The Seat of Mercy and the End of the Legal View

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Among the more problematic words in the New Testament is the Greek hilasterion. It is translated as “propitiation” in some of the older English Bibles, and “expiation,” in newer ones. It’s actual meaning is neither. The word literally means “the place of mercy,” and is the Greek word used in the Old Testament (LXX) to describe the “Mercy Seat” on the Ark of the Covenant.

In Leviticus, the ritual for atonement is described, as an anointing of the mercy seat with the blood of a bull. The details are not terribly important for this article. But the question to consider is simply, what is going on in such an act of atonement? Many contemporary Christians have a long habit of describing such primitive actions with abstract concepts of symbolism. “This represents that…” is the typical run of things. Or, everything that happens is seen as taking place in the mind of God such that “and God considered this suitable for the forgiveness of their sins…” Despite all of the claims of “literalism,” very few ever seem to take texts at their face value, particularly if it forces them to abandon their own worldview.

The best way to understand such things as the Mercy Seat and the rituals of the atonement that surround it, is to see it for what it actually is. The sins of the people are placed there on the Mercy Seat and the priest destroys their sin by anointing the Seat with blood. Think of this passage in Leviticus:

And he shall go out to the altar that is before the LORD, and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. Then he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, cleanse it, and consecrate it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel. And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place, the tabernacle of meeting, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat. Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness. (Lev 16:18-22)

The passage describes a very concrete, almost magical, scenario. The “uncleanness” of the people is cleansed through the sprinkling of blood, and then their sins are spoken over a goat thus “putting them on the head of the goat,” and the goat is sent away – taking their sins with him.

First, I suggest that readers note that there is not a hint of contractual/legal imagery here at all. Sins are not abstract infractions of the law in the modern legal sense but are quite concrete. They cause people to be unclean; they can be cleansed by blood; they are put on the head of a goat and sent away.

Such imagery, particularly if treated in a literal manner, simply baffles the modern mind. As I have noted repeatedly, the modern mind has somehow made abstractions its reality, while treating its true concrete existence as a metaphor, something that, at best, only gives rise to abstraction.

Hebrew is a decidedly concrete language – abstractions are fairly rare. This is difficult for modern readers to grasp, since we frequently take very concrete words and assume their meaning to be an abstraction. Among the greatest injustices done to Hebrew thought has been the modern Christian idealization of its concrete realities. The modern world prefers abstractions, whether psychological, legal, contractual or the like. Reading those concepts into the words of the Old Testament, however, is simply anachronistic.

The Law is itself a primary example. Here is a primary question: Is a law true because there is something inherent within it, or is it simply a law because someone says it is? The modern world has come down firmly on the side of voluntarism – a law simply expresses a will. As such, a law is nothing more than the guarantee of force and violence. It is a statement of the principles by which and on account of which force and violence will be exercised against someone.

In the Old Testament, however, the Law of God seems to have something quite substantive about it within itself:

The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
Moreover by them Your servant is warned, And in keeping them there is great reward. (Psa 19:7-11 NKJ)

In the modern mind, such a passage only means that God did a good job in willing His law, and those laws reflect the goodness of His will. But the laws remain abstractions, simply the expression of His will. And, true to voluntarism, they only gain their power through the force and violence with which God backs them up.

“…by them is Your servant warned…and there is great reward.”

Up until the Middle Ages, the notion of law, whether Hebrew, Greek, etc., was generally grounded in a notion of realism, that is, the truth of a law was inherent in how things are and how they are made. The law can be discerned because it is not simply the product of a will. God’s will is expressed in how He created the world, but not by arbitrary rules enforced through sheer acts of force or violence.1

However, in the Middle Ages, in the rise of nominalism (cf. William of Ockham), a new theory of law came into the discussion, one in which law is simply the arbitrary act of a will. Modernity has seen the steady erosion of realism (as well as the notion of natural law) and its replacement with a radical nominalism. The most extreme statement of this latter view can be seen in Anthony Kennedy’s famous dictum in a Supreme Court decision regarding abortion:

“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

This extreme expression of voluntarism reveals the element of absurdity in pure voluntarism. Some might argue that the flaw in Kennedy’s statement lies in his attribution of this possibility to human beings, when it belongs to God alone. But it is the nominalists of modernity, including the Christian nominalists, who taught modernity how to reason in such a manner.

