Is This All There Is?

miracleIt all depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. – President Bill Clinton

Surely there are some things about which everyone can agree – or not. Either something exists or it doesn’t. Or is there more to the story?

In the thought of the Fathers, existence has a number of qualities. That we exist at all is the gift of God. But the gift of God is not mere existence – God’s gift is well-being (good existence). But existence is also dynamic – it is a movement. The proper movement of all that exists is a movement towards God – which is also a movement towards well-being. To move away from God is to move away from existence – to move towards non-existence. This is the character of evil – a hatred of being. Satan is described in Scripture as a “murderer from the beginning,” and the “father of lies.” Both of these descriptions are at enmity with existence itself.

This simple outline of the Fathers’ thought on existence raises a question for modern believers. Do we believe that existence has a range  – or is there simply existence?

This is another way of asking if the secular model is an accurate account of the world. For within that model, something either is or it is not.

The Fathers would have no complaint with the secular claim – so long as it is understood to be describing what seems most obvious. What does not seem obvious is the spiritual nature of existence. Do things, in fact, only exist because God upholds them? Or do things have existence in themselves?

What is greatly at stake is the Orthodox Christian belief that true existence is relational. Our culture emphasizes the self-existent claims of secularism. Such a model is convenient for a culture that defines itself by utility and consumerism.

The Fathers would say that anyone who lives as though he were self-existent, is already moving towards non-existence.

Much of this aspect of the Church’s teaching is found under the topic of Personhood. To exist as a Person is not at all the same thing as to exist as an Individual. To exist as a Person requires freedom and love – and that freedom and love must be extended to everyone and everything. To exist as an Individual requires nothing. For the secular individual personhood is only an illusion, a political contract, nothing more and nothing less.

To exist in freedom is not a political statement (political and economic freedom). We exist by necessity. No one asked me if I wanted to be born. I am here (willingly now) but was a conscript to start with. There is something of the same necessity about many of our relationships. We are parents (some not so willingly – some wish it was with a different child or different spouse). We are workers (it is rare that necessity does not play a major role in our economic life). It could be argued that such necessity is simply part of being human. We are material beings born and existing by necessity.

This is indeed true, but we experience this necessity as a limit of our freedom. As such, our existence is frequently one of nature and not of person. My life, my existence, could be filled just as well by some other stand-in, completing the necessary tasks in the necessary manner.

The existence given to us in Holy Baptism is, however, utterly free. It is a birth into a life without necessity. It is marked by freedom and love. Who I am in Christ is a life that I either take up for myself or a life that does not come to be. Even those Baptized as infants must take up the life given to them for themselves or it becomes a gift that has been spurned. All that I am and all that I have as a Christian is either freely accepted and given or else it is not.

This is not the same thing as saying that Baptism has given me a self-generating existence. Nothing allows me to be anything or anyone I want to be. But who I am as Person is not constituted by my nature. It is not a product of my birth, my race, my nation, my intelligence, my inheritance, my genetics. To the greater extent, even I do not yet know who I am as Person. It is a discovery that is made only in the wonder of its existence.

The Christian gospel proclaims that there is such an existence. It is not an argument about the improvement of human nature. It is the proclamation that Christ is a whole new way of existing.

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me (John 17:20-23).

This passage from St. John’s gospel, part of Christ’s “High-Priestly Prayer,” has nothing to do with ecumenical anything. It is not about a modern crisis (or ancient for that matter) in Church relations. This prayer is about the existence, the very being, of those who believe in Christ. The “oneness” of which Christ speaks is the “oneness” of God. The Trinity exists as a Trinity of Persons. It is this same Personhood for which Christ prays. His prayer is that we might exist in the same manner (modus) as the Father and the Son (“just as we are”).

Christos Yannaras offers this observation, using the example of Peter walking on the water:

The disciples are together in a small boat on the lake of Genesareth. The lake is rough, there is a storm, it is night, and the disciples are afraid. Suddenly they see someone coming across the water towards the boat. They are overwhelmed, they are frightened. But the one who is approaching them says, “Do not be afraid. It is I.” It is Jesus. And Peter says: “Lord, if it is really You, let me come to You on the water.” And Christ says to him, “Come.” And Peter steps out of the boat and begins to walk on the water. At that moment he receives his existence not from his own nature, but from his relationship with the Lord. This is the freedom that delivers us from death. (The Meaning of Reality, Kindle Location 702-706).

That same “relationship” (which is far more than this word often connotes in modern usage) constitutes Peter – the Peter who is Apostle and Saint. It is a relationship constituted in freedom and in love. It contains no necessity.

In the story of St. Peter, this new mode of being is demonstrated in the realm of space and time. Peter walks on water. Personhood can and is made manifest in such a blatant manner from time to time. Most often, however, it is seen in the extraordinary mode of love and freedom in the life of another. There is something about the life of Mother Theresa (to use a contemporary example) that simply transcends necessity. For those familiar with many of the details of her story it is right to say, “How can anybody have lived that way?” The same transcendent reality is manifest in the lives of all the saints. In many moments, it is manifest even within ourselves, though such moments may seem fleeting.

