Remembering the End


Orthodox Christianity often seems inherently conservative. The unyielding place that tradition holds within its life seems ready-made for a conservative bulwark against a world all-too-ready to forget everything that is good or beautiful. There are subtle but important distinctions that make this treatment of Orthodoxy misleading and can lead to the distortion of the faith and an almost reverse image of our true salvation. Orthodox Christianity does not seek to preserve something that is now past – it is not a faith bound in history. Rather, it professes that what was once given at a moment in history is nothing other than that which shall be at the end of all things. The faith is thus only rightly lived when it is radically oriented towards that which is to come. The Kingdom of God is never anything other than the end and fulfillment of all things, that for which creation itself came into existence.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Rev 1:8)

Understanding the true nature of the “end of things,” or, in theological terms, “eschatology,” is a difficult task at first. It breaks many rules of space and time (yes, Dr. Who fans, it really does), and requires a certain shift in perspective. One example of this shift can be found in the Eucharistic prayer of St. John Chrysostom where the priest prays:

Do this in remembrance of Me! Remembering this saving commandment and all those things which have come to pass for us: the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven, the Sitting at the right hand, and the Second and glorious Coming.

The priest refers to the Second Coming in the past tense. This does not represent some strange doctrine in which the Second Coming is thought to have already occurred in history. Rather, it is the recognition that the Divine Liturgy stands in a mystical place from which it is correct to describe the Second Coming in that manner. For the Divine Liturgy is truly the “last” supper, the meal at the end of all things.

The Fathers held that the truth is to be identified with the end. Both St. Maximus the Confessor in the East, and St. Ambrose in the West, wrote of a three-fold scheme in which the Old Testament is “shadow,” the New Testament is “icon,” while the “truth” is the age to come. This understanding has several aspects.

First, the truth of anything is found not in the present, but in its telos, its end. A seed is not known until it is a tree. But, most importantly, this realization of the truth is not seen as a gradual progression, a building up towards the truth. Such a scheme would suggest that the truth is “not yet.” The truth, however, is already and now. We can say that the truth, which already exists in the age to come, draws everything towards itself. Or, we can say that the truth, which already exists in the age to come, manifests itself in time even now, for those who have the eyes to see.

Our most common way of viewing the world is to privilege history, to presume that the past is immutable and is the cause of all things in the present. That makes us the authors of creation, the makers of the story of the universe. That is very alluring, even though it carries the seeds of anxiety and war. But God has not so constituted creation so as to make it the maker of its own destiny, the master of its own fate.

At the creation, God observes His work and says, “It is very good.” This is not simply an observation of the work He had done, but a proclamation of the very nature of the creation itself. Its nature is revealed in its end. The end calls forth creation, always towards that for which it was created. St. Paul offers this description:

…having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth– in Him. (Eph 1:9-10)

This verse should also be read along with St. Paul’s statement in Romans 8:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Rom 8:28)

This is the “good” or the “very good” according to which all things were created. This same good, however, is hidden. It is in no way obvious to us, except as we see Christ Himself.

Consider the world, ca. 1000 B.C. An utterly obscure people, little more than a collection of tribes, is engaged in a struggle over a piece of land that is almost useless in its fertility and insignificant in its situation and size. Within the same region, however, mighty kingdoms and civilizations are rising and flourishing, producing wealth, power, and innovation. Their monuments will stand for thousands of years. But in this obscure place, a young man will face down a giant in single combat and win. In the scale of the universe, it is almost nothing, without significance. But this is the story of David and Goliath, and this David will become the ancestor of God Incarnate, Who is Himself the “good” of the world.

At this very moment, we cannot judge or measure the “good” within the world, nor can we measure the aggregate of evil. Nothing makes any sense until it is interpreted in the light of the end of all things. David only has significance in hindsight. It is his offspring who “causes” him to have meaning and significance. More than that, we must understand that the “cause” of David’s renown was already drawing all things towards itself. Christ the child was causing the rise of David and establishing his kingdom.

In the same manner, our own lives are being “caused” by the end for which they were created. Again, St. Paul says:

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phi 3:13-14)

We do not build on the past or seek to preserve the past. The foundations of the Kingdom of God are not in this world, nor of this world. They are “unshakeable,” in the words of Scripture. What is called “tradition” by the Church is not a dim historical memory; it is the ever-renewed life of the Spirit that is “once and for all delivered to the saints.” The continuity of the Tradition does not depend on memory. It is the same always and everywhere because it is the once-given reality that has existed from before all time and towards which we are being drawn.

