Reading the Real Bible and Notes on the Real Hell

prosphora13This post began as a comment – a response to serious questions about the nature of hell (Is Hell Real?) and recent treatments of Scriptural literalism. I offer this edited version as a new post for the sake of those who don’t follow comments closely…

Dear Reader, I want to state immediately that you should be at peace about the state of Orthodoxy. My earlier post (Is Hell Real?) is not meant to question the “reality” of hell in the sense that you are using the word – though it is meant to make us think a great deal more about what we mean when we say “real” – about which I’ll say more in a moment.

And, on matters of Biblical interpretation, I utterly reject the nonsense of liberal Christianity and its handling of Scriptures (much as I reject their handling by Protestant fundamentalists – they are two sides of the same coin). But, again, I want to press the point of our understanding of the Scriptures beyond the flat literalism of modern Protestantism (whether fundamentalist or liberal). Some may find my pressing of this point to be less than helpful. If so, they should ignore these posts.

On What I Mean by “Real”

Modern thought, including modern Protestant thought, tends to think of “reality” as consisting of only one kind of thing. So, if we say “real,” we mean “true,” “actual,” not “make-believe,” not an “imagination.” And this is the way the word is used whether it is referring to green dragons, God, heaven, hell, what I ate last week, etc. It is this singular, univocal meaning and singular understanding of “real” that I am challenging. I think of this “singular” meaning for “real” as false and misleading. I often refer to it as “flat,” or “literalistic.” My goal is to help readers, on a popular level, understand better the Orthodox teaching on the nature of things – on the world as sacrament – on the character of truth and reality – and thus the nature of our salvation.

The fathers, when addressing this topic, understand that truth and being (and thus “reality” and what is “real”) are qualities that belong to God alone. As St. Gregory the Theologian said, “Inasmuch as we say ‘God exists,’ we don’t exist. Inasmuch as we say, ‘We exist,’ God does not exist.” What he meant by this is that the character of God’s existence is such that no other “existing” thing can be compared to the existence of the true God. The Baptismal prayer calls God, hyperousia, “supersubstantial,” or “beyond being.” St. Basil the Great calls God, “the only truly existing…” St. Athanasius notes that everything created was created out of nothing, and is thus “nothing” by its nature. If we were left utterly to ourselves, we would simply cease to exist because we were and are created “out of nothing.” According to St. Athanasius, the kind of existence we have is utterly a gift. It is sustained by the good will of the good God. But such an existence cannot be compared with the existence and being of God. It is not self-existence, but gift.

However, the good God who brought us into existence out of nothing, also intends for us the gift of union with Himself, which is the gift of eternal life, a participation in the Divine life. Thus the fathers use the language of the created participating in the uncreated (God). St. Maximus the Confessor even says that we become “uncreated” by grace. This is the doctrine that is called “theosis,” divinization.

If divinization is thought of in terms of “being,” then it can be described as a movement from created existence (by nature) towards uncreated existence (by grace).

I have used the word “real” in the sense and meaning of the statement,”God alone is real,” i.e. “God is the only truly existing one.” Those things are real that have participation in God and only insomuch as they have participation in God. Those things that resist such participation, that rebel are not “not existing” (or else we couldn’t even speak of them), but they are moving in a direction that is opposite from true existence, and are moving towards what they came from (nothing). In the fathers there is thus a distinction between things that do not exist (ouk ousia) and things that are tending toward non existence (me ousia). Because existence is the gift of God, and God does not take back the gift He has given, the most we can do in our rebellion is move towards me ousia (relative non-existence, a “not real” reality).

When I suggest that hell is “not real,” I do not mean that there is no such thing, but that the nature of what we call “hell,” is at heart a movement away from reality (God), a choice towards non-existence, something that is essentially inauthentic. C.S. Lewis’ imagery of hell as the “gray town” in The Great Divorce, is a very rich play on this thought.

On the Biblical Stories

There are many kinds of stories in the Bible. Protestant fundamentalism has, more or less, decided that there is only one kind of story in the Scriptures and only one kind of truth that has any usefulness and that is a literal, historical kind of story or truth. Thus the story of Adam and Eve is seen as only having value and only being of use if it is a description of a “factual” event. It would understand a “factual” event to mean that if I were present as an observer on the day of Adam’s creation, I would see the event of the clay being formed into the first homo sapiens, etc. This same kind of literalism is applied across the board to all OT stories. Either they are true in that way (it is reasoned), or they are lies, fictions and worse.

Protestant liberalism (in its most extreme forms) agrees with this kind of singular reading. Liberalism, however, uses this singular approach to discredit anything that seems to be questionable as a “factual,” newspaper kind of event. And it uses these attacks to undermine the authority of the Church, the faith, etc. This allows liberalism to proceed to create its own “truths” and build the fantasy world of its own private dreams and continue to create misery in the name of God.

When this topic of “factuality” (in the sense propagated by Protestant fundamentalism and liberalism) is addressed in the Fathers (which is rarely the case when any particular OT story is being invoked), it is clearly understood that the stories in Scripture have a number of “levels” of meaning, a number of possibilities, a variety of uses. The story of Adam and Eve and the Creation is handled more literally by some of the fathers, and quite figuratively by others (I’ve referenced Peter Bouteneff’s work on the patristic use of the Creation chapters and recommend it again). The issue of Adam and Eve and history is not a debate within the historic Orthodox Church. It was and is a debate between Protestant fundamentalists and Protestant liberals that arose with special vehemence in response to Darwin’s theories. It is their battle, not ours. Many Orthodox, living here in the West, have decided that the Orthodox should take sides in that debate – but I suggest that they are mistaken. The debate is a non-issue because both liberals and fundamentalists have a wrong understanding of Scripture and history.

For some, Orthodoxy can seem simply like a more defensible version of conservative Christianity, with sacraments).  Orthodoxy is neither conservative nor liberal – it is Orthodoxy. It need have no reference to the conversations that are happening outside. Orthodoxy was Orthodox when there were no denominations. The only measure of Orthodoxy is its participation in the Truth. Too many people bring the baggage of their former Christianity(ies) with them and try to graft it onto the trunk of the Orthodox tree.

I have written numerous articles on the interpretation of Scripture. Many of them make the comparison between Scripture and icons (a comparison made by the 7th council). Icons are clearly not photographs and they are not photographs for a reason. They depict what is true – in the sense of God, heaven, true existence, etc. – and not simply meaning “whatever we might see.” Christ makes it quite clear that many people “see,” but “don’t see.” There is obviously more than one way of seeing. In that sense, there is more than one way of portraying “what happened.” Icons seek to portray the “truth,” of things. Obviously, many people saw Christ hanging on the Cross but failed to see the truth of Christ hanging on the Cross. An icon does not make that mistake. It shows the truth of Christ on the Cross. In that sense, an icon is more “real,” than a photograph, because the ultimate truth of the event is clearly depicted whereas a photograph might miss it.

What is the “truth” of the story of Adam and Eve? Fundamentalists think it is their photograph-style interpretation. But Christ says that He himself is the meaning of the OT Scriptures (Jn. 5:39). Surely <em>Christ </em>is the <em>truth </em>of the account of Adam and Eve in a manner that transcends the newspaper-like interpretation. The Pharisees could have seen the newspaper account as clear as anyone, but they did not see Christ and so crucified Him – and – ironically – fulfilled the truth of the creation of Adam.

For the fathers are clear, the Woman taken out of Adam’s side, is the Church, His bride. Adam rests (sleeps) on the 6th day (Friday), and from His side God takes a rib and forms the Woman. And on Friday, Christ slept (died), and “one of the soldiers pierced His side, and from His side flowed forth blood and water…” The fathers see this as the Eucharist and Baptism, that which births and creates the Church.

You may take this simply as a “commentary,” an allegorical way of reading the “historical account.” But the mistake is the same as that of the Pharisees. When we make the newspaper-style reading the primary and and so-called real reading, we invariably fail to see that the other is the primary and true. Christ’s Pascha is the true reading of all things. Nothing has any truth except as it relates to Christ’s Pascha. That is the beginning of creation as well as its end and fulfillment.

My writing means to “pound” on the problematic handling of Scripture by the Protestants and help others come to a more proper Orthodox understanding and way of reading. It occasionally jars and upsets, because most people are still stuck in the world-view of modern Protestantism.

The Sacraments Are Real

The newspaper-style understanding of truth is one of the reasons that Protestantism generally does not understand the sacraments (and is mostly non-sacramental). “Things are things,” they reason. Bread can remind us of Christ’s Body and His sacrifice, but it can only BE bread. And this is true for newspapers. But it is not the Truth. “I believe that this is truly Thy most pure Body,” the Orthodox say before receiving communion.  When we say, “This is truly,” do we mean that there is a lump of human flesh lying on the diskos on the altar? Does it mean that a photograph would show a lump of meat?

Of course not. But Orthodoxy clearly thinks that we “see” a reality that is more real than that of a photograph. The bread is truly His most pure Body. The “Kingdom which is to come” is truly present now. “Thou <em>hadst </em>raised us up to heaven…” All of these outrageously non-newspaper ways of speaking are true and only those who are truly in Christ can say them, mean them, see them, and thus, through them, be saved.

Adam and Eve raise interesting historical questions…but the history parts of that particular story are not what matters about it.

The history of Christ’s crucifixion is important, too, and in a way that is not the case of the Creation account. First, that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered death and was buried… are also true in the newspaper-sense of the word, and are attested to in that manner, independent of the Scriptures.

But, like an icon, the gospels reveal His death, burial and resurrection (which certainly has every kind of truth – newspaper and otherwise) in their ultimate and truest way. They show us Christ’s Pascha as the New Creation, the Passover, Jonah from the Whale, the Bridegroom coming forth from the Bridal Chamber, the 3 young men in the fiery furnace, Daniel in the Lions’ Den, etc. And our Baptism plunges us into Christ’s Pascha and His Pascha becomes our new creation and life in Him.

