How the Scriptures Became the Scriptures

How did the Scriptures become the Scriptures? In particular, how did early Christians decide which books would be included in the Scriptures and which books would not – for there were far more writings of the time that were set aside than those that were accepted as being Scripture?

Interestingly, the process did not happen right away. The writings that are today described as being the New Testament were largely or completely finished by the end of the first century – that is – within the lifetime of the longest surviving disciple (St. John). Yet, the Church did not declare what writings were to be considered Scripture for more than a century after that. Why did the so-called “New Testament Church” wait for over a century to declare what would be the New Testament?

There are a number of modern Christians who speak of the New Testament as though it were the definitive achievement of the early Church. For them, only those things that can be “proven” by reference to the New Testament are considered authoritative or true. It is that same method that they use to justify their own beliefs and practices. But, we will note, they have established a requirement that not even the early Church observed.

There is, first, the problem of circular logic. How can you establish the authority of the New Testament before the New Testament is complete? With advocates of a “New Testament Church,” this problem is usually obviated by reference to the Apostles. While the Apostles were alive, they reason, they functioned as a sort of living New Testament. The Scriptures were not utterly necessary until they died. However, once they died, the Scriptures become the sole authority (Sola Scriptura). Of course, unlike the American Constitution, the New Testament did not include a method of “ratification.” By the time of the last Apostle, there were already documents claiming to be “Apostolic” or the “Secret teachings of Jesus” in circulation. How was the early Church able to decide what was authentic and what was false? The modern NT scholar, Bart Ehrman, has created a small cottage industry by playing off this problem.

Those who struggle to anchor the Christian faith in a first-century Scripture, fail to notice what the Apostles actually did complete by the end of the first century. The Scriptures that today comprise the New Testament were completed by the end of that century, but they had not yet become the Scriptures that they would be. What the Apostles completed in their lifetime (and even before its end) was the founding of the Church. It is this labor that occupied all of their time and their attention. The Apostle Paul’s ministry stretched over 35 years (more or less). In that time he wrote 14 letters (at most). Those writings are relatively short. What else did he do for 35 years? He established communities of Christians all across the Mediterranean; he taught; he communicated the Tradition; He trained and ordained leaders; He revisited communities; He trained a team to assist him. His life was the Church. Everything he wrote, he wrote as an extension of his work in and for the Church.

It was this beloved Church that he called, “the Body of Christ.” It was this beloved Church that he called, “The Pillar and Ground of Truth.” It was her inner life, described as “traditions,” taught “by word or our epistle,” that he instructed his fellow workmen to “hold fast” (2 Thess. 2:15).

This last instruction points to the reality of the Church’s life. The gospels (all four) which we now have, show clear evidence of having first been known and taught orally. They were not entirely the compositions of four different men (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). They clearly have much material in common (sometimes word for word). St. Paul and his fledgling communities were not strangers to this oral tradition. In 1 Corinthians 11, St. Paul reminds the Christians in Corinth of the oral tradition of the Eucharist. He specifically says that he traditioned (ὃ καὶ παρέδωκα ὑμῖν) to them what he himself had received by tradition (παρέλαβον ἀπὸ τοῦ Κυρίου), that “In the night in which He was betrayed, He took bread…”  He then relates, pretty much word-for-word, the account of the institution of the Eucharist as it is given in Matthew, Mark and Luke. This is more than a decade or two before those gospels are held to have been written. The oral tradition of the gospels (doubtless that tradition contained most of what forms the gospels that we have today) predates the written gospels by decades. The best NT scholars today suggest that the tradition Paul cites in such a fixed form goes back to around 35 AD (2 years after the resurrection).

The Church of the first century, founded and nurtured tirelessly by the Apostles, was grounded in this oral tradition. It included stories of the gospels, early hymns (such as Philippians 2:5-11), creedal material (1 Corinthians 15:1-5), and such things. Most especially, its inner life and character as the worshipping community of Jesus were formed in a manner that consistently reflected the gospel itself. The incarnate God, crucified in weakness, dead, descended into Hades, raised from the dead in power, triumphant over death and hell, exalted to the right hand of the Father, coming again to bring the fullness of His Kingdom, formed the shape of the early Christian life. Salvation was through union with Christ. That union was initiated in Baptism and sealed by the gift of the Spirit. It was nourished in the Eucharist of His Body and Blood. It was reaffirmed by a life marked by humility, hospitality, care for the poor, and obedience to the way of the Cross (even obedience unto death). It was guided by that inner life, expressed in the teachings of the Apostles, maintained by the Bishops whom they appointed within the Church. The sheep knew the voice of their Shepherd.

It was the recognition of that voice that ultimately affirmed the Scriptures that we now describe as the New Testament. The “canon” of the New Testament (those books the Church accepted as authoritative) was based on what was actually used in the Churches over the first few centuries. The discussions within the Church in affirming a canon were comparisons from place to place as to what books were read within the worship life of the Church. The lists varied. But several things are of note:

1. The lists did not include books that deviated in any way from the normative account of the Apostolic faith. There was no acceptance of gospels that ignored the centrality of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. There were no books whose descriptions of the Christian way of life deviated from the example of Christ and the Apostles.

2. Some books were not universally accepted, but had enough acceptance to be considered canonical (Revelation is an example – it is still not read in the Eastern Orthodox Church, though it is considered canonical).

3. Some books that were generally believed to be Apostolic in origin did not have enough acceptance to be included among the canonical works. Thus the Didache, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas, though generally accepted as Apostolic, lacked sufficient universality).

It is important to consider the fact that there were no books within the lists that were outside the mainstream of the received Orthodox Tradition. How was that? There was no centralized, controlling bureaucracy, no mass communication. There was, instead, a common mind (as St. Paul enjoined his Churches, cf. 1 Cor. 1:10; 2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 1:27; Phil. 2:2; Phil 3:16; Phil. 4:2, etc.). That common mind is, in fact, what Orthodox mean by Tradition. St. Paul does not enjoin the Churches, “Read the same New Testament.” He says, “Be of one mind.” The Church is of one mind, because it is the one Church in the one Lord, in the one Spirit, in the one Apostolic Tradition. That one mind spoke and established the canon of the New Testament. Many today read the same book, but because they are not of the same mind, fail to understand it.

The Scripture is not prior to the Church, but of the Church. It is a manifestation of the Church’s divine life. It speaks with the voice of Christ, the same voice that speaks throughout the life of the Church. In recognizing the voice of its shepherd, the Church declared some books to be authoritative, that is, consistent with the voice of Christ they already knew. As St. John says to the Church:

These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you. But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him (1 Jn. 2:26-27).

Interestingly, in this very passage, John acknowledges his role in writing, but also acknowledges that the Church already has something that teaches and guards from falsehood – the anointing – the Holy Spirit. He is not describing “two poles,” or “two sources,” or “two authorities.” His writing and the anointing have one and the same action. John writes and the anointing abides, and both preserve the Church. The Church knows its shepherd and His voice (and even St. John’s writing) because the anointing abides within it. St. John does not suggest that his writing can now substitute for the anointing.

And so the Church establishes what is now called the canon of Scripture. Those books that are consistent with the witness of the anointing in the Church and have been recognized as such over time by the Church, are declared to be authoritative. But the anointing does not cease, for it is the very constitution of the Church. The Church which is the Body of Christ is made so by the one Spirit it has received and continues to receive and in which it abides.

Schemes of interpretation and ecclesiology rooted in sola scriptura ultimately divorce the Scriptures from the Church and the Church from the anointing. The result is the present sad state of denominational Christianity.

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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232 responses to “How the Scriptures Became the Scriptures”

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  2. Julia Cutler Avatar
    Julia Cutler

    wow! very thought provoking! thank you again for another blog to really get us to think and learn more about our faith and how the Scriptures really came into being the Scriptures.

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  4. Rhonda Avatar

    Excellent article, Fr. Stephen! And one that is now part of my “library” when discussing the Faith. Thank you!

  5. davidp Avatar

    Several years ago I read Bart Ehrman´s book in which he wrote about the corruption of scripture. Although he was a believer in his earlier days, the latest is that he is agnostic. It is interesting that the free dictionary defines agnostic 3 ways: 1. One who says it is impossible to know whether there is a God; 2. One who is skeptical about the existence of God, but does not profess atheism; 3. One who is doubtful about something. There are many out there, I suppose even in the church, who are agnostic…some who have said they believe that there is something “out there”. Several who have said that they are agnostic to me, I just say, “There are many out there like you who fail to understand `He is your Heavenly Father´.

  6. Preston Avatar

    Too many see the relationship between Church and Scripture as being between two poles: either the Scripture is the authority over the Church, or the Church is the authority over the Scriptures. I appreciate what you said about John, and how the writing and the Spirit the Christians had were not two different things, but one and the same. In my understanding, the Church may use Scripture authoritatively not because the Church rules Scripture, but because the same Spirit enlivens both. Would this be a correct interpretation of what you are saying here?

  7. John W. Martens Avatar


    I have linked to your article at my website. Interestingly, I published a piece very similar to this yesterday from a Catholic perspective! I hope your readers might stop over and check it out at Thanks.

    John W. Martens

  8. Greg Avatar

    Great article. I think though it is a stretch to conclude that the New Testament writings were universally received as
    Scripture within a 100 years of the Apostles – it is entirely possible that 2 Peter was just being written around 150 ad and the mid second century writings of Irenaeus certainly suggest that the Old Testament remained the primary Christian Scripture into that same period. The Church Herself really did not declare the New Testament writings en toto as Scripture for hundreds of years.

  9. John Shores Avatar
    John Shores

    I have great respect for you and your writings but I would like to invoke Proerbs 18:17.

    “He established communities of Christians all across the Mediterranean; he taught; he communicated the Tradition; He trained and ordained leaders; He revisited communities; He trained a team to assist him.” – This is an issue with which I struggled during my deconversion process. It seems to me that a god with any brains at all would have had all the particulars of the faith documented (see the Pentateuch). The recruitment of uneducated men and the complete lack of documentation during the lifetime of Christ followed by a century of one-on-one discipleship and just a few letters just about guarantees that within one generation the whole thing will have been like a game of telephone in which the original intent is completely lost and, consequently, unassailable.

    “Yet, the Church did not declare what writings were to be considered Scripture for more than a century after that.” – Which again speaks to the same issue. This passage of time is equivalent to us considering the Civil War. Now, we have all kinds of documents from the 1860s including news articles, letters, and personal writings of principle players and yet there is still a considerable segment of the population who believes in revisionist versions of history. Imagine what it would be like if all we had to go on was the oral tradition of 12 guys who were at Fredericksburg, Appomattox and Bull Run (written down for posterity some 30 years after the events). How much would we really know about the events of that time? Next to nothing.

