An Unnecessary Existence

GOD2In Dostoevsky’s The Demons, the character, Kirillov, is insanely fascinated with freedom. He cannot bear the fact that he did not choose his own existence. Life is a “given.” In what must be seen as a parable of the radical thought of the 19th century, Kirillov determines to kill himself, the only act of true freedom he can take.

His insight about the necessity of his own existence and its lack of freedom was correct. We did not choose existence for ourselves – it is given to us. I must eat. I must breathe. I must work. I must suffer. These are unavoidable necessities. The nature of created existence is marked by such necessity. It is, of course, possible to embrace our necessity and make peace with it. However, Kirillov’s intuition, that such necessity is at odds with freedom remains true.

Freedom is a major theme within the gospel and the preaching of Christ. His promise concerning the Truth, is that in knowing it, “it shall make you free.” And He adds, “If the Son shall make you free, you will be truly free.” St. Paul tells us that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (freedom).” Freedom is a key characteristic of the life in Christ.

But how do we live a life of freedom within a necessary existence?

The free life of a human being is what the Tradition describes as Personhood. Our personal existence is our existence in freedom and love. Our life as a Person is not at all the same thing as our life as an ego. The Person is not a summary of memories, experiences, reason, feelings, etc. It is not “the story of me.”

It is not correct to think of the Person as creature, a thing. It is not an act of creation. It is an existence in relation. I participate in its existence as well as God does. It exists as the self-in-relation-to-God. It is both the gift of God and it is our gift of ourselves. It exists freely in love and never by necessity.

The Scriptures refer to this existence in a manner that transcends time. The Person is referred to both before our biological existence and as something yet to come.

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you (Jer. 1:5).

You are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God (Col. 3:3).

It does not yet appear what we shall be. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1John 3:2).

That God knows Jeremiah before he was formed in the womb is not at all a statement of a pre-determined existence, or a life without free will. The Jeremiah whom God knows is the Jeremiah who is coming-into-being moment by moment as he freely fulfills the life God has always known.

The life that is mine in Christ is also a Cross that is taken up and freely accepted. It doesn’t yet appear to me who I shall be, but rather I am promised that the person that I am fulfilling is like Christ.

On the daily level, I think we generally spend our time trying to reform the “old man.” We try to improve the ego and control the body. But the call of our life in Christ is not towards improvement but towards a new existence (“if any one is in Christ there is a new creation”). The commandments of Christ point us in the direction of that manner of living.

Forgive everyone for everything.

The forgiveness of our enemies (everyone for everything) is an act of pure freedom. It is not a necessity. It is not a road towards moral improvement or the betterment of society. It is releasing the chains that bind us to necessity. Forgiveness means I no longer have to hate. I no longer need live in shame. I am able to love.

Do not be anxious for anything.

The things that we experience anxiously are experienced as necessities. We fear that we will be hurt or suffer because of events beyond our control. We treasure the ego and value our natural existence above all else. “He who seeks to save his life will lose it.”

Give thanks always for everything.

The offering of thanks does not come as a necessity. If thanks were a necessity it would have no value. God would have “bought” our gratitude. Rather, it is an offering freely given. Because it is freely given and carries no necessity, the giving of thanks can be offered for all things – even those things we dread or despise.

To live as a person in union with Christ is to enter the freedom of an unnecessary existence.

In Him we live and move and have our being.


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.


92 responses to “An Unnecessary Existence”

  1. George Engelhard Avatar
    George Engelhard

    Thanx again Father

  2. Grant Avatar

    Thank you father.

  3. Robert Avatar

    And yet our persons do not exist without, at least at some point in our life, that ‘necessary existence.’ And so our persons know about Jeremiah, another person, because he and we this existence and we couldn’t have known him without it! The ‘necessary existence’ is absolutely necessary. We should not minimize or devalue it as such.

  4. sergieyes Avatar

    Father bless! I am very obliged for this entire blog and thank you very much. I must say that it certainly is concerning Dostoevsky, as well as Orthodoxy and Jesus Christ.
    In the Brother Karamazov, we have a section named “The Russian Monk” which is about the character “Father Zossima.”
    That in turn is a presentation of a prominent Russian saint, if I recall right, St. Seraphim of Sarov.
    “Forgive everyone for everything.” Or maybe, “Take responsibility for everyone and everything.” Father Alexios Trader advised me that this idea was the inner meaning of the Jesus Prayer. When we say, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy” etc. , we call for mercy not for us, but for “everyone, for everything.” Or, as the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom states, “Let us commit ourselves, and each other,and all our lives unto Christ our God.”
    Thank you very much for bringing this out.
    Robb, sinner.

  5. Arnold Avatar

    I attended the adult baptism of a loved one this Sunday past and the minister remarked that faith is always personal but never individual. Your explanation of personhood confirms that.

  6. Dino Avatar

    It is not correct to think of the Person as creature, a thing. It is not an act of creation. It is an existence in relation. I participate in its existence as well as God does. It exists as the self-in-relation-to-God. It is both the gift of God and it is our gift of ourselves. It exists freely in love and never by necessity.

    beautifully explains our previous conversation in the previous article’s comment section.

    “Do not be anxious for anything”. also reminded me of Elder Sophrony once explaining how he tasted of a “daily life of ultimate freedom” during the period that he lived as a total anchorite, in the most extreme poverty, not because there was no-one to control him (“above him”), but, because there was no-one below him.
    It takes a great and unshakeable faith in God’s providence to never be anxious about other persons, but it is feasible.

  7. fatherstephen Avatar

    Yes, of course. In the “necessary existence” I need not love. I can hate, etc., do anything I like. But it is not unnecessary. The gift of God is that He lifts us up to a new creation, and that new creation, in turn, will finally be the “cause” of the my being. In the Resurrection, all that I am (body included) will exist according to the new creation. This does not despise the old, but we are not reforming the old. We are birthed into the new.

    Does St. Paul devalue the old when he says, “Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer”? (2Cor. 5:16). Of course not. But this is precisely the passage where he speaks about the new creation.

    The knowledge of Jeremiah you describe is “historical” knowledge, indeed a “necessary” existence. But the Jeremiah God was knowing before he was formed in the womb seems to be somewhat “transhistorical.” God knows him not according to history, but personally. And we can know St. Jeremiah personally now, not because of history, but in spite of history (to a degree), because he is in Christ and is present with me now and not simply necessarily lost as an historical figure.

    The creation has, indeed, a “necessary” character, but this is not its fulness. All things were created for more. Thus St. Paul speaks about creation groaning and longing for what? For the glorious “liberty” of the Sons of God. There’s that word freedom again.

  8. TLO Avatar

    The knowledge of Jeremiah you describe is “historical” knowledge, indeed a “necessary” existence. But the Jeremiah God was knowing before he was formed in the womb seems to be somewhat “transhistorical.”

    But this “unnecessary existence” is dependent on a “necessary existence.” The converse is not true.

    A person might be born and raised in the wild but once he is brought into a community he has to learn how to behave in a manner of which the community approves.

    It seems to me all you are saying is that there is freedom so long as you obey the law, which is not (technically) freedom in the sense that Kirillov means.

