Thinking about the One God

ws_E=mc2_852x480There are many things Christians can learn from science – among them is how to think. In thought about the deeper matters of science (particle physics, mathematical theory, etc.), there are a number of accepted rules that are useful in theology as well. One of those is the requirement of “elegance” when constructing a plausible theory. It is understood within scientific and mathematical thought that what is true and accurate as explanation and theory should somehow be “elegant.” For example, there is a simple elegance in Einstein’s E=mc2. That something as universal as the relationship between matter and energy could be expressed in such a simple manner is indeed elegant. Doubtless there might be another manner to express this relationship, a more convoluted and complicated manner, but science would rule it out in favor of Einstein – elegance and simplicity are somehow more accurate as a description of reality. The continued search for a “unified field theory,” a theory that “explains everything,” is not a pipe-dream or figment of the scientific imagination. It is an instinct and understanding that reality is one, that it ultimately “makes sense,” and does so in a manner that can finally be understood and stated in an elegant manner.

There have been numerous theories throughout human history that gave an “account” of the world. Some of them were quite complex. I think of Ptolemy’s explanation of the movements of the planets, complete with “epicycles” injected into their overall movement to account for why planets sometimes seem to “move backwards.” Such movements, it turned out, were far more simply and elegantly explained once it was learned that the planets, like the earth, revolve around the sun. Their movements therefore appear different from those of the surrounding stars we see.

Christian theology, when done rightly and in a mature manner, has something of the same quality as good math and physics. Theology is, after all, speech or thought about the One God, and not about complexities and multiple theories. Christian theology is not, when rightly done, a collection of Trinitarian doctrine, Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, sacramental theology, moral theology, etc. Such compartmentalization of Christian doctrine is a holdover from medieval scholasticism, perhaps the lowest point in the history of Christian thought.

The Protestant Reformation, though seen by some as the beginning of the modern period, must also be seen as a development within Christian scholasticism. Both Luther and Calvin were products of the scholastic model and their theologies (and particularly those of their successors) reflect this historical reality. Thus there are within the Christian movements founded by the reformers, the fragmentation and compartmentalization of medieval thought. Though the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist have been fundamental realities of the Christian life since its beginning, many Christians can give no proper account for their significance. To say that they are “commandments” of Christ simply begs the question and leaves the sacraments as afterthoughts, Ptolemaic epicycles, glued to the surface of some scheme of justification, which is glued to Christology, which is glued to Trinity, all of them only lightly connected, even carrying within them mutual contradictions, held together only by some sense that they should all be there (perhaps because they are actually mentioned in the New Testament).

Such presentations of Christian thought lack elegance and simplicity. They present a confusing array of theories (complete with their own specialized jargon) but without unity or a proper sense of the unity of God and His relationship with His creation. It is little wonder that such fragmentation is often utterly powerless to answer the questions of the culture that surrounds it. A few isolated verses of Scripture are simply useless in the face of the “unified” theory of human sexuality and gender being offered by the modern world (to give but one example). A Christianity that cannot present a gospel that is, in fact, a truly complete world-view, is a neutered artifact, an antiquity that is both boring and sterile. It does not “preach.”

I embrace the traditional teaching of the Church on matters of gender and sexuality, but struggle to do so in a unified manner. Mere assertion of tradition is finally insufficient, a symptom of theology’s abandonment.

In the years that I have studied (and lived) Orthodox theology, among its most profound and enduring aspects is its inner unity. Orthodox theology is not a collection of thoughts – but rather a single thought which may been seen from various angles. In the centuries of the great councils, a common language of Trinity and Christology developed, such that we may speak of the Person of Christ (hypostasis) with regard to the Trinity, and the Person of Christ with regard to the Incarnation, using the same word, with the same word carrying the same meaning. Some refer to this as the “Neo-Chalcedonian” thought of the Cappadocian fathers (Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, etc.). It was the failure to embrace this completion of theological language that created the schism between the “Eastern” Orthodox and the “Oriental” Orthodox, the so-called “Monophysites.” The language of St. Cyril of Alexandria, championed by the Orientals, was correct in its place, but inadequate for the growing synthesis of expression that was giving a growing account of the fullness of the faith.

My experience has been that the whole of the Orthodox life, its theological expression, its understanding of moral activity, its sacraments and liturgy, are but one thing. I sometimes describe this one thing as union with God. It is certainly the only phrase I know that holds everything in its proper place and understanding. To stand within such a theological “structure,” is to be shielded from the fragmentation of the world and an undisciplined, scattered collection of doctrines. The One God is not readily perceived by a scattered mind, and is even more obscured if the theology of that scattered mind is itself a collection of discrete fragments.

It is in this context that I raise periodic objections to the penal substitution theory of the atonement. As epicycles go, it is a major gloss on the fabric of the Christian faith. When I read discussions of this theory I see a variety of fragmentations introduced. God’s holiness and its inability to endure sin; God’s justice and the necessity for equity; God’s mercy and love sometimes pictured as rivals of His holiness and justice. And all of these aspects of God stand divorced from the sacraments, Trinitarian thought, and other areas. Indeed penal substitution theory, at its worst, wreaks complete havoc on Trinitarian dogma. The Son is made subject to the Father’s wrath to such an extent (in some accounts) that He is utterly cut-off and separated from the Father. The Orthodox certainly confess that “One of the Trinity suffered in the flesh,” but in the same hymn declare, “Who without change didst become man and wast crucified, O Christ our God.” I was recently told by an Evangelical that the Incarnation represented a “change” in God (not to be confused, he said, with God’s immutability). It is just such compartmentalization that creates the confusion of much Protestant thought and occasionally absurd statements (similar sources have spoken to me about the beauty of hell and of the sinner’s condemnation).

The fragmented character of most non-Orthodox theology is a reflection of its poverty and the loss of a proper Christian vision. The unity and simplicity, even the intuition of the early fathers that such a unity should exist, are reflected in the Creeds and liturgies of the Church. St. Irenaeus of Lyon said, “Our doctrine agrees with the Eucharist and the Eucharist confirms our doctrine.” Such a statement makes no sense in the context of modern Christian thought.

Modern Christians attend Church, celebrate the Eucharist, are justified and are working on being sanctified. They think about various aspects of God. They are liberal or conservative, tough on sin or soft, Biblically-centered, or culturally sensitive. They are many things but never one thing. Thus when engaging them I have to ask, “Which of your gods are you now describing?”

God is One, and His creation is one. Good speech about either has this in mind. I have acquaintances who are “Young Earthers.” Unable to reconcile an old universe with the absence of evolution and literal readings of the Creation story, they build a box and a wall between themselves and much of modern science. They protect themselves by arguing, “It’s only a theory,” as though their various hermeneutical creations were somehow not theories and more reliable. But as theories go, theirs has little unity and is only a strange combination of confusing assertions.

True theology has no need to fear human science when it is done well. It does better to insist on elegance and simplicity and other hallmarks of the truth rather than to set forth medieval scholasticism of any sort. The world should, in turn, demand as much of Christians theologians.

 

 

 

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.


Comments

178 responses to “Thinking about the One God”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    I give thanks to the many readers and others who have been offering prayers for my health. I am home from hospital and have a good prognosis with regard to my heart disease. Like many others, I’ll eat and live more carefully with an eye to health, and pray like my life depends on it…

  2. Mary Lanser Avatar

    You are loved, though from a distance. Sometimes we don’t realize how important some people are to us till they are threatened. So too we will pray like your life depends on it, and we, in some fashion, depend on your life .

    M.

  3. Gregory (a.k.a. Ed Smith) Avatar

    We prayed for you during liturgy today. In fact, that is how I learned about your trouble.

  4. Dominic Albanese Avatar
    Dominic Albanese

    Fr Steven you read too much and think too much, it all boils down easy, even the parts about all the ones who make it up as they go along. You belive or you dont. All the test tube radio wave mish mash of sicence is out to prove it is free from religon, well take it from me a combat vet that in the fire fight God and His mercy are far more important than any therom. I have been doing a little research myself, and found some of the early fathers anti semite swill hard to stomach. We are all fallen, but chasing this text or that text is counter producitve. I have been knocked around pretty good with war and drugs, clean and sober a long time now, I just know my only job in life (beside paying bills and keeping us safe) is to try and Love God as much as He seems to love me. out

  5. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Dominic, you mistake your difficulty with my writing as me thinking too much. It’s indeed quite simple. You also mistake scientism for true science. In other circles I would say “do your own inventory, and let me do mine.” We’ve all been through many wars and they’re not all the same. If my writing isn’t helpful for you, forgive me, then don’t read it.

  6. Mark L. Mosher Avatar

    Your essays are always very fine, Father. I have certainly learned much and been given much to reflect upon in this one. The idea of Protestantism as taking place within the larger phenomenon of Scholasticism is one I have often considered myself. What you have to say about your struggles to find a cohesive and unified approach to theology and life and faith (I hope I’m not mischaracterizing you here) is something I both identify with and find vitally important too. Your outline of the problem here is both elegant and simple in itself.

  7. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Dominic,
    in a certain sense, Father Stephen seems to be saying what you seem to be saying too.. Eg: that if it is indeed “our only job in life to try and Love God as much as He seems to love us” then this one thing must be able to be elegantly expressed in one unifying theory. Of course the vastness of all elements unified into this one point can be perceived in many different degrees and Father Stephen is obviously aware of quite a vast gamut of disparity here…

  8. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    No one person’s writings address or enlighten everyone. I can testify though that Fr. Stephen has helped me quite a bit. When I started reading him in 2008 I chaffed at some of what he said about giving glory to God for all things.

    I kept reading and a gradual change began to over take me.

    All I can say is thank you Fr Stephen for your teaching it waters my soul.

    Christ is risen and may He grant you many years.