The Old Testament speaks of the Law in very substantive terms, much the same way that later Old Testament writings speak of Wisdom. The Law is far more than a commandment. The commandment describes something very concrete, something that reveals how the world actually is as well as how human beings and all creation works. It is no more arbitrary than DNA is arbitrary. It is, if you will, the DNA of the universe.

Sin is thus not primarily a willful breaking of Another’s will. It is not a transgression of something external to us, enforced only through the threat of violence or force. It is a violation of the very constitution of our being and of the world around us. In the language of Pavel Florensky, it is “disintegration.” St. Athanasius and a number of other fathers described it as a movement towards non-being. Sin is substantial. It can be healed and washed, excised and destroyed.

Sin is not a “legal” construct in the modern sense of legal nominalism.

And this brings us back to the Mercy Seat. Christ is indeed the “Mercy Seat” for our sins. It is incorrectly translated as propitiation or as expiation. Both terms tend to abstract what is actually taking place as if the Cross changes something somewhere else, something external. Our sins are literally placed on Christ. And as our Mercy Seat, He destroys them, cleanses them, remits them, carries them away, etc. It would be a frightful death were it meant to accomplish something in the abstract. But sin is not an abstraction. Christ’s bearing of our sin is the bearing of our disintegration, our drive towards non-being. It is the recreation of His creation.

Those who grasp at words that have root “legal” meaning, must be careful to consider their full meaning. Forensic applications, such as the modern Penal Substsitution theory of the atonement ignore the nature of law within the Biblical time period. The realist/organic nature of the law should probably not be described as having a “legal” meaning in order to distinguish it from the modern nominalist concept. My own writing has been directed by an effort to make this distinction. The Divine Solidarity, described so eloquently by St. Athanasius and many of the fathers requires remembering that nominalism has no place in their worldview. For my money, it has no place in ours either.

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Footnotes for this article

  1. The older view, which is more especially that of the Realists, explained the Lex Naturalis as an intellectual act independent of will-as a mere lex indicativa, in which God was not lawgiver but a teacher working by means of Reason -in short, as the dictate of Reason as to what is right, grounded in the Being of God but unalterable even by Him…. The opposite proposition, proceeding from pure Nominalism, saw in the Law of Nature a mere divine command, which was right and binding merely because God was the lawgiver. From Medieval Theories of Natural Law: William of Ockham and the Significance of the Voluntarist TraditionFrancis Oakley (Notre Dame Law School NDLScholarship, 1961)

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

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


Comments

222 responses to “The Seat of Mercy and the End of the Legal View”

  1. MichaelPatrick Avatar
    MichaelPatrick

    Fr. John, again with respect, I don’t see how the wonderful quotes you’ve supplied clarify the meaning of the few words at issue. This seems to have rather quickly turned polemical instead of illuminating. But thanks for the quotes!

  2. Fr. John Whiteford Avatar

    He does speak of our separation from God being due to God’s just wrath. Furthermore, he says that “A sacrifice was needed to reconcile the Father on high with us and to sanctify us…” And he does say that Christ paid the penalty that was due to us, and suffered in our place:

    “For this reason the lord patiently endured for our sake a death He was not obliged to undergo, to redeem us, who were obliged to suffer death, from servitude to the devil and death, by which I mean death both of the soul and of the body, temporary and eternal. Since He gave His blood, which was sinless and therefore guiltless, as a ransom for us who were liable to punishment because of our sins, He redeemed us from our guilt. He forgave us our sins, tore up the record of them on the Cross and delivered us from the Devil’s tyranny (cf. Col 2:14-15)”( p. 128f).”

    Also, St. Nicholas Cabasilas spoke of Christ’s death as a satisfaction of God’s honor, and St. Philaret of Moscow, in his catechism (which was approved by the entire Russian Church) speaks of Christ’s death as “a perfect satisfaction to the justice of God” — not a satisfaction of God’s wrath, but a satisfaction of God’s justice.

  3. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Why doesn’t someone jump in this discussion and settle it with the ontological understanding of salvation?

    Sorry for the question.

    I understand the ontological argument for the existence of God, but I don’t remember the term solely being applied to salvation.

    Someone, please, explain this. I don’t I understand. I would like to see it sort of summarized in one post, if that’s possible.

    Father, I did look at the links you recommended.