    The entire NT story, from angels showing up to a couple guys watching over sheep in the country to basing today’s faith on the musings of a dozen men (one of whom never even hung out with Jesus) without anything being recorded at the time that they happened is simply impossible to take seriously. One might claim that the memory of those men who penned or narrated the Gospels is enough. But anyone who knows anything about how the human brain works and how memories are constantly recreated and modified over time (particularly as different people talk about those events with one another) knows that this is by far the least reliable evidence one can possibly present.

    “It was guided by that inner life, expressed in the teachings of the Apostles, maintained by the Bishops whom they appointed within the Church. The sheep knew the voice of their Shepherd.” and “There was, instead, a common mind…” – I have trouble with this also. If these people had the “Holy Spirit” and a common mind, why did most of them show up at Nicaea presenting Constantine with petitions airing grievances against other bishops (which Constantine summarily burned on opening day)? And why was that council fraught with bickering, fighting and ultimately the winners excommunicating the losers (with Constantine’s brother-in-law being reinstated as a Bishop after the excommunications because he was married to the emperor’s sister)? Being “of one mind” and “coming to a consensus” are two very different things.

    “And so the Church establishes what is now called the canon of Scripture.” – All in all, it seems to me that in this case, as in every case, history is written by the victors. The voices of the squelched have no place and so it is impossible for later generations to fairly judge between them.

    It makes for a nice package and, just like patriotism, we can all feel comfortable that what we (our church, our nation, our tribe) says and does is right and just because we have all the right answers. If Christianity did in fact universally lead to lives “marked by humility, hospitality, care for the poor” then I would be more likely to give the “scriptures” due consideration. As it is, what I have found is that good people (regardless of belief system) live such lives and bad people (even within the hierarchy of religious belief systems) don’t. Said another way, I think you will find as many humble and hospitable Muslims as you will Christians, Hidus, Buddhists or atheists.

    That said, it seems to me that only positive benefit of such writings is simply to reinforce in good people that they should continue to be good. But the reality is that all Scripture (regardless of religion) is polarizing and serves only to create division between the faithful and those who have fallen away or are outside the faith. Within each faith, the Scriptures (and writings of the church fathers) are used to browbeat those who do not interpret them the same way that we do. It does not lead to unity but to division.

    So, maybe god was brilliant all along and never intended the faith to be penned. If we threw away everything except the gospels, perhaps people would be imitating Christ rather than using the scriptures to figure out who is right and who is wrong and invoking factions, inquisitions, and the divisiveness that permeates Christianity.

  10. John Shores Avatar
    John Shores

    Sorry for the typos!

  11. Isidore Avatar

    In a similar vein, I enjoyed reading:

    written by Fr. James Bernstein

  12. PJ Avatar

    “The entire NT story, from angels showing up to a couple guys watching over sheep in the country to basing today’s faith on the musings of a dozen men (one of whom never even hung out with Jesus) without anything being recorded at the time that they happened is simply impossible to take seriously. ”

    And yet billions of people, past and present, take it seriously, sometimes remaining faithful to Christ unto the cruelest deaths.

    So either you are uncannily perceptive, or the claims of Christ and His Church are not “impossible to take seriously,” but rather worthy of consideration.

    Given that some of mankind’s most brilliant specimens are disciples of Jesus — often after long bouts of unbelief — I lean toward the latter option. With all due respect, of course.

    But I *do* understand where you are coming from. Indeed, everything you write, I recognize.

    For I was an agnostic once. An agnostic of the caustically cynical variety. I even remember (with great shame) my favorite epithet for Christ, which I hurled with smug condescension: “some itinerant Jewish construction worker.”

    I can only urge you, as I always do, to seek God in Christ crucified through humble, loving prayer. Perhaps one day we can, as brothers in Christ, sing together: Too late have I loved Thee, O Lord!

  13. Brian Avatar

    I do not want to be contrary here, as I fully agree with the idea that divisional denominationalism is destructive to the Church. In fact my wife and I like to think of Christianity as Baskin Robbins…31 flavors, but all still ice cream in the end. Simplified to be sure, but I am sure you get the point!

    My only concern is to make sure the Scriptures are also not diminished. John 1:1 states “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Literally, due to God’s omnipresence, His plan has been in place for eternity, past and future. That plan revealed to us is the Word. Individual translations may not contain the full meaning behind all He has to say to us, but the essence is always there, and the Truth is revealed to believers, through the Spirit, when we read the Word. This is very similar to what you described with the process of the NT canonization.

    One big problem with some organizations today though is the pulling the Word out of context. Understanding it in the light of time it was written, as well as removing it from surrounding text, can allow Scripture to be used to manipulate a desired message. Not only do I think this practice is wrong, I believe it to be from Satan’s influence, and also a culprit towards some common misunderstandings of key pieces of Scripture.

    Personally, I think that most churches that emphasize the concept of “sola scriptura” idea are not denying the Spirit of the Church or diminishing its importance, rather they recognize that the Church does not exist in a vacuum from societal influences. Therefore, for grounding we need always turn back to the Word to make sure that what we say and do is only for God’s glory. I actually believe it would be better if more church denominations did this, perhaps their attitudes would turn more ecumenical, and we could spend less time on infighting, and instead focus on the Great Commission and on helping those in need.

  14. Gregory Avatar

    Brian wrote: “My only concern is to make sure the Scriptures are also not diminished. John 1:1 states “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Literally, due to God’s omnipresence, His plan has been in place for eternity, past and future. That plan revealed to us is the Word.”

    I’m not certan what you mean by this, but you seem to think that John 1:1 was referring to the scriptures. However, if so, you would also be saying that John refers to the scriptures as being God and existing before there were pen, ink, or anyone to read them.

    It turns out that the “Word” in John 1:1 (Logos) is not at all the same word used elsewhere when scripture is called “the word of God.” I have heard some evangelical preachers say that the Bible is Christ in book form. This results from a sore lack of knowledge of Greek. In truth, a book the size of the Bible (important though it may be) is not nearly adequate to express the essence of an ordinary human being, much less to express the divine essence of Christ.

    One terrible result of the desire of the Sola Scriptura faction to emphasize the preeminence of scripture is their diminishment of Christ Himself.

  15. Brian Avatar

    Gregory, I thought I stated pretty clearly that the Word refers to His plan, i.e. the Truth. No not just the Bible, that is just a partial revelation of the Truth. There is much more to God that we can possibly understand or get from a book 1000 times larger than the Bible. And I would never agree with someone saying that the Bible is Christ, that is absurd. It is, however, part of the Truth, and a more trustworthy record than the word of any one person…other than Jesus, whose words of course come to us from that same Scripture.

    Sola Scriptura does not equal worship of the Bible, it acknowledges it contains all of the basic knowledge needed to establish an authentic relationship with our Lord, if its words and the Truth are taken to heart. Then the relationship one has with the Lord becomes much deeper than any words can describe.

    I would point you to, if you so want to vilify a faction of the church, to look at the group I mentioned in my initial response, those who quote parts of Scripture out of context for political or exclusivity means.

  16. PJ Avatar


    I’m also confused by your first paragraph. You seem to think that John is speaking of the Scriptures in his Prologue. But this surely is not the case: He is speaking of the Second Person of the Godhead, whom is called Word, Son, Wisdom, Light, Lord, Only-Begotten, Firstborn, Image, and so on. The Scriptures — called sometimes “the Word” — are the revelation of the Son, but they are not somehow identical or interchangeable with Him. To think as much is to fall into the heresy of Islam, which declares the Koran (in Arabic!) eternally before Allah.

  17. PJ Avatar

    Oops. A moment later and I would have seen your response.

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  19. Brian Avatar

    …or those who argue that there is only one true interpretation of Scripture. Usually thinking somehow that version would be from 17th century England.

  20. fatherstephen Avatar

    My dating of things has been misunderstood. The “universal acceptance” or should we say “general acceptance” is indeed probably established well before 100 years after the Apostles, though that is not stated definitively until around the time of Nicaea in 324 AD. But Nicaea states something that is already largely established in practice.

  21. fatherstephen Avatar

    John Shores,
    I think your summation is rather jaundiced – reflecting your personal experience rather than what is there.

  22. John Shores Avatar
    John Shores

    PJ – “And yet billions of people, past and present, take it seriously, sometimes remaining faithful to Christ unto the cruelest deaths.” – By that argument, the faith of suicide bombers has equal validity. Many Hindus and Muslims have suffered terrible deaths for their faith (and let us not forget the Israelis). If the story is to be believed, even Pharaoh believed his religion to the point of suffering terrible plagues on his nation as the death of his eldest son. Yet he is regarded by Christians with contempt. Jezebel was a conservative religious person who was faithful to her god to the point of death and yet her name is a byword. Or we could talk about the Aztecs or Mayas or any other religion known to man. The examples from every religion through the ages are innumerable.

    To me, all this says more about human beings than it does about the validity of the stories they adopt.

    Brian – I believe John 1 was not talking about scriptures but Christ as being “the word.” I think it is a mistake to call scriptures “the word of god.” In the context of Christianity, they are “a word” but certainly not “THE word.” When you say “the Word refers to His plan” I think you are not thinking Orthodoxically. “God’s plan” (if there is such a thing) has been debated since the beginning whereas John 1 is speaking of a person.

    “it acknowledges it contains all of the basic knowledge needed to establish an authentic relationship with our Lord” – Phrases like “authentic relationship” always make me cringe. Too often such phrases are used to divide and since a relationship is not entered into cerebrally, I find such terms to belie the undercurrent that runs throughout Christianity and which plagues people with doubt, confusion and guilt; that is, the word “relationship” means something and trying to redefine it into “thinking correctly about someone” (thank you Athenasius (“He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity”)) causes cognitive dissonance. Belief is one thing. Claiming a relationship is something else entirely.

    “…those who quote parts of Scripture out of context…” – Is it not the Orthodox position that the context of the scriptures is found in the writings of the church fathers? Consequently, from an Orthodox point of view, anyone quoting scriptures without knowledge of that context (e.g. 95% of “Christians”) are doing so out of context regardless of their purpose or intent? Does this not make them apostate?

  23. fatherstephen Avatar

    I think we are in two very different places. The Scriptures do not contain all of the basic knowledge need to establish an authentic relationship with our Lord. That is something that is given to the Church (and the Scriptures functioning in the life of the Church). The Scriptures do not Baptize, Chrismate or Commune. That belongs to the life of the Church – and they belong to the life of an authentic relationship with Christ. When I say “Church” in the article, I am referring to the Holy Orthodox Church founded by Christ, but not the denominational Christianity of modern protestantism. It has it’s positives and negatives, but it is not the Church.