  9. Casey Avatar

    Father,

    I have been able to read only some of your posts since I discovered your blog, but when I do begin to read one I am pulled in till the end and never disagree. Being healthily open-minded, particularly towards Orthodoxy, I find myself having to take in much criticism of the Catholic Church, of which I am a part. For instance, I loved your article about ontology vs forensic thought, but I believe my faith led me to the ontological worldview. And there is no doubt that I have it. St Ignatius’s quote makes complete sense to me because the Eucharist encapsulates, so to speak (if that makes sense), it all. . . .

    This is a struggle for me because I want only to be in the light of Truth. I’ve even acquired this “esoteric” belief that true Christianity is Orthdoxy and Catholicism as one Tradition, while their differences are jurisdictional. I can’t help believing that because I cannot bring myself to judge Orthodoxy as wrong. When I met with the Orthodox priest in my city, he referred to this as the liberal view — to my horror. Father, what I don’t understand is how this could happen. The West has had it wrong all this time? The West, in all her glory? How could Catholicism be fundamentally erroneous, with her unwavering clinging to so many beautiful truths about Christ, man and woman in marriage, life, et al.? How could that be, whereas Orthodoxy, as the only true form of Christianity, for so much of history has been at such a distance? I cannot make sense of that world narrative, Father. You see my bias, for I love the West, but I do not despise the East at all. I only see the Western world as having so much prominence.

    Please take care and, if anything, pray for me.

  10. PJ Avatar
    PJ

    Really? The old “egghead” card?

  11. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Ideological science, aka scientism, is just as fragmented and epicyclical as modern thought. The anti – intellectual pietism that seems Dominic prefers is just as fragmented because it denies essential anthropological truths and bifurcates the human soul.

    Scientism that has abandoned the quest for understanding the visible creation in favor of evangelising in favor of the philosophy of naturalism has fallen prey to the nothing that the father of lies loves.

    Science ruled by the iconoclasm of philosophical naturaralism is as tyrannical as the iconoclastic Protestants.

    The unified approach to the male-female binary reality lies in the sacramental nature of man. The male/female synergy and hierarchical interrelationship are key to fulfilling our priestly calling to dress and keep the earth bringing the visible creation to fruition and order. Fructifying it by the grace of sacramental union in marriage and multiplying our kinds so that we may continue to move from glory to glory in the body and out.

    We lost the union with God that allows us to enter into the sacramental Kingdom and truly “live in the altar” where we both offer and receive God’s own.

    The nihilistic anthropology of the ideological homosexuals and the pantheon of “genders” they proclaim is yet another fruit of the arrogant belief that “we modern people” have progressed beyond the need for simplicity and unity.

    Yet another by-product of the unholy trinity of philosophical naturalism, egalitarianism and individualism that is fueled by pride, licentiousness and gnostic delusion.

  12. PJ Avatar
    PJ

    Homosexuality and gender-bending are as old as sin. Strife between man and woman — with all of its attendant consequences: adultery, lust, sexual exploitation, prostitution, rape, incest, homosexuality, gender-bending — goes right back to the fall, when that primordial unity-in-diversity was shattered.

  13. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    PJ correct, but now it has become an ideology with very specific goals of destroying the social approval of marriage and its sacramental source while replacing marriage with every possible perversion our diseased imaginations can create.

  14. Jeff Avatar
    Jeff

    Nice to feel that balance from you Casey., , I’m still trying to find a multi cultural Orthodox Church in surrey or Langley BC ( Canada )., just because I prefer the plausibility of the faith to be evident outside Ukrainian ( which I am , but my wife is east Indian), ethnic boundaries ( I remember Father Iohn Neuhaus s

  15. Jeff Avatar
    Jeff

    Neuhaus saying the same as u, his decision landed on the western side of things just because its the milieu over here…, I don’t think it’s all black and white , but father Stephen is a good Shepheard, and many of us hang on to his timely words. , I would dare to say the Eucharist is the Eucharist and the sacraments are the sacraments , ( more similar than different ),

  16. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    So glad to read this news of your being home. Now rest!

    My work as a Biblical Anthropologist is one of the factors that convinced me that Orthodoxy is the true Faith. True scientific inquiry requires objectivity and objectivity makes discovery possible. The same can be said for spiritual objectivity, to the degree that we can achieve it.

  17. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Dominic,
    Since you know war, then you rightly know that it’s the small details, done rightly that allow us to survive. That life, one-day-at-a-time (or one moment) is indeed the correct focus of our lives. However, in war it is also true that ignorance of the big picture is a ticket to disaster and defeat – and that calls for a different kind of understanding. If you scan through articles on the blog over a period of time, you’ll notice both kinds of articles. It’s all necessary.

  18. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Casey,
    I can suggest a couple of strategies. First, don’t work too hard to reconcile within yourself things that are not yet reconciled within themselves. The esoteric reconciliation is a flight of fancy into a delusion. God is well aware of the problem, and we can entrust that into His good hands without the need of rescuing this mess for Him. Second, do the truth as well as you understand it and give thanks for all things. There was certainly a point in my own journey where the polarities of Rome and Orthodoxy had a strong pull. For me, the ecclesiology of Orthodoxy, with a true conciliarity (and its messiness), simply seemed more accurate – and – to stay within this article – possessed a unity that is lacking in many ways within Rome (except through theoretical extrapolations about the singularity of Petrine Supremacy). So I followed Orthodoxy. But should you ever be drawn to such a path – it will make itself evident. I don’t think God tortures our conscience. If I offer disturbing thoughts about Rome, just tuck them away somewhere or ignore them – unless your conscience forces otherwise. As for a union between Rome and Orthodoxy, I’m willing to be patient and wait for Rome to return to and embrace Orthodoxy in its fullness. 🙂

    But embracing Orthodoxy does not mean a denial of the West. All that is good and true, everywhere, belongs to the One God in the One Church. It cannot be otherwise. I was thinking earlier this week (shortly before my heart attack), that even the structure of an Evangelical Mega Church service is dependent on the shape of the Liturgy of the Word in the early Church (or the Mass or the Liturgy). Even in such an extreme permutation something of the Church continues. The exact nature of the relationship to the varied scattered “Christianities” to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is a bit of a mystery. Orthodoxy doesn’t try to define this. The early canons on the reception of heretics or schismatics back within the Church is full of economy and variation, intimating to a degree, that the mystery cannot exactly be quantified or defined.

    Having said that is not to make peace with the fragmentation of the Church (or the world). To preach the gospel is to proclaim the fullness of the One Gospel of the One God, One Lord, One Faith, etc. in the One Church. As for the rest of the question, I tuck it away among many things that I don’t know – but don’t allow such ignorance to prevent the preaching of the gospel.

    The West, I think, would not have quite as much prominence except for a certain military, economic and technological advantage that has erected empires and forced colonization. It is also useful in these historical matters to reflect on the fact that the wealth of the West was originally constituted by its plunder of Byzantium – bringing home wealth on the order of 100 times the annual income of the marauding states (such as Venice). This same wealth financed the Renaissance which was possible because the intelligensia of Byzantium had fled to Italy to escape the Turks. The West has also maintained a propaganda front from nearly the 13th century to lessen the importance of Byzantium and its contribution to history. In short, the “West,” is a tissue of lies.

    Now, there is a West, of which I am an heir and a product. But to be an honest citizen of this hemisphere also requires me to tell the truth, the whole truth. I’ve read a fair number of books on areas of history pretty much ignored in every level of education I’ve received, from grammar school to the Doctoral level.

    I don’t despise the West – only the fiction some call the West. My ancestry is utterly Western, with nothing beyond the bounds of Great Britain. I cherish my ancestry (though I also have come to understand Britain better as an Orthodox Christian – including many aspects of the Norman invasion that have been sanitized).

    I think that one of the uncomfortable truths of the growth of Orthodoxy in the West (and its accompanying critique) is the sound of a voice too long silenced. It’s not the only voice of truth (indeed critique of the West is one of the absolute hallmarks of the West – the Orthodox critique of the West is, at present, the most Western thing about Orthodoxy). But the truth won’t be known if that voice goes unheard.

    Many blessings to all. It’s good to be writing. I may have more time at the blog over the next few weeks. Sitting at a desk is a low energy event, ideal for parts of my cardiac rehabilitation).

    Peace to all!

  19. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Alice! This is rest!

  20. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    Father, I can think of examples in the Orthodox church where the significance of baptism is somewhat puzzling to me. To me a trinitarian baptism is a true baptism and is unrepeatable. I say this in all honesty. I suppose it’s a level beyond my comprehension but I have given it a lot of thought.

  21. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Fr. Stephen – so wonderful to have you back!

    I know this remark may appear to be an attempt to re-open a discussion that you previously ended. That is not my intention. I simply want to invoke the ground rules of “kindness and mercy” with regard to references to homosexuals, transgendered individuals, etc.

    Speaking as a psychologist, I think I can safely say there there is a lot that we still do not understand about sexual orientation and gender identity. PJ – I cringe when you lump these experiences with rape and incest. Michael – I think your assertions about intentionality are incorrect, at least for most gay/lesbian individuals. They do not want to destroy marriage and it sacramentality – they want to experience it with the person they love.

    From a spiritual perspective, I do not think we can know the mind of God when it comes to why some people are born “different” or experience difference early in development. There are many, many differences that occur among people without voluntary choice. I do not think we can say that they are all the result of sin, especially when we do not understand what causes them.

    I am reminded of how sinistrality (left-handedness) was once thought to be associated with evil; hence the word “sinister” having both meanings.

    So again, I ask you to please use language of kindness and mercy on this topic so that readers who struggle with these issues do not think that Christians do not love and respect them.