The modern secular eye sees this and argues that it is nothing more than a quality of existence – good character or heroic action. It is why modern man mistakes morality for something it is not. Morality is a manner of behaving – but it is not a mode of existence. Being a good man (moral man) doesn’t mean you can walk on water.

Such an existence cannot be judged from the outside. How do you explain to someone that the existence you have is a gift of freedom and not a moral achievement? On the Cross, even Jesus looked like just one more crucified man – indeed – as only one of three that day. And yet, His own testimony is that there was no necessity in His crucifixion:

Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father. (John 10:17-18)

Only His resurrection manifests the truth of those words. But every moment of His life was equally free, equally personal.

Met. John Zizioulas describes this mode of existence as the “ecclesial hypostasis.” I prefer simply to say that in Christ we are invited to truly become Persons, even as He is a Person. And that freedom is the Truth of the Church and of our life in Him.


About Fr. Stephen Freeman

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



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79 responses to “Is This All There Is?”

  1. Grant Avatar

    Brilliant. Thank you. Again.

  2. dinoship Avatar

    What a terrific, succinct exposition of life in Christ (I thought I was reading a condensed – and easier flowing- version of the best bits of “Being as Communion”)
    Thank you Father!

  3. Karen Avatar

    Thanks for so faithfully and patiently continuing to distill the thoughts of the Orthodox Fathers for us in ways we might begin to get a handle on. I’m so thankful to God for the gifts He has given you (and gives us through you). This is a very helpful post.

  4. Mark Stryker Avatar
    Mark Stryker

    Bravo! This holy union of life, such a gift of freedom. Well said and worthy of unending praise to the all Holy Trinity.

  5. dinoship Avatar

    This subject is very dear to my heart!
    There is such depth in the “existence as nature” vs “existence as person”, that it touches on virtually all aspects of being.
    When, for instance, we proclaim in Orthodoxy, that ‘God’s knowledge of all things is nothing but His love of all things’ we are also saying that He does not know things “according to their nature”, but, He sees all beings as realizations of His own free will – (of His love).
    Nothing is a necessity for God, but all things are made through His loving, free will. The point made here hasn’t much to do with the various “wills of God” discussions (or God’s 3 wills…); it rather describes the ‘initial will’ or more correctly the “logoi” (the Α & Ω) of things, in order to proclaim that (as Met. John Zizioulas puts it):

    “The substratum of existence is not being but love”

    Being therefore depends on love.
    Being also (as Father Stephen enlightens us continuously), depends on love “both ways”!… (we can truly only ever really BE when we “receive our existence not from our own nature, but from our relationship with the Lord.”)
    So, if communion is constitutive of being, for the creature to commune with its Creator is the true redemption from the Fall. In other words the Fall is trying to “exist” outside such a communion. This explains many of the paradoxes in our Church hymnography and the words of Saints (such as Ignatius of Antioch) concerning the links between Love (Sacrificial Love unto Death) as Life, and the avoidance of this ‘Death’ for what secularly might be called life, as real Death.

  6. Fatherstephen Avatar

    Dinoship! Yes! It is among the most important understandings in the Orthodox faith. There is so much that can be seen with it and so little that can be seen without it. I first saw this in 1989 when reading Met Z very slowly and repeatedly.

  7. Micah Avatar

    The modern secular eye sees this and argues that it is nothing more than a quality of existence –- good character or heroic action. It is why modern man mistakes morality for something it is not. Morality is a manner of behaving – but it is not a mode of existence.

    Wonderful. Truly, wonderful.

    The Liddell Scott Greek-English Lexicon translates Parousia (“Para” = Beside) and (“Ousia” = Being) as both Presence and Arrival (esp. a visit of a royal or official person). Also noteworthy is it’s astrological usage for planets at a point on the zodiac, as well as other meanings. All things thus herald the arrival of the Creator. Put simply, that is their only purpose. Even the wicked one…

    Robert Llewelwn in drawing from The Cloud of Unknowing and The Epistle of Privy Counsel puts it like this:

    Everything contained in the word “Is”.

    If we call God good or fair, or sweet, merciful or righteous, wise or omniscient, mighty or almighty, intelligent or wise, might or strength, love or charity or whatever; all is contained in this one short word – Is. And though we add a hundred thousand words we never get beyond this one word. We do not add to it if we say them all, and we take nothing away if we say nothing.

    The concluding thought, and this is not always easy: Offer yourself whole to the One Who Truly Is!

  8. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    I agree John 17:20-23 has nothing to do with ecumenical anything. John 13:34-35 covers that.

  9. Devin Avatar

    Some of your thoughts above which echo “On the Incarnation” I wrestle with. Not to say I disagree or propose to judge the likes of St Athanasius, but I have trouble understanding.
    When he says we were moving towards non-existence, was that ever truly a possibility? To wink out of existence utterly? Won’t all people exist eternally whether they love and follow God or not? Or was that not necessarily the case before the incarnation, life, death and resurrection? Or perhaps I’m taking his comments about non-existence too literally?

  10. fatherstephen Avatar

    You’re quite right. The most we can manage is direction – but there is no destination of “non-existence.” Though our enemy hates existence, he cannot even make himself “not exist.”

    Some of the questions raised in St. Athanasius’ thought – as well as those that I’ve described (mostly it is based on St. Basil via Met. John Zizioulas) – do leave us pondering, like St. Isaac of Syria, the salvation of all things.