  9. Dino Avatar

    The life that is mine in Christ is also a Cross that is taken up and freely accepted”
    Such depth here! Faith (trust), humility, freedom…
    I am reminded of the depth of Saint Silouan’s words on “Christ-like humility” being the ultimate ‘taste’ of truth, love, communion, freedom. All is contained in that “mode of being”. Indeed! humility (our great distance from it) is the crux of our problem as “Individuals”! We might even have Theology, but, as Saint Maximus stipulates, theology without practice is the Theology of demons. No wonder unlettered peasants are far superior in their experiential communion with and freedom in Christ than many scholars. The simple man and woman have a head start in “existing in relation” to the complex and secularly “enriched” mind…

    In the person of Christ, we can see that humility is a quality of God. God is not God if He is not humble. And neither can I be like God unless I am humble. Indeed, without humility, I’ll become a demon. Humility must therefore be a condition of my being. I must embrace humility, knowing that, when I live in humility, I live in God.
    What is humility? It is the life of God, the form of divine life, and we see this clearly in the life of Christ….
    Following the example of Christ, humility is the distinguishing characteristic of the Christian life, and the foundation for our relation with God. The more humble we are, the more God will reveal Himself to us. And the more we know about God, the more humble we become. We need all the virtues, but without humility they achieve nothing. Even fasting, prayer, and love itself can do nothing without humility. But when prayer and fasting are joined with humility, we become the companion of God, and enter the divine environment in such a way that we become “gods” ourselves. We must not seek to know God, or anything else from or about God. We must rather humble ourselves. God will then come to us and give us that which we desire.
    ~Elder Aimilianos

    “An angel fell from heaven without any other passion except pride, and so we may ask whether it is possible to ascend to Heaven by humility alone, without any other of the virtues.”
    ~Saint John Climacus

  10. Janelle Avatar

    Regarding a comment above, truly feral children are unable to learn how to fit into society.

    When I thin of true unnecessary freedom, I think of St. Xenia, a fool for Christ, free to love others like Christ and she did not conform to society in this love and freedom that she lived out.

  11. Margaret Avatar

    Dear Fr. Stephen, I so very much needed to read these words and yet I did not know this until I was reading! Thank you from the bottom of my heart! God bless you!

  12. lilyboat Avatar

    This was another beautiful reading experience as always. I just wanted to tell you that I always look forward to your wonderful posts. Thank you Father. God bless you!

  13. Mark Avatar

    Well put Dino. I always think of Archmandrite Zacharias, whenever anyone mentions the divine condescension, even tangentally! Archmandrite Zacharias was a disciple of the Elder Sophrony of blessed memory who in turn received it from St. Silouan who encountered the Second Person of the Holy Trinity! Knowledge puffs up. Through humility, we acquire all the other virtues!

  14. todd Avatar

    Father Stephen, this distinction between ‘ego’ and ‘person’ is something you have written about in previous blog posts, too. Here you have used slightly different language (necessary/ unnecessary), but I’m still not sure I completely understand what you’re getting at.
    When we remember the saints, we often recount their lives according to the things they have done; their ‘life experiences’, ‘reason’, and ‘feelings’ seem to be integral aspects of the way we remember them. Since the ‘persons’ of the saints are “hid with Christ”, how else would we become acquainted with them but by way of the “story of me” (ego?) that belongs to any particular saint? Should I understand that we come to encounter ‘persons’ indirectly, only by way of the ‘ego’? Is the life of necessity, proper to the ego, reshaped by the un-necessity of the person?
    I think I have approached confession with “the story of me” close at hand. I don’t know what to make of this, if confession does not concern, to some degree, the reformation of the ego.
    I don’t totally get the necessary/ unnecessary distinction, either. Sin is volitional, and yet antithetical to freedom. Sin is not necessary, and yet sin has nothing to do with the unnecessary existence of the ‘person’ who is hid with Christ….

  15. PJ Avatar

    I would love to see you dialogue with a Buddhist, Father Stephen. For many of the “problems” you posit are also posited by Buddhists, yet your answer is utterly contrary to theirs. Whereas they propose self-extinction in the face of the givenness of existence, you propose true selfhood.

  16. Devin Avatar

    “…the giving of thanks can be offered for all things – even those things we dread or despise.”

    I wrestle with this, specifically in relation to trouble/hardships/calamity. Is it thanks “for” or thanks “in spite of”? We could accurately say no matter how bad things may become there is always something to be thankful to God for. But that’s different than thanking God *for* a specific calamity (death of a loved one, disease, lost job etc).

    To be clear I’m not trying to engage in a mere philosophical discussion of the question of suffering. I want to personally know how I should respond to these things as they enter my life. I know this has been an ongoing debate in the broader Christian world that spans the spectrum from “every minor irritant is a demon or the devil” to “everything that happens (rape, murder, abuse etc) happens as a result of the direct will of God”. Does the Orthodox Church have a more unified view on the matter?

  17. fatherstephen Avatar

    I had that conversation with a parishioner this morning. You’re right. The diagnosis has much in common. The cure is something we could not have imagined. It had to come to us in Christ, whose service is perfect freedom.

  18. fatherstephen Avatar

    I believe that giving thanks “for” all things (not just “in” or “in spite of”) is a very hard word, that is difficult to hear. Though the forgiveness for everyone for everything is equally hard, we somehow understand it more easily. To face the impossible thing, the unbearable sorrow, and actually give thanks, is an act of pure grace. It does not justify or excuse. It is “be it unto me according to Thy word.” It is “not my will but Thine.” It only makes sense in the heart. There have been a few points in my life when I came to such a pass. I do not suggest such a thing lightly. I’ve only known one man (personally) who lived such a thing with true consistency. He was perhaps the greatest Christian I have known. Archm. Zacharias has said that according to the Elder Sophrony, if a man will give thanks always for all things, he would fulfill the saying of St. Silouan, “Keep your mind in hell and despair not.”

    Philosophy cannot go to this place. Only the heart can know it. The man whom I mentioned got there by obedience. He accepted it as the commandment of God and kept it. And it slowly revealed itself to him. In his last years, in our conversations, he had no greater delight, NO GREATER DELIGHT, than to talk about giving thanks to God, which he did for all things at all times.

  19. Mark Stryker Avatar
    Mark Stryker

    Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you again for a very wonderful post, providing another way of viewing personhood in Christ. I think the reason that some have a problem trying to sort out the necessary/unnecessary distinction is because we are too well trapped in a western way of understanding existence. When we see personhood and life in terms of this distinction and then only in terms of ego we cannot see the fulness of personhood in Christ. I find that while for discussion purposes and clarification the unnecessary/necessary distinction helps, it really in the end reflects a way of thinking that holds us back from moving into the new creation that is now. I see this, I could be wrong, in the writings of the elders and fathers. Existence has some kind of very determined freedom in Christ that is less than existence when we are attached to the ego as the only place where we think we can sort out the boundaries of our existence. What I see, very blessedly so in Orthodoxy is freedom (that needs no qualification as necessary or unnecessary) that is simply and deeply the gift of new life in Christ through the Church.

    Do we really need the necessary/unnecessary distinction if we are deeply grounded in life that is eternal?

  20. fatherstephen Avatar

    “This unnecessary existence” (God as Jeremiah know him), is certainly related to the “necessary” biological Jeremiah. But the biological Jeremiah is not the precise same thing the Person Jeremiah. Could Jeremiah (historical) have not fulfilled the Jeremiah God knew? Yes. That’s why it’s called freedom. But in the conversation recorded in Scripture, it seems that he is indeed fulfilling that life and thus is able to hear of its existence beyond time. It isn’t meant to exist without the biological, but the personal has priority over the biological. Through the personal the biological can be raised to eternal life. In the resurrection we exist in perfect freedom.