  22. Anna Avatar
    Anna

    Hi Jeff,
    You’ve probably been many places, but have you been to Holy Nativity in Langley? The liturgy is in English, which may not be what you are looking for, but there is a great mix of Ukrainians, Greeks, Romanians, Canadians, Palestinians etc. there.
    Anna

  23. Karen Avatar
    Karen

    So glad you’re home and enjoying your rest, Father. I have developed such a great sisterly/daughterly affection for you through your writing and this blog, though we have never met. I have developed the same deep affection and appreciation for my own Rector, who (as you know) is about the same age and stage as you and who you rightly described to me once as “amazing.” Indeed, Michael said it well above, both of you in your own unique ways “water my soul.” I pray and trust the both of you may live long and prosper and have many, many more years here with us. I write this aware that this prayer comes from completely selfish motives, and I own those motives as such, but I dare to hope the Lord deigns to answer in the affirmative anyway! 🙂

  24. Maurice Avatar
    Maurice

    Father bless. Thank you for this post. Also glad you’re home again from the hospital 🙂

  25. Jeff Avatar
    Jeff

    Thnx , Anna, no, I haven’t checked that one yet, …, will try to, ( I’m new to Divine Liturgy , only experienced a bit in the Byzantine catholic ), …, in your opinion , is there a big difference in Byzantine catholic and purely orthodox Divine Liturgy ?, ( putting aside contentions)

  26. Rhonda Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    It’s good to know that you are home & blogging once again…surely both very good signs!

    This is a superb article as well with much to think about & mull over. I have always loved science & have seldom found it to conflict with my Faith, especially since becoming Orthodox.

    Well said as usual. Welcome home & may you continue to heal with God’s grace.

  27. PJ Avatar
    PJ

    Casey,

    I’m a Catholic, too. And I find this blog — and Orthodox theology and spirituality in general — very edifying and enlightening. Not to say thought provoking.

  28. Margaret Avatar
    Margaret

    Thank you for blogging, Fr. Stephen! I am so happy you are recovering quickly, God be praised!

    I do wonder that there are still “hard” sciences such as math and physics that are done well, as you describe here. Maybe on the college level. What I have seen of what my children are studying and learning through high school does not appear to have the elegance you describe here. My children attend public academic magnet schools where the people teaching them are certified and experienced in their areas of study. Though this is true, the curriculum intentionally discusses political and social issues throughout the problems posed and the photos/pictures presented in science and math textbooks.

    I am currently reading the book Ancient Christian Wisdom by Father Alexis Trader in order to orient myself to the Orthodox Christian worldview through his very scientific methodology followed in this book. I believe the Orthodox Christian worldview is blessed and supported by Our Lord as I live out my days, but the incoherence of the worldviews surrounding us in American culture and public schools make this study and prayer very necessary. Thank you for your efforts to point the way.

    Lord have mercy on us all!

  29. Robhall Avatar

    Father, I’m very glad to hear you are resting and well. I was deeply troubled when I heard news that you had fallen ill. Glory to Jesus for your recovery!

    @Casey – I can identify with your difficulties in trying to “exist” with the mind of Orthodoxy but in the practice / jurisdiction of the West. As a Byzantine (Ruthenian) Catholic myself, we’re in a rather bizarre position being not quite Orthodox (though we often profess to be ‘Orthodox in Communion with Rome’) yet we’re definitely not Roman Catholic (we find the word ‘Latinization’ offensive).

    This identity problem for us can often manifest itself in the pulpit as well, as it’s not uncommon for us to hear about “Graces” one Sunday and Theosis the next.

    In my discourse with many Orthodox clerics, I think there’s often a misunderstanding of what actual Catholic theology actually teaches on a multitude of things, if you can manage to cut through the layers of baloney that so many like to pile on as being “Catholic”. At the same time, I don’t believe any Roman Catholic clerics can claim to have a clear understanding of Orthodox theology either – the expression is just different. As one Roman priest told me recently, “I’m not about to tell you what the Orthodox teach about Grace, I’m sure I’d get it wrong.”

    Not long ago, I visited a ROCOR parish near my home and had the opportunity to chat with the priest for some time. At one point in the conversation he says, “But you don’t know who St. Palamas is, nor do you know of his teaching, do you?” to which I replied, to his surprise, “Of course we do!” And so it goes…

  30. PJ Avatar
    PJ

    Robhall,

    I agree. There is much confusion and condescension at the ground level, in both camps and in both directions. I sometimes attend a local Antiochian Orthodox parish. It’s a wonderful liturgy, a beautiful church, with an intelligent and charming priest. His homilies are always engrossing. Except that he can never, ever resist a jab at “western Christianity,” and especially Catholicism. Usually, his jabs are the results of caricatures of Catholic theology and spirituality. On the other hand, some of my most devout and pious Catholic friends — who are well versed in history and theology — are frightfully ignorant of Orthodoxy, regarding it as a sort of backwards and unenligthened form of Catholicism that needs “rescuing” by the pope. Nonetheless, there is progress being made among those of good faith, and the increasingly cordial and understanding relationships between the hierarchs of the various churches is encouraging! Let us pray for the union of the ancient apostolic sees!

  31. Anna Avatar
    Anna

    Father, bless!

    First of all, may God keep you healthy! I’m very sorry to find out about your health problem and hospital visit and I hope you are well or at least improving rapidly now.

    My first thought when reading this article was that perhaps the reason why we can formulate elegant theories about the physical world is that the world itself (appropriately named cosmos — order/beauty/ordered beauty — by the Greeks) is elegant, being the exquisite, although somewhat broken, artwork of a beauty-loving Artmaker.

    My second thought when reading this article was that there is indeed a unifying trend, if I may say so, in the Gospel. For example, Christ says that only two commandments: “Love God more than anything” and “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” encompass all the Law and prophets. And if there is one thing that encompasses all Orthodox life and everything connected to it, as you say, it is indeed union with God.

    A third thought connected to the previous is that man-made theology, i.e. based on speculation instead of revelation, lacks this unifying character because this belongs to God-made things, while man-made things have a fragmented nature because the human mind itself is fragmented. Only when sanctified (i.e. in union with God) becomes the human mind and nature one and whole againd.

  32. Anna Avatar
    Anna

    Casey:

    Hi, I hope you feel welcome here on Fr. Stephen’s blog.

    You say: “This is a struggle for me because I want only to be in the light of Truth.” This is a noble goal that many, many people don’t have in their lives, being comfortable and avoiding intellectual challenges coming much higher in their list of priorities. There is (as I’m sure you know) a scriptural exhortation (which I may be paraphrasing now) to seek the Truth, and whoever shall seek the Truth shall find the Truth. As you seek the Truth, you may contrariate a lot of people who don’t get it, but you will come in contact with a smaller group of people who do. I don’t mean to be too wordy about this; after all Fr. Steven’s advice is quite to the point and based on personal experience.

    You say:

    “I’ve even acquired this “esoteric” belief that true Christianity is Orthdoxy and Catholicism as one Tradition, while their differences are jurisdictional. … When I met with the Orthodox priest in my city, he referred to this as the liberal view — to my horror.”

    He is right, this is not the Orthodox standpoint on the matter. In my experience, even we cradle Orthodox, when not raised in the faith, struggle with this sort of statements, which don’t make sense to us because the mainstream worldview has taught us otherwise. As you learn more, things will start to make more and more sense.

  33. Anna Avatar
    Anna

    Jeff:

    You say:

    “in your opinion , is there a big difference in Byzantine catholic and purely orthodox Divine Liturgy ?” (Btw, I’m a different Anna.)

    You might not see an external difference in the form of the Liturgy, but in attending the Orthodox Liturgy you would be in communion with the Orthodox Church, while in attending a Byzantine Catholic Liturgy you would be in communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Of course there would be degrees of communion from merely being there to participating in the Eucharist.

  34. PJ Avatar
    PJ

    Anna,

    “He is right, this is not the Orthodox standpoint on the matter.”

    The Balamand Declaration of 1993 stated: “It is in this perspective that the Catholic Churches and the Orthodox Churches recognize each other as Sister Churches, responsible together for maintaining the Church of God in fidelity to the divine purpose, most especially in what concerns unity. According to the words of Pope John Paul II, the ecumenical endeavor of the Sister Churches of East and West, grounded in dialogue and prayer, is the search for perfect and total communion which is neither absorption nor fusion but a meeting in truth and love.”

    Then there’s Ravenna 2007, which dealt with the issues of primacy and conciliarity.

    Granted, both of these meetings and documents produced significant controversy among Catholics and Orthodox alike. Yet it seems clear that there isn’t a single “Orthodox standpoint” on the matter, just as there isn’t a single “Catholic standpoint.”

  35. Boyd Avatar
    Boyd

    Fr. Stephen,

    Could you elaborate more on this: “The language of St. Cyril of Alexandria, championed by the Orientals, was correct in its place, but inadequate for the growing synthesis of expression that was giving a growing account of the fullness of the faith.” Cyril’s language always struck me as more elegant. Also, haven’t the dialogues between the Oriental churches and Eastern Churches revealed a common Christology using different language?

    Thanks,

    Boyd

  36. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Boyd, not exactly. The position you mention is what those who would ignore differences for the sake of ‘union’ commonly take. The non-Chalcedonians in particular have published that position over and over.

    The transcripts I read several years ago of an actual re-union conference revealed a much less common understanding than the PR claims and a pretty high level of intransigence on the part of the non-Chalcedonians that Chalcedon was and continues to be wrong.

    When the word went out from some non-Chalcedonian groups in the Middle East that communion had been achieved many years ago, Patriarch Ignatius IV of blessed memory took a long, big step back and put further conferences on the way back burner.

    My own bishop, while quite friendly and charitable with non-Chalcedonians, has told me that the difference is not just semantics and that the difference in who we venerate as saints is a symptom of the real differences.

    PJ as you note the Balamand declaration is quite controversial in Orthodox circles, particularly amongst Athonite monks. I would go so far as to say that it has become a distinct minority view. It greatly harmed inter-Orthodox relations between Antioch and others. Given the pretty large opposition to it, Antioch has backed off of that too.