This is a strange perspective for most people and runs counter to the merely human sense of conservatism. It might strike an outside observer as something conservative, but if what is maintained is only preserved in a historical manner, it is not the life nor the truth of the Tradition. There is a requirement that we must empty ourselves at every moment in every way and constantly receive the life that is being given. Jesus Christ is the same “yesterday, today and forever.” And this is the content of the Tradition. I do not know Him today because I knew Him yesterday. I may only know Him now.

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.



, , , ,



46 responses to “Remembering the End”

  1. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    Father Bless,
    This post resonates because I see many in the West who do flee to Orthodoxy at first drawn to it as a secure conservative haven. It is shocking to them when they discover that Orthodox is anything but conservative, it is the mot radical faith they could ever embrace for the very reason you mention. We do see history as the cause of the present, but the truth is exactly the opposite, the end is the cause of all leading up to it. It sounds crazy, or foolish, but it is truth

  2. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Nicholas, how right you are. Conservative politics often revolves around the accumulation and preservation of wealth where we are commanded to give all. Progressive politics is aggressively egalitarian which uses the power of the state to redistribute wealth. Yet we are hierarchical and voluntary.

    Not of this world. How can one conserve something that is ever new?

  3. Makedonka Avatar

    I love your articles Father, bless!

  4. Ann K Avatar
    Ann K

    So profound and eye (and heart) opening! Thank you, Father. I hope you will consider compiling your posts into a book.

  5. Mule Avatar

    Forgive this comment Father if it appears tangental to what you are trying to say.

    In the introduction of his book “Iconostasis”, Fr. Pavel Florensky discusses the ‘Spiritual Structure of Dreams’. He discusses that in dreams, the arrow of time flows backwards, so that everything that occurs in the dream leads up to a certain activity, say, the discharge of a gun. Within the dream itself, the usual pattern of cause and effect obtains and is understood as long as the subject is dreaming. However, when the dreamer awakes, the discharge of the gun is discovered to be the dreamer’s interpretation of the neighbor’s car backfiring as he leaves for work.

    What then to make of this? It is obvious, Fr. Florensky insists, that the dreamer’s gunshot and the backfiring of the neighbor’s car are the same event. Within the universe of the dream, the backfiring of the car which becomes the discharge of the gun within the dream, which is the RESULT of all the anterior dream-events. How then, did the dreamer “know” that the neighbor’s car was going to backfire so that he could incorporate it into the dream sequence? Fr. Florensky argues that in the dream time is flowing backwards, and that the denouement affects the beginning rather than vice-versa.

  6. Byron Avatar

    Father bless! Many thanks for this article. God bless you in your ministry.

  7. Maria W. Avatar
    Maria W.

    To me this contradicts so many other statements I’ve read.
    He will poor out his spirit upon all flesh, not just in the Church, does this upon all flesh make the Spirit=Tradition. (the world is full of his glory) Traditionally it was guaranteed to the Church, he will sent a comforter and will not leave us orphaned,….the gates of hell shall not prevail against it etc. paraphrased, and it holds true to God’s promise, where one door closes, God opens another door. It be terrible if there was only one. In my fathers house are many mansions too. Is God’s promise a Tradition to us, or should I even call it that? That is like putting God into our small mental framework, in our pocket, and perhaps even on the market, as it is often done. I looked up the word to get a better understanding of the English usage and it states : the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice.
    I’ve also read that in the end that the heavens will be shaken, I suppose some will be there that should not be there, and our earth is already shaking here and there.
    If God plants a seed of a particular fruit he also will know what fruit it will bear, and he will also remember or recall the purpose for it planted in time and space. And if it was planted in the spirit world, then it’s purpose and end is also known in its embodiment of what ever type. The tree may not have consciousness or may loose it in the transitions of birth, but God will bring to remembrance to everyone their purpose, whether thru natural law or spiritual laws. He does not leave us blind, and we do receive help along the way with glimpses to which we were planted, destined and purposed. In God, time does not even exist, so of course all things are drawn to the end of created things/forms. But in the meantime he/we can enjoy Creation in the process toward fulfillment.
    I think I have trouble with the word usage the “Churches Tradition”, of the receiving the Saints blessed with the Holy Spirit, as a Tradition.
    What does God wills of us….as Mary, let it be unto me….or the I am that I am….and we are his workmanship/clay. The spirit (God’s Breath) belongs to ” No One”, but to Life breathed and loaned to us (whoever we think we are) for a time in the making of his kingdom, where and to whom ever he choses in the Church or outside the Church. God can not be called a Tradition, though perhaps the precepts of right living, or the patterns can be called a tradition, the grouping of family and people living the Way in space and time, but never the Holy Spirit which is beyond space and time. To make the Spirit a Tradition, in German we would call this =presumptuous and it is not a part I take part of. (Blasphemy)
    Or perhaps I am just ignorant. Seen too many dark ages along the way. God is too Great, too Wise, too Just, to ever allow himself, “The measure of all things”, to become a Tradition. But I will withhold my judgement and let God be the judge of all his plantings and understandings he allows to occupy at world stage in Space and Time.. It is just not mine, little Orphaned Annie I suppose, but hopefully not for too much longer. I have a Church somewhere. Thank you all so much for sharing, journeying and bearing with me. My Redeemer lives. Blessings!