  24. John Avatar

    John Shores,

    Much of what you wrote resonates with me as well. I, too, see religion as regularly creating such division and animosity on both the interpersonal and national level that I often wonder if it might not be simpler just to try to love my fellow man and forget all else – doctrines, creeds, etc. Certainly, the moment at which any belief becomes a claim of personal “rightness” (my belief is right, my practice is right, my scriptures are right, etc) is a moment which rends the Unity of all things – which might just be the best definition of sin that I know of.

    At the same time, I can think of no greater example of how to love my fellow man than that given by Jesus Christ and the life lived by his saints. I believe that this true life has also been lived by those who would not call themselves Christians; but for myself, having come to know Christ, I cannot walk away.

    I know you have said in previous posts that you are through searching and reading (a sentiment which I can certainly appreciate); if you are interested, however, I recommend the book, Christ the Eternal Tao, by Heiromonk Damascene. If you would like to meet Christ, you may just find him there.

  25. John Shores Avatar
    John Shores

    Fr. Stephen: “I think your summation is rather jaundiced – reflecting your personal experience rather than what is there.”

    I am sorry it sounds so but facts cannot be swept away. The tenor of the Nicene councils was combative and the fact that these bishops went to a civil authority to try to exact punishment on one another broke my heart when I read about it. The way the human mind works is in fact the way it works. There is no evidence to suggest that events documented 30-40 years later are factual.

    What you read as “jaundiced” is probably better termed “hugely disappointed.” I didn’t set out to disprove Christianity. I wanted to believe that there was some truth to is because I desperately wanted to have this holy spirit person change me. All I ever got in the protestant world is neurosis. In pseudo-orthodox-land (the CEC) I got a taste of something better only for it to be shattered. I didn’t have the courage to let anyone else try to tell me what and how I should believe after that. The soul-crushing torment of my journey to try to find god was purely my own. And no god showed up to rescue me. The only two possibilities then became that I was damned (which I well may be) or there is no god. The latter is simpler to believe because I cannot believe in a god who would damn one who honestly sought him.

  26. John Shores Avatar
    John Shores

    John – Thank you. It would be nice, though, if Christ would bother to meet me instead. A human can only look under so many rocks before determining that all they have under them is dirt and bugs.

    To be honest, I am worn out to the core. No one would be happier than I if I could simply lay down and go to the long sleep. Certainly some people would be happy, seeing as I’m something of a pest. But still… :o)

  27. dinoship Avatar

    John Shores,
    reading your comment made me think that rational reasoning is truly the antithesis of faith, and, your reasoning in particular -based on your remarkable background- seems to be even better versed against faith than usual – the ‘believer’ in you contains within him his worst enemy…!
    Don’t we all (contain him within us) though? we do indeed!
    One can go on like this, deconstructing more and more, all because of coming at it from a, first and foremost, critical angle. But is that not one of the reasons why the Kingdom is to be inherited by the child-like?
    Having encountered these types of doubts with a growing frequency in my peers, makes me think that, just as the notion of the Cross -i.e.: God’s strength always being manifest in weakness- was a scandal to “Jews” and “Greeks” alike, so too, it will be more and more of a scandal to the people of the last times – just as was prophesised in the past…

    I sometimes think that the biggest part of this potential for rationalised unbelief is provided us by our especially mollycoddled culture and environment. I think this because I have witnessed how, sometimes, (not always though), people are vehemently freed from the shackles of this particular flavour of unbelief through terminal illness. Completely. More so than even meeting a charismatic saintly believer.

  28. fatherstephen Avatar

    John, I do well understand your point and your thoughts. I despaired about all of this in around 1973. It was a very dark year (and for a few after that).
    Where I came to was not an explanation that made all the crap of history and the present go away. It’s there – really there. It is a very long disappointing tale of how we betray God and one another (at the very least).
    Instead, I eventually came to a place where I believed (and still believe) that despite all the crap, past and present, all the historical disappointment, God exists and is active and is bringing about good – an ultimate good that I am ok with calling, “salvation.”
    That the Church and all its historical characters have been as disappointing as the first 12 were willing to admit that they themselves were does not now surprise me. It is that the love of God is still manifest that surprises me.
    I have many times encountered great goodness (and in non-believers as well as you have noted). I take this to be the mercy of God and not the luck of the draw.
    If everything had gone to hell in a handbasket, I would say that a godless world had played itself out in true fashion. I do not wrestle with the problem of “evil.” It pretty much makes sense to me. It’s the problem of goodness that I can only account for at the hands of a good God.

  29. dinoship Avatar

    John Shores,
    I think that one would have to smite the internal rationalising enemy of faith in order for God to be ‘found’ in that way you outlined. Just like to the generation looking for a miraculous sign, “none will be given it except the sign of Jonah”, so too in every person’s life, the “sign” is usually that sign of “Jonah” which requires a plunge (of faith) first and an exhilaration in the waters afterwards, rather than the reverse…

  30. Carl Kraeff Avatar
    Carl Kraeff

    Brian said: “Sola Scriptura…acknowledges (the Bible) contains all of the basic knowledge needed to establish an authentic relationship with our Lord, if its words and the Truth are taken to heart. Then the relationship one has with the Lord becomes much deeper than any words can describe.”

    The problem here is not the truth of your statement (yes it can happen this way glory be to God!) but its practical application. What we are looking at is the complex process of communications. same as with every sentence ever written, we do not know what exactly a verse says; we make a prayerful and earnest effort to understand its meaning. Hopefully, we have in front of us a decent translation of the original. Hopefully, we know the context. Some of us may have concordances and other aids in our disposal. Some of us may be smart enough and fortunate enough to have guides in the form of theologians, pastors, etc… The fact remains that, when push come to shove, it is our individual opinion or interpretation that is authoritative, not the Scriptures–even though we console (fool) ourselves into thinking that we have understood the Word the way that God intended. I myself prefer to defer deliberately to the Church in order for me to have all the help that I need NOT to be misled.

  31. PJ Avatar


    Other faiths are not without merit. They all contain seeds of the truth. Christianity is simply the fullness of the truth.

  32. PJ Avatar

    By which I mean, no faith can be dismissed out of hand. At least, none of the great faiths, which have spanned millennia and inspired whole civilizations. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob alone has captivated the mind of much of mankind for the last two thousand years. To say simply, “This is impossible to believe,” is to deny the reality of the faith in the life of countless human beings. And *that* is simply naive.

  33. PJ Avatar

    John Shores,

    I’ve studied closely the history of Christianity. I’ve read texts penned by liberals and conservatives, heterodox and orthodox. I’ve considered all of the matters you bring up. Yet I come away with radically different conclusions. (Though I’d also question the factuality of some of your assertions.) History is not as self-evident as you make it seem.

    And, it should be said, if the New Testament is as unreliable as you claim, then the study of ancient history is essentially impossible, for it is widely recognized as one of the best preserved documents of antique civilization. The sheer number of manuscripts, as well as their uniformity and their proximity to the events in question, is impressive and rarely paralleled.

  34. PJ Avatar

    Impossible from a documentary perspective. Obviously archaeology, numismatics, etc., would remain feasible.

  35. Jim Sheffield Avatar
    Jim Sheffield

    Let’s give what a council of the ancient church
    actually said.

    Fourth Council of Carthage (A. D. 419)

    That nothing be read in church besides the Canonical Scripture.

    ITEM, that besides the Canonical Scriptures nothing be read in church under the name of divine Scripture.

    But the Canonical Scriptures are as follows:

    Joshua the Son of Nun
    The Judges
    The Kings (4 books)
    The Chronicles (2 books)
    The Psalter
    The Five books of Solomon
    The Twelve Books of the Prophets
    Ezra (2 books)
    Macchabees (2 books)
    The New Testament:
    The Gospels (4 books)
    The Acts of the Apostles (1 book)
    The Epistles of Paul (14)
    The Epistles of Peter, the Apostle (2)
    The Epistles of John the Apostle (3)
    The Epistles of James the Apostle (1)
    The Epistle of Jude the Apostle (1)
    The Revelation of John (1 book)
    Let this be sent to our brother and fellow bishop, [Pope] Boniface, and to the other bishops of those parts, that they may confirm this canon, for these are the things which we have received from our fathers to be read in church.

  36. Shane Avatar

    John Shores,

    I too can heartily second the recommendation for the book “Christ The Eternal Tao” – just the Introduction alone is well worth the read. Pontius Pilate asked “What is Truth?” – this is one of the most honest questions that can be asked. I left Protestantism because I couldn’t find the truth there, and instead found much truth contained in Eastern approaches, but something was always missing. It was only upon discovering Orthodoxy that everything converged in the revelation of Christ. Not to say that all my questions were answered, as faith and doubt are not mutually exclusive, but many of the previous contradictions and slivers of truth finally converged into meaning. Also highly recommend the writings of Anthony Bloom, as he asked many of the same questions that you do:

  37. Rhonda Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    How do I reblog articles now that you are on a new website?

  38. Tom Hamilton Avatar
    Tom Hamilton

    Fr. Stephen,
    Thank you for again sharing holy wisdom with us.At some point in the future would you discuss the process of oral transmission. I am not sure I fully understand it and I am wondering if others may also be in need of this information. God bless.

  39. […] How the Scriptures become Scripture. Yep. The Apostles did not leave behind a clear canon of texts. They left a Church into which they had poured their lives. And it was that Church which preserved and eventually canonized their surviving writings. […]

  40. dinoship Avatar

    I very much enjoyed and agree with your last few comments here.

    John Shores,

    to the statement: “And no god showed up to rescue me.”, I think that God does sometimes (the vast majority of times) answer “they have Moses and the PROPHETS” (as I said earlier, no “sign” is given to the generation that asks for it – although it is however, given to those who are sick, humbled and pained).
    I a while back, and I would want to repeat that some of those Orthodox prophets of our time exist (they do remain PROPHETS rather than God himself, as explained above), such a testament (that you might have never come across before) is the book Saint Silouan the Athonite…
    An account that has changed the lives of hundreds of people since in the last forty to fifty years.

  41. fatherstephen Avatar

    Yes. Thank you. This affirms the point of the article quite nicely. The letter is from a Council of Bishops, to a brother bishop (Rome), and describes the canon as what is read in Church. The Canon is, at its heart, a liturgical matter, the Scriptures are also the voice of the Spirit in the Church-worshipping. Second, they are affirmed as “the things which we have received (!) from our fathers to be read in Church.