    Those who think of “justice” as the constituitive element of the universe – rather like to have some corner reserved for eternal punishment, etc. And it helps with the verses of “fire is not quenched,” etc.

    But in the larger framework – particularly under a heading of “existence” – it’s rather hard to consider God sustaining in existence anyone (or thing) for the sole purpose of its punishment and torture – with no possibility of change. It makes no sense of love.

    But this is a question raised by some of the best that the Fathers offer to us – and it leaves us with questions which make us wonder. But He Who Is, is also love, and I find it reasonable to hope all things and believe all things of love.

    A fine point in St. Athanasius (not always translated well), is the distinction between utter non-existence (ou ousia) and relative non-existence (me ousia). The word “meontic” is derived from the latter. It is not absolute non-existence – rather it is the movement in that direction – a tendency or something.

  11. Devin Avatar

    Thank you for your reply. You’ve helped to clarify this for me.

  12. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    Universal salvation certainly be hoped for but to despair of it or presume it would be a mistake

  13. Micah Avatar

    Look — the fields are white and ready for the harvest! This has turned into a most productive season, irrespective (if I could be so bold), of canonical niceities! Amen and Alleluia – God be praised, forever!

  14. Micah Avatar


    Repentance is massively underrated (and misunderstood) by modernity and is really the only guarantee of spiritual success.

    A reflection on St. John Climacus here.

  15. TLO Avatar

    It is not an argument about the improvement of human nature. It is the proclamation that Christ is a whole new way of existing.

    The thought that we are eternal beings temporarily inhabiting this space (some say that we come here to experience those things that cannot be experienced in the eternal realm), is rather common. How is appending “Christ” to this existence any improvement on the idea?

    Lewis’ statement, “You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” fits in either the Christian or non-Christian view of eternal existence.

    I have asked before whether we are “eternal beings” from the point of our human conception forward or if we as souls/spirits exist before that conception. You stated that the Orthodox view is the former. In this post, however, you seem to be saying that such an existence does not begin until baptism:

    Baptism has given me a self-generating existence.

    But this presents a problem that I cannot reconcile; how can an existence that is outside of this temporal space be generated from within it either by physical conception, baptism or any other action?

    For eternal existence to begin with conception of a corrupt body is difficult to believe. It rather belies the idea of “eternal” in my estimation.

    Saying that eternal existence begins with baptism sounds an awful lot like “you don’t exist until you join our club” and simply condemns all the unbaptized to be non-existent (at worst) or “moving towards non-existence” (at best). Either way, it seems far more like coercion or a marketing scheme than a “truth.”

    Isn’t it more likely that an eternal existence stands on its own without regard to this or any other physical universe and that neither conception nor any voluntary action within this realm has any bearing on whether one has an eternal existence?

  16. Micah Avatar

    Saying that eternal existence begins with baptism sounds an awful lot like “you don’t exist until you join our club” and simply condemns all the unbaptized to be non-existent (at worst) or “moving towards non-existence” (at best). Either way, it seems far more like coercion or a marketing scheme than a “truth.”

    What the Church is really saying is that man’s post fall existence begins with Christ’s baptism in the Jordan:

    TROPARION OF EPIPHANY: “When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest! For the voice of the Father bare witness to Thee, and called Thee His beloved Son! And the Spirit, in the form of a dove, confirmed the truthfulness of His word. O Christ our God, who hast revealed Thyself and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee!”

    KONTAKION OF EPIPHANY: “Today Thou hast appeared to the universe, and Thy light, O Lord, hast shone on us, who with understanding praise Thee: Thou hast come and revealed Thyself, O Light Unapproachable!”

  17. dinoship Avatar

    irrespective of whether we start “our existence” at ‘this point or that point’, irrespective of any rationalisations and doubts on the matter, irrespective whether we can reconcile eternal existence being conceived in this temporal existence (along with the Eternal One’s power) or not, it is in our power to hurl ourselves (and we do this in this temporal life) towards Him Who Truly Is, or away from Him. Like an object that we hurl towards the sun or away from the sun, we can control its trajectory within the Earth’s atmosphere, but, in theory, once it leaves our atmosphere it maintains the same direction indefinitely.
    Orthodoxy contains the fulness of that deeper knowledge of what the true “substratum” of existence is (Being as Communion) -even though we might naturally see morsels of this truth elsewhere.

  18. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    “You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” It is claimed that Lewis never said this. It seems more accurate to say “You are a soul and a body united.”

  19. Micah Avatar

    Orthodoxy contains the fulness of that deeper knowledge of what the true “substratum” of existence is (Being as Communion) -even though we might naturally see morsels of this truth elsewhere


    Let us gather all into one storehouse. The God Who Truly Is, is also Lord of the harvest!

  20. fatherstephen Avatar

    First, not every article is apologetics.

    But, you say:

    Isn’t it more likely that an eternal existence stands on its own without regard to this or any other physical universe and that neither conception nor any voluntary action within this realm has any bearing on whether one has an eternal existence?

    I can’t comprehend the use of the phrase “more likely,” in this conversation. On what basis is anything likely?