  8. Nicole from VA Avatar
    Nicole from VA

    Hi Maria,

    A few years ago in his Christmas letter Metropolitan Tikon spoke of the Kingdom of God “which is fully present yet not fully revealed.”

    God is not the tradition, but the way of participating in His life is the tradition. It is given fully to the Church. It is not just a window into the Kingdom, it is the Kingdom present among us.

    Tradition is the lived experience of the saints. Rather than clinging to a concept from the past that is a historical artifact we can look at the saints and know Christ is in our midst. They show the beauty of being married to Him!

  9. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    There is a sense in which the church is conservative. It strives to hold on to old Biblical and traditional concepts and truths, i.e., the Bible, God, the church, Jesus Christ, salvation, etc., and not go the way of the world with all the ites and isms. It’s fight against materialism and atheism is a conservative one. It holds on to the timeless truths of God. That is what I think of concerning conservatism. I am in that sense proud to be conservative.

  10. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    That is stated in the first paragraph. Forgive me for repeating. It just seemed to me it needed to be repeated.

  11. Mark Basil Avatar
    Mark Basil

    I live in Canada.
    I often choose not to vote and I have very little interest in politics (I’ve been burned and need to heal). But I do wish to say that I’m grateful for the starting point of this article Father as- in so far as such terms can apply- I’m liberal; I’m left-leaning; I’m not conservative in my politics (here in Canada even our conservatives would make American liberals; yet when I vote I go for far left all the way to the Green Party).
    Often I find myself in strange company among converts to Orthodoxy in N.A. precisely because I find people are not entirely converting *to* Orthodoxy as much as *away* from Christian liberalism.

    The sadness in this is that of course the politics, ethics, the very questions and concerns that shape the ‘culture’ of the “political right” is then taken to be essentially consistent with Orthodoxy, while things of the “political left” are seen as essentially inconsistent. So I find the culture in American Orthodoxy is often not really where I find myself at home. Often I think converts to Orthodoxy in N.A. just assume that political conservatism is “the Orthodox choice”.
    I have found a benefit in this though- being a minority among so many conservatives is that I have learned to love my conservative brethren; to see so much that is good in (the best) political conservatism that I was blind to before converting. In fact I have in many ways become more conservative… but I have also become more deeply liberal in other ways:
    For example I have learned through our Holy Mysteries and the materiality of our spirituality, as well as our ascetic contentment with “enough”, an even deeper care and concern for Creation. (So my environmentalism, or ‘going green’ if you will, has deepened, as has concern over Food Industry and Agra-business, etc.)
    I have learned from the likes of Basil the Great and John Chrysostom that, far from desiring a right to protecting my wealth and property that I freely ‘earned’, instead anytime I have a single item that I do not *need* for myself I have stolen it from my impoverished neighbour. And the Fathers have made me even more concerned about our society’s economic entanglement with debt (usery is sinful. Alms giving is about justice not generousity. My social justice has deepened, as has my distrust of capitalist economics and a society of debt.)
    Far from any “right to bear arms” the Church teaches that I must love my enemies; St Basil recommends even a soldier who kills justly has separated himself in some sense from Christ for “his hands are unclean.” She attempts to retain witness to the prophecy that swords will be turned to ploughshares, forbidding her monastic ascetics to ever shed blood and even forbidding her community leaders (priests and bishops) to carry fire arms for self-defense. So my advocacy for disarmament and oposition to warfare and all killing is at home here.
    So too the Church teaches that I am worst of sinners and that judgement is in God’s hands; that I must be merciful toward all including terrible criminals and hold them in caring regard as if they are my own life; so my disgust with retributive systems of justice obsessed with “getting tough on crime” and opposition to capital punishment under any circumstances is totally Orthodox.