This is the Orthodox faith. It is not a private opinion or a decision about what I would like to believe. It is larger than me or you and we may be plunged into it. But it will not be managed like the newspapers of the fundamentalists or the fables of the liberals. It is the faith of the fathers – the Mystery hidden from before all ages…

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.


106 responses to “Reading the Real Bible and Notes on the Real Hell”

  1. Arnold Avatar

    I notice that you do not mention Roman Catholic treatments of scripture. Is that because it is not distinct? That is, does it follow either an Orthodox or Protestant reading? If the latter, should one not say (from a journalistic perspective) that Protestants read the Bible like Catholics?

  2. Jeremy Avatar

    Thank you Fr. Stephen for both of these posts. The truths you speak wound me in the heart. Please pray for me that I can fully grasp these words and continue the path towards Christ.

  3. Chrys Avatar

    Thank you! This was beautifully said. Recent responses may have led you to decide to walk us through step-by-step in order to help us to understand your point about ontology, but I found it very helpful. This became vividly meaningful when you outlined how a proper understanding of reality leads to a faithful understanding of Scripture, an understanding of it as iconic. This, in turn, exposes – as you carefully show – the bankruptcy of the mechanistic view that informs not just fundamentalism and modern liberal Protestantism, but most of modern life. But then, if I understand this aright, this mechanistic view “un-does” the incarnation, as it were, separating the truly spiritual and the material that God designed to be united into a “two story universe” (which thereby transmogrifies the “spiritual” – as commonly understood – into something very “fleshly” in the Pauline sense). A Sacramental view, an Iconic view, by contrast, is faithful to the Incarnation and transforms everything into a potential participation in the Really REAL while showing, at the same time, what everything truly is. Lest I risk muddying up what you made so very clear, I will stop and simply say: Thank you!

  4. Anglican Peggy Avatar
    Anglican Peggy

    This post is encouraging to me to see that I might possibly be on the right track about this. It looks like my Anglican teachers got something right and I understood it too.

    I once told someone that the actual details of the Fall could have been quite different from the biblical account. The two actors could have had different names. They could have lived anywhere in any year in the distant past. Rather than being made literally from clay, they might have been newly conscious beings just having emerged from the long process of (guided) evolution. But the exact details of how it actually went down don’t really matter so much as what really happened. The Bible tells the story in a way best expresses the deepest truth of what really happened. As such the Biblical account is the truest story in the world. It is so true that we could confidently stake our lives on its veracity.

    I also had a light bulb moment once as I was reading one of the Gospel accounts of Jesus entering the room where the Disciples were hiding. It occurred to me that he was able to do that because not because he was a ghost or a spirit. Those accounts make clear he was not insubstantial. Rather, he could enter into that room past the locked door because he was more real than the door or the lock or the walls. He is the Most Real, and his resurrected body was (and is) in a state that is more real than we can fully understand right now. But we will someday as our new raised bodies will also be real in a sense that they are not now.

  5. Anglican Peggy Avatar
    Anglican Peggy

    PS. I just remembered that after that light bulb moment I could literally feel my faith in the veracity of the Gospels get a little stronger. Who would ever think to invent a story of someone who passes through walls but is also as solid and substantial as you or me?

    Thanks to Father I am seeing now that there is an added dimension in the content of the Gospels. In them the reported details are vital to our understanding of reality. A greater truth is revealed through those details. Now that I think about it, it makes perfect sense for that to be so. They are most emphatically not true myths as is the story of Adam and Eve.

    My mind is actually kind of blown right now. This is why I like coming here. I can always look forward to seeing what I already know in a dim way in a whole new light.

  6. Perry Lee Avatar
    Perry Lee

    The “more real” that Anglican Peggy talks about is brilliantly described by C.S, Lewis in “The Great Divorce”; a quick read for a rainy afternoon. I recommend it highly as an illustration of what Father is talking about.

  7. […] On a related topic, Father Stephen Freeman has a very worthwhile post on Reading the Real Bible and Notes on the Real Hell. […]

  8. guy Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    i really appreciate this follow up. This doesn’t clear up all of my questions, but this is a far clearer presentation such that i do feel i understand what you’re getting at now.

  9. Peyton Avatar

    Thank you, Father! And thank you, Anglican Peggy. I was instantly reminded of T. S. Eliot’s Little Gidding and the lines

    You are not here to verify,
    Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
    Or carry report. You are here to kneel
    Where prayer has been valid.

  10. Ruth Ann Avatar
    Ruth Ann

    As a Catholic of the Latin Rite I understand Scripture and Sacraments like you have described them here in this article. This is because I have taken the time to study what my faith actually teaches on the matter.

    I also understand reality and hell like you have explained them. Catholics and Orthodox Christians have a great deal, I think most things of faith, in common, but not everything.

    In the United States, Protestantism has been very influential in our culture and there are some Catholics who do read the Bible like Protestants because of that influence. But when they do that, they are wrong in their understanding and interpretation. When people want my opinion on whether or not they should join a Protestant or a so-called non-denominational Bible study I say no, unless I know they are well-grounded in the Catholic understanding of Holy Scripture.

  11. Anastasia Avatar

    Darkness and cold are not “real”, in one sense, either. There are light particles but not “darkness” particles. Darkness is but the absence of light particles. Yet we can know that in another sense, darkness is very real. Cold is but the absence of heat, yet it is real enough to kill us. Hell is like that, having no substance or being of its own, yet very real.

  12. fatherstephen Avatar

    Ruth Ann,
    I think you are correct. The Protestant manner of reading the Scriptures seems “self-evident” in our culture. The reason has nothing to do with their manner, and everything to do with the fact that they invented our culture. I once opined that in my native State, South Carolina, everyone is born a Baptist – the Catholics, Orthodox, Buddhists and Hindus in S.C. are all Baptist-Catholics, Baptist-Orthodox, Baptist-Buddhists, etc. It probably extends through various Protestant influences elsewhere. It’s just the phenomenon of culture. But, as you note, it requires that non-Protestants acquire a mindset other than that of the general culture. Without such a mindset, they’ll simply see Protestantism everywhere they look regardless. Blessings!

  13. Dino Avatar

    I am very glad to see this comment as an article. It is of huge value to a great many of the recurring concerns and quesrries people have. Thank you again Father!

  14. Boyd Avatar

    Okay. But does any of this relate to the problem of suffering and the daily grind of life? And what about Ecclesiastes? (Life is meaningless, etc. The conclusion of Ecclesiastes always seemed like a non sequitur to me.) Some days I seem to see the wonder of it all, and some days I despair of trying to find any meaning. My scant reading of Buddhism tells me that they say that the problem is with attachments. It occurred to me that maybe attachment can be seen as idolatry and attachment to anything other than God is the problem. In an earlier post you wrote: “We did not choose existence for ourselves – it is given to us. I must eat. I must breathe. I must work. I must suffer. These are unavoidable necessities. The nature of created existence is marked by such necessity. It is, of course, possible to embrace our necessity and make peace with it.” I still haven’t figured out how to make peace with it. On some days, this “unnecessary existence” seems to be just that–an unnecessary allegorical layer on glued on top of the necessary layer of suffering. Maybe my problem is that I am still Protestant–(family issues make it very tough for me to become Orthodox) and I have not yet taken the plunge via the Orthodox Eucharist. Thanks for what you do.

  15. Sara Avatar

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! This blog and your book (and all the other books I’ve been reading the past year or so) have been a tremendous help to me in trying to grasp the Orthodox way of things; it is all new to me but it feels like coming home. An epiphany and a paradigm shift!

  16. Karen Avatar

    Father, bless! Yes, thank you for a very useful post.

    Anastasia, darkness and cold are indeed very good analogies for this “relative nonbeing” of which Father is writing it seems to me. Thanks.

    Boyd, my heart goes out to you. Sounds like you are in a tough spot right now. Keep reading, ask questions, and don’t give in to despair. The Lord is not far from any of us who seek Him (regardless of our affiliation). In my experience, in His time, He will make a way where there doesn’t seem to be one now. He has not promised us a life free of tribulation, just that He has overcome and that He will be with us always. May the Lord have mercy on you and grant you His peace.

  17. Isaac Avatar

    I once tried to explain to an anti-Christian atheist that not all Christians read the scriptures as American fundamentalists do with examples from various Fathers and all to no avail. I think there is such a thing as a Baptist-Atheist too and it is very hard to convince people that start with American religion that there might be something more and that American religion might just be a historical anomaly.

  18. Anna Avatar

    Thank you for all you write. I’ve been reading your thoughts for nearly a year, but have never commented. You have been a wonderful guide for me as explored Orthodoxy, by attending divine liturgy, reading, and prayer. As a cradle evangelical I longed for more depth, truth and beauty in my worship and church, but all I found were embarrassing, narcissistic choruses, powerpoint slides, deadening literalism and cultural anxiety. I was chrismated this Pascha – the most beautiful day of my life. So grateful to be here.

  19. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick

    Anna, God grant you many years!

  20. G Weigle Avatar
    G Weigle

    Thank you for this.. We are recent converts to Orthodoxy and we are constantly fighting our Protestant mindset. This was very helpful.

  21. CJ Avatar

    Thank you for this Father. I’m a Protestant drawn to Orthodoxy, but even as I’m drawn to the truth of what you’re saying, I find myself wanting to accuse you of “spiritualizing” to avoid difficult questions or “making excuses” to justify particular doctrines. You really do have to step outside of Protestantism to see how thoroughly it permeates our understanding. As they say, fish don’t notice the water.