    It’s not correct to say that “eternal existence” begins at Baptism. I did not use the word “eternal” anywhere in the article. It would likely be misleading – since most people only hear “longevity” when they hear “eternal.” I am talking about a mode of existence – that I’m not sure is yet understood based on your remarks.

    Baptism is, properly, an initiation into a true, authentic existence – which Orthodoxy would describe as existing in a truly Personal manner (cf. the conversation with Dinoship regarding existence and love.)

    But this existence is the truth of everything (and everyone) – but it is an existence not “realized” by most (even including most Christians). Baptism rightly “births” us into this mode of existence. The Church lives rightly when it teaches, supports and nurtures our true existence. It’s among the reasons I rail against “religion” and “morality” as substitutes for the Church’s life. Religion and morality are pretty universal (I would argue that Atheists have a form of religion – we certainly don’t need a God to have a religion), a dime a dozen as they say. I have no interest in promoting such a distortion of Christianity.

  21. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    TLO –

    If we look at the possibility of entering a different “mode of existence”, the concept we have of time from our previous mode doesn’t quite fit.

    This is a very imperfect analogy: suppose there was a stone that was suddenly given the gift of being “alive”. The way it would conceive of its past and future (assuming it had the capacity to think) would be a great deal different after the transformation. It wouldn’t be simply a matter of ‘how long have I lived or will I live longer?’ – because what is meant by living/existing – has taken on an entirely different meaning.

    The different mode of existence to which you and I are invited is far richer and deeper than in my silly analogy. While in our original state, it makes sense to wonder when we began to exist. In the new mode of eternal Christ-life, it doesn’t much matter. Looking back or looking forward is of little relevance when living IN Him.

    I’m certainly not claiming to have realized this existence – but I have heard the invitation and can think of nothing more exciting than hurling myself in that direction…

  22. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    (Fr. Stephen – I had another comment disappear but it says it is a duplicate if I try to submit it again. Whatever you did before worked…)

  23. TLO Avatar

    this would not be the first time that something is over my head.

    I cannot conceive of the word “existence” outside of the idea of “being.” “True existence” does not resonate with me at all. To my ears it sounds very like saying that one does not truly breathe until they have an oxygen mask strapped on.

    But I’ll leave well enough alone. I am as unqualified to understand this discussion as I am to discuss the difference of quality of various cigars. To me, a smoke is a smoke. I am too boorish to understand the matter.

  24. Robert Avatar

    A concern is the problematic equation of our nature with necessity (and the corally that freedom is in escaping from our nature). Or, perhaps more subtle, that personhood is constituted outside of necessity, located in freedom (such as “His life was equally free, equally personal” and “necessity as a limit of our freedom.”). I am not so sure this is right. I am not so sure the freedom-necessity pair is entirely helpful. Instead of seeing “necessity as a limit of our freedom” I propose that necessity is a condition of our freedom. That is to say that necessity is a mode, or tropos, of our existence as persons. It is a necessity that does not limit but rather opens us up to freedom.

  25. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    Orthodoxy contains the fullness of that deeper knowledge of what the true “substratum” of existence is (Being as Communion) -even though we might naturally see morsels of this truth elsewhere…Micah one place where you might find a morsel of this truth is in the “Theology of the Body”

  26. PJ Avatar


    You write, “The thought that we are eternal beings temporarily inhabiting this space (some say that we come here to experience those things that cannot be experienced in the eternal realm), is rather common.”

    It may be rather common to believe that men are eternal beings temporarily inhabiting “this space,” but that isn’t what Christians believe.

    The material world and our place in it — this life in the flesh — is not an accident, a prison, a punishment, a trial, or a testing ground. We are meant to be spiritual bodies existing in material creation. This is our destiny. Thus the horror and ridicule of the gentiles at the idea of resurrection — horror and ridicule which persists even today. We shall be in “this space” forever, though it be glorified, of course. Bodily resurrection as proclaimed by the Church certainly wasn’t “rather common” before Christ, and even today it is widely disparaged, despite its official endorsement by Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

  27. fatherstephen Avatar

    Good questions. The foundational work for what I’ve shared here is Met. John Zizioulas’ Being as Communion – a work that, while raising questions for some, is itself grounded in the Cappadocians (primarily St. Basil). Christos Yannaras also is another major modern Orthodox figure who has done much with this.

    I’m not sure why equating nature with necessity is problematic. My nature, as human, necessitates that I be human, no choice in the matter. But having stated the problem that way does not mean that freedom requires escaping from nature. Zizioulas’ work focuses on the priority of person over nature – and does this most forcefully in his explication of the Trinitarian theology of St. Basil.

    To introduce necessity into our existence as persons, does create problems. First, there is no necessity in God. Nothing is necessary to God. His gift to us – to be like Him – does not include introducing us to necessity. But we probably can’t explore all of this here – we will indeed become boorish.

  28. Micah Avatar

    Thank you Leonard!

  29. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    John/TLO –

    I do not think you are “boorish” (= “crude insensitivity”, per online dictionary).

    If this particular thread doesn’t make sense to you, that is all right. Some of the things that appear here are beyond my understanding as well. Each of us learns and discovers in different ways. Not relating to something does not mean that you or anyone should assign you a negative trait because of this.