    I say all of this by no means to shift the focus of the discussion to politics or even ethics. I have too many thoughtful loving conservative friends now to care about such a discussion. Anyone who writes back to argue with me on this wont receive a reply.
    But I hope to soften the hearts of those who might be right-leaning, to make room for the likes of poor me and see that a thoughtful, serious Orthodox Christian can remain comfortably left-leaning too. Join me in the discomfort of political disagreement, friends. The sweet mystery of our Life in Christ makes room for everyone, and calls us to dwell in a unity that surpasses superficial agreement in a common cause or ideology or even outlook.

    Love in Christ;
    -Mark Basil

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think you are right – the sense if which the Church is conservative. My point about it was that the conservative mindset is a “merely human” way of approaching the question – rather than grounding our life in the truth of the Kingdom of God. It can lead to conserving some things that have nothing to do with the Church. Some people treasure certain points in history, for example, and want to turn the Church into some kind of spiritual version of historical re-enactment. This creates an inauthentic Orthodoxy, a kind of “make-believe” Christianity. The reality and truth of the Church and the Kingdom of God reside at the end of all things. We need to let our hearts reside there as well. The timeless truths of God reside there, rather than merely in the past.

  13. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    I understand. Thanks.

  14. Mihai Avatar

    @Mule : Exactly, Florensky’s analysis of the dream state is a very good analysis of the movement of history- I myself have reflected upon this when reading Florensky’s work.
    There are practically two lines of causality: an horizontal one which is merely “efficient” and a true, vertical and transcendent one. Considering the Cross and Passion and Resurrection as historical events: there is a line of efficient causality- previous events that have a led to the Cross, the Tomb and finally the Resurrection on the third day- while at the same time it can be said that the Cross and especially the Resurrection are the events which have been drawing the previous events towards them. These are not mere historical events, but “transcendental events” that become manifest in history and act as “pivots’ drawing the whole run of history towards them. The same can be said about the Second Coming.

    As to your more specific question regarding the dream state- with the example of the car and the gun: consider that Florensky also wrote that when we remember in our “diurnal” consciousness the sequence of events in a dream, that said sequence may be only a development by our analytical consciousness of that which to the “nocturnal/dream” consciousness was contemplated in a single moment. The “time” in a dream is not equivalent to our sense of time in waking life- i.e. the beginning of the scene in your dream happens, as you sleep, in the same time as the end of the scene- the gunfire- and both correspond to the outside moment of the backfiring car- your dream did not begin before the outside moment.

  15. Reid Avatar

    Fr Stephen, doesn’t the account of the OT patriarch Joseph illustrate your point?

    Imagining a world of cause and effect, the envious sons of Jacob dispose of their favored brother by selling him as a slave. Problem solved. Yet by this means Joseph becomes ruler of Egypt and saves many lives, including those of his family, fulfilling the prophetic dreams of his youth (which, ironically, had aggravated his brothers’ envy). Later Joseph graciously interprets these events to his brothers: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” The meaning hinges on whether the cause of the story is its beginning or its end.

  16. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mark Basil, well said. Being politically motivated always draws us away from truth and into the world of ideology in which truth is excluded and “correctness” sought indeed required no matter the position on the so-called political spectrum.

    Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon makes the point in his new book: Reclaiming the Atonement, that heresy has often come from the desire to evangelize. It occurred to me when reading your post that such an outcome can easily result from any attempt to persuade people to my point of view.

    Thank you for sharing your experience.

  17. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley


    How should an American Orthodox relate to what is going on in the USA and what should he do?

    I am a retired army chaplain and very patriotic and interested in your thoughts.

  18. Grant Hudson Avatar
    Grant Hudson

    I just thought I would say again how much I appreciate these articles, Father (even more so when Tolkien, Lewis, or Doctor Who get mentioned!)

    I started off saving one or two of these articles in a file a few years ago. Something in them ‘spoke’ to me and was instrumental in leading me towards Christ, I felt. Then, as time has gone on, and particularly this year, I find myself saving every one because of the ‘cumulative insight’ that they bring.

    I myself feel ‘drawn towards the end’ and daily pray with this in mind.

    Please keep up the Good Work.

  19. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Terry, you ask a hard question. The only “Orthodox” answer I can give is to pray, rejoice in God and don’t let the world steal your peace. I struggle and generally fail at that every day.

    The powers we struggle against want to keep us stirred up and distracted–going from one crisis to the next keeping us in angst while advising “retail therapy” or protest or government as the cure for the angst.

    Perhaps one of the best pieces I have ever read on the subject is the Afterword Michael Crichton wrote to his novel State of Fear.