  42. fatherstephen Avatar

    PJ, John, et al
    John’s point about the unreliability of historical records, is precisely why Tradition is necessary. Tradition is not a “mental” event, a whispering contest in which one whispers to another what he’s heard and can remember. Tradition is the life of the Church – in its energy – in its form and structure – as well as its content. Most readers here are lay persons and will not have the experience to appreciate Orthodox liturgical life as a priest or deacon does. But – a priest not only has the content of the service (the books, etc.) – but the very movements – intonation – etc. – that are the whole of worship are part of tradition as well.
    My older brother, to use an example, is a good dancer. Like myself, he grew up in the Carolinas in the 60’s. He does a dance many today is called by many names (“shag” is popular). It never had its own song or leader who taught it. But he knows it, many of our generation know it (I don’t). It has variations, but it’s the same dance. This is much closer to how Tradition is learned than various intellectualist conceptions. I contend that it is organic, authentic and quite accurate.
    Human activity is traditional at heart. It is the natural means by which we learn most of what we do. The difference in Orthodoxy is not that it has tradition, all human beings have tradition – it is the very nature and heart of human learning and living. What is important about Orthodoxy is that the very content of the faith is embodied in Tradition and is transmitted in the same manner. Thus when we speak of “oral tradition” we mean much more than spoken – most of oral tradition is unspoken and utterly vital.
    I would contend that much of modernized Christianity has tradition – but that the tradition it has is often antithetical to the content of its faith and continually undermines that same faith. The content is endangered by no longer being an organic part of the Christian life.
    The ancient rule is Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, the “law of praying is the law of believing.” You will come to believe what you pray (and in the manner in which you pray it – or don’t pray it). If we pray like modern consumers, we’ll come to believe like modern consumers. And thus the Christian faith becomes distorted.

  43. dinoship Avatar

    I would also like to add a point here concerning the “Living Tradition” and how it provides constant re-affirmation:
    The witness of the Saints, the beholders of God, if you like, is the same no matter when or where they have the experience of beholding the living Christ. This is something that has thousands of years of reaffirming proof behind it, more than many sciences of modernity have. It is those saints that safeguard the truth and whose experience re-affirms it everytime. (Hence the great value of the Hesychasts’ experience throughout the ages)
    At a much lower level, there is a similar affirmation of certain aspects, that rationality would have us doubt, everywhere and for 2000 years now:
    e.g.: the Priest will finish Holy Communion to the last drop after all the people in hospitals with extremely contagious diseases have partaken and he (for 2000 years now) never contracts any of those diseases…
    This is also a living proof that is part of another angle of tradition, there are many more like this.

  44. Geri Farman Avatar
    Geri Farman

    John Shores–“It would be nice, though, if Christ would bother to meet me instead. A human can only look under so many rocks before determining that all they have under them is dirt and bugs.

    To be honest, I am worn out to the core. No one would be happier than I if I could simply lay down and go to the long sleep. Certainly some people would be happy, seeing as I’m something of a pest. But still… )”

    Dear John–
    What if the road to understanding what Christianity is about is not through dissection of everything (how the scriptures came to be, history, people), but through the heart? What if it actually is as you long it to be– through the very simplest of things?

    My 21-year-old son asked me last week what the purpose of life is. My first answer was, “to be like a star.” Before people get out the heresy police, let me explain.

    A star is perfect when it is what it was made to be. People are perfect when they are restored to who they were made to be—beings in perfect harmony and “oneness” with the Creator—and creation. The fancy word is, “Theosis.”

    I think you might agree that it is only people that aren’t “one” within themselves or anything else. We have the freedom and ability to choose to not listen to that deep calling to being “one”with such beauty and life. Perhaps you could agree with St. Paul on this one thing–that all of creation truly is groaning—waiting for people to choose a different way.

    Christ and Christianity offer a vision of all of creation that is exquisitely beautiful. Orthodox Christians believe that He showed us the Way—and is the Way—to that transfigured life called the Kingdom of Heaven. We see it realized in the saints—St. Seraphim of Sarov comes to mind—and we feel its pull in the deepest part of ourselves.

    To make our way there, though, we must embrace “extreme humility”—that is at least one window to understanding why “sacrifice” is the Way. Christ sacrificed himself for others and for this Truth—even to death. For many of us, extreme humility means letting the heart have a much greater say about our Way. We must quiet our logismoi-filled heads. The best explanation I have ever seen about why and how to do that is in the first half of the book, “Bread and Water, Wine and Oil” by Fr. Meletios Webber. He helps us see why the mind needs to tyrannize our hearts. He explains why this is more of a “western” phenomenon. I have read it at least 7 times.

    I think Orthodox Christians would agree that our lack of harmony with God and all of His creation is because we can’t hear and harmonize with the “note” that is the basso continuo of the universe.

    St. John says that that “note” is Love. . .

    It is the one note that people need but are so afraid of—as if to sing it would require unbearable humility: unbearable quiet to hear it and to try to sing it; unbearable submission to the conductor.

    It is the one note that Jesus tried to teach us to sing. And he sang that note all the way to the cross. No matter what people did to him—he wouldn’t stop singing that note. He sang it on the cross. He sang it even in hades—in the very pit of death—and his love-filled song broke its bonds. He rose from the dead so that all of us would finally trust that love is more powerful and beautiful than anything.

    He sings it now—and, if we are quiet and still, we can catch it. All the other pieces of the universe—the stars, squirrels, rocks and leviathans– have a note to play in harmony with him. But he asks you and me to create a melody with Him. Only people can do that—if they only will.

    Why don’t we do that?

    It requires total humility. We see that in who God is—the Trinity. In Orthodox understanding, the Trinity is 3 “persons” totally submitted in extreme humility to one another in love–so much so that they are “one.”

    The orchestra is to be like that—all humanity in all its multiplicity being “one” with one another through love. All creation being “one” through love of one another.

    Most of us can’t sing very well at first—that note of love has to be heard and our voices have to be trained. Once we start, though, God fills us with his energy and power and creativity. He is a loving conductor who lovingly corrects our poor notes—forever.

    Is this “true?” Listen to your heart.

  45. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    The Wisdom of Ben Sirach is quoted in many places in the New Testament. It clearly was regarded as authoritative, though it was not read in the synagogues. I believe it is safe to say that Ben Sirach is of greater significance than Tobit (though Tobit lifts up some aspects of the marriage pattern of priests that is significant).

    Jews and Christians evaluated texts differently, especially after A.D. 90. By the Council of Jamnia the lines between the two faiths had hardened. Judaism de-emphasized texts that the rabbis recognized as Messianic because Christian apologists and evangelists were using them so effectively.

  46. PJ Avatar

    “I think you might agree that it is only people that aren’t “one” within themselves or anything else. ”

    Not to nitpick, but actually, St. Paul says that all creation groans for “liberation from its bondage and decay.”

  47. PJ Avatar

    “John’s point about the unreliability of historical records, is precisely why Tradition is necessary.”

    Understood, though I don’t think that’s any reason to forsake our commitment to the general reliability of our texts. Surely, though, I would be a Christian even if every Bible in the world crumbled into texts. The Spirit would keep the Mind of Christ alive in the Church and in the hearts of His disciples. Though I would be quite sad not to get to read the beautiful words of the Psalms and Prophets and Apostles and Evangelists.

  48. Karen Avatar

    PJ writes: “Though I would be quite sad not to get to read the beautiful words of the Psalms and Prophets and Apostles and Evangelists.”

    That’s a good reason to memorize the Psalms (and other Scriptures)! I’ve read that if every copy of the written Scriptures were destroyed, the Church could reproduce them–if not in every word, at least in the fullness of their meaning, because the Mind of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Tradition, lives within Her. Just think of how much Scripture is embedded in the Orthodox Liturgy alone (especially in the fullness of the ecclesial year), and I suspect nearly every Priest who has been celebrating this Liturgy for any length of time has committed most, if not all of it, to memory (except perhaps for appointed Scripture readings and some other changeable parts). I believe the Priest who received me into the Church was working at memorizing even these readings (because he used to follow along mouthing the words to the Epistle as it was read during the Liturgy), and I doubt he’s unique in that respect. That’s also one advantage of singing or chanting most of the Liturgy–it is easier to memorize that way.

  49. Maria Avatar

    For John Shores,

    As one who became a Christian only by the unfathomable grace and mercy of God, from a similar mindset as yours (though I was raised a secular humanist and never had faith), I will pray for you, unworthy as I am. My change of heart was in part the result of severe humbling, however, and seven years later, I am still as mute as a fish in regard to the questions for which my “logical” mind (and my dear husband) demand answers–a most uncomfortable place for one as intellectually arrogant as I was/am.

    I can only bear witness to something real. God is real. The love of God is real. God is love.

    For me, it took reaching a pit from which I could not escape to seek finally with a humble heart, begging rather than demanding. I still only see a sliver of the light, but I can tell you that it is REAL.

    May you find Him. He is there. Right there. Waiting with you.

    Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.


  50. Andrew Avatar

    Geri and Alice – a balanced approach requires that we have access to the heart, there but for the logismoi… which is why the psalmist says be still and know (Psalms 46:10) for heart speaks to heart…

  51. […] Stephen Freeman examines the topic in a very recent blog, and opened my eyes to a few ramifications I’d […]

  52. dinoship Avatar

    I totally agree with what you say. It reminds me of CS Lewis’: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
    And it is also true that “”It is in the process of being worshipped that God communicates His presence to men.”

  53. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    John Shores: “It would be nice, though, if Christ would bother to meet me instead.”

    I hear so much pain in your words – that either there is no God – or He doesn’t want you.

    I sense that Christ is trying to meet you (I know that it is very bold of me to say this) and I also sense that you want to meet Him (what else keeps you coming back here?). Something is blocking that meeting of His heart with yours.

    Life can be so complex and painful at times. Perhaps you are not yet ready to meet Him – but I believe He does indeed want you. Very much.

    I too will pray for you. Perhaps all of us here could join our hearts together to surround you with the love of our prayers… May you know healing from all that has hurt you.


  54. dinoship Avatar

    Mary, John Shores,
    Indeed, concerning “it would be nice, though, if Christ bothered to meet me instead”, I remember the advise given to a novice complaining to his Elder of not seeing the Uncreated Light of God (God Himself):
    “Rest in the knowledge ()that I see you bathed in the Uncreated Light! but your eyes and your senses need to be cleansed for you to see it too. Say the Jesus prayer like a child with no thoughts or any demanding expectations…”
    The important verb here beeing “rest” (as in be still and know that I am God – and also as in, ‘honour Him by trusting Him as present in your darkness – THAT is true ascesis’) It is indeed true ascesis and not something to be explained away as a psychological ‘need’:
    For man to doubt Christ is like an ant doubting the elephant on whose surface it walks…

    One cannot doubt the fullness of truth only to be found in Him Who said “I am the Truth, I am the Way, I am the Life, I am He who Is and Who was and Who Is to come, I am the One Who truly exists”, by explaining away Jesus as another great moral teacher, while not accepting his claim to be the one and only God.

    As Lewis,Pascal and many others have said, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.