    After all it is one of those ‘agreements’ that is structured so that we can appear to agree while retaining all rights and privileges to our disagreements.

    Personally, I remain highly suspicious of manufactured ‘union’ agreements of any kind that come out of basically thin air.

    Two of the most difficult matters in any talk of re-union are: 1. Who is reuniting with whom; 2. Which saints are to be venerated?

    Of course these are secondary in some ways to the Christological and ecclesial issues but of great importance to many and cannot be lightly brushed aside.

    With the non-Chalcedonians in particular, they venerate as saints the men whom the Council of Chalcedon specifically anathematized. Either the non-Chalcedonians would have to agree to anathematize those men whom they have been venerating for some 1600 years, or we would have to un-do our anathema which would have the effect of rejecting all of Chalcedon and the councils that followed. That is a really big gulf. Quite frankly, I don’t think it can be traversed in a mass manner. Only by personal decision.

    We must understand that the communion of the saints is not just a mental construct but a reality that is an integral part of our union with God and His oneness. When Jesus gave the Apostles and subsequent bishops the authority to bind and loose, He gave them the authority to determine the boundaries of the Church. Who is part of that communion and who is not.

    While these issues are on one level a symptom of the fracturing of the oneness, it is not sufficient to just declare a specious oneness to avoid the deep repentance and hard work required to actually return to unity.

    IMO, if it happens this side of the second coming, it will not happen from any imposed ‘top down’ declaration but rather from the ground up so to speak as we all get to know one another, work and pray with one another and for one another on a sub-liturgical, non-official way. Persecution will be a great aid in that respect.

    I know that the content, attitude and comments that PJ, in particular, continues to make on this blog (with a few exceptions) have greatly enhanced my understanding and appreciation of the deeper things of the RCC. Thank you PJ.

    In any case, any re-union must be based on a deeper union with Our Lord than any of us have now. If we strive for that, rather than for manufactured “feel-good”, but false re-unions based on sophistry, we will all be better off.

    IMO, seeking a visible ‘union’ made by men is a distraction from the deeper work of prayer and mercy to which we are all called no matter where we are in what communion.

  37. PJ Avatar
    PJ

    I too believe that the reunion will occur in the context of intense and widespread persecution. This notion seems to become more common all the time.

  38. Mary Lanser Avatar

    With so many local cults of saints, and saints common to one canonical tradition and not another, the use of the communion of saints to make your point Michael, sounds strange and might produce some internal difficulties as well.

  39. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Boyd,
    Yes – particularly on the common Christology. The refinement on understanding “Person” that develops in the Neo-Chalcedonian work moved things towards a Cyrillian direction, but retaining the language of two natures. Sometimes (and it sounds scandalous to our Chalcedonian ears) it has been said “there is no human Person in the Incarnate Christ.” Fr. Georges Florovsky has written as well on this as any. It’s one of those wordplays, but notes that the Person of Christ is indeed the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity. He assumed human Nature, but remains the same Person (without change).

    The continued refinement in language and thought goes especially through the work of St. Maximus. To a degree, the Oriental development stops in its opposition to the Chalcedonians and becomes somewhat “frozen” in time. I look forward to the day in which Eastern and Oriental Orthodox are reunited. It will be a “growing” experience for the Oriental Orthodox and an enrichment for Eastern Orthodoxy, a restoration of a very important part of its earliest life.

    Eastern Orthodoxy (and all orthodoxies) has always run the risk of a reactionary stagnation. Anytime opposition to something becomes the paramount point of definition, everything stagnates. Eastern Orthodoxy has avoided this, despite very difficult situations. The Palamite controversy in the 14th century was a point of growth. I think the contact with the West, particularly in Russia, also provided a growing edge.

    Today, there is a process of re-engagement going on throughout Orthodoxy that is, I think, one of the most exciting times in the history of traditional Christianity. I do not mean to imply a theory of “development” or change in substance, but the development of language has always been at work within the Church (and the understanding the language reflects). There is a great deal of engagement going on within the language of “Person,” today. The Elder Sophrony, Archimandrite Zacharias, etc., have continued work with “Person” that represents a deep reflection on the commonality of the ascetical life and theology. In some ways, they have brought the language of Christology and Trinity into the ascetic life (and soteriology) in a most helpful way. The same is true of Zizioulas and others within the realm of ecclesiology and the sacraments. I can think of other conversations within Orthodoxy that are very “creative” or “creatively” using the resources that have always been there.

    I think Michael is right (his comment below) that there can be no easy path to true union.

  40. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mary, there is a communion of the saints. Who is in that communion and how that is defined is part of what separates us. To be re-unified will require (among many other things) a common understanding of that.

    Such a work will be uncommonly difficult because these people are such an important part of the lives of the RCC, the non-Chalcedonians and we Orthodox. Each of us have a different calendar of saints.

    The calendars of the RCC and the Orthodox might be more easily merged (keeping the awareness of what we Orthodox call “local” saints) since we, at one time, shared a common acceptance of Chalcedon and the subsequent councils.

    It is much more difficult since Servus and Discorus (among others) were specifically anathematized by the decrees of Chalcedon and remain as venerated saints amongst the non-Chalcedonians. Who am I to ask that they renounce that?

    It would take a lot more than simple “re-union” conferences, but a widely recognized and accepted Ecumenical Council to get it done and a deep repentance by all that I’m not real confident we could ever reach (barring a miracle).

    The persecution that will occur during the great apostasy foretold in the Bible and by many saints over the centuries will test us all. It is difficult not to believe that those events are not soon upon us given the increasingly deep and violent insanity of the world. P.J. is correct, when he says:

    I too believe that the reunion will occur in the context of intense and widespread persecution. This notion seems to become more common all the time.

    The level of sanctity it will take to hold to the faith will require the putting aside of much that divides us today, even though the divisions are real and significant we will no longer be able to hold them as stones in our heart.

  41. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    The true test of union is ultimately found in the commonality of faith. That commonality actually nurtures union (if there is a true commonality) in that we easily recognize one another – or “ourselves in the other.” There is some of this in the conversations with the non-chalcedonians. There has been less of this in other conversations.
    The model of “re-union” should such a thing occur, might look much like that of Moscow and ROCOR, where there was truly a recognition of commonality (thank God). Historical details, such as those that surrounded Pat. Sergius of Moscow, were not “glossed” over or treated as inconsequential. But their historical resolution was recognized as difficult of solution, and was more or less set aside. The same might be true viz. the historical figures anathematized. What that would look like is not clear, but there is the minor precedent or model that I’ve mentioned. A major difference btw the Non-Chalcedonians and Rome is that of the distinction of discussions of communion, versus discussions of submission. Though great nuance might be suggested for the latter, communion with Rome still looks like submission to Rome to the Orthodox, which would violate the Orthodox understanding of the Church.

  42. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Upstream Jeff commented that he was trying to find a multi-cultural Orthodox parish.

    I’m not certain what Jeff means by that, but the experience in my home parish seems pretty “multi-cultural” to me.

    Our celebration of the Divine Liturgy is predominantly in English but with significant sections in Arabic since the founders of our Holy Temple were Arabic and samplings of Greek here and there because the New Testament language was Greek.

    In addition we have a wide swath of peoples: Arabs, Greeks, Russians, Romanians, Native Americans, Ethiopians, Afro-American, Anglo-Saxon, Scotch-Irish, Egyptian, Anglo-German (like me) and the regular Heinz 57 ‘mericans. (I don’t think we have any Hispanics yet). We have people who can trace their Christian ancestry back to the Apostolic conversion of their homeland (Syria)in the earliest years of the Church and just about every movement of the Holy Spirit since to bring God-loving people together that I can think of.

    What is important is the love of God and the desire for union with Him. If I wanted anything else, it would not be good for me to be in the Orthodox Church as God is no respecter of persons. I have to let go of own ethnic phylitism in order to remain in communion as it is.

    We proclaim Christ is Risen in as many languages as we can. He overcomes the death of the particular too.

    In local communities however, He calls together those who hear His voice no matter their DNA or cultural ancestry.

  43. Mary Lanser Avatar

    My point was that even within Eastern Orthodoxy there is not one singular universal calendar of saints. There is not one single universal calendar of saints in the papal Church either. So I am not sure about the significance that you are giving to something that really does not exist anywhere.

    It may not be important in any event.

    Blessings,

    M.

  44. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Michael,
    You are describing a “multi-cultural” parish, if I understand Jeff. A parish with a strong single-ethnic identity can present any number of obstacles on the level of community for those outside the group. Sometimes it’s quite benign and welcoming, sometimes not, for any number of reasons. It’s sometimes more correct, I think, to say, “I would like to try another parish,” than a “this or that” kind of parish. Personalities have more to do with all of this than the actual ethnic makeup.

  45. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    I have always believed there is no human person in the incarnate Christ. Christ is a Divine Person with 2 natures.
    The two natures of Jesus refers to the doctrine that the one person Jesus Christ has two natures, divine and human. In theology this is called the doctrine of the hypostatic union, from the Greek word hypostasis (which came to mean substantive reality)

  46. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Mary,
    Of course there is a single, universal, calendar of saints in Orthodoxy. It is all of the local calendars added together, since they are mutually recognized. It is indeed problematic, to have someone commemorating as saint, while someone else holds them in anathema. That would simply not be possible.
    The Orthodox are sometimes puzzled that (as we hear it and could be wrong) that some of Rome still holds St. Gregory Palamas to be a heretic, while the Byz. Catholics hold him as saint. I don’t know if that’s true (he was indeed once regarded as a heretic by Rome). That kind of “inclusiveness” would be intolerable to Orthodoxy, in that it is nothing more than political union and not true union in the faith. But I would have to hear from more knowledgeable sources to know that the case is on Palamas.

  47. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Mary Benton,
    I would echo your concern for kindness on the topic.

  48. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Leonard. Yes. That’s the doctrine of the Church. But I think it would be lost on some moderns.