    But to understand the personal we have to approach it through the personal. The gift and freedom that is love can perceive it.

  21. Robert Avatar

    Can we not equally affirm that as “through the personal the biological can be raised to eternal life” so also “through the biological the personal can be raised to eternal life”? How else but through the biological (for us creatures of the biological kind) could we hope to attain to eternal life? We owe our existence to our biological constitution. We wouldn’t be human beings otherwise. The Incarnation says it all. He who had no biological life took on the biological into His Person to attain eternal for us!

    I am failing to see the sharp distinction that is made here.

  22. Robert Avatar

    I should say that I see the distinction (of course there is a difference between the biological and the spiritual), but that I am not so ready to draw conclusion based on that.

  23. Robert Avatar

    O Lord, that Fr. Stephen’s blog would allow for edits of comments. For this we pray! Amen.

  24. fatherstephen Avatar

    I’ll edit as you request.

    But the biological will return to dust. It does not give the resurrection. From a purely biological perspective, we are birthed into a necessity that will necessarily end in death and decomposition. I don’t disparage the biological and this is in no way a diminishment of the Incarnation. But “that which is mortal must be swallowed up by immortality.” The biological is not sufficient. It’s necessity draws it back into dust. Our eternal relation with Christ raises up even that which would fall back into dust and it becomes a partaker in the uncreated life of God.

    I keep being able to cite Scriptures (as in the article itself and in this response) because this is simply the teaching of the Church. More to the point – let me ask – you clearly are having some difficulty about the “biological” and “necessity.” Can you be more specific about what feels like the problem, or what seems problematic. I’m not making this stuff up – it’s pretty solidly found in Zizioulas and others today as well as the sources from which they draw. But what feels wrong? That would be a helpful conversation so that we don’t talk past each other.

  25. fatherstephen Avatar

    One brief thought (perhaps helpful). When we think of ourselves in merely biological terms, we become anxious. Because we are going to die and return to dust. It is a very tenuous existence always threatening (like my stomach flu this week!). It keeps us from acting freely because we fear. It is only by having our existence grounded in the truly Personal that we have faith to lead the biological even to the point of martyrdom. We fast and keep watch, training our bodies to become centered in the Personal and not merely the biological. Christ tells his disciples, “I have food to eat that you know nothing of.” Of course our biological existence is a given – it’s very undeniable. The promise that it will be raised – indeed is even now being raised in Christ (“If the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwells in you, He will make alive your mortal body”) – how do we not strain ourselves forward to lay hold and that for which Christ has laid hold on us?

  26. Anna Avatar

    Father, bless!

    I deeply appreciate the remark that hatred is an act of necessity and love is an act of freedom. Therefore, hatred is an act of the ego, which reacts harshly against anythings which offends it, while love is an act of the person, opening up towards all equally, even those who from the standpoint of the ego should be hated.

  27. Mark Avatar

    Thank you Father!

  28. Kirk Broyles Avatar

    Father. Your words could not have come to me at a better time. I am struggling, and this was like medicine for my spirit.

  29. fatherstephen Avatar

    May God bless! I read your blog article on your visit to St. Seraphim, a parish that is very dear to my heart. I encourage you to go to coffee hour – visit and meet people! It’s a very warm community – diverse and wonderful. I will pray for you and your family!

  30. Gregory Avatar

    Fr Bless!

    Thank you again for another thoughtful posting. However, as I’ve read in some of the other comments, I think you may be equivocating when speaking on the metaphysical nature of Personhood and I think we would go a long way towards developing a better intellectual understanding of persons and personhood(but not empirical understanding, for this can only be given in and through prayer) by drawing some further distinctions.

    To say that personhood or our person is a relation is necessary but not sufficient. Our personhood is necessarily a relation insofar as our likeness to the image of God reflects the Person of Jesus Christ (to greater and lesser degrees) and a likeness is a similarity between one object and another. Without this likeness we would be as other creatures, good and beautiful, but not very good and the crown of creation. However, it is not sufficient to say that our personhood is simply a relation, since we as human beings are not just images reflecting a greater archetype, though we do (or should) reflect the glory of God – for we are not Platonists, but Christians – but individual actors with free will, as you have spoken of in your posts. Reflections, relations, do not have wills, they are not agents. As such, there must be something metaphysically primary about human beings that, while being shaped in the image and likeness of God, exists apart from God as a creation. For this reason, I believe persons are created as primary agents possessing free will but one’s personhood is the relation of which you speak, which is the extent to which a person has been developed and exists inside of his or her proper community; for Christians, this community is the body of Christ. We might also call this interaction between one’s community an activity, or in other words, energia, expressed in the activity of love. So, sematically, the definition of person makes no sense outside of the relation of which you have spoke. But metaphysically, the real relation of which you have spoke makes no sense unless it exists between two genuinely metaphysically separate beings, or two persons, that share some property; i.e. the Image of God. Although this explanation may appear to be circular, it only demonstrates another instance in which our metaphysical commitments outstrip the ability of our language to describe reality.

    I only go out of my way to draw this distinction because I believe it is necessary for preserving the freedom of which you spoke. We are only “condemned to be free,” as Heidegger or Kirillov would have us believe, if there was no Resurrection, no promise to complete healing and eternal life. In such a world, freedom is a condemnation ennui, boredom, and banality, from which the only true release, true freedom, is death. Moreover, in this world all actions of an agent are reduced to nothing, for no action of a man in such a world can remove the reality of death. However, freedom in Christ, as you have said, is a freedom from anxiety, chief of which is freedom from the fear of death. In the world of the Resurrection, a man did overcome death and agents do have a genuine option to choose life. All men are created in the image of God, they are persons by virtue of possessing this image, and may consciously choose to end the alienation they feel by wishing to become joined with Christ in Holy Communion, more fully realizing their personhood as their likeness to Christ, their relation to Christ, becomes ever clearer.

    Thanks for your time in reading!

  31. Dino Avatar

    Robert & Todd,
    Elder Sophrony’s words on the Hypostatic/Personal principle combined with Met John Zizioulas (who AFAIK was his spiritual child for a period) are very helpful with your questions.
    The Persona-Hypostasis in Divine Being is seen as an ultimately liberating principle. It is the hypostasis [person] that “assumes infinity into itself” despite creaturehood. When man’s spirit enters into the world of Divine eternity he

    “is struck by the majesty of the vision opening before him. At the same time the universe undergoes a certain alteration in its destinies: ‘A man is born into the world’ (John 16:21) – an event that communicates to all creation a new unfading value. Man as hypostatic spirit belongs to eternal ontology. Those who are saved in Christ – the saints – receive Divine eternity as their imprescriptible possession though they immutably remain created beings.”