  22. Randi Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    This post makes me realize that even though I’ve been Orthodox for 15 years, I am still an infant in the faith and my Protestant deep south Baptist background is still influencing me. This post makes me think “what is real?” and reminds me of Pilate saying “what is Truth?”

    Thank you for your plain way of speaking and the time you put into your essays.

  23. Lena Avatar

    I think you right, baptist-atheist do exist, in fact such mindset is, ironically, remind me of soviet raised atheists. Their arguments sound very close to above mentioned literalistic world view. Sometimes it makes me think that secularism/atheism is quite universal, as a fruit of one root. Subsequently, its product – modern (american) culture is very easily accepted everywhere people willing to forget God in the name of “progress, freedom and modernity”. I didn’t mean to offend anybody by comparison but some aspects of American life have strange taste of déjà vu for a person who grew up in Soviet Union.

  24. Greg Avatar

    “We did not choose existence for ourselves – it is given to us.”

    Well, at least some Orthodox theologians (I am thinking of the work on Fr. Bulgakov on the Mother of God and the Forerunner), would argue otherwise: that there is a preternatural movement of the soul toward life – human freedom and existence are not mutually exclusive. While there is much speculative in Bulgakov I must say that the more I reflect on these two books the more impressed I am.

  25. Boyd Avatar


    Very interesting. Can you point me to the appropriate works of Fr. Bulgakov so that I can read for myself? I don’t know much about Buddhism, however, this “preternatural movement of the soul toward life” reminds me of something I read from them about being born due to a craving for existence. Of course if God had not created the soul there would be no soul to preternaturally move right?

  26. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick


    Sergius Bulgakov wrote two “trilogies”.

    The “lesser” trilogy:
    -The Burning Bush on the Ortohdox Veneration of the Mother of God
    -The Friend of the Ortohdox Veneration of the Forerunner
    -Jacob’s Ladder on Angels

    The “greater” trilogy:
    -The Lamb of God
    -The Comforter
    -The Bride of the Lamb

    All titles are published by Eerdmans and may be found on B&N, Amazon, etc.

  27. fatherstephen Avatar

    It is impossible for anyone Orthodox to have anything like the logical consistency of a John Calvin. But, if there is a consistency to be found, it is found in Christ’s Pascha. A good read on this is Fr. John Behr’s The Mystery of Christ. Trying to introduce people to many aspects of Orthodox thought and praxis, when those people speak “culture protestantism,” is very difficult. And because Orthodoxy is more like a grammar and a language than it is like an argument, it will often have some of the same “quirks,” as a language – exceptions, etc. I would say – it’s because Orthodoxy is more like reality (which it is), while other things are like ideas (which they are).

  28. fatherstephen Avatar

    You are right about Bulgakov being highly speculative. Some of his stuff was also explicitly condemned as heresy and he recanted it. German idealism had a real influence on him – though he certainly runs it through an Orthodox soul. I would say to you, and anyone else, Bulgakov is a rare delicacy, like eating a Japanese Blowfish. It can be a rare treat, but can also kill you. Therefore, I do not put him on my public menu, nor recommend reading him. We delight ourselves too much.

  29. Rhonda Avatar

    Well said about Bulgakov! I acquired a couple of his works as a catechumen & my priest immediately interceded at the time…something I did not truly appreciate at the time. Now a decade later when I re-read them, I understood why. He is definitely not for inquirers, catechumens nor those newly received.

  30. Rhonda Avatar

    Superb article 🙂 It will be re-blogged!

  31. James, the Brother Avatar
    James, the Brother

    Boyd, Hang in there. I am the only member of my family that is Orthodox (convert 3 years ago). I received no hostility, but the challenges ebb and flow with varying intensity.

    Anna, Great, when I read your comment of coming into the church I got an unexpected lump in my throat as I seemed to discern your happiness. God Bless You!

  32. Lucinda Avatar

    I’m dealing with Protestant literalism (Calvinism) in the newly-formed mission I attend. The clergy are super conservative and want every woman to dress like Little House on the Prairie, homeschool, and not have jobs or earn money. They told me I’m “going to hell” because I got a haircut, that I’m a feminist and trying to be a man because I want to work at home while I homeschool my kids, and that my husband wants to be a woman because he isn’t a drinker and he is okay with the idea of me helping out financially (we think they’re wrong on all counts). They want to recreate the culture from the time of the Church Fathers, insisting that cultural norms of a certain time shouldn’t be considered when interpreting scripture and shouldn’t be allowed to change. They insist they are “True Orthodox” and that anyone who disagrees with them is an OINO (“Orthodox in name only”). How can I get them to understand that they are misinterpreting scripture and that what they are doing and thinking and teaching is not Orthodoxy, but Calvinism in Orthodox clothing?

  33. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Lucinda, you can’t. You should not be in a position where you feel you must correct your spiritual father on fundamental matters of the faith.

    Where you are is a potentially abusive situation.

    While they may very well be correct in what they believe, they do not seem to have the pastoral gifts necessary to start a mission.

    If your disagreements are so deep, it would be better to find a different parish.

    BTW: My late wife and I homeschooled our son, she did little work outside the home and wore simple clothes and little make-up. That did not make us Orthodox.

  34. Karen Avatar

    Lucinda, is your mission in communion with a canonical Orthodox jurisdiction? If it’s not, I suggest you find a parish or mission that is if you can (most jurisdictions have online resources for finding a parish). If your mission is canonical, and you don’t have other alternatives, perhaps Fr. Stephen would have some advice. I heartily agree with Michael’s comment to you as well–it seems to me he has made very sound observations about what you are describing. I really hope you and your husband can get counsel from an Orthodox Priest you can trust.

  35. Photini Avatar

    Okay, I am willing to conceded that perhaps their names weren’t Adam and Eve. Some of the story might be altered due to retelling (like the game “telephone”). But I cannot give up the idea that there were two people created distinct from other animals (no evolution) based on one thing alone. If death entered the world through sin, and there was no sin until “Adam” and “Eve” disobeyed God, then how could there be death before that action. And if “Eve” was the “mother of all living,” I do not see how there could be people descended from any other woman. The story, even if seen on multiple levels, must have a basis in truth. God created one man (from the earth, not another animal) and one woman (from the man, not another animal) who disobeyed him and through that action death entered into the world. Is that too literal for the Orthodox to accept? Why?

  36. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you Fr. Stephen! I have been hoping and praying that you would write something like this and it is more of a blessing than I imagined! Glory to God for All Thins!

  37. FJE Avatar

    Thank you Fr Stephen for this illuminating exposition.
    Could it be said that the science – religion debate is a false opposition as the focus of science is the face value newspaper/photographic ‘reality’ of the created order (whose reality as sacrament is mostly part hidden or ignored) whereas the focus of theology is the reality and truth of the Uncreated, the ‘Who’ of creation and relationship between the two (created and Uncreated) and which therefore reads the cosmos not as a newspaper but in the way an icon refers the beholder to a deeper and more true understanding of the meaning of things?

  38. fatherstephen Avatar

    I think you described that very well!

  39. fatherstephen Avatar

    I am deeply disturbed by your note and I wonder what jurisdiction you are in, who is your bishop, etc. What you are describing, if accurate, is not Orthodoxy but religious abuse. Religious abuse is delusion of the most serious sort. I don’t know how you get them to understand. But what you are describing is false teaching. The OINO is a sign of great delusion and of their unwillingness to be corrected. If you are in one of the jurisdictions that is in communion with Constantinople, Moscow, etc. (i.e. Orthodox) then I beg you to write these things and describe them to your bishop. If you are in some group that is not in that communion, then you are not in an Orthodox Church but in a cult group and I advise you to find a way to get yourself, your husband and your children out of there as quickly as possible before great damage is done to your psyche.

    The abusive character of these things is not in the things themselves. People may choose to dress in a certain manner or wear their hair in a certain manner, or structure their households in a certain manner. A man may drink (not to excess) – but none of these things is particularly Orthodox. To require them, or to pressure their usage by rewarding or bullying, etc. is one of the classic definitions of religious abuse. It crosses the line.

    This kind of thing is not at all unknown in recent years. It does a disservice to Orthodoxy. When someone thinks they are more Orthodox than other Orthodox – then they are in delusion. That is a simple plain fact.

    I will ask the Archangel Michael to intercede for you and protect you. What you are describing (if accurate) is extremely dangerous – far more than Calvinism.

  40. fatherstephen Avatar

    It’s certainly not too literal and many Orthodox accept it. I am only saying that it is not the point of the account in Genesis, and has become the point because of the modern debates within Protestantism.

    The death entered the world through sin idea was a question for me as well for a long time. Among some, the world without death is a description of Paradise, whereas this world “was made subject to futility” for Adam’s sake (on account of sin). In that reading, “this world” was subject to futility from the beginning in light of the sin that would be Adam’s in Paradise.

    That sounds convoluted and I’m sure it could be stated more clearly, but it’s a way of thinking about these things. Many, arguing strongly for the historical case speak of a huge disjunction in creation at the time of the fall. This line of thought demonstrates that such a disjunction is not required by Genesis.

    Again, I am not trying to say there is only one Orthodox way to read this or to tell someone that it cannot be literal. Generally, it has been literalism that has refused any other interpretation – while the Tradition has always allowed for it. I am suggesting that the Genesis account is rightly read through Christ’s Pascha rather than through the lens of history or science.

  41. Lou. Avatar

    In a different part of his corpus, C.S. Lewis refers to the Resurrection as “the Fact on which all facthood depends.” I had always taken that as a literary conceit.

    It sounds as if you would accept this as an Orthodox expression if broadened to Pascha.

  42. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    FJE while what you say is true in part, it misses the real difference: between the totality of the revealed truth of creation in the Christian faith and our place in it vs science wrongly done and founded on the lie of philosphical naturalism and materialistic egalitarianism. That is not science at all and I refuse to dignify it with that name as it perpetuates the false dichotomy you point out.