    On your questions about Baptism – we’ve discussed this before. I think you tend to view Baptism as somehow removed from the context of the Church, or standing alone as a thing unto itself. This is a common treatment of the topic by many – particularly under the Catholic heading of “validity.” The Orthodox view of the sacraments is quite different. They are never to be seen as outside the context of the Church. They have no validity in and of themselves apart from the Church. Thus Bob, baptized as a Baptist, in water, in the name of the Trinity, is a problematic situation, in that though the “form” of the sacrament was present, is also lacking in the most obvious part of the form – in the Church. If a non-Christian baptized somebody using that formula, again it would be problematic (maybe even for Rome).
    But the Church’s treatment of these things (in the East) has never been to look at the act itself as though it could be viewed apart from the Church. Rather, in Orthodoxy, the question is simply a matter of economia. Does the Church believe that it is best for the salvation of this individual (and perhaps others as well) to accept them (and their Baptism) into the life of the Church, either through Confession, or Chrismation, or whatever. Nothing more, nothing less. We cannot make decisions about “validity” for something that takes place outside the canonical bounds of the Church. It is certainly a “non-canonical” Baptism (which would be better language within Orthodoxy). Some Orthodox take the opinion that the Church should be very strict with regard to these economies, while others think more generously.
    But none of the Orthodox see this as needing to decide that something is “valid.” It’s just not an Orthodox thought. I’m not certain why it should be an acceptable RC thought because I think “valid” is an absurd concept, inherently two-storey. How can something be “valid” (like an objective reality) and yet be out of communion? How can a Baptism be out of communion? What on earth would that mean. We are Baptized into the One Cup as much as we are Baptized into the One Body – it’s absurd to think otherwise.
    If you would contemplate an Orthodox thought “there is no such thing as validity,” then you’d perhaps understand the Orthodox approach better. Instead of “validity” there is “communion” only communion. And if the Church embraces someone in its communion, by whatever means, then they are in her communion. But no one brings with them their “valid” baptism, like a suitcase or something. When I entered Orthodoxy, I would have embraced any requirement asked of me. Not out of disrespect for my past, but out of the fact that I believed myself to be entering the Church. As it was, I was received by confession, renunciation of my errors, and Chrismation, and made preparations and was ordained at a later time. The status of my Baptism was, for me, moot. The Church accepted me. It did not require Baptism. It did require confession and Chrismation. It required ordination. Why accept my Baptism (performed by Baptists) and reject my Anglican ordination? There is no rhyme nor reason in an “objective” sense of “validity.” It simply is what it is – the generosity, kindness, mercy, and discipline of the Church. And this is very much the canonical approach to the matter.

  49. Mary Lanser Avatar

    In my ignorance, Father, I celebrate the eastern Catholic and western Catholic saints and Orthodox saints, and hope and pray for union.

    M.

    PS: I think the Ukrainians might dispute your blanket assertion concerning one undisputed calendar of saints in Orthodoxy. I can’t speak for ROCOR and the ROC. Or the ROC and GOC. I do know the Russians have a long memory.

  50. PJ Avatar
    PJ

    Supposedly, John Paul II venerated Gregory Palamas, as well as Theophan the Recluse.

  51. Mary Lanser Avatar

    I’ve heard that John Paul II was hinky.

  52. Robhall Avatar

    Father,

    Officially, Rome has never (to my knowledge) had a response to Palamas, nor has it made any sort of effort to affirm/deny his teachings on his Essence & Energies distinction. He is in many ways as alien to Rome as Aquinas is to Moscow.

    The Melkites (and several other Eastern Catholic jurisdictions) include Palamas in their calendar, and he is included in the Ruthenian calendar also.

  53. PJ Avatar
    PJ

    Mary,

    That’s a pretty low and unfair charge to lodge against a man known around the world for his piety and love of God and fellow man — a man with whom you have neither personal experience nor first hand knowledge. I had my disagreements with him, but to call him hinky? Really?

  54. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    This is a very interesting conversation,on many levels and subjects…!
    I found particularly compelling the notion of tribulation/persecution leading closer to union, especially when ‘union’ is seen through the lens of ‘Truth’.

    I say this as I was examining again an often overlooked alternative reading of the number 666, referred to in the Book of Revelation (as the identity with which the Antichrist will want to seal his own in the end times).
    Based on the Greek original “Χ΄Ξ΄ς΄” format of the numeral 666, this is sometimes interpreted by the Fathers as “Christ without a Cross”: (Χ΄ριστός Ξ΄ένος Στ΄αυρού”)

    This is perhaps the craftiest, most treacherous (and also most ‘secular-friendly’) temptation of all times, particularly the end times, and it was also one of the last temptations of our Lord on the Cross, notably hurled at Him by the Pharisees.
    Believers all seek Christ, but do we seek the Cross? Do we not long for a ‘convenient’ Christ, cut to our measures, without sacrifice?
    The Saints however, time and again made clear that Christ is truly known in tribulation – through the Cross.
    Therefore I think PJ and Michael have a particularly good point about persecution leading closer to truth/union…

  55. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    The above is also good reason why I perceive St Silouan’s “keeping one’s mind in hell, yet despairing not”, a powerful (‘Neptic’) ‘method’ towards unity with all. In other words, the more humble be become, the lower we stoop, the closer we get to the Truth which inevitably unifies those who find it.

  56. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mary, on a personal basis, it would seem OK to do that, although I would rather consult with my spiritual father/confessor about such things to be in obedience.

    If Pope John Paul II did venerate St. Gregory Palamas and St. Theophan, he did it on a level of personal devotion, not ex-Cathedra.

    There is a difference to being ‘saintly’ and being an official saint.

    All saints are known to God (unknown martyrs, hermits and those who live in obscurity for example), only some to us, some only to a few. No doubt in the fullness of time, there will be surprises as to some.

    It is through the Apostolic authority to bind and loose, however, that the Church proclaims the sanctity of particular saints as examples of the Grace of God and worthy of veneration by the whole Church. It is through the same Apostolic authority to bind and loose that some are also declared outside the communion because their beliefs and teaching and refusal to repent have placed them there.

    Jesus proclamation is pretty unequivocal: Whatsoever you bind on earth is bound in heaven, whatsoever you loose on earth is loosed in heaven. Mt 18:18

    As Father Stephen points out, it is not possible to mix the two. That is primary issue where the calendar of saints is important when in comes to re-union.

  57. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Michael: My spiritual father is hinky too. He believes that the Orthodox and papal Catholic Churches are in material schism born of choice, not formal schism born in heresy or in the loss of Apostolic Succession. I am ignorant enough to follow his lead.

  58. kelly Avatar
    kelly

    Fr. Stephen,
    I’m so glad to hear that you are doing better health-wise! I love this post. Thank you for taking the time to write it so soon after your health problems. I was an atheist through high school and college. I switched my major from geology to physics, and it was through the elegance and unity of physics that I was drawn to the Lord. After 5 years among the Protestant churches, Orthodoxy captured me also because of its elegance and unity.

  59. PJ Avatar
    PJ

    I think we have different definitions of the word “hinky.” To my mind, it means untrustworthy, flaky, and deceitful.

  60. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    Father thank you for your thoughtful response. The RCC also accepts anglican baptisms but reordains anglican priests. This has caused me a lot of thought as well. Interestingly I was baptised as a baby in the RCC church and when I was 27 baptised into the “Church of Christ” They explained this as the first baptism wasn’t into “The Church” while the one they were doing was. I believed this for 16 years. It’s funny that if I decide to go into the ROCOR I’ll be playing my third mulligan.

  61. PJ Avatar
    PJ

    There is a Doctrinal Committee for the so-called “Catholic Charismatic Movement” in Rome. Could anything be less Orthodox? Perhaps the greatest obstacle in the path to reunion are the radically different “spiritual aesthetics.”

  62. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Leonard,
    Well, since the Church of Christ foray was a sort of nonsense moment, I would not count it as anything. Some people around Tennessee have been baptized ever so many times – remarkable among a people who don’t think anything happens at baptism.

    As for ROCOR, they have a particularly strict practice on the reception of converts – very clean if not very subtle.

  63. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    PJ,
    These varieties of spiritual experience under one umbrella, often give the impression to outsiders (like the Orthodox) that Rome’s goal is simply “all Christians under one roof” so long as the roof is their roof. I know that’s not the case, but the umbrella is really, really big. The charismatic is, I think, beyond the pale, despite its devout intentions. I’ve heard statements made by some present day Cardinals about the present Pontiff’s election that were clearly charismatic experiences and alarming in the extreme. I never realized how alarming this is until watching developments within the so-called “Charismatic Episcopal Church.” It’s combination of hierarchy and pentecostalism have become bizarre at certain points.

  64. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    In Russia, due to the earlier Communist ban on baptisms, grannies would often secretly baptise their little ones and, even though considered anti-cannonical, some people were allowed to undergo a ‘second’, ‘proper’ baptism (after the fall of communism,) although others obviously never felt that need. This allowance demonstrates Orthodoxy’s “economy” in the matter very strongly.

  65. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Dino,
    This economy is so important in understanding Orthodoxy. For even those who are quite strict do not deny the possibility of such economy. Economy is always “for salvation.” Sometimes certain rules can work counter to the goal of salvation. True salvation is union with Christ, not observance of the rules (hence another reason “validity” is a false concept). If a conscience is so troubled by a problematic baptism (your grandmother, etc), then it’s possible for the Church to help you – and not just read the rule book. This is not the case across the board, but for some things it is (and the reception of converts is prominent among them).

  66. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Historically, it was the choice of Rome, not of the other Patriarchs. After Cardinal Humbert excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople, mostly out of personal pique IMO since he stomped out of Hagia Sophia in anger despite the heart-felt entreaties of at least one deacon to take the bull back. I have no idea what the RCC version of that event is, but I am sure it paints quite a different picture.