  30. dinoship Avatar

    When Christ touches our heart, we might suddenly experience His “personal” (often termed Hypostatic) mode of existence ourselves. Yes, this often results in a kind of joy, an elation, a sense of complete freedom, or sometimes a sweet compunction and love towards Him that passes all human understanding and all previous loves seem like the cheapest possible counterfeit replicas of this ‘real thing’. However, the experience of loving the entirety of Adam with that most ineffable love that Christ Himself has for all, is beyond the comprehension of our intellect (in its usual state) to such an enormous extent that any description of that state is inevitably liable to misinterpretation by those who have not experienced it. Notwithstanding, THAT is the state of “being as person” – containing the totality of existence in one’s heart of hearts, through the action of the Holy Spirit. Now, in a somewhat more practical note, to get to that state (to become like “Love Himself”) we need to start somewhere; and that somewhere will be the two ‘younger sisters’ of Love, Faith and Hope. Why?:
    (I will paraphrase Elder Aimilianos here): Our Self –our Ego- that god of ours is so experiential, so immense, so strong, so vibrant, that the true God pales into non-existence in its presence. And since these two gods cannot coexist, we live the way we live: without the true God. Who knows how many years will be needed for one to overcome that frightful confrontation with their self, how many years one must live without the true God! How will someone (someone who claims to desire God that is) carry on living in the darkness of His absence? Only with Faith and Hope. Blessed, therefore, are those who haven’t seen and yet believe. You are truly blessed, when you live God’s absence as if you are living His presence. That is the path along which we must walk to reach the summit.

  31. Grant Hudson Avatar
    Grant Hudson

    Well put.

  32. dinoship Avatar

    I forgot to address the previous comment to you TLO 🙂

  33. dinoship Avatar

    The relational (as Father put it) aspect of, not just Love but, its two ‘younger sisters’ (Faith and Hope), is also seen in the example of Saint Peter walking on the water that Father mentioned in his article.

  34. Micah Avatar

    Well said!

    That paradox again…

    Fr. Stephen says:

    “Belief in God, the crucified God, is not a proclamation that we have solved the paradox. Rightly lived and believed, it is the living of the paradox – a living that truly embraces the whole of life, without reduction. In the end, it turns out to be love. Just love.”

    From Contradiction & Paradox on 1 Jan 2013

    Existence makes sense only when love is the means and the end…

  35. fatherstephen Avatar

    “When you live God’s absence as if you are living His presence…” Thanks

  36. dinoship Avatar

    Elder Aimilianos is indeed an unmatched parenesis…!

  37. Robert Avatar

    Fr Stephen, if you haven’t already read Aristotle Papanikolaou’s “Being with God” it is worthwhile read as he offers a refreshing but critical look at both Lossky’s and Zizoulas’ theologies.

  38. fatherstephen Avatar

    It’s a good read (hard work as is everything concerning Z’ work). I understand that Papanikolaou is doing very good work. It’s sort of 2nd generation. Both Lossky and Z were very “magisterial” in their work – raising again very important points for Orthodoxy. Now they are being digested (by men younger than me). It’s encouraging.

  39. Brian Avatar

    Some thoughts on Robert’s questions…hopefully not too boorish.

    Perhaps the most fundamental definition of worship is an acknowledgement of dependence. We worship that on which we depend (be it God or an idol of some form, whether material or intellectual). Dependence does indeed imply necessity, and we are – and always will be – dependent creations. But our union with God and our sharing in the eternal quality (not primarily duration) of His life frees us from the necessity of our nature, for He Himself is our every need. This freedom, it would seem to me, could be said to be the Orthodox Christian understanding of what salvation is.

    And so, in the context of praying “For the peace from above and for the salvation of our souls,” we pray “for our deliverance from all wrath, danger, and necessity… help us, save us, have mercy on us and keep us O God by Thy grace.” (Grace being not some ‘thing’ that God gives us apart from Himself, but rather the gift of sharing His own life, the ‘kind’ of life shared by the Persons of the Holy Trinity.)

  40. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    It has helped me to think about “necessity” as “driven-ness” – for humans, being driven by the need to feed ourselves, to propagate, to stave off physical death or even things that “feel like death,” etc. – all of which can be done without being in a relationship with other Persons of love and freedom.

    So, God is not “driven” by anything; God loves, and so living things come to exist. (As a corollary: as parent I have had the joy and responsibility to “love my children to life” – really, that is my only responsibility…) Christ was not “driven” to lay down his life, but did it freely in self-giving love “for the joy set before him” – the reconciliation of everything.

    Perhaps that definition is too simple, but it may have a place in the discussion.


  41. dinoship Avatar

    I, agree with you Dana and Brian. A creature’s inherent dependency to the Creator is overcome through Love. It is the “substratum of existence”. The completely voluntary, utterly free adoption of Love frees us from necessity. It is a person’s deepest desire to be “enslaved” by what paradoxically bestows this most true freedom. As St Isaac says: “The person who has found love eats and drinks Christ every day and every hour and is thereby made immortal…When we hear Jesus say, “Ye shall eat and drink at the table of my kingdom,” what do we suppose we shall eat, if not love? Love, rather than food and drink…”

  42. Mark Avatar


  43. TLO Avatar

    worship is an acknowledgement of dependence.