    The novel itself is not very good, a formulaic mystery around the global warming hypothesis. The Afterword however is worth checking the book out of the library to read.

    The title to this website is the real answer. Rejoice in God and all He gives us, hold onto your peace, trust not the princes of men, know that we have no control over anything except our willingness to respond in love and mercy to those in our immediate environment.

    My late father taught me that we are each of us connected to each other and the whole of creation. Any act we take, or don’t take, in our own environment has an impact everywhere.

    Taking that into the Church it seems that when we repent, sin is healed a bit for everyone. That is, I believe, the same insight contained in the Russian Orthodox saying that I am responsible for the sins of all the world. Lord forgive me.

    To sum up: rejoice in the Lord in worship and prayer, repent/forgive, be merciful in your alms, fast. These are not easy disciplines. It is much easier to worry, get mad, despair in self-righteousness, at least for me.

    Years ago there was a kerfuffle going on in my diocese that really stirred me up. During Lent of course. I was talking to my Bishop about it as it was effecting everyone. He gave me the direction: Hold your peace. Not be silent but do not give your peace away. I listened. Following his direction changed everything for me in many surprising ways.

    Jesus gives us peace, not as the world gives. I too often seek the peace of the world which seems to be quite violent somehow.

  20. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Thanks, Michael,

    What about all the Orthodox princes and kings and their armies? What about St Constantine? What about the battle of Kosovo?

    Who can go in the military? It doesn’t appear to be anti-Orthodox,

    Are the government and politics taboo for an Orthodox person?

    Can an Orthodox take a public stand for what is right and true?

  21. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Orthodoxy does not demand that we have nothing to do with politics, nor is military service forbidden (there are Orthodox chaplains). Most political parties are driven by ideologies that are only partially compatible with Orthodox teaching, which always creates quandaries. The Orthodox should indeed take a stand for what is right and true. My own parish supports a local Crisis Pregnancy Center and participates with other Christians in supporting the Right to Life movement. Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Archdiocese famously marched with Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Priests in Ukraine several years back, stood in the streets separating groups of rioters begging them to come to their senses and stop the fighting.

    The Church, however, has traditionally not forbidden self-defense, including that of nations. The Mother of God has been deeply instrumental as a Protectress of the Orthodox in such defensive battles. The use of force to conquer, much less to convert, however, is a great sin.

  22. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Thanks, father.

    That’s what I thought.

    A Christian can choose to fight evil solely from inside the church. Is that right?

  23. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes. Terry. It is important spiritually to remember that “the battle is the Lord’s.” The victory over evil is something that He has already accomplished in one sense. This is why conquering is problematic. We have no commandment to subdue evil nations. But, traditionally, self-defense, including that of nation and family have been permitted. Politically, for example, I believe that Orthodox Christians in America should unequivocally oppose abortion and any laws that permit it. Some want to say, “I don’t think we should legislate morality,” when, in fact, morality is almost always legislated, and rightly so. Others say, “I don’t think it’s right for me to impose my morality on others.” Abortion is not like deciding whether or not to have sex outside of marriage or some other moral matter. It is the willful destruction of a fully human life. We should and ought to protect those lives. Any Orthodox person, whether clergy or lay, who says otherwise, is in error, I believe. This is the official position and teaching of the Church.

    I do not wish to promote a particular party. There is a new party, however, that a number of friends, both Catholic and Orthodox have brought to my attention. Their positions seem worth studying – in that they are seriously informed from traditional Christian social teaching. It’s the American Solidarity Party. They at least are trying to frame the issues from the position of traditional Christian social teaching. Worth a read.

  24. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Terry–what Father says.

    Even with self defense taking another human life leaves the soul damaged and healing repentance is required.

    I believe, Father, that if a priest were to take a life either in self defense or even by accident, he would no longer be allowed to serve in the altar. Am I correct?

  25. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Thanks, father. That’s very enlightening.

    It does appear that you are promoting the American Solidarity Party😇.

  26. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley


    Does that mean if a man defends his wife and children, his soul is damaged? How can a man do what is right and still be held accountable for it?

    If an Orthodox soldier kills the enemy is a (rightful) war, is his soul damaged?

    If they need to repent, they were wrong in the first place, IMHO.

    I enjoy discussing things with you. Thanks so much.

  27. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    My personal point of view. I’m working to develop an Orthodox worldview. I’ve read about it and heard lessons on it.

    The Orthodox Church has a long history of being persecuted and enduring wars. I have read about some saints who became saintly because of such environments. I am reading now my second book by St Nikolia Velimirvuch. I read a book about a priest who endured so much in German camps. That is great history to live up to and to use as an example.

