers through all of that education had it not been a private passion.

    If you read St. Basil, or St. Gregory the Theologian in the original (which I’ve done) or St. Augustine in the original (which I’ve done), there is the possibility of making some informed comments about their intellectual merit – and there should be room for that experience to be expressed without having to play “even Stephen” (pun intended).

    If it’s not possible to make comparisons without being accused of hubris then conversation becomes rather useless. The East quickly recognizes that following the fall of Byzantium a cloud of unknowing shrouds Orthodox thought. The liturgical and ascetical life continued, but the intellectual life was deeply injured. There has been a very slow recovery of that life over the past 200 years (in fits and starts). Some of that recovery has necessarily entailed a great deal of comparison. Coming out from under a domination (Western thought) has been a difficult process of self-criticism in the East (far stronger than its criticism of the West, per se). The result of that has been a recovery of patristic thought, a recovery of liturgical understanding (which has been deeply lauded by scholars in the West), and the return of Hesychastic theology to its central place within Orthodox thought. Today, there is a growing body of work in Orthodox scriptural studies that I hope will bear fruit in my life-time.

    The West is a culture that encourages criticality. It’s progress has come, largely, through a process of critical thought. Aquinas is one of the great critical giants, restoring Aristotelian dialectic to a place within Christian thought. He was violently opposed but stayed the course. The Nominalist revolution, which ultimately gives the Reformation, was a deeply critical event. It mounted a critique of history that continues to this day. Our present discussion would probably not be possible without the advent of historical critical thought engendered by the Reformation. And on the march of Western self-critical history goes.

    The present critique of “Western” thought through the lens of Orthodoxy actually should be seen within the context of this same critical-historical line. It is properly bringing elements into Western conversations that were in danger of disappearing (the contribution of Byzantium, the Patristic mind, liturgically-based theology, hesychasm, etc.). This is not a “clash of civilizations” but a part of the process of Christian recovery (if there is ever to be such). That recovery will not come about by ignoring the critique.

    However, the conversation does not move forward with ad hominem comments (Greek hubris).

  41. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    A really good book that I am reading that is relevant to this topic: The Spirit of Early Chrisitan Thought by Robert Louis Wilken.

    Available at 8th Day Books

  42. fatherstephen Avatar

    Bob Wilken is a very good scholar.

  43. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick

    “There has been a very slow recovery of that life over the past 200 years (in fits and starts). Some of that recovery has necessarily entailed a great deal of comparison. Coming out from under a domination (Western thought) has been a difficult process of self-criticism in the East (far stronger than its criticism of the West, per se). The result of that has been a recovery of patristic thought, a recovery of liturgical understanding (which has been deeply lauded by scholars in the West), and the return of Hesychastic theology to its central place within Orthodox thought. Today, there is a growing body of work in Orthodox scriptural studies that I hope will bear fruit in my life-time.”

    Father, what authors belong in a bibliography of this recovery? I’ve begun one of my own. Can you add names and correct any in my list?

    Behr, John: early patristics; Nicea and Nicene faith

    Bouyer, Louis (RC): studies in eastern & western ecclesiology, spirituality and spiritual figures; Christian worldview and critique of pagan and modern cosmologies and philosophies; Eucharist and liturgical piety; critique of Protestantism

    Breck, John: scripture studies; tradition; ethics

    Clement, Olivier: patristic anthology; spiritual anthropology; prayer; icons

    Evdokimov, Paul: historical theology; icons; gender and marriage; Hesychasm

    Florovsky, Georges: brilliant incisive historian from patristic theology to modern philosophy; ecumenist; Hesychasm; critic of scholasticism, western pietism and Russian idealism

    Golitzin, Alexander : Dionysius Areopagita; Neoplatonism; Christian metaphysics; liturgical, Eucharistic ontology; ontological and anthropological foundations of Hesychasm

    Loudavikos, Nikolaos: 4th Century; Eucharistic ontology of Maximus Confessor

    Louth, Andrew: wide ranging scholarship in historical theology; ancient & modern philosophy; Denys; Platonism & Neo-Platonism; Hesychasm; great schism

    Meyendorff, John: Hesychasm; Gregory Palamas; historic ecclesiology; historical theology; Byzantine legacy in Russia; Byzantine theology and history of East / West relations; critique of scholastic spirituality; marriage

    Pelikan, Jeroslav: definitive survey of historic development of Christian doctrine