    The other Patriarchs decided to remain in communion with Constantinople and one another rather than with Rome.

    Rome decided to remain by themselves even though Humbert no longer had the authority to issue the bull since the Pope who sent him had died and Humbert’s authority died with that Pope (or so I have read). Rome never choose to rescind it when it would have mattered. Both sides have continued to build walls since, some justified, some not.

    Many of the Fathers, notably St. Gregory of Nyssa taught that schism was worse than heresy.

    Those who are really schismatic (and we cannot both be BTW or Jesus words that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church hold no meaning) will inevitably fall into heresy because they are following their own will rather than the will of God.

    It has always seemed to me to be a logical reach for Rome to declare us schismatic when it was Rome who initiated the formal breach. I also have never fathomed the idea that Apostolic succession can exist outside of communion. I know many on both sides teach that. I just don’t get it. But, that’s just me.

    There is a possibility that Rome is correct and we are not and I will never doubt the fundamental sanctity and faithfulness of many Roman Catholics, official saints or not even as I disagree with much of the teaching.

    Still, IMO, one has to choose. That is a personal choice that should be taken with great care. The choice comes down to who we believe most faithfully and fully embodies the Church and in which communion we can work out our salvation in fear and trembling.

    It is a spiritually dangerous confusion to try to straddle the fence. You cannot serve two masters. While the choice can be made and lived without hatred, rancor or ill-will toward those who make a different choice, it has to be a definitive choice: we can’t be “separate but equal”.

    Whatever will had to do with the original schism, it has since gotten worse and is no longer a matter of will alone, but doctrine as well. The 1848 Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs (long before the innovations of Vatican I) was pretty clear that the office of the Papacy as envisioned and expressed by Rome is heretical in character. [The encyclical is available on line]. Although not the result of a formal council where everyone, or their representatives, met together in one place, all the Patriarchs and several other bishops signed it. To my knowledge, the fundamental content of that Encyclical has never been questioned by any hierarchs in the Orthodox communion since (although some of the language has been tempered).

    Personally, Rome has never been attractive to me ever since I was a young boy and heard the mind numbing, emotionally dead, spiritually vacant (to me) repetitions of the Our Father and the Hail Mary on local radio. What attraction there was lessened over the years as I grew older and found that I, even in my massive ignorance knew more of Catholic teaching and doctrine that most of my numerous Catholic friends. No one I new could ever give me a reason to be Catholic.

    I cannot remember ever meeting a joyous Catholic until I met a man who had been a priest for 50 years in Fargo, ND one night in 1975. He had retired to serve a women’s monastery nearby. We had quite a talk, the memory of which still warms my heart. He suggested that I should join the Roman Catholic Church(I was not Orthodox yet)and study for the priesthood. Seeing his glowing face and obvious joy, it was a little tempting, just not sufficient. But, again that is me.

    However, that being said, IMO, it would simply be too disruptive of the faith of many sincere folks on both sides of the divide to force union or even consider anything other than mutual cooperation when we are faced with enormous challenges to our mutual existence from the nihilist darkness that wishes neither of us existed.

    The blood of the martyrs shed for the love of God and Jesus Christ is the same color.

    By their prayers and the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, may our hearts and minds be softened and enlarged to receive Him who is all in all so that the heresy and schism in our own hearts might be extinguished.

  67. PJ Avatar
    PJ

    Father,

    Indeed. The strange confluence of metastasizing religious bureaucracy and imaginative, devotional, enthusiastic “spirituality.” I hope I don’t offend anyone, but it seems to me that the “charismatic gifts” are largely a modern invention. Not to say that there weren’t tongues, prophecy, etc. in the ancient church — but that they were radically different. For instance, we hear about the gift of “tongues” in the ancient church, but at least in the west, it was called “iubilatio,” and was wordless, melodic, mesmeric chanting by the whole congregation during the liturgy. This is found in Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine. Far cry from the raucous babbling of today’s charismatics. Bah!!! Call me cynical…

  68. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    There was, briefly, an Orthodox charismatic movement attempt here in the US back in the day.. It lasted about a nano-second. Just long enough to be acknowledged, considered by some bishops and rejected.

    PJ I would never call you cynical. Even in jest you shouldn’t go there.

    Here’s tounges: my Godfather felt called to be a missionary in Romania. He went there as part of his discernment. While there he bought an icon card of a local Romanian saint from a beggar child on the street.

    That night he was praying about his biggest concern-his ability to learn Romanian since he had small facility for language. As he prayed, he received a reply from the saint whose icon he had purchased telling not to worry she would teach him, or at least help him learn.

    Many years later he has written two books in Romanian on addiction recovery and his ministry has expanded over the entire country.

    Tounges and communion of the saints!

  69. Jeff Avatar
    Jeff

    Wow Michael!, your quite fortunate with that diversity , …,

  70. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Michael –

    Wonderful story about your godfather! This gift of “tongues” makes so much more sense (and is more consistent with the Gospel) than what I saw (very briefly) among charismatics in RC.

    While the charismatics that I saw many years ago were fine people, viewing their experience of “tongues” felt disturbing to me. Looking back, I wonder if theirs was a sort of trance induced experience. While trance can sometimes have positive uses in psychology, what I saw seemed more of a free-for-all than a tool with therapeutic value led by someone with training.

    I’m sorry you have met so few joyous Catholics! I have been blessed to know many – which is probably one of the things that has kept me Catholic. We cannot serve two masters – but the master we serve is Christ, not our churches, IMO. I personally do not relate to “Rome” with intense devotion. I relate to God – and do so in the context of my family and community of believers.

    Does one need to fracture all of the spiritual relationships that have had great value to one’s salvation in pursuit of the more “true” Church? (I am asking this question somewhat rhetorically. And it would be a different answer if the relationships within my church taught me heresy rather than the love of God…)

  71. Rhonda Avatar

    I only wish today’s charismatics were only doing the “tongues” babbling they were 30 years ago! Now there is all sorts of aberrant manifestations…spiritual barking, spiritual baby crying, spiritual drunkenness, spirit slaying, spiritual laughter…it’s been awhile since I looked to see what other novel “manifestations” have been developed.

  72. James Avatar
    James

    I am reading at present “The search for truth on the path of reason” by Professor Alexei Osipov of the Moscow Theological Academy. He has much enlightening things to say on the false dichotomy between religion and science. Also of possible interest is “The counter revolution of science” by Professor Friedrich von Hayek. This is an economist’s view of the malign influence of scientism on the social sciences.

  73. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    As for a union between Rome and Orthodoxy, I’m willing to be patient and wait for Rome to return to and embrace Orthodoxy in its fullness…..and we in Rome are willing to be patient and wait for Catholicism in its fullness. Actually the truth is that if it wasn’t for sinful human behavior 1000 years ago if the church’s hadn’t separated the church today would look a lot different. Just like in any divorce both parties go their separate ways. It can be argued that orthodoxy didn’t evolve as much as it should and Rome evolved too much. Reunion as a my way or the highway proposition seems doomed to failure. Some may say reunion isn’t necessary. At the fearsome judgement seat if Christ I plan to point out that I wasn’t one of those people.

  74. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Although nicknamed “ever the optimist”, I cannot help thinking along the lines of the 2nd law of thermodynamics (entropy) concerning union this side of our Lord’s glorious and final appearance…

  75. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Michael,
    I have met your godfather – a wonderful man!

  76. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Michael: I am still intrigued with the communion of saints. Is it in your understanding of the communion of saints that they stand apart from the rest of the sinful but saved Orthodox who will populate heaven at some point? Forgive me if the questions get a little slippery here because the mirror is a bit dim for exactitude….But it seems to me that if the communion of saints divides us here then it should also divide us there….? And if it does not divide us there why should it divide us here? You don’t think that papal Catholics won’t be saved do you? I don’t think you do but it occurred to me that we should clarify.

    M.

  77. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Leonard,
    At the fearsome judgment seat of Christ, I do not think there will be conversation (certainly not a chance for defense). Instead, the hearts of all will be revealed and even our intentions will be clear. And in the pure light of Christ Who is the Truth, the truth of our existence will be made manifest. That which is true will shine like the light. That which is false will be “burned” with unquenchable fire. My sense of my own place beyond that “moment,” tends to ask me where I want to be, where I am married – to the Truth regardless – or to my false self and its perverted loyalties.

    It is why I counsel people to tell the truth – to God – to themselves. And beware of confusion and compromise of the soul. In the years that I was an Anglican priest, “halting between two opinions” (and often far more), I did my soul great damage from which I am only slowly recovering. These divided souls can make of us liars and deceivers, complex for the sake of complexity, subtle like the serpent, spilling out repressed energies and anger. I speak only from experience in this.

    Do you care about the Orthodox in a way you don’t care about the Lutherans? Why would this be so? What I hear, forgive me for being so personal, is that you remove the contradictions and the conflict to somewhere outside yourself (history, etc.), which protects you from it. And though you still fell the conflict (which is what?) you avoid it by these reasonings. I think the conflict (for any of us) is within and it is there we must stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ. What does He say now? What does His light reveal now?

    “Caring about these things,” is something many people do and treat it like it is important (“reunion is important”). I think this is mostly sentimentality. To have feelings that are mostly detached is simply plowing ground for the passions, not growing the Kingdom. I care about reunion, theoretically. When I pray for the “whole world,” it includes everybody, including all Christians. But during the liturgy, I give it no more thought than that. All that matters in the Liturgy is union with Christ. The rest of these thoughts is just our scattered mind and chasing the issues and shadows of the false self.