    You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

  55. Alice C. Linsley Avatar
    Alice C. Linsley


    The heart that is illuminated sees the pattern. The pattern is what most miss. St. John Chrysostom often points us to the pattern. For examaple, Jesus’ exhortation to forgive (Matthew 18) and Lamech’s confession (Gen. 4) to this wives form a pattern.

  56. Karen Avatar

    I recently came across this quote:

    “It is not enough to be acquainted with the texts and to know how to draw from them quotes and arguments. One must possess the theology of the Fathers from within. Intuition is perhaps more important for this than erudition, for intuition alone revives their writings and makes them a witness. It is only from within that we can perceive and distinguish what (actually) is a catholic testimony from what would be merely theological opinion, hypothesis, interpretation, or theory… Only in the integral communion of the Church is this ‘catholic transfiguration’ of consciousness truly possible. Those who, by reason of their humility in the presence of the Truth, have received the gift to express this catholic consciousness of the Church, we call them Fathers and Doctors, since what they make us hear is not only their thought or their personal conviction, but moreover the very witness of the Chruch, for they speak from the depth of its catholic fullness. Their theology evolves on the plane of catholicity, of universal communion.”

    —Fr. Georges Florovsky, “The Ways of Russian Theology” in The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, Vol. IV, Aspects of Church History (Belmont, MA: Nordland, 1987), pp. 191, 192

    The most important reason I came to accept the Orthodox understanding of our salvation in Christ and of the Scriptures as opposed to that of my Protestant and Evangelical background (where they differ) was that, among other things, it did no violence in any of its parts to the deepest intuitions of my own heart about the real meaning and implications of an utterly pure, sinless, and self-giving love–the kind of love in the Godhead revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ.

  57. fatherstephen Avatar

    Outstanding quote. Florovsky is such a rich resource. It is a pity that his work is hard to come by. There was some sort of problem surrounding his estate, and copyrights with a publisher that went bankrupt (as I understood at the time). Back in the 80’s when I was a grad student at Duke, his collected works were available in the library (though you could not find them for purchase). I had the foresight to make copies of them. His work on Tradition and Scripture has probably been more foundational to my Orthodoxy than anything else on the subject.

  58. John Shores Avatar
    John Shores

    Fr. S: “John’s point about the unreliability of historical records, is precisely why Tradition is necessary.” – Thank you for conceding the point. The question becomes far more poignant when one considers context. Most of us don’t understand the context of modern religious writings that are outside of Western culture. Many of the writings called “Scriptures” were not only written long after the actual events but also by people who were a part of Judaic culture – a culture that was very foreign to the Greeks, Romans, Africans, etc. As Alice states, “Jews and Christians evaluated texts differently.”

    The morass that must ensue under such conditions is not unlike the morass of the current US legal system which, though based on the Constitution, would likely be unrecognizable to the founding fathers. It has been said that America died with the introduction of social security. An argument could be made that this is so. And so our society today, even from a conservative point of view, is probably not what the fathers envisioned. Whether this is good or bad is not relevant to my point. The point is that it is not now what they had intended then.

    Which is why I think god would be smart enough to be hands-on in every generation in ways that cannot be misunderstood and misinterpreted. If he could make the mountains smoke for Moses’ generation, why could he not make his presence physically known for others?

    Tradition ought not be confused with truth, however. To my mind, the forms of worship, baptism and ceremony are not nearly as important as love, joy, peace, patience, etc which, though called “fruits of the spirit” are also the goals of other religions. My question, then, is whether it is really relevant that a good person is a Christian or if it is enough that s/he is good?

    Geri said: “What if the road to understanding what Christianity is about is not through dissection of everything, but through the heart?” – This is precisely my point. However much I read about or write to the woman I love, nothing but a kiss from her is satisfactory. If she simply left clues about herself and never replied to my letters and her friends continually told me all about her and how wonderful she is, what good is that to me?

    Maria said: “I am still as mute as a fish in regard to the questions for which my ‘logical’ mind (and my dear husband) demand answers.” – This is something with which I struggle as well. We are rational creatures. Presumably by design. To abdicate who we are so that we can embrace “faith” seems to me a devolutionary step. One would presume that if god made us rational that he (she) would also know how to communicate to us rationally.

    “God is love.” – This is a term that apparently means something other than what I think it means. It’s impossible to read any portion of the Bible objectively and come to this conclusion. The god described in the Bible is far less moral than any humans I have encountered.

    Mary B said: “I hear so much pain in your words – that either there is no God – or He doesn’t want you.” – As I said in response to Geri, one kiss is all it takes. I gave up puckering a while ago but would not shun the approach of a loving kiss.

    Dinoship said: “He would either be a lunatic or else he would be the Devil of Hell.” – or very badly misquoted. And, honestly, if one looks at the god of the OT, it is impossible to tell the difference between him and a devil of hell. If one is going to excuse god for torment, genocide, and all kinds of annihilation (I fail to see where the devil managed as much death and destruction as god did) then one ought also take the attitude that Hitler brought Germany out of a depression and very nearly pulled off making his country the world’s first superpower. Sometimes those things don’t matter.

  59. John Avatar

    John Shores said: “My question, then, is whether it is really relevant that a good person is a Christian or if it is enough that s/he is good?”

    Father Stephen (and others) can correct me, but in my understanding, it is enough that s/he is good. In the words of Mother Maria Skobtsova, “At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead I shall be asked, did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. That is all I shall be asked.”

    That is to say, creed and religious practice are only good in so far as they lead to true goodness, which is the love – shown in deeds! – of one’s neighbor. When you ask whether all that matters is that “he/she be good”, I would say that yes, being good is all matters – and I would define “being good” as participating in the self-emptying love that is at the heart of all things (in Christian terms, the life of the Trinity). To participate fully in the this life/love is to be fully good.

    It follows that the only reason to be a Christian is if being so is either (1) a good (or indeed, the best) way to participate in this true life; or (2) if this True Life Himself created a way for all things to be reunited with Himself. For me, I believe both of these things, perhaps in part because I can see no other way for self-emptying love to be at the heart of all things (which my heart and very bones ache to be true) other than through the person of Jesus Christ and the communion of the Holy Trinity.

  60. dinoship Avatar

    being time-bound, (and therefore ignorant of the very end of things), one cannot judge God’s ways correctly – they are the ways of Someone (God) who is not time-bound…
    Christianity without eschatology becomes something else.

    So, saying: “I think god would be smart enough to be hands-on in every generation in ways that cannot be misunderstood and misinterpreted.” ignores the fact that He very well knows He will be misunderstood and misinterpreted. His creature might later understand and correctly interpret that He was there all along. It is only faith, I am afraid, that will sustain man in this interim phase and lead him to the eventual knowledge of God’s constant providence.
    (He is, however, NOT misinterpreted in the living tradition of the Orthodox Church in my opinion and experience.)
    If you study Exodus you will see that God’s pedagogy (punishments) condemned the lack of this type of faith in His people…

    St. Anthony the Great famously complained after being tortured by the demons “where were You?”, only to hear, “I was here watching you all along!”
    This led St. Anthony to praise God’s secret providence (He was indeed fighting for Anthony with a secret hand…)

    On your other point, “To my mind, the forms of worship, baptism and ceremony are not nearly as important as love, joy, peace, patience, etc which, though called “fruits of the spirit” are also the goals of other religions.” please do not forget that in most religions there is a certain element of practising “love, joy, peace, patience” for ME, for MY eventual good, but in Christianity they are practised for HIM. It is a huge difference in motif and is essentially the what we call the Cross…
    Christianity, if false, is devilishly demanding, but if true, of infinite importance and incomparable value.

  61. dinoship Avatar

    “If he could make the mountains smoke for Moses’ generation, why could he not make his presence physically known for others?”
    He does indeed make Himself known to those who want “God to be justified in His words” (Ps 50.6 LXX) but, they never ask to see Him sensorially in this life, since those humble souls know well, NOT to make themselves into the ultimate point of reference in existence (God), like I often do and most of us also…
    We do not, it seems, want God to be justified in His words (Ps 50.6 LXX), but rather we seek to justify only our selves, and not only in our words, but in our mind and heart.
    Seeing God, first requires seeing nothing else, (and more especially nothing of my blinding desires, opinions and preconceived ideas…)
    Wanting “the approach of a loving kiss” is a double edged sword; one must want it, it is what we are created for, but one must also not want to demand such a thing, as this is placing himself in the position of the Jews who demanded for a “miraculous sign” and were condemned for it…

  62. PJ Avatar


    Augustine said, “If you understand, it is not God.”

    Does God appear to do strange or even terrible things in Scripture? Yes. But what might look strange or terrible in the light of time might look wonderful and merciful in the light of eternity. My cat cannot begin to fathom why I had his rotten teeth pulled out. Surely, he “thought” the operation cruel and unjust, insofar as he understands cruelty and injustice. But it was for his own well-being, ultimately. And, needless to say, man and cat are basically identical compared to man and God. As my cat is largely unable to grasp my motives, so we are largely unable to grasp God’s motives.

    If there is one persistent problem with your theology, it is an inability or unwillingness to approach God on His own terms. What’s more, you bizarrely speak of morality, as if anything beside caprice and opinion exists is possible in a universe free of a Divine Author.

    Frankly, your concerns seem somewhat blinkered. Okay, so the Old Testament (which we need not take at face value) tells us that God struck down so many thousand Israelites for idolatry or what have you. Yes, fine. But, when you really think about it, God “kills” every being that comes into existence, inasmuch as He has the power to preserve life and chooses not to. Simply put, the death of every creature is part of His providence.

    This would be vile and tragic were this tempo-spatial realm the end and limit of being. But, we maintain, it is not. This life is but one part of a larger mystery, the mystery of eternity, which is happily illuminated by the Risen Lord.

  63. PJ Avatar

    Tempo-spatial? Temporo-spatial? Bah!

  64. John Shores Avatar
    John Shores

    “If you understand, it is not God.”

    “Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.” – C.S. Lewis

  65. PJ Avatar

    Have we arrived finally at the root of your dilemma? You think it stupid for finite creatures to admit their inability to comprehend the infinite Creator? If so, then you will naturally be utterly baffled and thoroughly perplexed by the Christian faith, which is grounded firstly in total humility before God, who is “above being itself.” Our God is so radically transcendent as to defy even the most vivid imagination and keen intellect. I am reminded of Dawkins’ frustrating habit of speaking of God as though He were a big, amorphous, invisible beast who floats about the cosmos. This image — an idol, really, to which even some Christian subscribe — simply will not do. An ant and a man are on equal footing compared to a man and God.