    Perl, Eric David: reading Dionysius in Orthodox Christian context; incisive study of neo-Platonism

    Romanides, John: controversial curmudgeon who recovered distinctive eastern perspectives on vital dogmatic themes and questions

    Schmemann, Alexander: Liturgical theology; catechism; history of Orthodoxy; Russian thought; Lent and Pascha; sacraments and especially the meaning of Eucharist

    Sherrard, Philip: wide ranging scholarship; patristic translations; schism; science and modern philosophy

    Staniloae, Dumitru: fresh articulation of dogmatic theology; trinity; ecclesiology; theosis

    Thunberg, Lars: Maximus Confessor’s anthropology & cosmology

    Von Balthasar, Hans Urs: brilliant RC scholar and encyclopedic scholar; appreciates “mystery” and beauty in an Orthodox-friendly way; vast writings on practical and intellectual topics

    Ware, Bp. Kallistos: popular Orthodox history; translations of liturgical and spiritual works (i.e. Lenten Triodion, Festal Menaion and Philokalia); introduction to Orthodoxy

    Zacharias, Archimandrite: modern orthodox saints and monasticism, namely St. Silouan of Athos and Elder Sophrony of Essex – written for today’s western readers; practical Hesychasm

    Zizioulas, John: brilliant contemporary articulation of Christian dogmatics, especially on Trinity, Eucharist, liturgy; historic ecclesiology; Christian critique of existentialism and other modern movements

  44. fatherstephen Avatar

    A good start on a very good idea. I immediately think of Vladimir Lossky. I would add also Alexei Khomiakov, though somewhat superseded, his work was nevertheless very key.

    This is a great idea. I’ll sit down tomorrow and flesh out more. Thanks!

  45. Martin Avatar

    Father Stephen or Michael,
    Regarding the above list of authors, could you recommend a book to get an overall understanding of the Orthodox faith? I am in the process of becoming Orthodox after some 20+ years of being an evangelical Christian, and during my discussions with the priest he recommended reading the Patristic Theology by J. Romanides. But the problem is that I live in Europe and I would have to pay around 20 dollars for postage which is too much for me. Is there any other book that would serve the same purpose as the Romanides one that I could get from Amazon. I have found Michael Pomazansky’s Orthodox Dogmatic Theology on the web. Do you think this one would be good for me? Any other suggestions? I can get Vladimir Lossky’s Orthodox Theology an Introduction or Inner Kingdom by Bp. Kallistos, but I was warned that Lossky’s books are quite difficult. Or is really Patristic Theology by Romanides really that unique and worth spending some 40 dollars (which seems to me way too much)?
    Currently I am reading Bred & Water, Wine & Oil by M. Webber which is great and I have also Orthodox Psychotherapy by H. Vlachos which I have not read yet. Any suggestions? Thankn you,

  46. Andrew C Avatar
    Andrew C

    Historically, you are correct. But, is it not also the case that many of the letters of that same scripture, written in Greek, were to Greek (in the widest sense) churches who had gone astray?

    The Greek tradition of mental gymnastics was as often as not a problem to be overcome. (“See to it that no-one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to the human tradition”, etc., etc.) The Gospel was for the Greeks foolishness: I get the impression that a lot of early theology is a Greek attempt to restore dignity and intellectual respectability to that foolishness.

  47. dee Avatar

    Indeed, this is all the more reason why the original Greek stipulations have such clarity. Early writings had to fend off both the Greek and the Jewish misunderstandings of Christianity.
    Fact remains that the early expression of all this took ‘Greek flesh’.
    The Cappadocians’ genius was the epitomy of this marvelous synthesis…

  48. fatherstephen Avatar

    The recommendation of Romanides by your priest may indicate his own preferences rather than a good general introduction. Romanides can be fairly polemical – not bad – but polemical – and it sometimes takes a greater knowledge of Orthodoxy and its modern history to but the polemics in context.

    What is useful by way of introduction sort of depends on what you bring with you. What’s your educational, theological training background? Where in Europe, by the way?

    I tend to recommend two tracks of reading – the first, good content of history and doctrine. the second, general “ethos” such as good, readable lives of saints and other less content-heavy readings.

    Orthodox theology is utterly dependent on Orthodox ethos for its understanding – for example, how is it prayed? For theology is always prayed as well as thought.

    Say a little more and I’ll offer some very concrete suggestions.

    Good journey!