    Thanks

  4. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes. A sacrifice was needed to reconcile – to bring together – by bringing us out of our bondage, not by appeasing or satisfying the wrath. Palamas has to be read in the long tradition of that kind of language all the way back to St. Athanasius, instead of reaching forward to bring in Latin ideas of the PSA. Context matters.

    I can’t speak to St Nicholas Cabasilas. St. Philaret’s catechism is one of the most Latinized statements ever put forth in the Orthodox world, and was approved at a time when the Russian Church was itself highly Latinized in its manuals of theology. I have no idea what you think of Florovsky’s critique of all of that (“the Latin Captivity”). I think he is spot on.

    It’s certainly kosher to cite Philaret if that’s how you want to present Orthodoxy – but it is strikingly unlike what went before throughout most of Orthodox history, and has been subject to significant and important criticism over the past several generations.

    I’ll not argue any of this. I’m just stating where I am on it. I’ve certainly met Orthodox clergy who have no trouble with the PSA. I think it is full of theological problems and represents a departure from the patristic tradition. I’m not alone in thinking that. That certainly was the thought of Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory. But, if someone wants to defend the PSA, then they’re free to do so. I’ll continue to criticize it because I think it is wrong. I’m not alone among Orthodox thinkers on this point.

    There being no dogmatic proclamations on the exact nature of the atonement the conversation and disagreement will doubtless continue.

  5. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Terry,
    I’ll see what I can do in that direction in the next day or so. Pray for me.

  6. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Hugh,
    It’s certainly representative of the thought of many within Orthodoxy – certainly those to whom I am responsible. But a majority? I have no idea. In my circle of acquaintance, which is fairly wide, I would say is pretty representative.

    There are, of course, Orthodox priests who would defend PSA. I do not. I think it’s wrong and a deviation from the Tradition. But there is not a dogmatic declaration in the matter – it’s still an argument to be had.

    Not everything in the Christian faith is spelled out…at least not within Orthodoxy. Much is, but there are questions to which we don’t have definitive answers. And we don’t have them because God hasn’t given them. So, we reason, pray, listen, argue, write, etc. If you read the letters of the fathers, you can see that this same process has been with us since the earliest days of the faith.

    I do not recommend Pomozansky or Rose when it comes to dogmatic expositions of Orthodoxy. There are much better things to read. And, some would argue with me there, too. They would likely be vocal critics of Orthodox seminaries as well. I am not.

  7. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Thanks, Michelle.

    A great explanation.

    I’ve never been to Venezuela, but I’ve been to Guatemala many times. I can relate your comments to the ladies there.

    Can you further explain your view of ‘universal salvation’, my choice of words. I wasn’t aware Orthodoxy taught ‘universal salvation’. That is news to me.

    Thanks a bunch.

  8. MichaelPatrick Avatar
    MichaelPatrick

    I’m a convert of 21 years to Orthodoxy and had to repent of Calvinism.

    Having learned in those years just a little true theology, I cannot see how PSA squares. What’s more, it is an utter shame to prevent people from anticipating the love of God through all His works from before creation, through the old testament where He desired sacrifice but for reasons unknown to Calvinism and PSA. He still wants sacrifices and that’s why we too are anointed, consecrated by the Holy Spirit in the Divine Liturgy to be broken and distributed like Jesus.

    Yes God wants sacrifices. It is the way of life taught us by Christ THE Lamb for sinners who He became as a volunteer out of unfathomable love.

    I wish we could all just leave God’s attitudes to Him and take leave of high notions about what His justice is. We know from the prodigal son’s father that God’s justice incomprehensible. Can’t we stand in awe of His mercies and stop talking like we’re His lawyers? One thing I know – that is not humble enough (like God is humble) to be Orthodox theology.

  9. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Father,

    Wow, your comment surprised me: your negative comment about Pomozanski and Rose is disturbing.

    I cut my Orthodox teeth on Pomozanski and Rose, especially Pomozanski. And your comments about seminaries.

    I think I am involved here with a moderate/progressive view of Orthodoxy. I was educated in a small conservative Serbian Orthodox Church.

    I know you will disagree with my last statement because you are sure you are right. I have no problem with your views other than the desire to better understand them.

    Not trying to be negative; trying to be honest and upfront with you and the others.

    Thanks.