    When the Elder Sophrony quotes: ‘A man is born into the world’, he obviously means a Cosmic Person – as in a “repetition of the Person par excellence” (Christ).
    So, one very significant aspect in that mode of being is the sudden (and of a previously unimaginable vastness) liberation from all necessity, a necessity that he had become far more aware of, than those whose spiritual sense atrophies due to a life of unceasing internal and external distraction.
    This freedom (which is a complete offering of my self to Him who offers me{!} all of His Self) encompasses liberation from the limitations of of an existence hitherto subjected to countless shackles (way more than just the ‘sinful’ shackles). We have a very succinct word for it in Greek: εταιροκρατία, implying a subjugation to all else (in the bad sense)

  32. Dino Avatar

    St Nilus the Ascetic is usually depicted holding a very telling saying of his, (which well describes this polarity between: Individual & Person, Temporal & Eternal, Separated as a negative & separated as a positive, Attached as a positive & attached as a negative, enslaved by selfish ‘loves’ & liberated from selfish loves by true Love):

    “a monk is one detached from all, yet joined to all”

  33. fatherstephen Avatar

    Dino, and Gregory,
    I am utterly indebted to the foundational writings of the Elder Sophrony and Met. John Zizioulas on the subject of Personhood. Neither of them departs from the Tradition, but both press the Tradition to a degree of fullness not always expressed before. There has been a lot of follow-up on Zizioulas’ work, corrections, additions, etc. that are also important (Papanikolaou for example).

    The Elder Sophrony stands alone, somewhat, in that he writes, not as an academic, but as an ascetic, abbot of a monastery, spiritual formed on Mt. Athos as a disciple of St. Silouan. He is generally expected to be canonized by Constantinople. His work is not built on intellectual foundations, but on the foundation of “empirical” experience. He wrote what he knew.

    I can only color within the lines that such luminaries have drawn. My task, I think, is both to bring out and explain such treasures of our Tradition, and, as much as I can, make them accessible to others. Good theology is essential for a good spiritual life – if we are consumers of ideas and such. The “peasant” is often ahead of the rest of us, because he/she lives within the confines of the liturgical and cultural Tradition. But most of us do not live in the spiritual shelters of Orthodox peasantry. We are bombarded with theological/philosophical/cultural ideas that must be nurtured, challenged, de-bunked, fleshed-out, whatever is necessary.

    Gregory, I don’t think I would have any disagreement with you – but the conversation probably requires more than what I’ve written. To go “deeper” requires both Sophrony and Zizioulas.

  34. Fr Aidan Kimel Avatar

    What a pleasure to read this article. It reminded me of that day, well over 20 years ago, when I first read Met John Zizioiulas, on your recommendation. I re-read his essay “Personhood and Being” in *Being as Communion* only just yesterday. Given your own ascetical and personal struggles, I think you are one of his best interpreters in American Orthodoxy. I am unable to think or speak in the way that you do. But I do know the sufferings of a necessary existence.

  35. fatherstephen Avatar

    Fr. Aidan,
    But we share a hope of an unnecessary existence! When what is born in love, exists in love, and is sustained by love. That, as time is overcome, we know in love, in a Personhood that shatters the tragedy of necessity and grants us the freedom of unfettered joy in the reunion of love. May God make it so!

  36. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick

    Fr Aidan, Fr Stephen, a synaxis!
    May God make it so!

  37. George Engelhard Avatar
    George Engelhard

    The idea of living in the simplicity of Orthodox pesantry reminds me of a story:
    In the early 1990’s the Antiochian Archdiocese had grown so much that the eastern diocese was split into the northeastern and southeastern dioceses. Dennis Murphy and I were delegates from our parish to the first meeting of the southeast diocese. During this meeting we discusses and approved a new constitution and bylaws one article, one bylaw at a time. During a break I said to Dennis,”This is so boring.” To this Dennis responded, ” This is why Jesus picked fishermen for disciples and not lawyer.” I asked “What do you think would have happened if He had picked lawyer.” He said” The church would still be in Jerusalem.”

  38. Dino Avatar

    We are bombarded with theological/philosophical/cultural ideas that must be nurtured, challenged, de-bunked, fleshed-out, whatever is necessary.

    In all honesty, I have not come across a more helpful “de-bunker” than this:

  39. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    George, He did pick a lawyer, a Pharisee, St. Paul. Not exactly what you had in mind, I know, but even those whose job it is to search every last jot and tittle can be overwhelmed and changed by tje Holy Spirit.

  40. George Engelhard Avatar
    George Engelhard

    In a sense you are right, but St. Paul had every bit of his legalism blasted away on the rode to Damascus. My point was that it is easier for someone to find God with a simple mind and a simple faith than it is for someone with a mind like the pharasees. I do the formal prayers of the Church but feel much closer to God with a few Lord have mercy or have mercy on us and then silence. There is a man in our parish who has Down’s syndrome and appears to be raither low functioning. He continually crosses himself during the liturgy and will quit often make a prostration. I think he is much more focused in his worship than I have ever been.

  41. TLO Avatar

    George – Doesn’t all this trend toward the idea that the less intelligent you are the easier it is to have faith? At the very minimum, doesn’t it mean that you have to abdicate a certain amount of rationality in order to believe?

    I don’t know how true that is. The Orthodox are uber-genius when it comes to finding rational arguments within the framework of the faith. I don’t know that any of their arguments mean much to those outside the faith but when the premise has been accepted there seems to be no end to the postulations that are presented.

    Would you see this chopping up of the faith into bite-sized pieces a negative? In your estimation, is the best faith that which upon hearing the message simply says “OK” and believes it without delving deeper or asking questions?

    It seems to me that the term “Pharisee” has a connotation that simply describes how some humans operate and that this is somehow bad. But Paul never stopped being a Pharisee. It’s just that his perspective changed and he pursued every jot and tittle of a life in Christ instead.

  42. fatherstephen Avatar

    Simplicity and intelligence are not at odds. There are unintelligent people for whom everything is complicated. There are intelligent people for whom everything is simple. And vice versa. But simplicity is, in general, a virtue.

    Since the Orthodox in the US live in the midst of cultural protestantism, we necessarily have to talk about a lot of things that would never even need to be discussed in a Russian village.

    But it is still a virtue to be simple.

    Chesterton: There is more simplicity in the man who eats caviar on impulse than in the
    man who eats Grape-Nuts on principle.

  43. Dino Avatar

    I think Father’s other article:
    is very, very illuminating concerning your questions:

    How do you create a God? How do you create a being that has true freedom, true love and thus, true existence?
    This is obviously not an entirely rational question – but it is a serious question for Christian thought. For, as St. Gregory of Nyssa notes, the creation of man is more than the story in early Genesis. The creation stories of Genesis are only a prelude to the greater story fulfilled in Christ. In Christ, the mud has become light.
    Freedom and love are necessary to true existence – at least true existence as made known in Jesus Christ. For things do not have existence in themselves – everything that exists does so because it is brought into being and sustained in its being by the good God who created it. But to human beings a greater existence is gifted. In the Genesis account that gift is to exist “in the image and likeness of God.”
    To exist as God exists – requires freedom. For if our existence is a requirement (if we must exist), then we are not free. We are simply here by someone else’s will and not our own. This is not the image and likeness of God. To exist in the image and likeness of God, we must be given the power to freely exist (or not exist).
    Not only must we be able to exist freely – but true existence (such as God Himself has) – is not a purely self-referential matter. God exists as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The God Who freely exists, does so in love. The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father, and so on. Met. John Zizioulas, following the thought of St. Basil the Great, notes that God “constitutes” His existence in the free act of love that is the very meaning of personhood.
    To exist in the image and likeness of God, is to exist as person. We do this in a free act of love in which we give ourselves to the other, even as we accept the existence of the other.