  43. fatherstephen Avatar

    I agree, but I do not think “science” will ever engage in the totality of the revealed truth. In that sense, there is science only in the lives of the spirit-bearing holy ones. I believe this is true. Nonetheless, there is much that “techne” can do, and names itself as “science,” while never engaging in its totality.

  44. TLO Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    I have been trying to read through this patiently but I am rather disturbed by it. Please forgive me for not being conciliatory but it seems that this is stepping off the edge of sanity.

    Redefining “real” is like trying to redefine the word “wet.” You cannot do so without first removing its meaning completely.

    What we know for sure is that we are here and this physical reality exists. Anything beyond this is pure speculation. Why, then, make any effort to try to elevate the speculation at the cost of the only reality we can possibly comprehend? This reality is the only context in which we are able to comprehend anything.

    You are right about Bulgakov being highly speculative.

    This entire subject matter is “highly speculative.” How could it be anything but? Only the dead know if there is a life beyond this one, and they don’t write books. (A post-resurrected Jesus would be the only one qualified to talk about such things, and he didn’t write any books on the matter nor is there any record of his addressing the issue at all after his death.)

    If some decide that there is a literal hell while others take a more ethereal view, what does it matter? No one knows! And regardless of anyone’s opinion, if such places exist, arriving there is the only way to comprehend. Assuredly, even you would not claim to be 100% certain of the matter.

    When I read your previous post on hell, my immediate thought was “Why does this matter?” In that post you stated that only the pure in heart will see god. Essentially, those bound for “heaven” will experience god “rightly.” So, those on this forum who experience god in some manner will, presumably, be included in this category. So there’s no reason to discuss the matter (except the alleviate some doubt that they may feel)

    To those who are not pure in heart, you say that experiencing god is a fiery experience (hell). But you go on to say that those people are delusional. If that’s true, it makes no difference whether you tell them so or not. You can’t make crazy people sane by pointing out realities that they don’t see.

    So, what’s the point of the discussion at all?

    I cannot think of anything good to come of this topic except self-congratulation (which I suspect is at the root of a lot of religious discussions). The only other result is division and/or looking down on/pitying those poor crazy literalists or what have you.

    Again, sorry that this sounds so confrontational. Please accept this in the spirit intended.

  45. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick

    I appreciate and agree with your caution about Sergius Bulgakov’s writings. It helps me to see Mary the Theotokos as created person divinized by grace. She is not an unoriginate divine person.

    But I imagine that to some degree Bulgakov’s error draws from ‘The Wisdom of Solomon’ where wisdom is personified and female, i.e. “she”. Is this a mere literary device? If not, how should we read it?

  46. TLO Avatar

    I agree, but I do not think “science” will ever engage in the totality of the revealed truth. In that sense, there is science only in the lives of the spirit-bearing holy ones. I believe this is true. Nonetheless, there is much that “techne” can do, and names itself as “science,” while never engaging in its totality.

    I would submit that no one, ever, would claim that any scientist can engage in science (as it is defined by the rest of the world) in its totality.

    I would further submit that “truth” is not the province of science.

    I would also submit that science is the study of this physical realm and has absolutely no bearing on or input to be gained from an unknowable supernatural “reality.”

    I would finally submit that no one who is “spiritual” could make any claim to totality about either science or spirituality.

  47. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick

    I know you addressed Fr. Stephen but I want to respond to your comment about the “real” by observing that you seem to be using “real” in narrow epistemic terms.

    When we see or touch a “real” person or thing do we immediately see or touch everything that it means? I would say No. We are limited and need our perception enlarged.

    If we are intimate with a person or thing our seeing and touching is different, larger, with a fuller and more total knowing.

    For spiritual things that are intimate we need faith to apprehend what is often hidden at first. In time a fullness or totality is revealed. There is a path to walk to see what’s “real” and a commitment to the journey is necessary.

  48. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, the capacity to create and use technology if not done in submission to God’s love is destructive even if the technology seems to enhance our life.

  49. Isaac Avatar


    Another option is that “death” refers only to human death. Note that in the creation accounts in Genesis (there is more than one) Adam and Eve are put in a garden apart from the rest of the creation. Presumably Adam and Eve know what death is or the Lord’s warning would make no sense to them. So another way to look at it is that while death was part of the animal and plant world, when two hominids (or maybe the first group of hominids) are given the image and likeness of God in order to become the priests of creation (and who is better able to do that than a creature that is literally the relative of every living thing on the planet) they are given the possibility to transcend death and start work to bring the whole creation into communion with God. It is my understanding that Orthodoxy teaches that Jesus would not have naturally died unless he let himself die so he represents what Adam and Eve would have been if they hadn’t fallen. He has a mastery over the creation, able to heal diseases and still storms. My understanding of Orthodox theology is that we all should be able to do this if we had been in true communion with God and fulfilled our priestly call as “shepherds of creation.”

    I present this picture not because I insist it is the right one, but rather to point out that there are many possibly ways to understand those stories and unlike American fundamentalists we don’t have to paint ourselves into corners where a person has to decide between science and being a Christian.

  50. fatherstephen Avatar

    You are asking that things as we perceive them (which we already have to admit carries a great deal of cultural baggage) be elevated to a place of ontological certainty and be defined as “real.” Thus God, etc., are by definition less real. That’s one way to define the term, and I dare say, that’s the way secularism defines them.

    But if you actually believe there really is a God, then, by definition, God is the ground of reality and everything else is only relatively real.

    It seems to me that rather than understanding the language someone else is speaking, you’re insisting that there is only one way to speak – plain, secular English.

    It may, in many ways, lie at the very heart of the troubles that dog you. You want God to make Himself known to you in plain, secular English and to use only that language when He wants to deal with you in any way whatsoever. I am saying that plain, secular English is insufficient for describing all of reality and deeply misleading about much of what we call “reality.”

    What difference does any of this make? I haven’t said I’m trying to make a difference. I’m writing about something about which there seems to be some conversation. Apparently, for some, something is being communicated. If you think it’s because of self-congratulations, I would suggest that you’re in no place to judge any of it since it is a conversation which makes no sense to you.

    Everything that is not in plain, secular English, is described by you as “highly speculative.” But you’re assuming that your experience (plain, secular English) is the common experience of everyone. It is not. Some have to speak otherwise in order to give account of their experience, much less to converse about it.

    Another assumption in your conversation is that God is the One who needs to change – He must communicate to you only in plain, secular English. You do not suppose that you must change (other than to subsequently do what He tells you in plain, secular English). I also understand from your sharing that you’ve become completely suspicious of all religious speech unless it is in plain, secular English. I understand that, but you’re asking God and the world to conform to your demands and complaining when they don’t, and blaming them as well for your situation in life viz. religious believing. Perhaps those who abused your trust should be held to account instead of everyone else, including God.

  51. fatherstephen Avatar

    Despite the “wisdom” as female – the Tradition, including the NT, sees Christ as the Wisdom, Word and Power of God. Bulgakov left the reservation when he decided to ignore that.

  52. fatherstephen Avatar

    Michael B.
    That’s true. I live in the capital of nuclear weapons – it’s a daily awareness.

  53. fatherstephen Avatar

    What we can say is that it is made clear to us in Genesis that human beings are created in the image of God. That image is fulfilled in Christ, and there is much else can be said. When we then insist on knowing how such a thing is/was true historically, we have to ask, “Why do we want to know that?” The creation account tells us what we must know and need to know. The historical how and its mechanics are not part of our need to know. It was the confusion of what God has made known to us, with what we insisted must also be made known (the historical) that creates the problem.

    If we got a literal account – how literal would it need to be? Should it include something about DNA? Should it include particle physics? Of course not. So why do we insist that it include paleontology?

  54. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick

    Respecting that it is misleading to personify wisdom as “she”, I wonder why ‘The Wisdom of Solomon’ is in our canon. I’m not arguing. This is just something I’m trying to sort out like the influence of neoplatonism on some fathers.

    The church may have been too generous letting in all the stuff that it has as some of it can be downright confusing.

  55. David (Theophan) Michie Avatar
    David (Theophan) Michie

    Here’s some truth. The typical conservative seminary in this country is not characterized by the stereotypical literalism you hope, not wish, to ascribe to it. Straw man arguments are impressive until you look close enough to see that they are straw. An example: My fundamentalist missionary father-in-law tells me that there are atheist Orthodox priests in Romania (a leader in the OCMC tells me it’s certainly possible, by the way). Dad tells everyone he talks to about the spiritual blindness of Romanians and regularly uses this story of atheist priests to prove it. Of course, it doesn’t prove anything. From the beginning of the 20th century until the mid 70’s there certainly was fundamentalist/modernist battle raging in english speaking countries. Those fundamentalists were in reaction to the rank theological liberalism that ravaged the so-called mainline denominations. Beginning in the 50’s and with the tidal wave ” Jesus movement” of the 70’s a new Evangelicalism replaced the old reactionary fundamentalism with a more thoughtful and Biblically positive approach to Scripture. It is often enough informed by reference to the early Church and to the teaching of the Fathers. Why should you bother to investigate this? It appears that your entire theological education was influenced by a theological liberalism that you rejected while at the same time you accepted the stereotypes that your liberal teachers warned you about. so while you reject liberalism you snidely also dismiss fundamentalism and claim it is just the” other side of the same coin”.