  10. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Michael,

    I offer as a reminder: one cannot lump all Protestants together in one neat pile. There is such a variety of Protestant beliefs. There is a vast difference between my former church teachings and what many Protestants teach.

    Would you please explain what is or is not ‘humble enough to be Orthodox theology’?

    Thank you.

  11. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Thanks, father.

    I do want to understand the ontological view of salvation.

    I look forward to your explanation.

    I will pray for you; please, pray for me.

  12. Dee of St Herman's Avatar
    Dee of St Herman’s

    Fr Stephen, when I dealing with questions about salvation, partly coming from my family, my spiritual father mentioned readings from St John of Damascus. Could these readings be considered helpful for an ontological understanding?

  13. MichaelPatrick Avatar
    MichaelPatrick

    Terry, I think the best way to answer your question is to ask you to learn who Orthodox call theologians. Those few best exemplify true, humble Orthodox theology. They encountered God, being humbled beyond measure, mere creatures with nothing but what they’ve received.

    The truth about sacrifices is revealed by the Lamb who sacrificed Himself for us, to reach and rescue us in the midst of corruption and death.

    He condescended to us. We cannot be more humble than God. We can know Him only by being like Him. Being like Him is our calling and the fulfillment of our nature. Humility and thanksgiving are doors in our hearts leading at all times to paradise – because they locate Him in there. We are temples and He is our hope and glory.

    Sin is best explained in this: “Adam, where are you?” Our job is to be found, to put ourselves always in His presence. He is everything and without Him everything is nothing.

    In practical terms this works out for me like this: I try (always failing) to recognize that every slight, every urge to anger, every passion, every shame, every person and thing that disturbs me is paid for by His sacrifice. He bore it and allows me to participate in His forgiveness of all those sins. This is why King David could say that he, a convicted adulterous murderer, had sinned against God and God only. It’s true only because God Himself was lowered into the depths of hell and death by taking on all the corruption, pain, dislocation and suffering David caused. We have to do with Him and Him alone. When we realize that it is humbling to go to Him in prayer. Doing that, then, is Orthodox theology.

  14. Michelle Avatar
    Michelle

    Terry,

    As far as I know, a pagan back in Jesus’ day was rightly not considered to be one of God’s chosen people. Rather, the Jew’s were God’s people. Of course, a pagan could become one of God’s people by converting and becoming a Jew. I don’t think Jesus taught otherwise, and yet, paradoxically, almost mysteriously, Jesus proclaimed the daughterhood to God the Father of a pagan Canaanite women. And proclaimed as a son of God a pagan centurion, stating his faithfulness to God was greater than had ever been witnessed in all of Judea.

    I don’t think Christ denied the concrete reality of the Jews being God’s Holy People. But, paradoxically and contradictorily, outside of this Holy People that was Judaism were pagan women, and pagan centurions, who were, in fact, God’s Holy People. They did not first have to convert to become this Holy People, and yet the Truth only rested in the concrete, and very real House of Israel (not in paganism).

    So, likewise, the concrete, real Church is the the Orthodox Church. It is the House of Israel. Yet, some who are outside of it are somehow actually paradoxically, or mystically, within it.

    So, its not a universal acceptance of all faiths, just like the pagan women didn’t manifest an acceptance of paganism as a means to Salvation.

  15. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Michelle,

    Thanks.

    Nobody can be saved incidentally or accidentally. People are saved on purpose with a purpose.

    I used to teach that the Kingdom of God consists of:

    1) those who died before the ‘age of accountability’
    2) the saved of the Old Testament
    3) the mentally handicapped, and
    4) those in the church, the body of Christ

    People do not enter the church or are saved accidentally or incidentally. One becomes a Christian on purpose with a purpose.

    Being in the right place at the right time does not automatically save one or make one a Christian or put one in the church.

    If one can be saved outside the church, there is no need of the church.

    If all are saved, the church is not needed.

    Again, thank you.

  16. Dee of St Herman's Avatar
    Dee of St Herman’s

    Terry, (also Fr Stephen in case you haven’t heard this one)
    Here is a link my spiritual father recommended when I presented him with a fairly provocative question on salvation. It is a podcast put out by Ancient Faith Radio. In this podcast the writing of St Athanasius is presented on the Incarnation and is entitled using the Saints words “what was God to do?”. It’s short –about 13 minutes.

    http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/holyfathers/st_athanasius_what_was_god_to_do

  17. Janine Avatar

    Thank you Fr Stephen (and Fr. John) for your comments on what Palamas says and does not say.