  66. Geri Farman Avatar
    Geri Farman

    John–“Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.” – C.S. Lewis
    Love the quote! Fr.Meletios’book (Bread & Water,Wine & Oil) that I referenced before addresses your questions and angst so well. It is not that one has to check their mind at the door, but that one needs to quiet the stream of logismoi long enough to hear that still small voice. I wish I could quote the first half of the book to you! Here are a few teasers that might entice you to take a look at this Abbot/Priest/Clinical Psychologist’s work: “Healing from an Orthodox point of view must inevitably include the reunification (or…defragmentation) of the human personality, including re-placing the mind in the heart (where it belongs). . .Since most modern people are accustomed to using their minds rather than their hearts to make sense of the world, it may be valuable to consider in greater detail how the mind works in practice…the mind is a beautiful and necessary part of human existence…However, it seemed obvious to our spiritual teachers that there is something broken about the way the mind works…The mind attempts to be almost completely absent from the present moment…all anxiety, all fear, all disturbance come from memory or from anticipation, from the past or from the future, but not from the present. . .Unfortunately for the mind, the present moment is the only moment that is, in any sense, real. Moreover, in spiritual terms, the present moment is the only possible occasion in which we can meet God (or anyone else). (from pages 17-20) IOW, you can only experience that kiss in the “now.” Most of the first part of the book is about how the Fathers’ counsels help us to experience that kiss–how to connect, through our hearts, to the heartbeat of God. (and why our beautiful minds–so wonderful for so many things–resist the stillness and quiet that make that possible).

  67. PJ Avatar

    I know well that it is so;
    but how can a man be justified before God?
    Should one wish to contend with him,
    he could not answer him once in a thousand times.
    God is wise in heart and mighty in strength;
    who has withstood him and remained unscathed?

    He removes the mountains before they know it;
    he overturns them in his anger.
    He shakes the earth out of its place,
    and the pillars beneath it tremble.
    He commands the sun, and it rises not;
    he seals up the stars.

    He alone stretches out the heavens
    and treads upon the crests of the sea.
    He made the Bear and Orion,
    the Pleiades and the constellations of the south;
    He does great things past finding out,
    marvelous things beyond reckoning.

    Should he come near me, I see him not;
    should he pass by, I am not aware of him;
    Should he seize me forcibly, who can say him nay?
    Who can say to him, “What are you doing?”

    How much less shall I give him any answer,
    or choose out arguments against him!
    Even though I were right, I could not answer him,
    but should rather beg for what was due me.
    If I appealed to him and he answered my call,
    I could not believe that he would hearken to my words.

    Job 9:1-12, 14-16

  68. Karen Avatar

    Father, bless!

    I can’t really take credit for that quote. I was looking up St. Vincent of Lerin’s famous quote, and it was on a web page at You are the one who has introduced and recommended Florovsky’s work and have quoted him elsewhere on your site–I just stumbled across that quote and recognized its aptness.

  69. […] How the Scriptures Became the Scriptures ( […]

  70. John Shores Avatar
    John Shores

    PJ: “If you understand, it is not God.”, “You think it stupid for finite creatures to admit their inability to comprehend the infinite Creator?” – No. I think that it is stupid to say “I don’t understand it, therefore it must be god. (or the devil)” That is precisely the sort of thinking that led to all the superstitions and religions of the past (e.g. physical diseases were evidence of demon possession). It is also why illusionists used to be thought to have “magic” and why people are so easily duped by shamans and prophets. Conversely, if god made the universe and everything in it, it seems unreasonable to me that this same god would be incapable of communicating with rational beings in a way that we comprehend (unless his intent is to create chaos and he enjoys watching us have a go at one another over his subtleties). Perhaps I have become like the dwarfs (“We won’t be taken in again!”) but, honestly, I hardly blame the dwarfs for refusing to be taken in after they had been abused by Tashlan. I certainly don’t agree that there was nothing that Aslan could have done to make himself known to them though.

    “An ant and a man are on equal footing compared to a man and God.” – And yet an ant is not eternally rewarded or eternally punished for failing to understand, obey, or communicate clearly with man. And, by your own reasoning, our inability to understand god puts us at risk since we cannot possibly know whether god is good or evil. You believe he is good, but that is simply a belief. For all you know, god is a petulant 13 year old computer programmer and you are just a part of some nefarious program (Sim City meets World of Warcraft) that he created. Once you say that one cannot know, faith become a matter of preferred self delusion. I prefer to imagine (hope) that if there is a god he is not quite so ethereal, obtuse or clumsy. To me, no god is better than an oafish one.

    I appreciate your position but it seems we have come to an impasse. Faith is by nature unreasonable. That does not make it “bad.” It is simply in a different arena from reason. When I first began struggling with all this, I was on a forum posing all kinds of questions to which no one could give a satisfactory answer except one Father Rusty. His position was, “This is what I believe. That’s it.” I truly admire and respect Father Rusty for not trying to confuse his faith by trying to explain it rationally. He was the only Christian at the time who was so forthright and did not feel the need to elucidate further.

    I think that Geri’s comments are closer to the truth…

    Geri: I really love your character and attitude. You seem to be a wonderful person.

    “…one needs to quiet the stream of logismoi long enough to hear that still small voice.” – Admittedly, I fail miserably at this. I have tried meditating in various forms throughout my life but I cannot shut off my brain. I have not tried peyote or anything like that though. Maybe a chemical alteration would help me. I’m not ready to go there just yet. This often makes me think about that verse (Romans?) that says that god has made some vessels for mercy and some for destruction. If god made me, he made me as I am and knows my capabilities. It seems rather preposterous to be punished because (apparently) I have a hyperactive neuron disorder.

    Perhaps I need a near-death experience or something. Who knows?

    And, to be honest, I have been duped so many times by “prophets” etc. that I am not too eager to shut off my mind and leave my heart open to even more disappointment and pain (again, perhaps I an a dwarf at heart).

    I sometimes don’t even realize how bad it is. Last week my wife and I went to a house party with some new friends (we recently moved to a new area and know no one here). It was the first time in five years that I have been in a “home-group” type setting. I left the party early and waited in the car for my wife for a couple hours. When we got home, I sat in the back of the car, in the garage, in the dark and sobbed myself to sleep. I didn’t even know why I had been so distressed but I suspect that all the pain associated with losing my faith just came to the fore. There are many wonderful things about losing one’s faith but there are certainly times when it is not a fun ride. Hard to shake off 40+ years of committed involvement in the Christian community.

    If god really cares about broken people, I would think that he’d be pretty much sitting in my living room right now trying to comfort me. But, five years of silence keeps mounting up…

    I do appreciate your ind words.

  71. John Shores Avatar
    John Shores

    Sorry. “…I do appreciate your kind words.”

  72. Erin Avatar

    John Shores,

    This is the first time I have posted here though I’ve been reading the posts for quite a while (gong on two years). Reading your last post brings me to tears as they could be my words as well. I just wanted you to know that you are not alone (but you probably know that). The only comfort I take at this point is that everything that I’ve read in the Scriptures about Jesus is that He loved His father and His heart was to restore the lost. John Shores, if you and I are not some of the lost sheep, I don’t know who are. Take comfort in that we cannot save ourselves and if God is, if Jesus is and if the Holy Spirit is…they know how to reach us – obviously not in our timetable and in ways too mysterious to fathom. I wish I had more to say but have responded mainly as a way of encouragement. I have a feeling that one day He will be all the dearer to you eternally because of all the pain you are experiencing….we have felt we have lost something very precious. I just think there’s so much more going on than we realize. I keep being drawn back to this blog and I ponder over what’s being said. I’m in no rush this time to join anything as I have in the past. But I keep exposing myself to what is shared here. God knows my heart and I have to trust that He will make things clear to me. I’m going to a catechism class at a local greek orthodox church tonight because of reading this blog. It’s a 12-week class. Maybe I’ll go to an orthodox church to the liturgy too. I don’t know exactly why but I keep being drawn and I admit I’m afraid too. I will keep you in my feeble prayers but know what you’ve said has touched another and I’m rooting for you too.


  73. dinoship Avatar

    John Shores,
    I asked a famous clairvoyant Spiritual Father on the Holy Mountain once about Saint Silouan’s experience and I was surprised that he told me that the blackness Silouan encountered was all because of selfish demand blinding him to God’s omnipresence and taking over his heart and mind -rather than trusting abandon (which he later learnt).
    “We cannot appreciate things when we have even the slightest demanding expectaions”
    Silouan’s experience as a novice was that he prayed long and with unrestrained tears to God receiving no answer whatsoever. Many months went by in this unceasing prayer until his strength was completely exhausted. He experienced the ultimate blackness of hell one evening – for almost one hour. In his utter despair he cried out, “Thou art implacable!” When, at these words something foundered in his soul, grown weak from despair, he suddenly beheld the living Christ in the Divine light. In a manner passing all understanding the Lord appeared to him, and his heart and body were filled with fire of such force that had the vision continued for another instant, he must have expired. He received , as it were, a new birth, from on high, his entire being having been drawn to Christ. Afterwards he was never to forget the inexpressibly gentle, infinitely loving, joyous gaze of Christ full of peace, and during the long years of his life that were to follow he tirelessly bore witness that God is love, love immeasurable, love incomprehensible.
    Few believe in such testimony, just as not many believed in the testimony of the previous fathers, not because the testimony is false, but because faith entails ascetic striving. These witnesses are rare, (not because God withholds His “manifestation”, as it were, but) because there is no more difficult, more painful spiritual effort than the ascetic striving for love; no testimony more terrible than bearing witness to love; and no preaching more challenging than the preaching of love.
    The experience of Silouan is certainly beyond the ken and comprehension of most people. Unspiritual man rejects and might try to explain away such experiences as psycho-pathological, even though their fruit bears witness to the complete opposite.
    Everyone is called to such a full spiritual life, but when man sets his will to material or purely intellectual satisfactions, he becomes blunted and spiritually insensitive through no fault of God, but through the egotistically driven use of his free will. God is dying to bestow His gifts on us, but also foreknows how we will respond to these gifts, and often protects us by not bestowing them and leads us very gradually through many tribulations to a position where we can finally appreciate things without being dominated by our ego. Logismoi are the main fumes rising from the ego which, even though we might feel helpless to stop, until we (genuinely and truly) come to hate them – because the truth be told, we love them- they will always be there. Let us at the very least doubt them, and not give them such great attention…

  74. PJ Avatar


    A few things:

    1. Nobody with a shred of sense says, “I don’t understand: It must be God!” Though that is a windmill at which atheists regularly charge, jousting stick in hand.

    2. Christians, on whole, believe that God can be “apprehended but not comprehended,” as the famous phrase goes. That is, reason has its place, but ultimately it is not enough to know God.