  44. George Engelhard Avatar
    George Engelhard

    I wasn’t talking about the down’s syndrome man’s intellegence. I was referring to his simplicity. Simplicity was also what I was referring to in my own prayer life-the simpler the closer God semms to be.
    Paul did not gain a new perspective on life. He gained a new life, a new being. I have been crucified with Christ…

  45. […] Of life and freedoms. […]

  46. Dino Avatar

    It is a pity that so many intellectual atheists of an artistic and creative inclination are attracted to and romanticise, (therefore making it enticing to others), the negative “freedom”, (the suicidal and demonic kind)
    Kirillov seems to take one part of the double-edged sword that is man’s freedom of choice and, unable to become truly free, (through that Love that hypostasizes the complete freedom of self-affirmation of one’s existence -as Person – using the theological term ‘person’ here), Kirillov chooses the “freedom” of negation.
    Funnily enough, it is an allure that a simple mind does not fall for as easily, as if there is less discernment in a secularly enriched mind…

  47. Robert Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, I would like to say that I am not necessarily disagreeing with you, but foremost I am critically asking (what to me are the) tough questions in order to get a better understanding of the topic.

    You wrote:
    “I don’t disparage the biological and this is in no way a diminishment of the Incarnation. But ‘that which is mortal must be swallowed up by immortality.’ The biological is not sufficient. It’s necessity draws it back into dust. Our eternal relation with Christ raises up even that which would fall back into dust and it becomes a partaker in the uncreated life of God.”

    In response I feel it necessary to point out that as the “biological is not sufficient”, neither is the “spiritual sufficient.” We humans need both. There would be no martyrs without the flesh. There would be no resurrection without the flesh.

    Although I agree with your statement that, “our personal existence is our existence in freedom and love”, I wonder if this is complete. For is it not equally true, as creatures of flesh and bone, that our personal existence is our existence in the necessities of biological life? Or are we to conclude that we are not fully/truly personal until our biological returns to dust? Or perhaps, put another way, is freedom and love somehow opposed or anti-thetical to the biological?

  48. Dino Avatar

    it is the resurrected, ascended Christ that we is also the type of our true existence, so, yes, the ticket to the fulness of that life is in fact death. In the words of Saint Ignatius of Antioch on the way to his martyrdom, we must die in order to be born into that life…

  49. Robert Avatar

    Agreed Dino. But it is nonsense to speak of death without the biological, which is my point.

  50. fatherstephen Avatar

    Ah. I see. Perhaps it would help if I wasn’t stating this in such a way that it would seem that one replaces the other. Indeed the biological is not abolished – it is changed – to use St. Paul’s language. In the resurrection the body does not disappear, but the body is now constituted by a Divine Biology (I would prefer to say it is now constituted in a Personal manner, rather than a natural manner).

    The necessities of our biological life certain are there, and yet the Church’s ascesis point us towards an order in which something takes precedence. So we fast (our bellies are not in charge). We refrain from sex (our libido is not in charge). We live in a manner that is governed by the demands of the gospel rather than by arguments of necessity. Therefore we can love our enemies, though others will argue that if we love our enemies, our enemies will triumph.

    But it must rightly be said that this is not a triumph over the biological, but its participation in salvation (“to wit, the redemption of the body” Ro. 8:23).

    Is that helpful and more accurate?

  51. Kirk Broyles Avatar

    Father thank you for your for our encouragement. We did go to the coffee hour. We enjoyed the fellowship. One of the deacons there came up to us, and introduced us to some of the members.

  52. Dino Avatar

    there are many Orthodox saints that have experienced that (Divine) biology for a time during their earthly life. A marked example is St Symeon the New Theologian’s ‘taste’ of the resurrected body in one of his many experiences of the Uncreated Light of God. Its effect on his biology even left an “aftertaste”, as he needn’t sleep or eat for days afterwards…

    The point is that, although the ‘biology’ does indeed remain, it is glorified, it is also changed; that change cannot be made permanent until after death though.
    However, we cannot speculate, on those things with any real authenticity without having -at the very least- a similar experience.

  53. Dino Avatar

    Or are we to conclude that we are not fully/truly personal until our biological returns to dust? Or perhaps, put another way, is freedom and love somehow opposed or anti-thetical to the biological?

    The biological individuality we now experience, {ie: I might love my child, but I am in a different space and in a different time (especially if my child survives me)}, is very different to the Oneness of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity we proclaim and Christ wishes we share in, during His priestly prayer.
    The resurrected Christ, having taken up our ‘biology’ has, somehow transformed and kept it in a state that it does not suffer from this temporal-spatial necessity. For good.
    So, that fulness -although it can be experienced NOW (as in the Transfiguration)- is certainly made permanent after the mystery of death. And freedom and love -although clearly experienced here and now- are also made permanent, safe from all mutability, after death.
    “willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8)

  54. […] An Unneccesary Existence – Fr. Freeman, Glory to God For All Things (OX) […]

  55. todd Avatar

    Dino- Thank you for your efforts to help me. I still think some of the terminology, like “necessary/ unnecessary” and “story of me” is confusing. Oh well. I have a neurological disorder, and I think it is making me stupider the older I get.

  56. Dino Avatar

    I also find that in English, as we use the same terms in everyday life in different contexts and with different meanings, there can be slightly more ambiguity involved. Being Greek, I love the fact that we have very precise terminology on theological/philosophical issues, however, a great deal of that has also been left unused in modern speech and can sound archaic to a great deal of Greek people too.

  57. Robert Avatar

    Fr Stephen, yes I think that is for me a helpful clarification. Thank you.

  58. guy Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    i wasn’t sure where else to share this, but i was reading Tolstoy’s Confession the other day and came across this quote:

    “My defection from faith took place in the same manner
    as it has taken place and still takes place id people of
    our cultivated class. In the majority of cases it happens
    like this, I think : people live as everybody else lives,
    and everybody else lives on the basis of principles that
    not only have nothing in common with the religious teaching,
    but generally run counter to it ; the religious teaching
    does not enter into life, and in one’s relation with other
    people one never has occasion to come across it, and in
    one’s own life one never has occasion to refer to it ; this
    religious teaching is professed somewhere there, far away
    from life and independently of it. If you come in contact
    with it, it is with its external phenomenon, which
    is not connected with life.”

    Tolstoy seems to be describing something akin to your two-story universe analogy. (But, of course, he’s describing a Russian Orthodox culture.) Does this quote reflect what you mean? (He’s still not very clear about the nature of the disconnection though.)


  59. Dino Avatar

    I think an important, and rarely heard clarification, especially on Met John Zizioulas, is that it is not just that true being is communion as if there is a person/nature bifurcation, but, that true freedom, freedom in the mode of God’s freedom is only ever actualised as communion, as relationship, as love, all other forms of “freedom” are not.
    It is not so much that nature is simply connected to necessity (besides God has created it good too) and person to freedom -as if we need to ‘escape’ nature, no, we need no freedom from (nature) but freedom to (love)…

  60. Dino Avatar

    In other words, the personal or hypostatic view of nature, human nature, is not that of the individualist existentialist that realizes he must somehow escape its necessity… No. (This can soon lead to a “spirit needs to escape rather than transform matter” heresy in fact.)
    It is a view that even our nature is “consubstantial”. Our nature is one.
    This leads us straight to Christ’s real question in the Gospel of the Last Judgement (“I was hungry and you fed me not”) which is:
    why are you presenting yourself as a single individual? where are all the others?
    Man is only human as he was created to be when he is a pan-human, a cosmic person, one who takes upon him (as the Man par excellence does) all of the rest of creation.