    We American (Christians) have no such history or example. We have our desire to remain free and enjoy our country.

    That is where I stand at the present: between my American and my Orthodox worldviews. I am a Serbian Orthodox Christian and am proud of it. I am striving to improve my Orthodox worldview.

    I love my new Orthodox faith, as I let go more and more of my American worldview. I am retired military and mighty proud of it.

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    On the ASP, I have no fear that a little information will suddenly throw the election their way. It interested me because it’s the first American political expression I’ve seen that has taken seriously the traditional social teaching of the Church. It is also committed to Distributism, which is probably the closest thing to a Christian economic system as possible – at least the principles are. Solzhenitsyn wrote about very similar positions. So, I thought that it’s worth anyone’s time to read and think. 🙂

    Michael is right viz. the damage to a soul. Violence, no matter the reason, simply damages the soul – it leaves marks of trauma. The same is true if one is only a victim of violence. And, as strange as it seems, a victim of violence needs confession and spiritual healing just as much as the one who did the violence. My family endured a couple of murders through the years…it was a very deep trauma and needed much healing.

    Souls are not legal entities. So it doesn’t matter what the theoretical rightness or wrongness of an action is (in view of its legal/moral standing). The soul is real. Violence damages it. If a priest, for example, is in a car wreck and somebody dies, even if it is not his fault, he will be suspended for a period of time before being blessed to return to the altar.

  29. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    If he has to repent, he must have been wrong in the first place. How can one repent of something right he did or of something wrong he didn’t do.

    I was a medical officer in the navy, and saw first hand what any trauma can do to a person physically and medically. I was a chaplain in the army and saw spiritually and psychologically how trauma hurts.

    If a person has to bear quilt over doing right, it increases his suffering.

    Many soldiers have suffered for years over what they did and saw in war. In the end they must realize they were ‘not’ wrong. It was necessary and right.

  30. Byron Avatar

    [i]If they need to repent, they were wrong in the first place, IMHO.[/i]

    There is always “wrong” in taking a human life. Even those who seek to harm or kill us and our loved ones are made in the image of God. But, as Father and others have said, that does not mean the Church fully opposes self-defense of oneself, ones loved ones, etc.

    But we have to recognize the damage to ourselves that taking a life causes. At the very least, we become numb to the lives around us and cannot love them as God does. At the worst, we no longer care for them, and possibly ourselves, at all. Taking a life requires great repentance so we do not become distant from the image of God in others and in ourself. To kill is the same as to strike at [the image of] the One we love most; it is very difficult to repent of such damage in one’s life.

    Father, Michael, others, please correct me if I am off-base here.

  31. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Father, I didn’t say or mean I thought you were wrong for mentioning or promoting that particular political party.

    Hey, this America.

  32. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    I believe the Bible reveals the rightness of some killing and wars.

  33. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley


    There is a difference between killing and murdering.

    If somethings are wrong, they are also sins.

    The statement is true, “war is hell.” I might extend it to say, “killing is hell.”

    If wars and killing are ‘wrong’, than how can Orthodox chaplains serve in the military and it be ‘right’?

  34. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Sin is not a legal category. That’s important to think through. I’ve got lots of articles on it. But we frequently find ourselves drawn into the sins of others even in an effort to do good. It’s the nature of a broken world. We’re all in this together. If a man attacks a child and I do nothing, the child dies. I’m involved in the child’s death. A man attacks a child, I defend the child, in the course of which the attacker dies. I am drawn into his death in my effort to save the child. It is “legally” not a problem, but on the level of the soul, it does damage. Not as great a damage as murder, but participating in the death of someone, for whatever reason, is experienced as trauma in the soul.

    Chaplains are there to help heal the souls of the soldiers involved.

    Read my article, The Sins of the Nation, and my article, Dostoevsky and the Sins of a Nation.

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I disagree viz., “in the end they must realize they were not wrong.” That has been a traditional Protestant view and how Protestant Chaplains treat the problem. Orthodoxy recognizes that even some of the “right” things we do still need to be healed. Repentance isn’t about taking care of guilt, and getting ourselves legally right with God. Repentance is much different than that (and sin is not like that at all). Keep reading.

  36. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Thanks so very much.

    Healing and damage are not sin. They are the result or need of certain deeds, thoughts, etc., which may or may not be sin.

    Would you please define ‘wrong’ for me. Would you please define ‘sin’ for me.