    Even in modern Greek there is a tone of “substitution” in the word but it immediately suggests the image in my mind of Christ standing in for us, shedding his blood and taking the punishments of the evil one in our place, and overturning the prince of this world by doing so. I think justice is in His witnessing.

    So for right now my definition is: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends”

  18. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Dee,

    A great video. I liked it and it helped my understanding.

    “God became man so that man can become God”.

    A great quote which I have read or heard many times, but it never looses its appreciation for deification or theosis.

    Thanks, Dee.

  19. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Careful, Janine.

    Your post comes mighty close to describing the penal substitution idea of salvation/atonement.

    Thanks for the post. I appreciate the way you worded it

  20. Fr. John Whiteford Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Your issues with the distorted understanding of the atonement that you find in western theology should not cause you to dismiss perfectly legitimate images of our salvation that are found throughout Scripture and the Fathers.

    You cannot legitimately dismiss legal imagery that is Scriptural and Patristic, and suggest that we have no such imagery. We will all face a final judgment, for example. What is that if not a legal image?

    As for St Nicholas Cabasilas, you can find the pertinent quote and reference to where it is found in his classic “The Life in Christ” here:

    http://razilazenje.blogspot.com/2006/12/nicholas-cabasilas-on-satisfaction.html

    People like St. Philaret of Moscow used formats and some terminology that you can label “Latinized”, but he is doing the same thing that modern Orthodox writers do, without batting an eye — he was expressing Orthodox in terms and via media that were meaningful in the intellectual sea of the times he swam in.

    One day contemporary writers may get some other label, because they spoke in existentialist or post modern terms, but the issue is not whether you convey your ideas in terms meaningful in your own intellectual and cultural milieu — the issue is whether or not the ideas you are conveying are faithful to the Orthodox Tradition. And if you want to take issue with what St. Philaret of Moscow said, or with Fr. Michael Pomazansky, simply dismissing them because they came from a cultural milieu different from your own does not constitute actual engagement with them on a substantive level.

    I think Florovsky’s critique of “the Latin Captivity” have some merit, but it depends on the specifics. I think St. Philaret of Moscow and Fr. Michael Pomazansky both had a far more thoroughly Orthodox mindset than most of us could ever dream of. It is certainly worthwhile to ask the question of whether or not all the trends in the Russian Tradition have been faithful to the Patristic Tradition, but the wholesale dismissal of it is certainly no better than unquestioning embrace of it… and I would argue that it is far worse. If you take a look at where many of those who think they are so much more Orthodox in their thinking have actually taken things, it should give one pause about assuming that we are in such a better and more purely patristic time of Orthodox thought. For example, it is fairly easy to prove that the Church would never countenance any suggestion that homosexuality might not be a sin, and yet many of our American Orthodox “Theologians” today, who have thrown off the shackles of the “Latin Captivity” have clearly come to that conclusion, and embraced views that have more in common with Unitarian Universalism than they do with the Fathers.

  21. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Terry,
    I would not describe my work as moderate or liberal Orthodoxy. I am, however, willing to engage in critical reflection within Orthodoxy. That is not always common with everyone. It is quite common within academic settings such as seminaries and Orthodox universities. Orthodoxy is not monolithic. We are even strained in our relations with each other from time to time. Certain questions test our love for one another. My critique of the Penal Substitutionary Atonement runs fairly deep and is probably well known. But I’m only a priest. I’m simply an example within Orthodoxy.

    What you encounter you will encounter more than once if you venture outside the parish and have wider conversations. Pomozansky and Rose are perfectly Orthodox, and St. Philaret of Moscow is a saint. But you will hear criticisms from some. You will hear criticisms of me and many others, too.

    Orthodoxy is the truth, it is the harbor of salvation. I believe critical examination is healthy, if it is measured and works within a consensus in the Church, and is willing to be responsible to authority. I believe there have been periods in our history that Orthodoxy has been tested and tried. God has always corrected the Church and kept it on course.

    Pomozansky, for example, represents what is often described as the “manuals” in theology. They were very common in Russia in the 19th century. The criticism has been that Russian thought was overly influenced by Latin (Jesuits) for a period of time as the Tsars sought to organize and regularize life in Russia, including the Church. They looked to outside models to do so. The result was a very organized presentation, such as Pomozansky’s work. And, it is perfectly Orthodoxy within the wide scope of things.