  61. George Engelhard Avatar
    George Engelhard

    HOLY TRINITY, You sit on your throne in the HOLY OF HOLIES, my heart. Whatdoes tha mean to humanity, to every human being, to every person I encounter today.

  62. fatherstephen Avatar

    Yes, I think he is indeed describing one aspect of the two-storey universe. He specifically mentions the “cultivated class,” in his description. 19th century Russia’s “cultivated class” was notoriously secularized, having fallen in love with all things Western (European). There were movements, such as the Slavophile Movement, that sought to return to a more integrated world. The Revolution was made possible and carried out by the “cultivated class.” It was not a popular uprising from the peasants. It was an intelligentsia-led putsch in the name of the peasants (whom they gladly butchered as easily as any). The peasantry were far closer to being an Orthodox culture. Tolstoy himself, in his own way, sought to unite himself with that peasantry. His was something of a sad case – they were very hard times – not unlike our own.

  63. guy Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    Thank you for the reply. i think, now, if i could only understand more specifically the “disconnect” Tolstoy is mentioning–precisely how and in what ways was there a disconnect between every day life and religion–then i think i could understand the two-story/one-story tension better.


  64. fatherstephen Avatar

    One way to think of the disconnect is to think of what I call “Christian atheism.” It’s about going through your daily life as if there is no God, or what would amount to the same thing. This is the “secular” life, the “first-storey” that most people live in. They think to themselves, “Yes, well, perhaps there is a God,” but at the same time, it’s just a thought, something that has nothing to do with the loaf of bread they need to buy at the grocery, or nothing to do with much of anything. It’s a “religious” question, which is interesting if you happen to be thinking about religion, but generally irrelevant.

    When such people deal with God (in their “religious” moments) it’s with a disconnected, second-storey God.

    Life in a One-Storey universe, is a life lived in a manner in which we consciously and intentionally understand that God is everywhere present and filling all things and that in every moment, every action, He is present and is more than relevant. He is the One thing that matters.

  65. Robert Avatar

    Admittedly faith is difficult and presents a certain ‘disconnect’ by definition. We can’t see God, but we do see the things around us. I don’t think we do ourselves any favors by minimizing this difficulty, or pretend it isn’t there.

  66. guy Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    i remember you mention Christian atheism in your book. This is one of the concepts that i just didn’t understand.

    1. Suppose i do think about God when i buy a loaf of bread. Couldn’t i still view the world in a two-story way, i just happen to have more “religious” moments than other two-story folks? If so, then what is the qualitative difference between the one-story and two-story view? Or is there only a quantitative difference?

    2. Based on #1, is the moral of the story anything more than, “you really should be more mindful of God in your everyday life?” Surely, you’re trying to say more than this. This is precisely what i heard in every Protestant sermon and prayer i ever listened to or preached. Honestly, i’m not trying to belittle the point; i’m just saying, i thought you were trying to make a distinctly Orthodox point about life. i don’t see how this amounts to a distinctly sacramental view of the world.

    3. Is the point something more like this?: “There are spheres of life which people see as being amenable to God. For some people, only overtly religious spheres are amenable to God’s authority. But there are other spheres of life that are mundane or not overtly religious, and these are not amenable to God’s authority.” If so, i don’t know if i’ve ever met any Protestant who thought this either. Even a commandment about lying or anger or greed would entail amenability of the non-overtly-religious spheres of life to the authority of God, wouldn’t it?

    4. The mindfulness of God i am to have when i buy the loaf of bread–what exactly is the content of those mental states? Is it just that i should give thanks when i buy the bread and most people don’t? Is it that i should consider how Christian values affect my purchasing choices (perhaps something like organic vs. non-organic, or mom-and-pop produced vs. big corporations with unethical business practices, etc.)? If it’s something like this, then the difference between “one-story” and “two-story” views really amount to something like “people who are thankful/obedient to God on more occasions” vs. “people who are thankful/obedient to God on fewer occasions”, right? And then it seems we’re back to a mere quantitative difference rather than qualitative difference. And more importantly, i don’t see how it’s a point about worldview.

    Father, i know that the internet is a difficult forum in which to be properly understood–i mean no spirit of disrespect or quarrelsome-ness. i really am just trying to make sense of the point. i appreciate whatever help you can offer.


  67. fatherstephen Avatar

    Guy, good questions.

    If indeed the point was merely to think more about God more of the time, it would be nothing at all. Indeed it would just be more “morality” and just widened Protestantism.

    The point comes more to the nature of things and what it means to say that the world is sacramental/mystery, etc.

    To say that the world is sacrament is to say something about the very nature of creation itself. The reality is not “in my head” (that’s precisely where the 2nd storey is). The reality is in everything around us (and in us as well). I am saying that secular/modern Christian man does not understand the true nature of creation and its relationship with God and therefore mistreats it and does not know how to have a proper relationship with everything around him (this is not about environmentalism or green morality).

    People can understand, perhaps, what it means to say that the bread and wine of the eucharist truly become the Body and Blood of Christ. They understand that it is to be treated in a manner that is different than bread on the table, etc. They hopefully understand that it is a means of communion with God.

    To say that everything is a sacrament, is also to say that even the bread on the table, though not the Body of Christ, nevertheless is a means of communion (true communion and knowledge and participation) with God. This is true of the air, the trees, etc. Everything.

    And more than this, the world in which we live is also the place, and even the means, by which and in which we now, in this present life, may taste Paradise and participate in it. Even so, it is frequently a place we experience Hades as well. That this seems odd to people is simply a way of saying that they do not understand what it is to see and know the world as sacrament, and have largely removed God to their thoughts, and only occasionally in them at that.

    The Orthodox Way of Life, which is the Traditional Christian life, teaches us about the true sacramentality of all things and how to live in them and through them live in communion with God. This comes in the slow, patient living of the commandments, prayer and fasting, the life of the Church, as taught by the Fathers. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Hope that’s helpful.

  68. Dino Avatar

    I sometimes think that, (as the ultimate understanding of the sacramentality of all creation can only ever be fully imparted through a genuine visitation of God’s Grace -and the subsequent memory of it must then be voluntarily cultivated by the person), the “slow, patient living of the commandments, prayer and fasting, the life of the Church…” are the ways that lead to the ‘acquisition’ of that Grace…
    They are also the way to cultivate and ‘enhance’ the memory of it (a form of hidden/veiled Grace itself). For example: the hunger, while fasting and enjoying it fervently, is a very strong reminder of God’s presence and my consecration to Him at that can colour every single second…

  69. fatherstephen Avatar

    Dino, yes, indeed!

  70. guy Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    Thank you for your reply. Some follow up questions:

    1. Suppose Smith and Jones are having buttered bread with their dinners. Smith has a one-story view of the universe, and Jones has a two-story view of the universe. Precisely what is the difference between Smith’s experience of eating the buttered bread and Jones’ experience of eating the buttered bread? (Couldn’t both men have prayed a prayer of thanks before consuming it? Couldn’t both men believe that God is responsible for the provision of any bread whatsoever? If so, then these are obviously not the differences between their views, right?)