    Where would American Christianity be if it had not battled the biblically dismissive liberalism that set itself up to help all the, to there way of thinking, religious idiots who in their uninformed ignorance, thought it best to believe that God had given us an objective revelation. Revelation that told us not only the story of Christ but of God’s work in the world for all the millennia leading up to the annunciation to Mary. Revelation that was written down and affirmed by God’s people both before and after Christ came. It is offensive to equate people who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ with those who reject him. You may not approve of their ignorance regarding a more theological reading of Scripture over against a consistently literal one but they do REALLY believe. Theological liberalism DOESN’T. Bluntly, Eastern Orthodoxy has been a non-player in American Christianity. Left to the Orthodox Church, the” one holy, catholic and apostolic Church”, Many would have found out the hard way concerning the literalness, or not, of the eternal state. TLO, who responds above, is more right than wrong. His opening comments in particular hit the nail, precisely, on the head.

    I know objectively that the perspectives of Fr. Stephen are not, NOT, what THE Orthodox Church teaches but simply what he and other priests (mine included) wish to believe the Orthodox Church teaches. I know objectively that I can easily find Orthodox clergy that are troubled by the latent liberalism inherent in this way of thinking about Scripture. BUT it is so troubling to me that it is tolerated that I pause a lot these days and wonder how the true church can be so blind to this sort of cynicism.
    I’m tired.

  56. Anglican Peggy Avatar
    Anglican Peggy


    If your post was in reference to mine, I would just want to clarify that is not what I was trying to say. I believe that the Fall actually happened and that the story in Genesis tells us everything important that we need to know about it. It is telling the story in the most deeply truthful way by framing it in such a way that the point and the moral is front and center. It is not a newspaper account of what happened. It is a mythic re-telling of what really happened. The best mythic story-telling tells the truth in a distilled purified way. It orders the story so that the truth shines through. In that sense the names, places and times of the actual Fall are not as important as the heart of the story, its truth. I absolutely believe that in the Genesis account we have the heart of the story and that has been accurately transmitted to us. In the beginning there were two people, a man and a woman. Sin and death entered the world through them through temptation. They desired something other than the right and original relationship they had with God. But instead of becoming gods like him, they fell into the state that we are all currently born into. Without knowing the heart of our problem there is no hope for us recognizing the solution when it comes even when that solution comes in person.

  57. Anglican Peggy Avatar
    Anglican Peggy


    In fact it just occurred to me that we can know nothing really without the Genesis account of the Fall, much less recognize the Truth when he comes.

  58. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    TLO: no one can make a claim of totality, but the Church can.

  59. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    No Isaac, we don’t have to decide between religion and science. We have to decide between the Incarnation and the materialism of philosophical naturalism.

    The two cannot be mixed coherently.

  60. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    David, have you talked with Father Stephan directly?

    Are you really surprised that there are atheist priests in Romania?

  61. fatherstephen Avatar

    I’m not sure if I can say anything to assuage your grief or help with the anger that seems to be part of your comment. But I’ll offer a few thoughts to clear up some misperceptions.

    I’ve tried to be careful to speak of “fundamentalists” rather than “conservative” Protestants. If I’ve slipped, I apologize, because I recognize the difference quite well. I’m not at all ignorant of the history of evangelical Christianity – especially from about 1960 forward (I studied with George Marsden at Duke, a recognized authority in Evangelical historical studies). I would certainly have described myself as an Evangelical at a certain point – and as a conservative Evangelical for most of those years – quite liturgical – but battling within a liberal dominated denomination.

    The movements within Evangelical thought, to embrace a view of Scripture that extended beyond a simple literalism, were very significant, and still are. I think that very movement has led some to consider historical solutions (such as the role of Tradition in Orthodoxy) as a literal version of sola scriptura has seemed less than satisfactory. There are plenty of weaknesses in Evangelical thought, but plenty of strengths as well. It has doubtless been the single most important formative factor in American history – both for good and ill. It is thus impossible to write as a contemporary Christian, whether Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox and not react in some way to Evangelical Christianity as we attempt to address the role of culture in contemporary Christian thought (Orthodox included). It often pushes me into a very critical position, because subtlety is less than effective to make the points necessary to be made. At the same time that pushing can make me come across as far less grateful than I am for what we have in our culture. It sometimes certainly sets up “straw men,” because such straw men are “didactic,” they are teaching devices for those who need to see connections they have never made and need to understand things they have never seen (though they were surrounded by them).

    Most Americans know absolutely nothing about American Church history. I have written here about the various “Awakenings” and their place in our consciousness as well as other things such as the Great Cane Break Revival, the Restoration Movement, etc. I daresay that few if any other Orthodox blogs have done as much (nor do very many American Evangelical Blogs bother to educate about their own history).

    As for unbelievers in Romania, etc., so? I’ll match them with unbelievers in Churches everywhere in the world, including in America. I will say that I find it interesting that so much money and effort were being put into Eastern Europe after 1989 when Western Europe is in far greater crisis. In a way, Eastern Europe was a more fruitful place, in that the residue of the culture was more Christian after the Communist Yoke than Western Europe is after the Enlightenment, etc.

    However, you make assertions regarding Orthodoxy, including my own. I have no where said that a literal interpretation of the Genesis account of Creation is un-Orthodox. It is certainly not at all uncommon. I have said, quite correctly, that it is by no means universal within the fathers, and that the non-literal readings are often of far greater use. I have also said that the vehemence that accompanies such literalism is borrowed from outside of Orthodoxy. It’s not our fight.

    I am not a latent liberal. Frankly, I really hate liberalism. I suffered under it for years and paid a price.

    You are describing an approach to certain portions of Scripture that is well within the bounds of Orthodox historical thought and usage as cynical. I’m not a cynic – certainly not concerning Scripture. I believe the Scriptures to be the Word of God.

    I am concerned that you have created some sort of private criteria for judging priests and the Church. There are many things that trouble priests, me included. And within the brotherhood of the Church we honestly wrestle with these things. Sometimes we “bang” on each other. Frankly, I don’t mind anymore. I can be banged around by brother Orthodox priests. They’re not trying to do to me what the liberals, or the fundamentalists before them, sought to do to me.

    But I think you’re important a worry into the Orthodox world that is not the actual case. I can see over the stretch of American history, denomination after denomination that fell to the enemy as liberalism began a slow creeping takeover. Some see that same takeover in many American institutions outside the Church. It can seem truly insidious and in some cases it was.

    I was even told before I converted by some, outside of Orthodoxy, that Orthodoxy itself would fall in a decade or two, that the same story was going on. They were wrong (and I thought they were at the time, though the suggestion really worried me). I have heard repeated calumnies, for example, hurled at various professors at St. Vladimir’s Seminary (those complaints have been around ever since it’s been there, just as they were hurled against it’s parent seminary, St. Sergius in Paris). I have reason to fear incipient liberalism, having been its victim in the past. The suspicions are incorrect. I don’t necessarily like all the men who have been on the faculty there over the years, and some have been lesser scholars than others, but with only a single exception or two, I don’t think there has been a “liberal” on the faculty or anyone driving those issues. And I know what I’m talking about.

    Holy Cross in Brookline, MA (the Greek Orthodox seminary) is less well-known to me and I cannot speak to it. But, based on the GO clergy I’ve known, I find very little “liberalism” at all. Doesn’t mean there aren’t any – America produces liberals just like it produces NFL teams. It’s a culture thing.

    I think there are many “conflicted” clergy (and laity) today who have been politically loyal Democrats. They find their party loyalty to conflict with their Church on a number of social issues. I can hear the conflict in conversations. But I don’t think that’s a problem “within” Orthodoxy, or a product of their Biblical reading, it’s an American problem. The loyalty that Americans have to their political party, on the whole, trumps their religious loyalty. I’m basing that on some of the work of Stanley Hauerwas and others – as well as my own observations. I’ve seen liberal American clergy approach their Creed with a great deal of “nuance” (unbelief) when they are utterly lockstep with the latest rights declared by their party, though those rights rest on a very slim basis and the Creed rests on the rock of Christ.

    I understand your weariness. But I don’t think things are as bad as you think. They’re probably worse but for very different reasons. There has never been a cultural foe as dangerous or powerful as modern American secularism (or European secularism). That’s the great danger. And there are conservative secularists and liberal secularists. It is a foe that makes the Communist Yoke pale by comparison. It does not yet produce martyrs (other than the unborn). But it is emptying Churches, and worse, emptying hearts of faith.

    I have committed my life and ministry to being engaged as seriously in that battle as possible. I ask your prayers. I assure you of mine.

  62. Isaac Avatar


    Depending on how you define the “materialism of philosophical naturalism” I disagree that we need to decide. I would recommend the book “The God of Nature” by Fr. Christopher C. Knight to explain. It came as quite a surprise to me that in Orthodoxy we don’t believe in supernaturalism until that was explained to me. A lot of the problems with the science and religion debates in the West is that they are debates about what emerges “naturally” from the cosmos and what must be interjected supernaturally from the outside. The panentheistic view of the cosmos in Orthodoxy does not necessitate that kind of divide.

  63. David (Theophan) Michie Avatar
    David (Theophan) Michie

    Michael, No. Not Father Stephen. I spoke with a priest from the Orthodox Christian Missionary Center. This was about 5 years ago and at the time, yes, I was incensed at what my FIL had accused the Romanian Church of. In speaking with the OCMC priest, he explained that since the days when the state infiltrated the Church and placed false priests to act as informers, that some were bound to remain. Mostly because it was the only “job” they knew. With the fall of communism, they had nowhere else to hide, so stayed on, going through the motions. At the time, I accepted the cultural reasons why this might actually be true. I’m not feeling so passive about it any more. I’m certain the hierarchy knows who those priests are and they have a responsibility to remove them from their “jobs”. There’s no justification possible for the Church to allow itself to be corrupted in such an obvious way. My point was that even with some priests like this, it doesn’t put the whole Church in the wrong. In the same way the fact that a few hellfire and brimstone types do not paint all of evangelicalism as being thoughtless. I hope that make sense. Of course, Evangelicalism doesn’t make catholic claims about itself. The OC does.