    I could name any number of people and things upon which I depend but do not worship.

    I cannot recall at any point worshiping my parents even when I was fully dependent on them. Indeed, my parents would have thought it rather weird if I had. What possible necessity is there to worship god? Does god get something out of it?

    I can comprehend being grateful (thanks for this planet with an atmosphere, water and protective magnetic field) but what is the purpose of worship? Who benefits and why?

  44. fatherstephen Avatar

    Worship is not so much an acknowledgement of dependence. I do not think that is the nature of love. And worship, finally, is the offering of the love that is right. With God, such love is worship. Worship has more to do with adoration and thanksgiving (but not in some noblesse oblige arrangement). Worship is also the awe and wonder as we stand before God. Worship can be the silent wordless wonder because we haven’t got a clue what to say, but we have enough of a clue to stand there silently and wonder.

    Worship is also one of those words that people use a lot but have never stopped to think much about what it means.

  45. Micah Avatar

    Drink lots of water (and lie under a shady tree if you can).

  46. Robert Avatar

    Dinoship wrote, “A creature’s inherent dependency to the Creator is overcome through Love.”

    I strongly disagree. Necessity or dependency is not overcome but rather strengthened through love by and for God. I know of no Church Father who claims that our dependency to God is overcome (reduced, diminished, etc.).

  47. Robert Avatar

    There are a couple of different understandings of ‘necessity’ that are used here in the comments: a clear distinction between them should be made.

    On the one hand ‘necessity’ can be an undesirable want for earthly provisions (for such we pray for deliverance and God’s mercies in our services). It can also refer to disordered dependence (on others, our own passions, earthly provisions, and the like). On the other hand we have ‘necessity’ in a more theological sense, a necessity which is our need for and dependence on God and such a necessity is indeed normal and befitting to our existence as creatures.

    In works by Zizoulas, Lossky, Yannaras and others the theological sense of ‘necessity’ is used.

  48. fatherstephen Avatar

    Then you would need to read and digest St. Maximus. Dinoship, I think, is working from what St. Maximus has written in the matter that the creation becomes “uncreated by grace.” This pushes way beyond the usual stuff. But in our “theosis,” stated in its most extreme form, our relationship with God is no longer a matter of necessity but solely of love (by grace). By nature alone, this could never be true. By grace it becomes true. But it is at the very edge of our understanding – so much so that I would not normally press the point in this setting. When I read this stuff in Maximus, I am pushed way beyond anything I can comprehend. As absurd as the statement, “God became man that man might become god,” is, the consequences entailed by that are equally absurd. But the absurdity is indeed what is promised.

  49. Robert Avatar

    Yes Father Stephen I am well aware of St Maximus writings on these matters. No where (as far as I know) does St Maximus intimate that ‘uncreated’, ‘theosis’ and ‘by grace’ denotes ‘free from Divine necessity’ (and ‘by nature’ denote necessity). Does the Theotokos no longer depend on the Trinity?

    If St Maximus writing would mean as you suggest, then as such he would be quite the ‘lone ranger’ on the topic and I would think it would fall under theologoumena.

  50. dinoship Avatar

    I agree with your disagreement as you stated it above, but, as Father Stephen more eloquently expounded, I (forgive the lack of clarity in my comment) meant a different type of ‘necessity’ that becomes overcome through that Love…
    It is as if our complete “possession” by the Holy Spirit, our total “enslavement” to God (for lack of a better term) is not just utterly voluntary, but feels like we have been granted that God-like existence of complete freedom – the freedom that no creature could ever have is actually bestowed on us and we experience this as if we are (in our union with Christ) Uncreated! As Father Sophrony used to say, “That eternity even feels as if we have -most paradoxically- no beginning”…

  51. Robert Avatar

    Two very short but important words you use: “as if” 😀

  52. dinoship Avatar

    So what is meant here is not so much a theological or anthroplological term of “necessity” with which you correctly take issue, but that the closest thing to describe THAT grace is “utter freedom from all necessity”. A taste of Gods mode of existence…

  53. Robert Avatar

    Yes I could agree with you on that, a freedom from earthly necessities. A state of dispassion.

  54. fatherstephen Avatar

    I would want to go through and parse my way carefully in Maximus for this – more than I can do at the moment. Zizioulas is a place to look as well – Dinoship might have some specific references of help. It is generally acknowledged that nature and necessity are linked – and that in a personal existence – love (and freedom) are the substratum (if you will). But it does push things when the question is put in terms of not depending. Personal existence is not individual existence – it does not exist independently. The Son does not exist apart from the Father, etc. But that is not described as dependence in the natural sense. Instead, it describes existence as freedom and love. But I’m pushing against and beyond my pay-grade. Further than I can go for the moment. So I take your note quite seriously, and won’t go there. Thanks.

    A way to phrase this as a question is: is there a difference between relational existence and dependence? Dinoship?

  55. Robert Avatar

    Thank you Fr. Stephen (and dinoship), we are indeed pushing the envelope of this medium. Good topic, wonderful post!

  56. TLO Avatar

    Worship has more to do with adoration and thanksgiving

    Would you also say that it is an acknowledgement of sorts?