    2. If a one-story world is about the nature of things and *not* about what is in our head, then why is the way i *view* the consumption of bread (something in my head, right?) at issue? If bread is, in the nature of the case, a means by which to commune with God, will it not be thus regardless of what is in my head?

    3. If we’re not talking about giving thanks more often or something like that, then i don’t think i understand precisely how consumption of normal bread is a means of communing with God. How is it so?

    Thank you, Father, for you patience with my questions.


  71. Dino Avatar

    The eating of bread, (or the brushing of teeth, or anything else) can be done with the fervent awareness (in our head too BTW, of course! that is why it is a ‘view’ of the universe) that “in him we live, and move, and have our being”(Acts 2:25); and “seeing” the Lord always before my face” (Acts 17:28) only in what could be termed a view of a one-storey-universe.
    I would think that a ‘frequency” of “remembering” the living Lord as a living presence (not just thinking around and about Him) that becomes unceasing (when “more often” becomes virtually “permanently”) would naturally turn any 2-storey into a 1-storey universe…

  72. fatherstephen Avatar

    Guy, patiently responding… 🙂
    It’s partly difficult to describe because we are so used to “only” perceiving with the head. I am saying that there is a relationship that is more than in the head that I am describing with the language of “one-storey” universe. The example to which I would point is the resurrected Christ. There we most profoundly and completely see displayed what the “One-storey” universe looks like. It is matter transfigured. It is matter that is clearly only made known in a personal (“hypostatic”) manner, and not in the manner that we take for granted (“objective”).

    The reality that is the Resurrection is what the Kingdom of God looks like, is what the One-Storey Universe looks like (One-Storey Universe and Kingdom of God are quite the same thing).

    So how does eating bread and butter in the Kingdom of God differ from eating bread and butter and thinking about the Kingdom of God?

    There’s not space to begin to describe it here. But the relationship (both in the head and in the body) are completely different.

    First, what is happening “in the head” is different. One man thinks about the bread and butter, thinks about God, gives thanks and eats. All of the thinking is in his head – it’s just ideas. The other man (Smith) perceives (which is not the same thing as think) the truth of the bread and butter, what it is, all of its relations, knows its relation with the Divine Energies of God (to use Orthodox language), eats it (it must not be a Wednesday or Friday since he’s eating butter), and is united to God, not because he is thinking about God but because every action he takes, every breath he takes, etc., unite him with God.

    I could press this much further – take it into the realm of the inner experience of the great saints of the Church (such as the holy neptic Fathers) but then things would begin to sound so fantastical that they would be of little help.

    A crucial distinction being made here is the difference between thinking about something and perceiving the truth of something. The first is interesting, and may or not even be true. It’s reality is only the reality in the head. The other is a communion between ourselves and something else, a true perceiving and knowing and participation, not thinking about. Modern man doesn’t believe there is such a thing as communion, perception, knowing as participation. He thinks that there is only objects, of which he is one that thinks. So there is objects and thought about objects. God is just an Almighty object. The Fathers of the Church believe and teach about a kind of relationship that is communion, perception, knowing, participation that is real, not notional. It is life in the Kingdom of God and is possible only by grace.

    That’s a start.

  73. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Wonderful discussion here. Agreeing with you completely, Fr. Stephen.

    I think that we humans attach much too much important to our thinking – as though the manner in which our brains make sense of things is the ultimate in knowing what is.

    Smith and Jones are both hungry. Jones thinks about bread, reads books about it and may even join a committee at church to study bread. Smith eats the bread and it becomes part of him (and he becomes part of it).

  74. guy Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    Thank you for this reply–that really was very helpful.

    1. So i take it that “perceiving the truth” is a qualitatively different epistemic state from “thinking about the truth.” (Or maybe you don’t count it as an epistemic state at all? Or perhaps not a *mere* epistemic state?) When Smith “perceives the truth” of the consumption of the buttered bread, is he consciously aware of this perception? Or is this something he can do all the while unaware that he is doing it?

    2. If a one-story universe and perceiving the truth are not about thinking about God, then how does is Christian atheism antithetical or in tension with the one-story universe? i understood Christian atheism to be merely the lack of mindfulness of God in mundane areas of life. Is this not what you meant by Christian atheism?

    Father, i appreciate this; i already feel very close to an “a-ha” sort of moment (though not there quite yet).


  75. George Engelhard Avatar
    George Engelhard

    amor ergo sum

  76. fatherstephen Avatar

    1. It certainly could be called an “epistemic state,” so long as that is not just confined to “mental state.” It is conscious inasmuch as Smith is conscious, but it would be accurate to say that he is conscious of the truth of things, he is aware of things as they truly are, and the awareness itself is changed as part of the truth of how things are. Thus it is a participation in the truth of things such that they are perceived and understood differently, and the perceiver is also different as well – truly and really and not simply as a sort of mind game.

    2. Secularism, or 2-storey Christianity is inherently a sort of “Christian atheism,” in that it thinks of the world and lives in such a way that, though “believing” in God, nothing would be particularly different if they didn’t believe in God. For example, most of the atheists whom I know a very “moral” people – they accept and believe in a standard of conduct, however they describe it and justify it, and try to live according to that standard, and would generally be willing to see that standard more generally accepted. But there is no need for a God for such a thing. Many Christians have similar moral beliefs, and may attribute their moral beliefs to God’s commands, but, in fact, so long as the commands were there, God’s existence is not particularly necessary to their “moral” life.

    Typical Protestantism does not need much more than a theoretical God. He will reward, punish, forgive, etc., based on something like “faith” (“intellectual assent to certain propositions,” as in “Christ died for my sins”). All of that is “religious theory.” But it really doesn’t make much difference in the day-to-day life of such people. There is no sacramental/mystical connection to God. If God were to die, the universe would go on (to be as “mean” as I can be in describing it).

    A One-Storey Universe (the Kingdom of God) is lived in the reality of life with God as “union,” participation, communion, etc. God is not removed from us – He actually is our life! I cannot and do not live apart from Him. Am I conscious of Him? As I am of my own self! Everything is relation. It is me and the world, but me-and-the-world. The world does not have an existence that is not relation. God is Father-Son-Spirit, three Persons, but Person is inherently relational.

    It is not Pantheism that I’m suggesting, though Pantheism would be an improvement over the “Christian Atheism.” For our Christian Atheism not only has an effective disbelief in God, it has an effective disbelief in the world itself. It is rather solipsistic.

    All of this is reflected in Colossians 2:

    Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

    The “mind” Paul mentions is the “nous” which is not at all the same thing as just “thinking about.”

    Also in 1 John 3

    the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

  77. Dino Avatar

    Yes, “perceiving the truth” is,indeed, a qualitatively different epistemic state from “thinking about the truth.” I think you are correct and closing in on understanding it (with the head) here Guy. I too, as most of us do to one degree or another, “run” with my head before I can “walk” with my actual experience of God’s Grace in the heart.
    However, when -through the Holy Spirit- we receive the verification and confirmation of what was only dry ‘head knowledge’ our perception of all creation is inevitably transformed beyond all previous concepts. Words, words, words…. they have their use up to that point, but their enormous paucity becomes apparent after that… We might have been like a Temple with a pulpit and no sanctuary up to that point (all words), but, after that we become the sanctuary ourselves, that speaks louder than any pulpit. However, this means that we then also interpret everything through an kind of constant “eschatological” and Christ-centred perspective which is not just in our thoughts, as before, but is the very “water we swim in”, our feet walk the Earth, yet, we do so like the resurrected Lord, as if we are Him, may the Lord grant us such Grace!