    Is wrong the opposite of right? Is sin the opposite of ‘right’? Are sin and wrong parallel terms/concepts.

    Chaplains are part of the military, part of war, and part of killing. That’s why not all clergy can be chaplains. Chaplains ‘heal’ soldiers so they can return to war and killing.

  37. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Also, please, define ‘repentance’.

  38. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Father, as I look back through the earlier articles, I see many articles I need to read.

    What a homework assignment!

  39. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Byron, I offer no correction as that is not my place. I would say there is the possibility of someone going into war knowing he is risking his own soul but doing it anyway for the sake of others.

    Repentance is for the healing of the soul even when the particular soldier did no wrong.

    Terry you have experience I do not have but in my study and reflection on this perplexing problem I have come to surmise a couple of things: for many modern young soldiers it is their first experience of real consequences, of actual death. Being nominalists trained in a culture that courts the darkness while denying it’s reality, horrible death can quickly spiral into a sort of madness.

    We are not prepared to face real things.

    Further, we have rejected the healing of the soul as necessary only superficially replacing it with an unreal psychology of adaptation and forgetfulness and drugs that often merely dull the pain at best.

    Our soldiers are neither prepared for the trauma of war nor is there any adequate support for healing their wounds, physical or psychically when they return. Their families are not given adequate support either.

    It is one thing to ask men to give their lives in actual defense of our home quite another to turn them into cannon fodder for greed, power and ideology.

    They are all “forlorn hopes” those soldiers who in the wars of Europe volunteered to be first into the breach knowing they would almost certainly be killed.

    Modern warfare has few, if any, of the necessary hallmarks of a defensive war.

    Just war and lesser good theories, even if correct have little foundation for application.

    The state is given the sword for a reason though: to restrain evil and promote a virtuous order. Right now I am hard pressed to see that anywhere which calls into question the legitimacy of the government as a whole. But that may be a modern concept too born of individualism and rebellion.

    No easy answers.

  40. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Terry the simple definition is change of heart: metanoia in the Greek.

    Deep repentance comes with tears as one sees the darkness one has inflicted on one’s soul.

    While the laundry list of offences is a place to start there is much more to it. “Against you only have I sinned and done evil in my heart…”

    Psalm 50/51, David’s penitential prayer lays it out well.

  41. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Terry, I would also suggest that the definitions you are seeking are rather too linear to mean a whole lot.

    Romans 1 says all of our transgressions come from loving the created thing more than our Creator despite the fact that we are without excuse.

    Salvation is union with God. What disturbs that or sunders that in your heart?

    Ultimately your questions are pastoral and need to be addressed in consultation with your confessor and in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

  42. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Thanks, everybody.

    That’s all I wanted to know.

  43. Byron Avatar

    Byron, I offer no correction as that is not my place. I would say there is the possibility of someone going into war knowing he is risking his own soul but doing it anyway for the sake of others.

    Michael, I agree. And I certainly did not mean to belittle or distort that sacrifice. In fact, I realized almost immediately after hitting the “submit” button that I should not have used the word “wrong” in the beginning of my response – instead I should have used “damaging” as I used in the second paragraph of my response. My apologies to all for this oversight, as it reduced the conversation. And my thanks, Michael, for your more pastoral responses. God bless!

  44. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    The questions and comments I have shared here are not central to my life, at this time. So, I’m not sure why I need to go see a priest.

    They are simply my part in this discussion.

    On a blog in a discussion like this things addressed are not necessarily personal problems of any participants.

    I enjoy discussions like this, and I learn a lot.

  45. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The definition of sin and wrong are both the same: any thing that separates one from God and/or one’s neighbor.

    Thus the two commandments on which hang all the law and the prophets.

    What that means in practice is where the pastoral work comes in. The how and the why.

  46. Mark Basil Avatar
    Mark Basil

    I appreciate the discussion of violence here because it moves us away from an abstract morality into the gritty question of inner life. The wise voices of Father Stephen, Michael, and Byron all take us a long way from celebrating militarism thank God. Here we naturally come to a conclusion far from declaring defensive war “just” and think we’ve solved something. A just soldier may kill in the line of duty and still be haunted by the face of his enemy. This is the trauma Father speaks of I think.
    However I dont think trauma captures all of the problem. St Basil says soldiers who justly kill should be kept from the Eucharist for a time not because they are traumatized but because “their hands are unclean.”
    So yes, killing is always sin. How could it be otherwise?
    But is sin always wrong? There is I think some nuance to this distinction– is divorce always wrong? In one sense it is for it does not reveal the perfect love of God for his creature. But in another sense it may be the only reasonable option for a marriage grown cold and long dead. So too perhaps killing is always sin but in terrible circumstances it is not precisely wrong for someone to kill.
    Repentance is required at the shedding of blood not only because of trauma, but neither does it imply that the just killer was able to do otherwise. Repentance is required because in killing I have failed to imitate the Father’s perfect love; I have failed to act as a mature, complete Human Person. Everything should be seen through the lens of theosis; am I yet perfected in love of my enemies? Am I a peacemaker in imitation of the Son? No. Thus I repent for my bloodshed because unlike the Only Sinless One, “my hands are unclean.”