    There have been many times when I have felt a sense of awe toward my parents for what they managed to accomplish in my lifetime with regards to raising me. Having kids of my own, I have many times gone to my parents and apologized for myself but I have also gone out of my way to let them know that I think they did a great job.

    Is that the sort of thing that the Orthodox would consider “worship” if it was directed toward god? Not a sense of self-abnegation (of which the Protestants are too fond) so much as a sense of comprehension and gratitude?

  57. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick

    Father, did you mean to say this?

    “Personhood is only an illusion, a political contract, nothing more and nothing less.”

  58. fatherstephen Avatar

    Michael Patrick, to clarify, I edited it:

    To exist as an Individual requires nothing. For the secular individua, personhood is only an illusion, a political contract, nothing more and nothing less.

  59. dinoship Avatar

    I believe that we (and our language) are so poorly equipped to describe this:

    “is there a difference between relational existence and dependence?”

    My guess is that no matter how well we put it in words, misunderstandings will surely ensue unless the Spirit we all share is the Holy Paraklete.
    Trying to aid in explaining this very matter Father Nikolaos Loudovikos once used this example:
    Who of us, if asked “who are you?” would not say something along the lines of their Name, or maybe some description of their ‘person as an individual’ – “old”, “Greek” or even “the least of men”?
    What we see in Christ however, (the Person par excellence if you like) is entirely different!
    It is as if, (-to give the equivalent response in my own case-) when you ask me “who are you?” I were to actually answer “I am the son of my Father -(…Dad’s Name…)”!
    In other words, relational existence is virtually constituted entirely by communion. My very identity would be that of “son”. However, it would not be wise to describe it as ‘dependence’, far less so to describe it as ‘necessity’. The Son freely empties Himself to the Father, and God wants even us to freely give ourselves to Him as He gives His entirety to us.
    Love, although all consuming, is NOT “needy” (the ego is needy), love is true Freedom. And the only true freedom is liberation from myself (as “individual”)… The paradox remains: I ‘need’ Him to be my true self (as “person/hypostasis”), yet communing with Him “is experienced as complete freedom”. (it does not feel like a fulfillment of any ego-“needs”)
    That liberty/freedom usually presupposes dispassion, yet is more than and goes beyond dispassion. Perhaps this “freely choosing to become an (apparent) slave”, can seem like a “dependency” to us while still existing “in Adam”. But freedom is a key part of genuine Orthodoxy in all aspects of life because – first and foremost – those who beheld God tasted that aspect of His mode of existence and consequently became bearers of freedom in their lives.
    For example, according to the monastic cannons, one could never become a monastic if he wasn’t free, if he was a slave, if he had depts etc. – God does not want “slaves” He is ‘adamant’ on this if you like, it is the enemy that wants slaves and falsely accuses God of that passion he sees in his very self.

  60. dinoship Avatar

    It is also important to reiterate -and helps explain the above point for many people- that it is the eucharisticor priestly function of man (as Met J. Zizioulas explains) that reconnects created nature to infinite existence, and thus liberates it from slavery to necessity.
    A corollary of this is that, all forms of eucharistic “interpretation of existence” liberate us from necessity to one degree or another – If I am truly thankful for everything, if I (as St Mark the Ascetic terms it) “accept whatever befalls me” with complete gratitude, acceptance, willingness, this gradually leads me to that freedom from necessity…
    This eucharistic form of being is obviously an unceasingly ‘relational form of being’ (we are thanking, “eucharist-ing” /εὐχαριστοῦμέν Someone) and there is no dependency anymore in the “dependency” thus embraced.

  61. Micah Avatar

    Dinoship, if I may – we will never be liberated from the necessity of loving, even completely belonging to another. Another of the divine paradoxes that is indeed impossible to put in words but must be lived to the full.

  62. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    TLO –

    I smiled a smile of recognition as you puzzled about the word “worship”. For me, the word brings up images of bowing, incensing and telling God how great He is. Now I have nothing against any of those activities in response to God’s greatness but they falls short. This notion has made me uncomfortable as I cannot imagine what God would get out of THAT.

    This notion of worship leaves out the love, the intimacy, the union, to which we are invited to experience with God. Not that we can experience that as equals, as spouses might in a marriage. Your analogy of child to parent has some of the flavor of true worship – note that Jesus gives us the name “Father” with which to address God.

    However, my relationship with my parents, even if a very good one, cannot come close to matching that true worship. My parents are, of course, quite human. And God, in order to be rightly called God, must be so much more…and what He gives us and invites us to is also so much more.

    Yet we humans often need concrete images to start conceiving of God. Whether with parents or someone else, the experience of being freely loved, completely apart from “deserving” it, is one of the strongest glimpses I have had of the Divine. There is, as Father Stephen put it, a sense of “awe and wonder”.

  63. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    (Fr. Stephen – my comment disappeared again. Am I doing something wrong? Or is it just slow to appear? Thanks.)

  64. Jane Avatar

    What an exhilarating discussion! Thanks to everyone, especially Fr Stephen.

    On “worship” : before my Confirmation (Anglican, Scotland, 1958), I was taught that worship is giving a person what they are worth. The Anglican Marriage service used to say “With this ring I thee wed, With my body I thee worship.”