    St. Thomas explains:

    “Our natural knowledge begins from sense. Hence our natural knowledge can go as far as it can be led by sensible things. But our mind cannot be led by sense so far as to see the essence of God; because the sensible effects of God do not equal the power of God as their cause. Hence from the knowledge of sensible things the whole power of God cannot be known; nor therefore can His essence be seen. But because they are His effects and depend on their cause, we can be led from them so far as to know of God “whether He exists,” and to know of Him what must necessarily belong to Him, as the first cause of all things, exceeding all things caused by Him.

    Hence we know that His relationship with creatures so far as to be the cause of them all; also that creatures differ from Him, inasmuch as He is not in any way part of what is caused by Him; and that creatures are not removed from Him by reason of any defect on His part, but because He superexceeds them all.”

    Or, more succinctly, “Reason cannot reach up to simple form, so as to know “what it is”; but it can know “whether it is.”

    I suggest you read carefully Question 12 of the First Part of the Summa, which may be found here:

    3. God does communicate with us, in diverse and various ways, from the sacraments to the Scripture to the “still, small voice” inside our hearts. However, He does not communicate His fullness, at least not via discursive logic. Only by way of love may we truly penetrate the mystery of God, which is indeed great.

    4. You have no right to speak of “reason” or “rationality.” The fact that you feel compelled to do so testifies to the veracity of the Apostle’s declaration that all men know God in their soul-of-souls:

    “18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and injustice of those men that detain the truth of God in injustice: 19 Because that which is known of God is manifest in them. For God has manifested it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. His eternal power also and divinity: so that they are inexcusable. 21 Because that, when they knew God, they have not glorified him as God or given thanks: but became vain in their thoughts. And their foolish heart was darkened. 22 For, professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. 23 And they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the image of a corruptible man and of birds, and of fourfooted beasts and of creeping things.”

    Whence comes the objective, transcendent, and changeless standard against which truth claims are measured, save from the Lord? Without the Divine Mind, all is whimsy and opinion. All is anarchy, death, and delusion.

  75. Marjaana Avatar

    John Shores,

    My heart grieves for and with you. There are times when I have been where you are. There are a few things that I found helpful, perhaps you might find them so, too.
    – Realizing that faith, like love, is not a feeling, it is a decision and an action. There are times when if you wait for the feeling of faith or the feeling of God’s presence you will wait in vain, but if you remain steadfast in the trust that He is there, the feeling will also come “like a thief in the night” or as C.S. Lewis puts it “surprised by joy”.
    – Being stubborn can sometimes be a good thing: When I was going through a very tough time, I ended up letting God know “in no uncertain terms” that I had been baptized into His church and there I will stay whether or not it seems He has time for me right now. Eventually he did.
    – Read less, pray more. Pray not for yourself but for others and the world. This might help you step out of the cycle of doubts and unfulfilled hopes that seem to be tearing you apart.
    – Go to an Orthodox service, I would suggest vespers as a first step. Don’t analyze, don’t judge, just observe. “Taste and see”. I know this will go against your grain — I’ve been where you are–I could split any argument so many ways that my brain felt like it was falling to pieces. But something different can happen when participating in a service. Let it happen, only then engage reason again. You will find that things will finally fall into place.

    May the Lord’s Peace be with you.


  76. fatherstephen Avatar

    To be fair to John, he’s seen a lot of Christianity from the inside out – thus he’s not an unbeliever who is charging at windmills. But I think the Christianity he has known, has been enough to erect plenty of windmills for him. I’m going to write a bit of an answer – but it will have to be later in the week.

  77. Andrew Avatar

    Dinoship on October 2, 2012 at 4:00 pm – thanks for putting in words what icons do with colour. Awesome, Truly.

  78. Karen Avatar

    John Shores, just a suggestion, to quiet your heart, please do not try any drug or substance. There’s a wonderful little book on prayer by Met. Anthony Bloom called “Beginning to Pray.” It may be of some use. I will just leave you with a brief summary of one of the stories in there. An elderly lady who had been faithfully praying the “Jesus prayer” (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”) for 14 years complained to Met. Anthony that she had never in all that time been able to perceive the presence of God. This was shortly after his ordination as a Priest, so in his inexperience, Met. Anthony just blurted out his thought, “If you speak all the time, you don’t give God a chance to get a word in.” He then advised her to get into a comfortable position in her chair in her room after breakfast each day, just take some time to take stock of her surroundings for a few minutes and then to light the lamp in her Icon stand, take up her knitting and “knit before the face of God” for 15 minutes. He forbid her to say anything during this time, just required her to sit and knit and “enjoy the peace of [her] room.” Lo and behold, a little while later she returned to report to him that “it worked.” After a while she began to enjoy the peace and quiet, and then “all of a sudden [she] perceived that the silence was a presence” and that at the heart of the silence God was there.

    I get the sense reading this thread that you are perhaps a bit like the drowning swimmer who can’t stop thrashing around in his panic and despair long enough to let a rescuer take hold of you. I think a lot of us have had a taste of that experience at times in life. I don’t know what it will take to help you let go and relax a bit and wait trusting for God to act, despite the absence of faith, but I will join my prayers to those of others for you.

    Best wishes, Karen

  79. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Thus for every word there is a counter-word. For every mental precept there is a counter-precept. We live in a world of false dicotomies and try to convice each other of the rightness of our falseness. That is our falleness.

    Theology is not a way to God particularly, it is a response to God’s revelation to the human heart. The Bible is not a book of answers so much as it is questions and a record of transgressions, although answers are contained there.

    Why the different response to Mary and Zacharias (St. John’s father) when they seem to ask much the same question? One is blessed the other struck silent.

    The created thing points toward its creator, but only points and the creator is not obvious until the form of the design is preceived.

    Nothing I can say will give balm to John’s soul as much as I long to. Sometimes, you just have to act as if you believe, not out of some strange hypocrisy, but out of hope, longing and a deep knowledge that is covered over by the manure of this world. Despite the stench that almost overcomes it, a small, minute wafting of a beautiful scent penetrates into our consciousness. Just enough to remind us of the beauty that lies beneath.

    That is both the mystery and the wonder of faith. Every moment of suspension of our certitude of unbelief allows more such moments to occur until the knowledge/love which is imprinted in our hearts at our creation can begin to be seen and experienced. It is a choice, always a choice–to be or not to be.

    As one who has wandered in the land of the dead for most of my life even in the face of the Truth and even participating in Him, it is amazing that anyone believes–and yet many actually do despite enduring great darkness at times.

    Personally, I think John demonstrates far greater faith by his rejection of untruth than I have ever been able to summon. While not always immediate, the fruit of that faith will someday be there for the picking. All that is necessary is, at the right moment, an instant in time we allow our hearts to cry out the sacred yes.

  80. John Shores Avatar
    John Shores

    Erin – My misery is glad to have your company. Sorry to have made you cry though. I’ve said before, I wish I had been raised Orthodox. I am certain that most of my problem is related to being raised under Nathaniel Hawthorne’s god. From what I can tell, Orthodox Christianity (like Judaism) is far more rational than anything in the Protestant world and apparently knows the difference between faith and reason. Enjoy your catechism classes and keep me posted. You can email me directly at email hidden; JavaScript is required any time.

    dinoship – “The experience of Silouan is certainly beyond the ken and comprehension of most people.” And sometimes this has bent me to the ground. If love between humans was this difficult, the human population would be 0. If it takes every ounce of whatever mental and emotional capacity to find god, well, that doesn’t sound much like a “free gift” but rather something earned by the very few.

    PJ – “He does not communicate His fullness” – Sir, if there is such a thing as a “personal” god, I would be ecstatic with god communicating even a single atom of his personhood in a way that I understand.

    “‘I have seen God face to face’ (Genesis 32:30). But to see Him face to face is to see His essence, as appears from the words: ‘We see now in a glass and in a dark manner, but then face to face’ (1 Corinthians 13:12).” This is the sort of bass ackward talking that I simply cannot abide. If it says that Jacob saw him face to face, it has to mean that Jacob saw him face to face. If he hadn’t, other words would have been used. Words mean things. To take the plain words and make them mean something other than what they say is like saying “it depends on what the word ‘is’ means”. (“Blessed are the cheese makers? What’s so special about cheese makers?” “It’s not to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.”)

    Your point #4 is talking about people worshiping nature rather than the creator. It says nothing about those who see the universe, marvel at it, and still see no place for a “personal” god. I think that word “personal” is the main problem. I would have no problem believing that god created all this but is not personally invested in humans. But like all words, “personal” means something, a meaning that thus far god has not met in my experience.

    Fr. S said, “I think the Christianity he has known, has been enough to erect plenty of windmills for him.” If Christianity has any meaning, it has to have meaning outside of Protestant teachings. To my mind, anyone who is Protestant for more than two years either doesn’t really take it seriously or has never had the courage to realize that their doubts are well founded. I have been burned by the church so many times that I refused to enter Orthodoxy – but that is more because if there is a personal god then I want the real god just the same way I would never settle for being married to a woman who I never saw and who only communicated with me through other people. If there is something real, that’s what I want. Nothing less will suffice. As I have said before, god has my address and is free to visit any time.

    Karen – Thank you.

  81. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    John Shores-

    “Perhaps I have become like the dwarfs (“We won’t be taken in again!”) but, honestly, I hardly blame the dwarfs for refusing to be taken in after they had been abused by Tashlan. I certainly don’t agree that there was nothing that Aslan could have done to make himself known to them though.”

    I was delighted that you referenced the dwarfs from The Last Battle (CS Lewis)- because I had planned to mention them to you. Aslan did a lot to try to reach the dwarfs (you can re-read it, I just did) but they refused. Dear Lucy tried so hard as well.

    I wasn’t going to compare you to them in that sense though because I don’t think you are refusing. I think you are hurting.

    I was only going to suggest that maybe you ARE being “kissed” and maybe God IS in your living room trying to comfort you. (Is your computer in your living room by any chance?)

    Belief does not come easily to me. At my most “lost” times, loving people have crossed my path and sustained me. I later came to recognize that love and have since found that it can come through me to others. Why am I (and the others here) spending so much time writing to a person I don’t know? I am not try to win any arguments with you or impress you. I just feel drawn to…

    Your writing about sitting in your car, sobbing in the dark, nearly broke my heart. “Nearly” because I have a hope that the rejection of your old faith (a “Tashlan” sort of abuse?) may be readying you for an encounter with “Aslan”. Being emptied can be a painful process.

    Let me walk with you. (Someone once did that for me and it helped.)

  82. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick

    Praying for a kiss. We all need them. From divinity.

  83. dinoship Avatar

    May the Lord grant us all his humility first and His ‘kiss’ in safety afterwards. They both pass all understanding, and are of infinte value, yet the former far more so than the latter…

  84. Geri Farman Avatar
    Geri Farman

    Dear John–thank you for your kind words. I sense that, at your very core, you still love Jesus and still love all that he calls you to be. You still love the goodness and love he says are the foundation of the universe. You are still drawn to Him. That is the voice of your heart. Perhaps it is enough for now.