  49. Martin Avatar

    Thank you Father, I will try to give you some background. I am from the Czech Republic, I have no formal theological training, but while my wife and I were in the States some 20 years back I found books by Francis and Edith Schaeffer which I liked very much, spent a couple of days in L’Abri in Rochester and then a year later 5 weeks in L’Abri in England. After that I would read mostly books by people somehow associated with L’Abri. So basically we can say that my Christian worldview was shaped by people connected with Francis Schaeffer and L’Abri. For me, L’Abri is still the best part of my evangelical life but somehow where I lived I was not able to find people of a similar mindset and basically I was not very happy with most of my evangelical life and basically my spiritual life consisted mostly of reading blogs of people with similar experience. Before I started looking into Orthodoxy I was very impressed by confessional Lutheranism but again mostly through reading blog posts and listening to podcasts. There is no classical Lutheran church nearby so Lutheranism was not an option. I naturally flirted with the idea of examining the Roman Catholic church, but somewhere deep inside me I knew I would have very serious problems with some of their dogmas. Finally, I think 2 years back, I discovered that one of my friends who attended the same evangelical fellowship as I many years back converted to Orthodoxy and this basically got me thinking about examining Orthodoxy. Our church is very, very small and basically Czech Orthodox blogosphere non-existing so again besides wonderful discussions with the priest I get most information about Orthodoxy from Ancient Faith Radio and blog sites like yours. I have listened to many episodes of Our Life in Christ which are superb and I am also going through the Bishops series by Fr. Tomas Hopko. I read Bp. Kallistos’ book The Orthodox Way, Wisdom of St. Siluan of Athos (I translated the Czech title but it is the one by Elder Sofrony), The Jesus Prayer by F.M. Green. And I started reading the book by M. Webber, because somehow the area of human psychology is interesting for me and while at L’Abri some of the lectures that I was listening to were about psychiatry by a psychiatrist. I have absolutely no knowledge of Greek, so books with a lot of words in Greek would not be very helpful for me.

    Well I guess this post is already too long, if you have further questions then I will write more.
    Thank you

  50. PJ Avatar

    “It’s not a question of belittling – but there are questions of historical accuracy. Jerome and Leo are not great intellects (Jerome is a good translator – but not a theological intellect). Leo simply isn’t viewed as a great intellect. It’s not accurate history. ”

    Sts. Leo and Jerome are both venerated as Doctors by the Catholic Church. To claim that it’s “not accurate history” to label them great intellects therefore strikes me as strange. The title Doctor requires “eminent learning” and “great sanctity.”

    *You* may not judge them great intellects, but the Catholic Church certainly does. Given its size and antiquity, I think we can afford its opinion a little weight, no?

  51. PJ Avatar

    I apologize for mentioning Greek hubris before. I apologize not because it is untrue, but because I should have mentioned alongside it Roman hubris. The enmity between east and west is in a sense a continuation of the struggle between Greek culture and Roman culture, and they both have their points of pride. They also both have strengths and weaknesses. If we are ever to heal the schisms that divide us, it will require admitting our tender areas.

  52. fatherstephen Avatar

    The title “Doctor of the Church” is not a pronouncement about someone’s intellect. It means they are a “teacher” of the Church, someone whose teaching is trustworthy and of great significance. It is not a term in the East.

    I would easily recognize Leo as such a character (I am not as comfortable with Jerome, but that’s another story). His work is indeed of great importance. But it was not a great work of the intellect. The accurate depiction of the 5th century, is that Rome is sort of a “cultural backwater.” It was not a center of learning (like Athens, Alexandria or Constantinople). It was not particularly polyglot. It was known to be “traditional” even “conservative,” and trustworthy. Leo’s Tome is precisely such a document. As an intellectual work it fell short. It was a useful formula “one nature, two persons,” but it fails to provide anything like a successful understanding of what those terms meant, and that was the precise problem of the century that followed. The answer to that question was not obvious – it required great gifts, and great holiness to be rightly spoken. Those gifts were most prominently displayed in St. Maximus the Confessor (whom Rome championed as well).

    The term Doctor was and is deserved – but the term has to be correctly understood. Rome does not view Leo as a great intellect.