    A major criticism arose in the 20th century, driven largely by the work of Fr. Georges Florovsky, one of the emigres from Russia after the Revolution. He described that period in Russia as part of a “Western Captivity” of the Church. He worked instead to return theology back to the consensus of the Fathers and away from the “manuals.” His work has inspired a generation of scholars across the Orthodox world. Of course, Florovsky himself was the object of criticism by some.

    Pomozansky is not widely used in America – but is still used.

    When I was first in the process of becoming Orthodox (studying, visiting, discussing) I ran across certain arguments that were quite troublesome. At the time, one major jurisdiction was out of communion with almost everyone, and the arguments sometimes got quite bitter. Some of this conversation has echoes of that argument.

    But, learning all of this did not deter me from becoming Orthodox. It opened my eyes to current events and present history. Recently, 4 Patriarchs refused to attend the Council in Crete. It was not, ostensibly, about theology, but there were certainly theological tensions – within the Council as well.

    This is been true throughout the history of the Church. All of the councils had such difficulties and some of the councils simply failed in their work and the Church’s critical reception essentially declared that they were false councils. Orthodoxy does not operate with a central controlling authority, such as a Pope. That means that theology happens in a “conciliar” manner. Sometimes that conciliar approach gets a little testy. But its healthy.

    It would be wrong to have an extremely monolithic view of Orthodoxy. Some who do so spend a lot of time declaring their opposition to various Bishops, etc., and take a very defensive posture. I entered Orthodoxy being well aware of the tensions. But looking at Orthodox history, I saw that the tensions worked. God has preserved the Church. The tensions are healthy – and indeed are signs of health.

    I’m sorry that it is troubling for you. But you seem to have a good heart and a good head. Pray, study, don’t be afraid. Orthodoxy is solid and is everything that it says it is. But the reality is fairly large and has a variety of conversations.

    I would prefer never to disagree with another priest – certainly in public. Indeed, it’s something I generally avoid. But it’s not unhealthy.

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Fr. John,
    Your points are well taken. The imagery is there – though – and in this article I have tried to go to the heart of the matter – the “legal” imagery, when used in the manner of the Nominalists – gets distorted. I have no trouble with the imagery and do not want to deny that it is there. I want to push to the depth of its understanding.

    I would not want to dismiss either St. Philaret nor Pomozansky and do not doubt their Orthodoxy. But it is also ok to reflect on the character of the work. I agree that it’s possible to err plenty of ways in our contemporary life in the Church. We are certainly far from a better and more Patristic time of thought. But we, like they, have to struggle towards the fullness of that mind. Those who are advocating any change of the Church’s teaching viz sexuality are certainly not in my circle of acquaintance. But it’s a strange landscape –

    It is worth noting that Florovsky’s work is not treated with an uncritical eye. Theology requires reflection. God give us such grace. I pray that I have not given offense, and beg the prayers of St. Philaret.

    But I take your words to heart. I will try to write in a manner that includes them within the conversation.

  23. Selena Avatar
    Selena

    Great thread. I appreciate the honest comments of each and every one of you.

  24. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Terry, what Father says of Fr. Seraphim Rose of blessed memory is not a put down. Though I never met him I consider him instrumental in bringing me to the Church and that is not uncommon for many, like me who came to the Church in the late 1980’s-90’s. That does not mean he is a good source for dogmatics. He did not really concern himself with dogmatics but with prayer and struggle. In that arena he is quite a blessing for all of us.

    I cannot really comment on Pomozansky. I read his work Dogmatic Theology and despite high praise from my brother, it did not engage me.

    Keep in mind too that the Church’s method of arriving at the truth has more than a bit of resemblance to the Hebraic method if constant study and testing of personal understanding by dialog in prayer with our brothers.

    Compared to other Christian traditions the Orthodox Church has realitively few dogmas. What we have is admirably summed up in the Creed.

    The rest involves how we live, repent and strive for holiness. Those are often quite existential questions and always deeply personal. How we work out our salvation in our particular community and time is unique to each one of us and our marriage to Christ. General things can be said and their are a lot of “don’t go there” signs.

    It is this temendous freedom that can be difficult to deal with.