    Perhaps your continuing love is the seed planted in your heart that is being watered now by your tears.

    One thing I hear consistently in the Church is that it is a hospital for broken lives rather than a pep rally for those who have “made it.” Salvation is like a healing salve. Mercy is reminiscient of healing oil… The healing is eternal and infinite. It is all to help us become one with that infinite Love and therefore truly able to love. Vespers reminds me the most of that image of a hospital. There are no “bouncy” songs that assume all is “happy, happy.” Instead there are Psalms sung that speak of our cries. There is an enveloping quiet and stillness. Lights low and candlelight flickering we hear, “Lord, I have cried out unto Thee. Hear me…”

  85. PJ Avatar

    “Praying for a kiss. We all need them. From divinity.”

    And certain people spurn the kiss. It is tough to imagine (almost impossible), but some know Christ and deny Him. Why is it that some come to God and others do not? Why do some love Him and some hate Him? I do not know. Hell lies at the intersection of two mysteries: human freedom and divine sovereignty.

    I’m not saying that John is going to Hell, but behind every denial of God (both total denial by unbelievers like John and partial denial by sinful believers like me), there looms the specter of damnation. We must take with utter seriousness the fate of our souls and the souls of our fellow men. God gave us the gift of rational souls, but with this gift comes grave responsibility.

  86. PJ Avatar

    Speaking of brilliant specimens of our species and Christ:

    Frederica speaks of Einstein’s thoughts on God and Christ. Though not a Christian, Einstein called Jesus “colossal” and “luminous”; he dismissed those who would “dismiss Christianity with a bon mot” and declared “no myth is filled with such life.” He was a firm believer in Jesus’ historicity. He also seems to have a high view of the Gospels’ reliability. Interesting stuff.

  87. Karen Avatar

    PJ, forgive me, but I believe if I were in the place John is now, your posts here (especially the last couple) would be feeding my despair, not helping. I feel you are lacking in discernment.

    “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold In settings of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11)

    The statements you have made are true enough, but spoken at the wrong time into the wrong heart situation, they become falsehood and temptation from the enemy of souls.

    The “God” John denies, it seems to me, is not the true God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ, rather a caricature formed from his past experiences and inadequate Protestant theologies. It is quite true what others have said that on the journey to faith in the true God, we have to discard our false images of Him. I think the last paragraph of Michael Bauman’s comment above speaks eloquently and truthfully to this reality (as well as his whole post, which I found quite beautiful).

    Again, forgive me for speaking so frankly.

  88. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Well said, Karen.

    We all have to struggle with “false gods”, whether those taught to us or those of our own making. We can best help each other along the way with love and compassion.

    (PJ, I fear that John S. may have had more than his share of “damnation” talks, though I speak from intuition, not knowledge.)

  89. PJ Avatar

    Karen and Mary,

    No doubt hell has been abused by some Christians. But that doesn’t mean we can ignore the fearful reality of eternal alienation from God. St. Paul, as well as the Lord Himself, made clear the stakes. The Gospels and Epistles are littered with warnings. This is not meant to scare or cow: It is to make clear the spiritual battle in which we are engaged. It is to make us look carefully at our eternal souls.

    I’m no fire-and-brimstone fundy, not even close. You should all know that. But we do everyone a disservice when we don’t speak of the awful consequences of denying God, who alone gives life and love, joy and happiness.

    I certainly don’t mean to antagonize John. But the Gospel doesn’t coddle people. It speaks “truth in love,” and truth and love sometimes hurt.

    That said, I respect both of your opinions, so if you think I am being unhelpful, I will gladly keep silent. Thank your for your honest admonition.

  90. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick

    PJ, your words of judgement in this context are foreign to ancient authentic Orthodox Christianity.

    Forgive me, but I agree with those who find them less than welcome; the devil is an adequate accuser.

    Please witness, rather, the Father’s heart for His prodigals. It never fails and He will kiss all his sons and daughters. John is right to wish such a blessed occasion.

  91. Erin Avatar


    I agree with the last comments of the other posters. I read your words and I feel as if I am being slapped. I can’t speak for John but I am very conscious of hell and the “awful consequences of denying God.” I wouldn’t be reading this blog if I didn’t care. It’s kindness in love that draws, not more fear tactics. I’ve lived a good part of my life in fear. I do want the truth and am not asking to be coddled. Please know I have appreciated your other comments regarding other posts.

  92. PJ Avatar

    Thank you, Michael.

  93. PJ Avatar

    Understood, Erin. Again, I apologize.

    Perhaps this is personal. I was raised in a skeptical, unbelieving family (although nominally Catholic). I never really had any fear of hell as a child. As such, I can be presumptuous about God’s mercy. I am apt to take for granted my salvation. This leads me into sin. I thus try to regularly bear in mind the pains of hell. This, at least, gives me pause before I do evil, as I am yet too weak and wicked to do right simply for gratitude of God’s love. St. Chrysostom’s statement applies very much to me: “But now we are so wretchedly disposed, that, were there no fear of hell, we should not even choose readily to do any good thing.”

    Since I have an insufficient grasp of God’s awesome holiness and my own sinfulness, I sometimes forget that others have the opposite problem: insufficient grasp of God’s mercy and of their own self-worth as images and likenesses of the Lord.

    If I have slapped you, so to speak, then abundant apologies.

  94. PJ Avatar

    I actually blame this all on Chrysostom’s sermons on II Thessalonians, which I’ve been reading lately. Those put any fire-breathing fundamentalist to shame! Hah! 😉 😉

    But, seriously, I do apologize for causing a stir. Especially to Father: I know you don’t like threads getting off track like this.

  95. dinoship Avatar

    you said before that ““If it takes every ounce of whatever mental and emotional capacity to find god, well, that doesn’t sound much like a “free gift” but rather something earned by the very few.”
    But, what we are saying is that it DOESN”T take every ounce…

    It only takes a childlike, non-analyzing approach.

    He explicitly says “come to me all”, (“and learn humility”).
    It is only through the eyes of that ‘other god’ – namely our Ego – that this feels like it takes every ounce of our capacities… It doesn’t when we come like a child. It is the easiest, most natural thing in the universe to find Him then.

    What requires extreme effort is the ascetic striving for love – total love (not talking about any man-woman attraction here, the lack of which might “make the human population 0” as you said, but bearing the Cross for the salvation of the ‘whole of Adam’ including those who refuse it)

  96. John Shores Avatar
    John Shores

    Holy smokes!

    I am falling in love with this community here. What a truly magnificent set of people.

    I would like to share a bit of my favorite work by George MacDonald titled “Robert Falconer” (which can be found in the Gutenberg Project at In speaking of the great feast at the master’s table, Robert says:

    “‘Well, if I win in there, the very first night I sit down with the rest of them, I’m going to rise up and say – that is, if the Master, at the head of the table, doesn’t bid me sit down – and say: “Brothers and sisters, the whole of you, hearken to me for one minute; and, O Lord! if I say wrong, just take the speech from me, and I’ll sit down dumb and rebuked. We’re all here by grace and not by merit, save His, as you know better that I can tell you, for you have been here longer than me. But it’s just tugging and riving at my heart to think of them that’s down there. Maybe you can hear them. I cannot. Now, we have no merit, and they have no merit, and why are we here and them there? But we’re washed clean and innocent now, and now, when there no weight lying upon ourselves, it seems to me that we might bear some of the sins of those that have over-many. I call upon each and every one of you that has a friend or a neighbor down yonder, to rise up and taste no bite and sup no more until we go up all together to the foot of the throne, and pray the Lord to let us go and do as the Master did before us, and bear their griefs, and carry their sorrows down in hell there; then it maybe that they repent and get remission of their sins, and come up here with us at long last, and sit down at this table, all through the merits of our Savior Jesus Christ, at the head of the table there. Amen”‘

    Half ashamed of his long speech, half overcome by the feelings fighting within him, and altogether bewildered, Robert burst out crying like a baby, and ran out of the room—up to his own place of meditation, where he threw himself on the floor.”

    What others have replied to PJ is touching and speaks of people with hearts like this.

    I have no place for hell and damnation. To me, it is simply a tool of fear to whip people into submission. PJ’s comments do not phase me in the least because there is nothing in me that cares about a supposed hell. When hell becomes an issue for anyone, the first line of his creed is not “I believe in God the Father almighty” but “I believe in Hell.” If I ever have faith again, it certainly will not be one based in that.

    Christianity has ruined me. I cannot believe in a god that is not good. I cannot believe in a god that is not better than I. As a father, I cannot think of god as a father and then suppose that he would torment his children (or allow them to be tormented). I just have no reference points for hell that also allow me to believe that god is good.

    Robert asks, “If a devil were to repent, would God forgive him?”

  97. Erin Avatar


    I realize how much our individual life experiences shape our current viewpoint. It’s sorting out what was true and what was false and not being comfortable with something just because it is familiar that gets tricky at times (to put it mildly). We can and are so easily deceived. Reading a blog like this reminds me of how we are all at different places for all kinds of reasons. But the fact that anyone shows up here says something I guess. As a result I have started to attend an Orthodox catechism class. I went last night as I told John S. The priest who was speaking about the incarnation and the Theotokos spoke about his experience on Mt. Athos. He got all choked up and had to stop speaking for a moment. I can’t explain it but as much as I’m resisting this and it is all very strange and sometimes weird to me (but then why shouldn’t it be I guess), I’m very drawn to it (just so weary after so many years of searching and religion). I tell myself that I just need to keep showing up and exposing myself to this and I’m trusting God to do the rest. I agree with another poster that Fr. Stephen has a good way about expressing things in such a way that my mind and heart can grasp as in the topic of this post. Again, PJ, I’ve appreciated your past posts. I just thought you were speaking from your point of view and missing where depth of despair that some of us have been at. I have often become suicidal as a result, thinking that only then would I know the truth. I’m feeling much less so but I do take all of this very seriously.

    And John S., thanks for your comment too.

    I echo the same apology re getting off the thread but just felt compelled to respond this time. I sense you are all a very kind group actually.

  98. PJ Avatar


    George MacDonald is a very intriguing character. I’ll need to read that book. I’ve profited from some of his sermons.

    The thing about hell is that we choose it, as C.S. Lewis demonstrates remarkably. But then I’m sure you’ve considered his arguments.

    In the end, you shouldn’t worry too much about me: I’m an old (well, young) grouch. That’s why I like Tertullian so much. 😉


    I’ve despaired. Believe me, I’ve despaired. Nonetheless, I may have spoken out of turn. We can’t always see our own weaknesses. As I said before, I humbly accept your sisterly admonition.

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