  78. guy Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    i made a comment that doesn’t look like it posted. Did it go to spam?

  79. guy Avatar

    i’ll try it one more time:
    Father Stephen,

    These still seem like very hard things to understand. i’ve read over your comments a few times each now. i am trying my best.

    Part of my confusion at first was whether the 1-story/2-story language was a point about metaphysics (the way the world is) or a point about epistemology (the way we know). All my questions thus far have more or less assumed that the point is one about epistemology. But you keep making comments that seem to suggest its a point about metaphysics. Now i think you must be talking about both.

    1. (Metaphysics) i take your interconnected-ness-related comments to be a denial of an individualist metaphysic that would underlie something like a Hobbesian view of liberalism (in the classical sense). Not only do humans *not* have self-contained, stand-alone identities (the “self” in Western conception), but apparently, the interconnected-ness of our identities is not exclusive to connections with other humans, but (as it sounds from what you’re saying) also consists in connections with all of creation (and God/Christ most especially), or at least potentially with bread. i figure this must be part of your point, or else there wouldn’t be any need for your comment about Pantheism (not that i can see).

    2. (Epistemology) i take it that this metaphysical claim (the staunchest versions of which i have only encountered in ancient Asian philosophy and milder versions in modern communitarian literature) is meant, then, to entail something very important about epistemology. Because we are more like onions (to borrow from Asian philosophy) than atoms, this effects the way we know. If we were atoms, we’d be discreet bits cleanly separable from other discreet bits, and we could use our perceptual faculties to cash out information about other discreet bits in the world in solely propositional terms. (i like to describe this as the view that human beings are “computers made of meat.”)

    The onion metaphor is meant to suggest that what we are is a layered mess of relations–we’re siblings/sons/fathers/friends/citizens/etc. And, in Asian philosophy anyway, there’s no static “core” identity that is separable from all those layers. You’d just peel away layers (relations) until there was nothing at all. (Perhaps spider webs is a better metaphor than onions.)

    What i take you to be saying now is something like this: because of what we are metaphysically–a collection of interconnected relations–whatever those connections are made of (whether materially or immaterially), they afford us certain epistemic capacities/faculties that we wouldn’t otherwise have if we were mere discreet atoms. So i can know people and know things in a way that is different from mere data collection and analysis (something other than 3rd-person-type knowledge).

    i had a professor one time suggest this in a philosophy or religion class:

    “Suppose that you sat down to write out everything you know about your spouse. Suppose you write every propositional statement you could think of that contains all the information you know about him/her (and suppose your list is exhaustive–you didn’t forget a bunch of stuff). Then suppose we were able to take all of those propositions and somehow feed them into a super computer. Would it follow that the computer knows your wife as you do?”

    The intuition pump is meant to lead you to say no. And if your intuitions say “no,” then the point is that there is more to knowing your spouse than the mere assent to all the propositional information you have about him/her. What could that “more” be? Well, that’s very hard to say (this is a fairly unexplored idea in contemporary epistemology). But perhaps some of the “more” is located in the interactions themselves which may have generated some of your propositional knowledge.

    Am i getting closer?

    i definitely have more questions, but i’ve run out of time for now. But i do appreciate the help.

  80. fatherstephen Avatar

    This is indeed closer. The “propositional” stuff we know, is, in most cases, not stuff that will matter when all is said and done. Thus St. Paul will say things like, “You are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God,” and that it isn’t yet manifest who/what we shall be, but that we will be like Christ. Back in the article I wrote, “The True Self and the Story of Me,” I pushed on this some – it could be pushed much further.

    We do not go to the step that some Asian thought goes in which there is no core – but the sore that is considered “Person” in Orthodox thought, is inherently relational. Thus “Father” is not a name for the first Person of the Trinity, it is not simply what we call Him, He is “Father.” And this reveals that there is not God that is not also Father of the Son, etc. This is among the most fundamental teachings of the Orthodox faith. But if it is true of God, it is certainly true of us as persons as well.

    The connection between all of this is that I am saying that the way of being and the way of knowing are indeed connected, even one and the same. Christians live like a two-storey world and think in such terms, when in fact it is not true. We live in “delusion” the fathers would say. Coming to know Christ rightly, also means coming to know everything rightly. Read this passage from St. John’s first epistle (chapter 4). It only makes sense when being and knowing are the same thing:

    Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
    12No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. 13By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. 15Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
    17Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 19We love Him because He first loved us.
    20If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.

  81. guy Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    Yes–i feel like i’m getting somewhere now! Thank you. i don’t have time now to ask my follow up questions, but one quick one did occur to me while reading your comment. Is part of the distinction between one-story and two-story universes a point about the transcendence of God vs. the immanence of God? Perhaps the two-story view has a purely transcendent God? The one-story view recognizes the radical immanence of God (hence, you’re comment about pantheism). Is that part of what’s going on here? Or am i getting off track?


  82. Dino Avatar

    like the inherent harmony of the universe to some degree, so too -yet far more so– with the one-storey perception of the world (since it is intrinsically connected to our experience of the transcendent One – yet also most immanent through His uncreated Grace/Energies), it is more perceived rather than understood, discovered rather than comprehended, “enjoyed” rather than interpreted…

  83. Dino Avatar

    Even though in Orthodoxy we claim that Love rather than knowledge takes first position – (since, unlike the Western: “I can only love you after I have come to know you”, we prefer: “I can only ever know you once I have loved you” – person vs. object); This conversation does make me realize the utter genius of Socrates’ claim that the only thing he truly knew was that he did not really know anything at all. There are indeed truths that are revealed to us through knowledge, but there are also those truths that are revealed to us through the acceptance of our ignorance.

  84. George Engelhard Avatar
    George Engelhard

    The noise, the chatter of the mind, including logical, rational thought, must be silent to hear God.

  85. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    And yet, once God is heard, He clarifies the mind and allows us to enter into “bloodless and rational worship.”

  86. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    HGuy, I would also say that the one storey is the fruit of God’s Incarnation. He is fully God and fully man, despite the ontological gap that remains between the Creator and the created.

    The two storey approach denies that and the ontological/epistemological gap is treated as unbridgeable and eventually degrades into a denial of anything but the material.

    The two natures of Jesus Christ are united in one. Thus we are one with Him as He is one with His Father. The love of the Father is both cause and the revelation of the unity in distinctness.

  87. Robert Avatar

    This is starting to sound like a dangerous and unorthodox anti-intellectualism.

  88. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Robert there was is a big difference between questioning rationalism, a materialist ideology and embracing some sort of pietism.

    The Orthodox tradition is clearly about the wholeness of being human.

    However, the two storey approach is largely the result of western rationalism and the deification of the unaided capabilities of the human brain.

    As I said above our rational faculty can only be fully realized by quieting the consciousness of the world.

    Clearly the fathers have great intellects.

  89. guy Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    Did you read Dr. Larchet’s piece posted on Mystagogy about science?

    i’m wondering if the contrast here between “knowledge of mere appearances” and “true knowledge” is an analogue to two-story/one-story talk.


  90. guy Avatar

    i think my comment went to spam again

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