  64. Rd Andrew Avatar

    Fr Stephen your response to David was thoughtful and spoke to parts of my heart that I have spoken to very few about. From my 20’s onward (I am now 62), I was a card carrying liberal Democrat, joined in all the protests, dabbled in all the New Age philosophies and practices, raised my children as a liberal Methodist, trained Planned Parenting workers, and supported Gay rights. But I grew weary of all the relativist “truths”, the shallowness of my faith, my complete lack of understanding of what it means to have a relationship with Christ, and the emptiness of the narcissistic path I was following. I moved to Alaska with my wife of 39 years, having just married off our children, and was “saved” and “awakened” by Orthodoxy. How did this happen? I knew my past was bankrupt, but didn’t know where to turn. I had never experienced Orthodoxy, but had begun reading some Christian mystical writings (that included Orthodox authors), and so suggested to my wife that we visit the local Orthodox mission here in our rural Alaskan town. It wasn’t the theology that first captured me, it was the experience of the liturgy. Within seconds of being in the service, I knew that I was home, that I had been taken prisoner by the Holy Spirit, and I have not missed a service since. I am still detoxing from my past, I continue to repent, I say the Jesus Prayer hundreds of times a day, and tonight, as a Reader of 3 years, I go to do my best to chant and do my part in Vespers. Many times these arguments about literalism, liberalism, traditionalism, conservatism, and all the other ism’s bring me to despair as I am both ignorant, and have participated in most all of them. My salvation currently comes from participating in the sacraments, and allowing the Lord to de-construct all my false ideas and thoughts. I encourage all, that when you grow mentally tired of thinking about “right belief” that you cozy up to your local Reader, and ask to participate in the services. Chanting Vespers, Orthros, and the Liturgy is incredibly healing. Pray for me, and forgive me for my ignorance in these things.

  65. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Oy, what do you think? A philosophy that denies God and posits a solely natural and material world and thinks we are insane.

  66. fatherstephen Avatar

    “Cleaning out” the ranks of clergy in Romania, and elsewhere, is, from what conversations I’ve had, easier to say than do. For one, there were many people who “compromised” during the period of the Communist yoke, thus, less zealous to purge others. Some places really cleaned house in the hierarchy after the fall of communism. If I’m not mistaken, this was the case in Serbia. I do not think it to be the case in Romania. Thus, there is work that remains to be done.

    As for judging them – I have left that in the hands both of God, and the Confessors of Romania – men like Fr. Roman Braga, Fr. George Calciu, Fr. Dimitru Staniloae and the many others like them. Only those who suffered so can judge – and they seem have been rather gentle in the past decades. There is a vigorous renewal going on within Orthodoxy in the Eastern countries. What has not been done to your satisfaction, will likely be done by the grave before long and the renewal will be more complete.

    As for the many of us elsewhere, of every stripe, who have compromised with secularism, made sacrifices to Baal, and accepted the mark of the Beast, well, judgment will be very harsh indeed, unless it is placed in the hands of the merciful God.

    Your judgments could be greatly tempered, I think, by more Church history, more compassion, less fear and more trust in God.

    I would readily agree that any priest who is not actually a believer should be removed from the priesthood. I pray that God will give the discernment and grace to those whose responsibility that it is.

    I’m not sure what your righteous indignation about the failings of the Romanian Church have to do with this post, other than the fact that your father-in-law was an Evangelical missionary in Romania. There are much worse stories that could be told. I’m simply grateful to God that we now have the freedom to begin to put in place the infrastructure required for a mature Church.

    The Orthodox Church does not make claims about itself. It describes the truth. And strangely, sometimes the Church runs into bad times. Pray.

  67. Isaac Avatar


    Not sure if that was directed at me. Yes different metaphysical assumptions are used to interpret scientific evidence and of course a Christian couldn’t embrace a metaphysical assumption that denied God. But not all forms of naturalism as it pertains to science deny the existence of God. In many ways the western view of supernaturalism moves God to a secondary position outside the workings of the cosmos so a divinity free nature can be accepted. I think Western atheism comes directly from Western theology. First separate God from the creation and then just cut out God altogether. The panentheism of Orthodoxy makes this impossible from the start and I think that is a good thing.

  68. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    David, Evangelicals that I have known deny such a thing as Catholicity or any real standard of belief. Except their own view of Holy Scripture.

    You criticism of Father Stephen is neither appropriate nor called for. If you have a problem with what he is teaching follow the Scripture. Go to him in private. I’ve done that with a couple of priests and been greatly rewarded by doing it.

    Fr. Stephen’s kind response to your post indicates to me that you would be too.

    Speaking for myself, Fr. Stephen’s blog has enriched me even when I haven’t agreed with him.

    That is the beauty of the Church, she is a sacramental community in Christ, not one founded on heresy and rebellion and the need to “be right”, but of mercy and repentance.

    I have found his teaching to be well within the bounds of what my own priests and bishop teach and within the norm of what I have read. He has the blessing of his bishop to do what he does.

    It bears a lot of good fruit. Personally I find that it resonates with the life of the Church and the Incarnational reality we celebrate.

  69. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Isaac, I agree and it is from that point of understanding that science can and should be done. My desire to transcend the bifurcation of man created in the west was an impetus toward the Church.

  70. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Rdr Andrew. God bless you sir. And thank you.

  71. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for this wonderful article. You have explained important concepts with great clarity.

    I am getting confused in some of the commentary, however, and the various terms: Evangelical, fundamentalist, conservative, liberal, etc. Not having ever been Protestant, I do not understand the distinctions and would find clarification helpful, if the request is not too far off-topic.

    While certainly NOT trying to stir up a political argument, I am also curious about your reference to “politically loyal Democrats” finding themselves in conflict with the Church teaching on certain issues. Undoubtedly this is so. But are there no “politically loyal Republicans” who similarly find themselves having conflicts? I raise this question because I think it is dangerous for believers to ever trust either/any political party to be consistent with Church teaching, even when it claims to.

    When it comes to politics, it seems to always be a choice between the lesser of evils, vote this party’s errors, that party’s errors or don’t vote. We should all feel conflicted, I think.

  72. fatherstephen Avatar

    Mary, it is indeed a bit too far-off topic. I’ll be posting again tomorrow, I think, and the topic can move on. I offered no politics, only the observation that the views of many are far more deeply formed by the political mind than the spiritual mind – it is quite difficult in our culture. I’m removing the remaining comments related to your question.

  73. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Thanks, Fr. Stephen, as always for your wisdom.

    I certainly agree that the spiritual mind needs to be first and always the core of how we live. In our culture, it is a challenge to be in the world and not of the world – and yet still be responsible citizens with regard to the issues of our times. We must pray always for guidance in this regard.

    (I did not see the comments you removed, but I apologize if I stirred unnecessary controversy.)

  74. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I’ve been thinking the past couple of days about how out-moded the category “Protestant” is. What is important is mode and content of thought and the foundation of one’s faith. In the future I’ve decided to attempt at least to avoid the easy pigeon hole and make decisions and comments that don’t begin or contain any reference such “unlike the…., we (or I) believe ….

    Thank you David for reminding me of the error on that form of discourse.

  75. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick

    Father, sorry I brought up an off-topic distraction like my own confusion about the ‘Wisdom of Solomon’. A bit of research with help from a few wise folks in my parish has resolved it!

  76. RiverC Avatar

    One point about ‘real’ – I believe Kant, long before us, wrote about the difference between ‘Phenomena’ and ‘Noumena’. The point of his distinction, whether he is correct that the Noumena is totally unknowable, is that ‘Real’ can pertain to a surface: what is seen or immediately sensed, and many levels of depth beyond this. When we talk about history in the proper sense, history as story and not as newspaper-clipping, we run into the problem that other than descriptions of the movements and properties of physical bodies, all else can be described in many different ways and still be correct (though there are wrong ways to describe it as well.)

    My interpretation (and it might not be my own) is that along with differing perspectives you have differing levels of depth in a description. When, in an event, someone is killed, this event rarely is simply the death of a person in some brute mechanistic sense. In fact, simply because of the act of human will this death is part of a story – maybe of a feud, a life of bad choices, a bad environment, a war, or even a chain of events that is larger than the life of the person of which their action or inaction resulting in death is but a part. This ambiguity (or simply, multifariousness) is impossible to navigate without a second principle, a narrative principle that transcends mere events.

    If we do believe that such a narrative principle is possible, by which I mean we believe in laws above mechanical forces, we would then have to ask ourselves if this ideal form, however expressed, is not in some way more real than the events themselves because all of the things by which we identify the real – permanence, persistence, empirical proof, and so forth, seem to inhere such a principle more greatly than even ‘solid’ physical, material reality.

    It’s like the case of a skeleton key; which is the ‘real’ key? The key to the door, or the key to all of the doors? It is a question that has no answer for a modern, I think.

  77. Westy Goes East Avatar
    Westy Goes East

    Father Stephen, if you’re taking suggestions for your next book, then this subject here – of how we in the west read the Bible totally differently than how it was written to be read and of how the ancient Church read it – would definitely get my vote!

  78. jack Jones Avatar

    In the Physical plane (earth) we have Jails to contain evil, a need that cannot be denied, else we release all high security criminals, rapists, murderers etc and have them all move in next door to you? Not likely a want. Jails sadly are needed to contain evil in a fallen world.

    In the Spirtual plane there is also a Jail that is used to contain evil. Its called Hell

  79. fatherstephen Avatar

    Interesting analogy – but it would seem like apples and oranges. God as the sheriff of the universe would seem to be a very weak image of God. Interestingly, our prisons are often called “penitentiaries” in English – a place of repentance. They are also, in human understanding, meant to be places of reform and change and not just places of punishment. There are problems, therefore, in your analogy.