  53. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick

    Martin, though born and raised in California my journey is something like yours. My wife is half Czech and half English. While stationed in Germany (mid 70s) at a NATO air base I badly wanted to visit Swiss L’Abri but could only correspond with Schaeffer by post. I read his books and Hans Rookmaaker which led me to the Dutch Reformational school of Kuyper, Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd where I first glimpsed hope for a God-loved one-story universe. 16 years ago I converted to Orthodoxy. I will pray for you and your journey.

  54. Martin Avatar

    Thank you Michael. I think once I experienced L’Abri I did not want to settle for anything less and so I was looking and looking and looking… And here I am.

  55. PJ Avatar

    “But it was especially in his interposition in the confusion of the Christological quarrels, which then so profoundly agitated Eastern Christendom, that Leo most brilliantly revealed himself the wise, learned, and energetic shepherd of the Church…

    From his first letter on this subject, written to Eutyches on 1 June, 448 (ep. xx), to his last letter written to the new orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, Timotheus Salophaciolus, on 18 August, 460 (ep. clxxi), we cannot but admire the clear, positive, and systematic manner in which Leo, fortified by the primacy of the Holy See, took part in this difficult entanglement….

    Leo was no less active in the spiritual elevation of the Roman congregations, and his sermons, of which ninety-six genuine examples have been preserved, are remarkable for their profundity, clearness of diction, and elevated style” (The Catholic Encyclopedia).

    Perhaps my standards for intellectual greatness are lower than yours. Admittedly, Leo is no philosopher-theologian on par with Maximus the Confessor, but intellect extends beyond such bookish crafts.

    Saint Leo the Great, Bishop of Rome, Doctor and Father of the Church: a first-rate mind, a noble shepherd, and a remarkable administrator. Surely, we can agree on that much.

  56. PJ Avatar

    Speaking of hymnography, I just acquired “On Pascha” by Melito of Sardis, edited by Alistair Stewart-Sykes (Anglican) and put out by SVS Press. Can’t put it down. It sheds light on topics we often discuss here, especially apostolic interpretation of Scripture. I highly recommend it.

  57. dinoship Avatar

    We do indeed celebrate Saint Leo, Bishop of Rome on the 18th of February as a great defender of the Orthodox faith, especially since heplayed such a strong part (having sent four legates) in the 4th ecumenical council…
    However, comparing most Saints’ writings to Saint Maximus the confessor or the Cappadocians…? Well, it is like comparing A. Salieri or M. Giuliani to Mozart and Beethoven (to use a musical parallel).

  58. PJ Avatar

    There is a difference between a great intellect and an extraordinary intellect.

  59. fatherstephen Avatar

    St. Basil, and the St. Gregory’s could have kept pace with St. Maximus as the vocabulary was explained, but I’ve met very few modern scholars who “get” him thoroughly.

  60. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick

    Martin, it occurred to me today to recommend two things to you. Both have a relation to psychology.

    The first is an online book I’m now reading by Fr. Theophanes (Constantine) titled “The Psychological Basis of Mental Prayer in the Heart” You can find a description here with links to the three volumes: http://timiosprodromos4.blogspot.com/2006/01/description-of-work.html

    This is a survey of ancient and Christian views of man’s nature that provides a solid intellectual foundation for Hesychasm – deifying prayer of the heart.

    The second is Fr. Thomas Hopko’s CDs, published by SVS Press, titled “Sin: Primordial, Generational, Personal”

    These short lectures may be helpful for people, like me, who were taught erroneous Western ideas about sin, guilt, and punishment. Incidentally, Hopko’s other SVS CDs titled “The Word of the Cross” have an exceptionally good explanation of the cross and why we suffer even after Christ said “it is finished”.

  61. Martin Avatar

    Thank you Michael,

    The book looks very interesting and Fr. Hopko’s lectures are always very good as well. I will start with the book as it is available on-line. Thanks again,


  62. PJ Avatar

    Fr. Hopko is excellent. He holds the historicity of the Old Testament in high regard. I was surprised to hear him explain that God allowed the OT holy wars because Israel’s survival had to be ensured so as to pave the way for Christ. This I typically do not hear from Orthodox, though it’s a view I’m sympathetic to.

  63. fatherstephen Avatar

    Fr. Hopko is a remarkable treasure – one of the best teachers of any background that I’ve encountered. I am sometimes “crosswise” with him lately on OT interpretation – but it’s all within the range of Orthodoxy. He’s certainly well “above my pay grade.”

  64. PJ Avatar

    Have you listened to his keynote address at the 2011 Orthodox Institute? Extremely edifying and educational.


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