  65. Dino Avatar

    true freedom could perhaps be worded thus, as, (in a way), it consists of being voluntarily ‘enslaved’ to loving, and by necessity, the creature “must” opt for that option to become free. Must implies necessity… however, God’s unfathomable providence leads us gradually, “with silk gloves”, not through a sense of “must” (He does not want us as slaves but as sons and daughters -freely devoted), but through a journey of discovery – the discovery of freely (as “must” has no place in the land of Love)existing as relational beings. Communion takes precedence to nature once this happens! It is a life where the saint chooses, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to become a repetition of Christ, a son of the Father who wants to be crucified for the sins of the entirety of ‘Adam’, whom he finds in his heart…

  66. PJ Avatar

    What is worship? Worship is singing the Te Deum from the cross, as did the Japanese martyr Paul Miki and his twenty-six companions, who are celebrated today.

    We praise Thee, O God,
    We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord!

  67. Micah Avatar


    Thanks for your great commentary. I have added some thoughts of my own, below and italicised.

    “Must” has no place in the land of Love.

    Love is indeed the only must.

    Communion takes precedence to nature once this happens!

    Communion both embraces and transforms nature.

    “It is a life where the Saint chooses, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to become a repetition of Christ, a son of the Father who wants to be crucified for the sins of the entirety of ‘Adam’, whom he finds in his heart…”

    We have two building blocks with which to build our eternal abode. Sin & transforming love….That’s one way of looking at the journey. Words convey the spiritual only with great difficulty. Sometimes it is better to speak tangentally, like the Poets:

    Philosophers have measur’d mountains
    Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
    Walk’d with a staffe to heave’n, and traced fountains
    But there are two vast, spacious things
    the which to measure it doth more behove:

    Who would know Sinne, let him repair
    Unto Mount Olivet; there he shall see
    A man so wrung with pains, that all his hair
    His skinne, his garments bloudie be.
    Sinne is that presse and vice, which forceth pain
    To hunt his cruell food through ev’ry vein

    Who knows not Love, let him assay
    And taste that juice, which on the crosse a pike
    Did set again abroach; then let him say
    If ever he did taste the like
    Love is that liquour sweet and most divine
    Which my God feels as bloud; but I, as wine.

    (George Herbert, The Agonie, 1633)

    Fr. Stephen has frequently written on beauty. Like repentance, we have largely forgotten it’s true meaning…

  68. PJ Avatar

    God was Man in Palestine
    And lives to-day in Bread and Wine.

    –John Betjeman

  69. Ken Mafli Avatar

    “But who I am as Person is not constituted by my nature. It is not a product of my birth, my race, my nation, my intelligence, my inheritance, my genetics. To the greater extent, even I do not yet know who I am as Person. It is a discovery that is made only in the wonder of its existence.”

    Great point. It reminds me of Paul’s words – “that He prepared in advance for us to do.” If our life is summed up by our thoughts, actions, and interactions – to have future actions already planned for us means there is an ultimate “us” that is unfolding.

  70. Dino Avatar

    “Communion takes precedence to nature once this happens!” -means that rather than “knowing” stuff as objects (including God and individuals), a person that has acquired the Holy Spirit knows stuff through Love Himself. You are obviously also correct in saying that:
    “Communion both embraces and transforms nature.”…
    Communion with God gives true communion with all else:

    “Imagine that the world is a circle, that God is the center, and that the radii are the different ways human beings live. When those who wish to come closer to God walk towards the center of the circle, they come closer to one another at the same time as to God. The closer they come to God, the closer they come to one another. And the closer they come to one another, the closer they come to God.”

    – St. Dorotheus of Gaza

  71. Robert Avatar

    What is the meaning of ‘nature’?

  72. Dino Avatar

    According to Met. John Zizioulas, (on the term of ‘nature’):
    “The rupture between ‘being’ and ‘communion’ [the Fall] results automatically in the truth of being [nature] acquiring priority over the truth of communion [person]. This is natural for created existence…..
    …for man the fact of existence is a “datum” with which he is presented, and thus he can never escape from the fact that being precedes relationship…..
    …The only alternative to this is to make communion constitutive of being (which would be the redemption of the fall)….
    …The truth possessed by the logos of existence depends only upon love…..This is extremely important for understanding the logos concept, for it leads to an identification of the logoi of things not with ‘nature’ or being itself, but, with the loving will of God.

    So, “nature”, is akin to physis (Φύσις) and (Οὐσία) while “person” is connected to communion, Hypostatic mode of existence (Ὑπόστασις) in theological terms.

  73. fatherstephen Avatar

    In this conversation, “nature,” is synonymous with ousia, being, essence, substance, etc.

  74. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    My wife had a minor surgical procedure this morning and all is well, thank God. While waiting I was reading the book, Everyday Saints. At some point I looked at the picture of Fr Tikhon and knew without doubt that he was praying with me.

    Can’t tell you how I knew–just knew.

  75. Micah Avatar

    I will light a candle Michael!

  76. TLO Avatar

    Carpe Deum (seize the Dei)

  77. Robert Avatar


  78. TLO Avatar

    It just came to me. Feel free to use it.

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  1. Wow. Beauty has been on my mind a lot lately. Your words, Fr. Stephen, and those of St. Maximus blew…

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