  80. todd Avatar

    It has occurred to me upon reading this blog post (and the previous one) that I just don’t ever think much about an afterlife. Maybe that’s a strange thing for a believer. The thought of an afterlife just feels to me to be some foreign, detached, and strange unknown. It’s not that I don’t believe in an afterlife, but the concept of it just seems out there somewhere on the fringes of believability and just doesn’t ‘feel’ practically relevant. Somehow along the way (I don’t recall when or how), I think I started translating ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ almost exclusively in terms of present. When I confess with the Church that I “look for the Resurrection of the dead”, my attention is fixed inwardly on a hope that God will take me dead as I am, and breathe life into me. Somehow, my gaze is still aimed downward rather than toward the horizon, even when I recite the next part, “and the Life of the world to come”. I am wondering if I am missing out on something- I don’t have much in the way this kind of a future-oriented hope. When I try to turn my attention toward the direction of the afterlife, I can’t get any farther than the ‘sheep and the goats’ part of the story. The far side of the Judgement feels so distant as to even seem irrelevant- The ideas of either a perpetual state of bliss, or a fiery torment- somehow just don’t pull me with any gravity, regardless whether they’re true or not. But the Day of Judgement itself…standing before Christ… that really strikes fear in my heart when I think of it.

  81. jack jones Avatar

    Problems of course in your humble opinion

    Of course I disagree. And with degrees in Theology also then I can rest assured I am allowed to disagree and have the similar training to do so

    Perhaps taking a stance of all knowing God’s persona is a little proud of you.

    I pray God teaches you humility

  82. Dino Avatar

    It is not to one’s credit, or honour to exclaim to a priest: “Perhaps taking a stance of all knowing God’s persona is a little proud of you.”…
    I only discern paraenesis in his counsel to you and perhaps some opinion in your repsonse- remember the ancient saying -, we only see pride to the degree we have it inside of us. I obviously suffer from it too, please forgive me.

  83. Sophia Avatar

    I live in an extremely liberal part of the country, and am surrounded by liberal theology. I see people very dear to me being hit by the relativization of the ‘truth’, and in my milieu (outside of my Orthodox community) , it’s also harder to struggle against because this deconstruction claims to be done in the name of progressiveness, anti-oppression, and equality.

    I don’t want to set off a hot discussion of any of the issues I’m thinking of, I just wanted to share that when a close Orthodox friend confronted me shortly after my baptism with the statement that ‘Orthodoxy is the Truth’, and not just one Christian view among many, I kicked and screamed and howled a bit. My liberal indoctrination couldn’t handle it. But my actual experience in the church, over and over again, has been a feeling of coming home (as so many say). I slowly begin to understand why one can say Orthodoxy is ‘real’, not just ‘this is real for me, other things are real for you’.

    I think what I also kicked and screamed against, when I had that argument with a friend, was a fear of the kind of religious abuse Fr. Stephen elucidates above. If one group claims to have ‘the truth’ how do I know they won’t abuse others?

    I thank God for the several Orthodox priests who have borne with me patiently as I slowly let down my defenses and began to trust something larger than myself. I ask your prayers as I continue in my community, to try to stand firm in the faith without succumbing to hubris and rigidity or a kind of liberal despair.

  84. fatherstephen Avatar

    As I look back at my response – I think I only disagreed with you and pointed out problems I saw in your analogy. But to “pray God teaches you humility…” is a very passive aggressive way of saying, “I sure hope God humiliates you.” If you had spiritual understanding, you would not say such things. That doesn’t mean you don’t have degrees and training. I write as a priest, on what is a private blog and not a public forum. Writing as a priest, is essentially, a “teaching” role. If you can’t deal with that then I suggest you confine yourself to other places that meet your expectations. There are rules for comments on this blog. You might want to look them over before commenting.

  85. James Mahoney Avatar
    James Mahoney

    Ruth Ann (and anyone else),

    Can you recommend a book or reading list to get more acquainted with the Catholic reading of Scripture? (I am a Latin Rite Catholic.)

    I would also be interested in suggestions from the Orthodox commenters and Fr. Stephen!


  86. Rhonda Avatar


    “…the relativization of the ‘truth’…”

    I so understand where you are coming from 😉 I come from a very conservative part of the country. Your statement is by no means held purely by liberal theology. Few realize that the relativization of truth actually comes from the secular culture around us & has nothing to do with theology proper. Well said!

  87. Rhonda Avatar

    “…we have Jails to contain evil…”

    I am at the end of a career in Corrections. I agree with Fr. Stephen that your analogy is sorely lacking, both theologically, academically & judicially. I too speak not only from the aspect of experience, but also from advanced education in my profession. This judgmental attitude & clique glibness is the reason our penal system is literally a man-made hell on earth. The criminal justice system has virtually become a self-perpetuating industry here in the US thanks to 3-strikes laws, truth in sentencing, mandatory sentences & plea bargaining. Few outside of the “industry” realize that America–the land of the free–is actually the “incarceration nation” of the world as we have the largest percentage of our population in the world either incarcerated or on parole/probation. Furthermore, the reason for this is not entirely due to the US refusal to legalize drugs.

    When I started in Corrections the emphasis was on rehabilitation, counseling & training for substance abuse, life skills & coping. Now at the end of my career the emphasis is punitive with longer & harsher conditions & sentences. The problem with the first emphasis is that you cannot rehabilitate those that do not want to be rehabilitated; the problem with the second is that “the evil” is encouraged & fed. When we stop labeling others as “evil” & begin treating them as “person”, then real change can occur. Both approaches mentioned above fail in this as they treat the human as an individual; they are trying to induce better behavior rather than true internal change via carrot vs. stick methodologies.

    There are many issues within our culture (both secular as well as religious) that need to be dealt with that liberals as well as conservatives ignore. Those I have encountered have problems (physical, emotional, mental) that started long before they were incarcerated; furthermore they need years of assistance long after they are released. Neither side (liberal or conservative) adequately or sanely deals with the before or after of the penal system…hence it is failing.

    After a long career in the penal system I can attest that no one is truly & absolutely “evil”. I have seen the most violent of offenders exhibit the most compassion towards others. Also, some of the most spiritually attuned people I know are among the incarcerated. All truly bear, even if only in veiled fashion, the image of God. Sometimes you have to look really, really hard to see it, but it’s there if you really want to see it. Other than this aspect, please leave Corrections out of Theology & Theology out of Corrections! The failure to do so only results in penal hell & theological madness.

  88. Rhonda Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    I tried to post a comment but nothing is showing…not even my frequent “awaiting moderation” 😉 Can you check your spam filter just in case? Thanks

  89. lx crow Avatar
    lx crow

    Dear Father,
    I should have thanked you days earlier for replying to my plea about Personhood so kindly and I will follow closely hoping for your writing more on the matter:)
    Meanwhile I think I got a sort of “custom” answer from God as well, since it would seem He does want to make me into something I have never been, something completely new, namely a mother of twins:)
    Please if only you’d ask Him once to have mercy on Alexandra, a sinner.
    Thank you again, until next time.

  90. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Since universalism became a defacto topic in these two posts on hell and frankly, I’ve never even considered any type of universalism as I understand it as a viable belief.

    Universalism, to me, is ultimately the belief that everybody will be saved and brought into the Kingdom. Is that a correct understanding?

    If so, it seems to fly in the face of the Creed and much in the Bible and in a great deal of the monastic writings I have read, prayers, Great Lent, this list is quite extensive.

    Does it matter? Here I think of John 21: 21-22. The critical point is that I prepare through being obedient to the life of the Church: prayer, fasting, almsgiving (all works of mercy), worship, repentance, the acquisition of the Holy Spirit and virtue.

    To say, as has been said here, that ‘universalism’ requires repentance is, to me, to say there is no such thing as universalism. Why even muddy the water with such language?

    I bring this up today because my priest preached the closest thing to a ‘fire and brimstone’ sermon as one is apt to hear in an Orthodox Church (although St. John Maximovitch in a sermon that is referenced in the River of Fire was pretty unequivocable too). He reminded us that we are not to accept or acquiese in the sins of this world (by deed or thought) no matter how prevalent they are and no matter if they are approved by the state.

    I will grant you that the process St. Paul describes in which the unrighteous must be tested by fire and if anything survives they will be saved, but at great price, seems pretty comprehensive (not many folks are without some goodness).

    The evidence is just too overwhelming, however, for me to accept universalism. The way is narrow. Some have no communion or desire for communion.

    Now, we need to act towards other people as if they will be saved, and indeed go into the kingdom before us as our prayers for mercy teaches us to render the deeds of mercy.

    But, I think it is pretty clear that not all will enter, some will be shut out of the joy of the Lord. Some will be in outer darkness, weeping and gnashing their teeth, some will be in fire as the reality of the passions that ruled them comes to fruition.

    We pray ernestly for ourselves, our loved ones, everybody and no doubt those prayers are for the good of all, but….

    There is a judgement. There are sheep, there are goats. We cannot allow our pious hopes to override the appreciation of that reality. Otherwise, there is much of the life and teaching of the Church for 2000 years that just does not make sense and is simply irrelevant.

    I know people who have cavorted with demons to the extent that they could not stand to wear or hold the cross. By God’s grace the one’s I know best repented, but if that person were to die in that state and go before the Lord in His Glory…..? There are unforgivable sins, not because God will not forgive, but because we don’t want His forgiveness. We love our sins more than we love God (speaking for myself here).

    God does not bring torture though, we inflict that upon ourselves with every act of mind, body and soul that loves the created thing more than our creator.

    Lord have mercy on us all.

  91. fatherstephen Avatar

    Yes, and I agree with everything you’ve said. There are some, St. Isaac for example, who only question whether the “don’t want His forgiveness” is a permanent and unchangeable state. Thus, there is no denying of consequence and the painful, tragic reality of our choices.