  78. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    Father I care about the Lutherens very much. I care about the church of God. That ALL may be one. I have had masses offered for Judas Iscariot, usually listed in the bulletin as special intention. I’ve had masses offered for Gestas, the bad thief. At the ROCOR church last sunday I heard it said in a prayer that he was justly damned. If fact nothing whatgsoever is said of his fate, silence only. The good thief was canonized on the cross. but nothing, nada was said about Gestas

  79. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mary, it is very slippery and I can’t really answer all of your questions. I’ll say this: Jesus Christ will save whom He will save. Not everyone will be saved, but that is our choice not His. Membership in the Orthodox Church does not guarantee salvation nor does membership in the RCC or any other religious body exclude salvation (having the law written in one’s heart, 11th hour repentance and all of that).

    Orthodoxy in general does not describe or pretend to describe the mechanism of salvation. The Orthodox Church simply says that salvation is union with Christ. Such union can always be deeper than it is and can be achieved in community through repentance, prayer, worship, almsgiving, fasting and acceptance of the teachings of the Church while rejecting all heresies ancient and modern.

    Salvation is an on-going synergistic work between me and my savior in concert with the everybody else my communion past, present and future (includes the saints). At any time, I retrain the freedom to turn back and sever any communion that has been established (really hard to do however).

    To the limit of my knowledge, there is not a separation between us and the saints. As St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Paul described the Kingdom, we move from glory to glory. The Kingdom is not static, but obviously there are degrees of sanctity.

    Where the Orthodox Church has spoken clearly and placed someone outside the Church by anathema that is another story. Relying on the passage from Matthew that I quoted, that person will be excluded and I am forbidden from venerating him/her.

    An anathema is much more that a simple excommunication given for reason of repentance. An anathema is a hierarchical statement of authority that said person is not worthy because of the teaching of untruth AND a refusal to repent.

    It is a really tough thing for we of modern mind to fathom exclusion. The egalitarian philosophy we imbibe rebels against such an idea. We do not readily accept the fact that anybody will be shut out of the Kingdom, especially by the decree of other human beings. However, universal salvation is not the teaching of the Church and, in fact, is a condemned heresy. However, we should keep in mind Jesus words that the lake of fire was not prepared for human beings, but for satan and all of his angels.

    I venerate only the saints that my Church recognizes as saints (and those likely to be recognized as saints like Matuska Olga of Alaska). I can say nothing about anybody outside the Church about whom the Church is silent. My opinion simply means nothing.

    There are some saints which we and the RCC have in common prior to the schism. For instance, I asked my bishop about German saints since I have a German ancestry. He gave me St. Walburga of Eichstadt who is not widely venerated by Orthodox but was pre-schism. Her relics are what we Orthodox call myrrh-gushing. He told me that St. Walburga is worthy of veneration by Orthodox, so I venerate her.

    My sister-in-law has since found other ancient German saints through several pilgrimages to Germany who are definitely on the Orthodox calendar but not widely known–most are on the Roman calendar too, I believe.

    One modern German Orthodox saint is St. Alexander, Passion-bearer who was a founding member of the White Rose Society in Nazi Germany and who was executed by the Nazi’s because his Orthodox faith compelled him to protest the Nazi killing of the Jews and many other Nazi ideas and actions. Some of his co-workers were Roman Catholic, some Protestant all were equal enemies of the Nazi state. Not all are to be venerated by faithful Orthodox, however in the same manner as we are encouraged to venerate St. Alexander.

    The abbey Mother Walburga founded in Eichstadt is now Benedictine and she is presented in a totally Roman manner which I find off-putting but those are merely externals.

    The sticking point comes when there is an active disagreement between our communions as we have with the non-Chalcedonians: where a person is venerated by one communion and anathematized by another. If Apostolic authority continues in those with whom we are not in communion and the decisions differ so radically, what are we to do? Way above my pay grade thankfully.

    I cannot give any specifics of that sort between us and Rome unless St. Gregory of Palamas is one. If he has been officially anathematized by Rome, that is a real problem because he articulated the fundamental understanding of the Orthodox Church on the inter-relationship between God and man. Anathematize him and much of the basic teaching of the Orthodox Church is declared heretical–way beyond schism.

    Those kind of issues are one of the reasons why I do not believe there will be any genuine reunion prior to our Lord’s glorious second coming. The union that will come from persecution will be rather more ad hoc IMO starting out with the “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.

    Now however, I have found that it is not a good idea, following the dictates of Scripture, to frequent Roman Catholic services, but I try to be friendly with RC’s, Copts, and even Protestants. (Big of me isn’t it?).

    I have made a statement a few times before that has always gotten me in trouble with Roman Catholics, I don’t mean it in an unkind way so please consider that: The theology, worship and teachings of the Orthodox Church support and lead us to salvation. Those outside the Orthodox communion are saved in spite of the theology (where it differs). There are some theologies out there which actively block salvation such as Islam, Mormon, etc.; but even there, Christ is merciful.

    The fullness of the truth is retained in the Orthodox Church, it overflows to everybody else who is really seeking communion with God and Jesus Christ in spirit and truth and to the world at large. I would guess that those in communion with Rome see it in reverse.

    I would have to say that any so-called Apostolic authority outside the Orthodox communion (including anathemas and glorifications) would be conditional at best–the principals of economia would have to be applied, but that is my speculation.

    However, for my own salvation I have come to the conclusion that rejoicing in the Lord always for everything seems to work. For instance, my doc recently discovered a couple of polyps in my colon which he thought might be cancerous. As I was waiting the couple of weeks for the biopsy report to come in, I prayed. It was given to me to recognize that whatever the report said, it was for my salvation. I simply stopped worrying at that point.

    It came back no cancer. That means that for whatever reason, God still has some work for me to do in this world but I honestly would have praised God either way (a diagnosis of cancer would have been more difficult for my family but they would have gotten there eventually).

    “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice”

    I rejoice in you Mary and your faith. I hope you can rejoice in me.

  80. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father Stephen, indeed Floyd is a wonderful man graced by God, made strong in his weakness.

    I don’t get to see him very often and he is so concentrated on his work that communication is spotty at best. I’m sure I am still in his prayers, however. A great mercy for me.

  81. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    Interestingly enough the name katharina von bora can go in a church bulletin pretty much unnoticed, speaking of Lutherans.
    And yes I see I’m being moderated. That’s a pretty good sign I have been inappropriate. I’m sorry.

  82. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Jeff, yes it is a blessing wrought by God. Our diversity is one of externals though. However, it was not always that way, I can assure you. Not all that long ago my parish was pretty much all Arab and all proud of that (thirty or forty years ago).

    I have a good friend (now 80+) who married in many years ago but really fully accepted life in the Church. For years he called himself the ‘token white guy’. About 30 years ago, there was a significant division within the parish based solely on which Arab family one belonged to or sided with (competing chanters and the like). That was changed gradually by a convert priest and the workings of the Holy Spirit. The priest came in and refused to buy into the stupidity. He appointed a Greek gentleman who was a member because the Greek parish in town was in one of its periodic hibernations and who really couldn’t sing to be the chanter.

    Now, our chief canter is a young doctor who was born in Lebanon so speaks and chants Arabic and English fluently and has a facility in Greek as well. Many other young men have been added over the years.

    The parish has worked quite hard getting beyond the negative, exclusionary aspects of our fundamental ethnicity and on other social divides such as wealth and education too. It does not matter where you start is my point.

    We are an Cathedral parish which helps a lot and we’ve had really strong priests and a wonderful bishop, but the people responded. We are still a “Lebanese” parish and I hope we always will be. But as one sitti recently told my wife (a blue-eyed, blond with Native American ancestry), she was not an honorary member of the sitti club, she was adopted into the family when she was Chrismated.

    I found that I had to let go of my prejudice against the use of Arabic in the service for the benefit of my own soul. Despite being a member for 20 years now, I was only recently able, by the total grace of God, to do so. Now instead of periodic bouts of anger when Arabic is used, I am able to rejoice in the sense of continuity and strength of faith since Apostolic times that is conveyed in the language even when(maybe especially when)I can’t understand it.

    Not everyone is cut out to be pioneers and not all parishes have the strength to make significant changes, fewer still than can do it quickly. Still, the Divine Liturgy is the same even when it is in Arabic, Slavonic, Greek, English, Japanese or Inuit.

    May God bless you and you wife with all that in needful for a full and faithful life in the Church.

    It’s a long way for you to come, but if, for some reason, you are ever in Wichita, KS on a Sunday–come to St. George and worship with us.

  83. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father said:

    It is why I counsel people to tell the truth – to God – to themselves. And beware of confusion and compromise of the soul. In the years that I was an Anglican priest, “halting between two opinions” (and often far more), I did my soul great damage from which I am only slowly recovering. These divided souls can make of us liars and deceivers, complex for the sake of complexity, subtle like the serpent, spilling out repressed energies and anger. I speak only from experience in this.

    Father, an eloquent testimony to the destructive power of heresy. Coming from where I came, I too have experienced much the same thing. I sojourned in the desert of ignorance of Christ for 20 years, then I was 20 years more in a worse desert of heretical beliefs which were designed to elevate the false-self above God (with just enough truth to keep one interested). Then God brought me out of that desert into His Church but the next 20 years was one primarily of healing and rebuilding. The fourth 20 years began about 7 years ago with the repose of my first wife. It took me about 4 of those to find my balance after that loss. I look forward to whatever time I have left in this world (mostly) and pray that I don’t screw it up. Your words have been instrumental in my continued growth.

    Thank you.

  84. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Jeff, P.S. A good friend of mine who is 87 years old and of Lebanese ancestry was born and raised in Canada, in Nova Scotia. There were no Orthodox Churches there. Her father taught her the faith, however, and they periodically worshipped with Anglicans but never became Anglican. She is an amazing woman and bears a good witness to the faith.

    She has often lived in less than optimum conditions as far as the practice of her faith is concerned, but she has (to my knowledge) never waivered in any substantial way.