    I think what the discussion has lacked so far is any recourse to our Lord’s own teachings and the light shed by his own work on the Cross. So far the discussion is in a sense only looking at what we “hard hearted” can get away with. It seems to be a search for moral permission, rather than spiritual profit.
    In contrast to some legitimate self-defense, Jesus very clearly does not defend himself and his nonviolent approach to suffering and death is clearly a free act of love for us even when we are his enemies.
    Furthermore the discussion thus far is treating violent threat as somehow outside God’s providential love for us. There is no reflection on how one might discern and “take up his cross” in response to the violent threat God has allowed to come to us, thus making use of even this wicked danger for our salvation by freely uniting ourselves to Christ’s passion, refusing to kill out of love for our enemies.

    Father your binary of “violent defense of a child” or “passively allowing the child to die,” is uncreative (the shortcoming of any hypothetical). It neglects the third way, that revealed in the Cross: voluntarily defending the child nonviolently, by placing my own life between him and the enemy in his defense, while also obeying Christ’s command to love my enemy and respecting the dignity of his life and status as child of God by not killing him, either. Here the response is modeled after Christ’s passion: I may die but I will not kill.

    As I see it, nonviolence is the ideal but it is a mature fruit of the spiritual life. Only the greatest saints manifest it naturally (St Moses the Black; St Seraphim of Sarov; St Ignatius of Antioch, etc.). If one is looking for how to utter the words, “Glory to God for all things” even in the moment of violent threat, then imitating Christ’s passion is the narrow gate that glorifies God. Killing is not the Way.

    Some words of the Lord to consider:

    “But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Shall I not drink from the cup of suffering the Father has given me?”
    -John 18:11″

    Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”
    -Matt. 26:52

    “My Kingdom is not of this world; if my Kingdom were of this world, then my servants would fight, that I should be delivered from the Jews.”
    – John 18:36

    “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
    -Matt 16:24-25

    And here is another way to look at threatening violence, getting away from permission to kill for the hard of heart (the lens of fear and self-will), but through the lens of repentance and faith in the God who is always near, whose secret hand is offering salvation in everything that comes our way:

    He who will not love his enemies cannot come to know the Lord and the sweetness of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit teaches us to love our enemies, so that the soul pities them as if they were her own children.
    – St Silouan the Athonite

    “When we read the Gospel, the reactions of Christ to what is taking place around Him astonish us. When Judas is going out to betray Him, He says, ‘Today the Son of Man is glorified’. At every Liturgy we commemorate this moment, we repeat it in our consciousness. If a hostile enemy military force takes us to kill us, will we be capable of saying: ‘It is today that I am glorified and that God is glorified in me’? You all know this account in the Gospel; it is the very content of our everyday life.”
    -Bl. Sophrony Sakharov

    -Mark Basil

    (PS It is hard for us immersed in a moralistic culture to accept, but I am in no way suggesting that because it is “perfect” to nonviolently love our enemies that we should therefore be expected to live nonviolently right away. That expectation reduces the spiritual life to rule-keeping as an act of the will. It is not an Orthodox approach to the question of violence; true peace is the fruit of the Spirit. I am suggesting that- clearly even- nonviolence is part of Christ’s own way, and it is reflected in the lives (and deaths) of the perfect. It is good for us to know the goal. But it is very difficult; it is a Narrow Way.
    For spiritually weak like myself, I may lack the pure vision to see any option other than killing. I am not yet holy enough to be nonviolent, and my passions may strike a man dead. This is neither right of me to do, nor is it inexcusable. The church, like Moses, allows for my weakness because my heart is hard. In economia she allows us to defend ourselves just as she allows us to divorce- though neither reflects pure, perfect Love. Let us who would choose violence be humble about it then, not defending our fear and weakness but confessing our failures to the merciful lover of mankind and seeking his healing, even if we have acted according to a worldly justice of sorts.)

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

Read my books

Everywhere Present by Stephen Freeman

Listen to my podcast