    I would think the question has several parts:
    1. Is the state of refusing forgiveness permanent and unchangeable?
    2. If it is changeable, how does that happen?
    3. What benefit are our prayers for the departed (for such prayers are dogmatically said to be “of benefit”). There are some for whom, in the strictest practice, the Church does not pray within the services of the Church itself. But, as far as I know, there are none for whom we may not pray in our private prayers, even in the strictest practice. Are those prayers of benefit and how?
    4. Is there any place within the Tradition, (in a trusted place), where we hear of the souls of the damned finding relief through our prayers? Yes. There is the story of St. Gregory the Dialogist’s prayers for the Emperor Trajan. There is the story of St. Seraphim’s description of prayers for a woman’s brother who died of suicide. These are not dogma, but they are clearly part of the accepted “lore” of Tradition, that are often brought out when such discussions arise. Fr. Seraphim Rose, not known for having a liberal bone in his body, cites those stories in his book on the Soul after Death.
    5. The more universal questions. If there is a possibility that such refusal of forgiveness is not permanent, is it permanent for some? Is it theoretically not permanent for all? It is only on this very last question that the question of “universal salvation” even becomes relevant. And it is there, that St. Isaac would say that the refusal is not permanent, may be changed, and because of the endless character of God’s mercy and love will be changed for all – though he couches that in the most extreme eschatological framework.

    His answer is not dogma – not even close. But it is an answer that he has not been alone in holding. There are other saints, including St. Silouan in the modern period, who famously held such a position. They were glorified. Now, were they glorified in spite of this? That would be the grist for a larger conversation. I don’t know the answer. We would have to have someone more familiar with the case for Silouan’s glorification to chime in. But apparently, such a position is not the dogma of the Church, but holding the hope that it is true will not stand in the way of your glorification (all other things being equal). That’s pretty much the sum of it.

  92. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I have no problem if people have a pious hope for such a thing, I have a similar hope. Neither do I doubt that some may be saved by the prayers of those who love them. It just becomes too easy for such belief to become more than a pious hope and for those without the sanctity of the saints (like me) it is easy to be rationalize in inappropriate ways.

    I also believe that it is easy to err on the other side and to be unmerciful and to believe that salvation is all but impossible.

    Of the two errors, the last does more damage I suspect.

  93. […] read the Bible allegorically; at least, not in the way we typically define allegory.  The Orthodox reject the simple literal-allegorical distinction of the post-Enlightenment West and focus more on the mystical truths of reality as they are taught in the Bible.  Therefore, the […]

  94. […] read the Bible allegorically; at least, not in the way we typically define allegory.  The Orthodoxreject the simple literal-allegorical distinction of the post-Enlightenment West and focus more on the mystical truths of reality as they are taught in the Bible.  Therefore, the […]

  95. Susan Avatar

    Dear father,
    I am a member of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, Kerala, India. I married into the church from another, which had broken away from MOSC.
    I have a doubt. If Adam is Christ, how could the woman lead him to eat the forbidden fruit and how could the Father throw them both out? It sounds as if too great an attempt is being made to link the stories.
    Forgive me for my ignorance.

  96. Catholic facing east Avatar

    Well put Michael B. God gave man “an intelligent and noetic soul for proper breathing” says St John of Damascus.

  97. Karen Avatar

    Susan, if I may suggest a solution, Adam in Genesis, the first father of the human race, is also a “type” or “pre-figurement” or “shadow” of Christ in His Incarnation. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word and Son of God, Who became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, is the “Second Adam.” He is the New Head and New Beginning of the human race (and also its End). In the most literal sense, He is the Redeemer of the first Adam and all who inherit the corruption of sin and death from the first Adam.

    In a less literal and on a more symbolic level, because God is the Husband of his erring people in the OT and Christ the Bridegroom of the Church, the community of sinners who are being redeemed, Adam, being also the husband of Eve, in his husbandly role symbolizes Christ sharing with Eve the consequences of her sin–that is, the subjection to mortality and corruption and all the privation and suffering that humanity’s exile from the Paradise of God’s Presence entails. On this more symbolic level of interpretation in the Genesis story, it is Eve alone who symbolizes fallen humanity, while Adam, her husband, represents, not his literal self, but Christ (the Bridegroom of the Church) in His Incarnation. The Fathers tell us there are many levels of meaning and interpretation in the narratives of the Scriptures, and this is one example. On the literal level, we know that Christ never personally sinned. He never disobeyed His Father, and God, the Father, did not have to force the Son out of “Paradise” to experience the corrupt condition of this fallen world by becoming incarnate as a human being, but this was the united will of all three Persons of the Trinity from the very Beginning of all things out of love for all of us. Christ’s Self-emptying solidarity with us in being incarnate into the suffering of our fallen condition was completely voluntary and obtained salvation for all who had fallen in the literal first Adam.

    Of course, from an Orthodox perspective, we would probably want to note that the Genesis picture of God forcibly expelling Adam and Eve from the Garden after their sin is also a symbolic picture of what is on a more literal level just the natural consequence of our sin, which by its very nature ruptures our connection with the Source of Life, God Himself, and obscures Him from our view. God’s purpose in expelling and “punishing” Adam and Eve’s sin in the narrative, is so that they might not “eat from the Tree of Life and live forever” in their shameful and fallen state, but instead might be drawn to repentance and restored to God in a new glorified humanity by being united to Christ in His Death and Resurrection.

  98. Catholic facing east Avatar

    Parts 1 & 2 of the The Dog-Headed Icon of St-Christopher published by The Orthodox Arts Journal is
    replete with profound truths that should clarify any misconceptions doing the rounds.

    For example:

    Saint-Maximos reminds us that Man is Microcosm, that he contains within him all of creation by being the center of creation, the place where all of creation converges. Man as center, as mediator between heaven and earth, has two horizons, one leading inward and upward to the Angelic realms and finally to the Uncreated, and one leading outward and downwards towards the rest of creation and ultimately reaching primordial Chaos. Man even participates in the very existence of the Cosmos by the act of “naming”. This is seen in Genesis when Adam names the animals, acting, let’s face it, as a kind of “demiurge” in regards to creation. Man mirrors on a more limited scale by his own logos what the Logos did in being the Father’s means of Creation. The Divine Logos is the source of actual being: “let there be…”. Man’s logos is the source of specificity: “this is a…”.

    Through the Fall, man was “decentred” from his own heart, the result of which is also to be chased from the cosmic center, the Holy of Holies, the garden where the tree of life is. In this state, the two horizons I mentioned, one leading towards God, and one leading towards Chaos are changed into limits, boundaries. Before the fall it is said Man was clothed in glory, and similarly he had access to the glories of God. The fall “hardened” those glories, transformed them into limits. There are two limits appearing to man, one limit on each “horizon”. The inward limit is the cherub with a flaming sword preventing the entry into paradise, and the outward limit is that layer of skin, that limit of corporality or animality blocking our complete dissolution into the chaos of death. Although wherever one stands, one can only perceive one limit on each horizon, there are many of these boundaries, many veils of the heart, many garments of skin. We should understand them as akin to layers of an onion, as rungs on the ladder of Divine Ascent, levels in the Hierarchy described by the Aeropagite. The clearest image is in the Old Testament Tabernacle, having a cherub on its inner most veil of linen, then a series of thicker “wilder” coverings, a wool veil, a ram’s skin dyed red, and then what is possibly the skin of a porpoise or at least a fully wild animal (see Exodus 36).

    By treating Adam and Eve as a unified whole the Fathers afford them dignity (befitting the “image and likeness”) not often found in the gender-obsessed milieu we are all so familiar with.

    The hypostatic dynamics of the fall are also more clearly visible here.

  99. Susan Avatar

    But Adam was a created being. Instead of asking Eve to repent he too ate the fruit. He blamed Eve for the fall when God asked him about it. He knew his nakedness and hid from God. None of these support the view that he was a prefigurement of Christ.

    We are told that the Tree of Eternal Life is the Holy Mysteries. This, we are told, would renew the life of the Spirit in us. So why was God afraid of Adam eating the fruit from the Tree of Life?

    I have always felt that these comparisons are artificial.

  100. Susan Avatar

    Hi Catholic,
    This makes sense. The Cosmic Man had some access to God’s creative powers. Now Christ has re-opened the Gate.Is this what it means?

    I understood from Ware that the original Adam was not perfect.

    I cannot think of Adam as even a shadow of Christ because Adam accepted the fruit (Jesus did not succumb to temptation) and he blamed Eve for his fall, which is a really despicable character. He hid from God.

    If we look at Adam and Eve as the complementary parts of one created whole, it makes sense.

    When God asks me why I am uncharitable to someone, I would rationalize my action by blame some aspect of my nature.

    I would say he is a miser and irritates me all the time by freeloading. But in reality it would be some aspects within me such as my own unwillingness to spend, dislike of being put upon etc. which actually arise from my ego that lead me on to deny my inner voice.

    Is that it?
    Adam is the image and eve the ego and every man and woman is both?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to blog via email

Support the work

Your generous support for Glory to God for All Things will help maintain and expand the work of Fr. Stephen. This ministry continues to grow and your help is important. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!

Latest Comments

  1. Fr Stephen, About editing older versions of your posts. Yesterday, I came across a most excellent post from 23rd May…

  2. About those “Christian Romance” novels you mentioned: there is a certain irony that properly-written romances with strong Christian undercurrents aren’t…

  3. The consumer-driven religious life has resulted in Churches that major in personal fulfillment with little attention to doctrine and sacrament.…

  4. Fr. Stephen, At times like this I find it helpful to remind myself that God promised the fullness of life,…

Read my books

Everywhere Present by Stephen Freeman

Listen to my podcast