  85. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    No, Leonard, not being moderated here – just the weirdness of blogistan. But yes the hymnology of the Church describes Judas as damned “better for that man that he were never born…” is Christ’s own words on the matter. If there is a hope for him, then it would lie within a tender mercy of which saints like Isaac of Ninevah have intimated about. I still suspect these things to be distractions – not that they cannot be argued rationally. It’s just that I think there is a great gulf between the holiness of a St. Silouan who might have prayed such things, and the sentiment that drives us to do so. St. Silouan, were he to have prayed for Judas, would have done so only because he profoundly new himself to be one with him (not as an intellectual matter – but in the deepest, most existential place of union). I don’t know about you, but I’m no where near able to stand in the place of Judas – such darkness, such despair – and pray. Every other kind of prayer is just sentiment. Forgive me, but I think you are more interested in seeing yourself pray for Judas than in praying for him. As a priest of the Church I would caution you, don’t dare to try and go there – it would only bring madness and suicide. As Christ said, “Pray for yourselves and for your children…” Forgive my boldness.

  86. Karen Avatar
    Karen

    I certainly can’t say for anyone else, but for myself, regardless of the issue or what the aspect of the spiritual disciplines, I am always struggling to be truly honest and do things because out of union with Christ — out of his kind of love, but I’m not anywhere near there yet. I am finding myself constantly doing or saying “good” spiritual things because I need to see myself doing or saying them (out of ego).

    Having just adopted a dog into the family this past weekend (after growing up with a dog in the house and then being petless for over three decades), I’m being caught off-guard by the depth of the feelings suddenly being reawakened in me (gratitude, love, wonder) for being able to have this amazing little four-legged creature in our family. There can be no pretense with dogs (not unlike with small children), and their behavior in our midst is a direct reflection of what is truly going on within us and around them. It seems to me they–as with the rest of God’s creation–are mediators of a great deal of God’s grace in our lives.

  87. Anna Neufeldt Avatar
    Anna Neufeldt

    Hi Jeff,
    I noticed we have two Anna’s on this thread. :). I posted about the church in Langley that we attend. I don’t really know how to answer your question about the liturgies since I haven’t been to a Byzantine Catholic liturgy before. The liturgy is beautiful I am sure in both. 🙂
    There is another English speaking parish in Langley called Saint Herman’s, but I have not visited there yet. I don’t know how many other English speaking parishes there are in the area, but I don’t think there are many. There is a liturgy for the ascensiom tomorrow at 6:30 if you and your wife are free. 🙂

  88. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    PJ and Mary,
    We must confine ourselves to the Queens’s English here. By Queen’s English, I don’t mean British usage, but don’t use a word the Queen wouldn’t use if she was educated for a proper theological conversation. Thus, one cannot say, “hinky,” because one would never say “hinky,” if one knew that one was being listened to by anyone else. One might say hinky to one’s dog in private. That’s to say, I haven’t a clue what the word meant. Lost me completely!

  89. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Michael Bauman: I cannot imagine ANYONE not wanting to rejoice in faith with you! You are a gem, and I am happy that you are healthy and well to face the next step! Mother had a colon resection two summers ago and I pray every day it holds.

    You took my slippery questions and did some very good things with them and I am happy to say that I am content with your responses. I am also tempted to as more questions just to hear what you might say …

    BTW: I know I don’t know everything but I do know that St. Gregory Palamas is not anathema anywhere in the papal Church. He is feasted as a saint on eastern Catholic calendars, but not in the west, where he is more well known today than he might have been 100 years ago.

    Also I have two calendars hanging in the kitchen. One is from the Ruthenian Byzantine Metropolia, and the other is from the OCA. They, making the necessary adjustments for the variance of Lent to Pentecost this year, are much the same day to day for all of the saintly commemorations, all year long. On the years when, you don’t have to make those adjustments to see a side-by-side comparison…as next year will be…the sameness is striking. And then one can do the same thing with the Roman rite calendar…and I used to do that but my head exploded…so I now just follow the OCA calendar and peek at the others now and then when I know an old friend is coming up and is not on the Orthodox calendar.

    So there ya have it.

    Mary

  90. Mary Lanser Avatar

    LOL…Father Stephen, I will surely adjust the lexicon to suit. Some day if we ever meet I will tell you how I learned the word “hinky”. I don’t think it is rude. At least I hope not!!…But the word makes me laugh out loud and so once in a blue moon, I use it.

    M.

  91. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    I would give further details on Father’s words

    “St. Silouan, were he to have prayed for Judas, would have done so only because he profoundly new himself to be one with him (not as an intellectual matter – but in the deepest, most existential place of union). I don’t know about you, but I’m no where near able to stand in the place of Judas – such darkness, such despair – and pray. Every other kind of prayer is just sentiment.”

    by saying this:
    It is possible for a person to experience the depths of eternal perdition in this life. It is possible for that person to then be dragged out of hell by Christ’s mercy. It is then highly probable that this person might feel an existential union with all who might ever experience those depths of hell, an alliance that instinctively gives birth to an uncontrollable prayer and the shedding of copious tears for those in hell. This is still NOT on the level of St Silouan’s prayer for all of Adam. That prayer is far higher as it is stirred by the Holy Spirit, prayed by the Holy Spirit (in the Saint), without any admixture of selfishness, without the slightest risk of it being exploited by the Enemy “from the right”, in order to craftily bring about an intangible complaint or criticism towards God’s arrangement of things…

  92. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    Father I suspect that it would indeed be better for the great saints to pray about these things. And I do pray for my family as well

  93. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Leonard, it’s just my concern that this easily becomes a dangerous spiritual practice. Since I serve as resident “priest” on the blog, I also have to make noise about things that seem dangerous or shaky to me, lest someone fall into trouble. Dino’s additional words are true wisdom. Fr. Sophrony held that St. Silouan was a saint “for our time.” I pay a lot of attention to him for that very reason, and his life has been very important for directions within my own. His compassion and even conversation about hell are, I think, very necessary in an age when Hell is so widespread. The despair of our time and the darkness of the cultures is exceedingly great. God has given us a great light in St. Silouan. May he pray for us, the sons of Adam!

  94. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    Father I understand your concern and I don’t focus on the more radical intentions this was just an example of my willingness to be inclusive. I’m grateful for the mention of St Silouan because now I can ask him to pray for me!

  95. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    I would like to add still further clarification, to the important topic of prayer for others and for all.
    This is, in fact, closely related to a prior discussion we had here, regarding the use of ‘me’ (have mercy on me) – favored by the Elders Porphyrios and Aimilianos – or ‘us’ (have mercy on us) when praying for others out of love.
    The foremost reason for adding this elucidation is that our Enemy will draw on this very ‘love’, with a deviously concealed agenda, one we might not be aware of. He is the ‘accuser’ of God and would have us be accusers of Him too… So, this hidden agenda is twofold: first element being the making of a dissatisfied complainer, a grumbler, a moaning accuser and criticizer out of us; the second being the bringing about of despair.
    When a Saint is stirred by the Holy Spirit to pray for all (as Saint Silouan did), without the slightest admixture of selfishness, it is a completely different matter and the Enemy cannot exploit that without the greatest of difficulty.
    So, another (possibly more pragmatic) approach to describe this would be to concentrate on the 1st commandment (love of God -having no other in our heart), and prove THAT through the 2nd commandment (love of neighbor, ‘oneness’ with all).
    This wise advise is often drilled into those asking on the subject of prayer for others by the most discerning of Spiritual Elders due to the colossal difficulty in detecting underlying selfishness in the movements of our soul:
    do NOT love others ‘directly’, love others only ‘through’ the love of God, because you love Him who loves them more than you ever could -( the 1st commandment through the 2nd and the 2nd through the 1st)

  96. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    Dino here is an example of the “me” form of prayer….. a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon.” And then there is the “us” form…. As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed Him.And two blind men sitting by the road, hearing that Jesus was passing by, cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”

  97. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Words quickly disclose their paucity on this topic, as it is through the action of the Holy Spirit that the metamorphosis of the words (of which we simply ‘use the services’) comes about. The same words might leave me cold today and thrilled the next day.
    “Have mercy on me” can clearly mean no more than that, (just ‘me’ the most wretched of sinners) and it can be infinitely pregnant even in this, its obvious understanding;
    however, that “on me”, to a Saint who, through the ineffable Grace of God can no more distinguish between ‘me’, ‘you’, ‘us’, ‘them’, because (in Christ and through the Spirit), that Saint naturally prays as the whole of Adam – the entirety of the Cosmic Adam- he prays (the Spirit rather prays in him) with the voice of all, and for all of creation (as per the deeper ‘Logos’ of Man). So, then he prays “Have mercy on me”, where that ‘me’ means something entirely different –something vastly more – than its immediate and obvious first connotation.

    Its like using “us” or “all” but in a most intensely personal, hesychastic, “only-me-and-God-on-this-earth” (or in this …cave) undistracted setting!
    May our Lord grant us that gift of oneness!

  98. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    There is a continuum which is clearly revealed in today’s world from the darkened atomized individual with no ties to community, faith or God (living in hell) to the fully realized human personhood of a sanctified saint such as St. Silouan.

    It is virtually impossible for most people to pray for anyone but themselves and most seldom do that well. I find it quiet difficult to get beyond the stage of a 3 year old shouting “I want” in the store.

    My parents taught me that we are all interconnected by the divinity who created this seen world. They did not just believe that, they knew it and transmitted it to me and my brother.

    They lived long enough to see us both in the Orthodox Church much to their complete surprise.

    Saints such as Silouan are constantly and deeply aware of that inter-connection and partake sufficiently of the life of the divine persons of God so that they are tethered to that life.

    They become a life guards who can venture out into the dark and raging sea of the hell most of us live in, calm it and bring us back at least a little closer to the shore.

    Most of us cannot swim well enough and do not have a strong enough tether to allow us to do more than merely stay afloat. If we try to venture out too far, we will drown too being overcome by the darkness and despair.

    The good news is that we don’t have to until we are strong enough.

    Blessed Silouan, pray for us.

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