    Look at the conversation between Fr. Stephen and Fr. John. Two highly respected priests who love God, Jesus Christ and His Church.

    They show the living process of constantly navigating the narrow road. We each of us correct and guide the others with the sight we have been given. Each of us requires guidance and correction.

    On that note I want to say to Dee how much I have gained by her comments. She is young in the Church yet , IMO, shows wisdom and insight.

    Thank all of you.

  25. Michelle Avatar
    Michelle

    “If one can be saved outside the church, there is no need of the church.”

    Terry,
    I never said one could be saved outside the Church. In fact, I was trying to say quite the opposite. This is why I said the Canaanite women presents to us a paradox. A paradox means that something that appears contradictory somehow is not. It’s presents a truth that we cannot easily explain.

    To be one with Christ, which is to say to become God, is salvation. This is why becoming God’s own body (the Church) is equivalent to the word “salvation.” You cannot become God apart from His body. But you say people will themselves to be in the Church on purpose, with a purpose. Tell me, how does one become God on purpose, with a purpose? The Orthodox are not Arminians. It’s not a matter of choice.

    Rather, the truth consist in another paradox -yes, we are saved synergistically, and yet it is impossible for a person to become God on purpose, by a purpose, in any way. To become God is 100% grace, 0% human purpose. The paradox is that even though its 100% grace, God does not use force to save people against their will. We also are not Monergists.

  26. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Father,

    Your post makes perfect sense. I can see the same history/context in my former church.

    Honestly, at this time I don’t know a lot about Orthodox writings as far as ‘who is in’ and ‘who is out’. Who is popular and who is not. Who is on the NY Times top selling list and who is not. I think you get the gist of what I’m trying to say. Who is ‘old country’ and who is ‘new country’.

    As far as venturing out, a lot of my reading, I think, shocked my priest. I’m sure he’d prefer I didn’t read all that. And besides that, I am here on this blog, being exposed to ‘the other side’ and learning a lot. I was searching and reaching out when I found this blog.

    I think this blog will really open my eyes.

    What I said and how I said it in no ways says or implies I don’t respect you and your position.

    Thank you, father.

  27. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Thanks, Michael,

    What you said rings true inside me.

    If the fathers are willing to engage each other (and I really appreciate their discussion) and to grow. I certainly am willing to engage and grow.

    A great post, and it really spoke to me.

    Thanks

  28. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Hugh,

    Father’s words: “Whatever hell is, it is not the willful torment of a human being by God for the purpose of satisfying His justice. The purpose of hell is not torment. God has no need to torment. If there is torment, God is not its cause. God is its cure”, are quite reminiscent of St Silouan, I think that (St Silouan the Athonite – the first part “A monk of the Hoy mountain”) is abook that would open your mind while not disagreeing with your heart.

  29. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Michelle,

    The only think I would add to your post is that becoming saved and becoming God are not the same. One is the beginning; the other is the end. I know there is mixture all along the Christian path, but one cannot become God without first being saved.

    One does not accidentally stumble or fall into the church. One becomes a Christian, a part of the church by engaging God and responding appropriately ‘on purpose’.

    I like your post. They are ‘engaging’. Thank you so much.

  30. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    If one can be saved outside the church, there is no need of the church.

    If all are saved, the church is not needed.

    As Michelle noted, there is paradox here. It is always dangerous to state things in such absolutes; we are not given to understand everything. Better stated, not everything has been revealed to us. “We know where the Church is; we do not know where it is not.”

  31. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Byron, sometimes I think we don’t always know where the Church is or rather whom the Church is. Too often I catch myself thinking the Church is my opinion. God forgive me.

  32. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Bryon, thanks for stating Michelle’s comment.

    I still stand by what I wrote. Perhaps it is not a heaven or hell issue. In time I may come around to your and Michelle’s understanding. I’m still studying. It is where I am at the present.

    “I can do no more; God help me”.

    And I’m not a Luther fan.

    Thanks. I am impressed how you all stand behind and stand up for what you believe.

    Thanks

  33. MichaelPatrick Avatar
    MichaelPatrick

    Fr. Stephen,

    I have a deep appreciation for this post and thread, and for many others like it, because of the incisive way you’ve deconstructed false notions of God such as we get in PSA teachings and Calvinism. These have damaged so many people who now need illumination and healing just to see that God is the prodigal’s father who loves His child’s return. Every price of justice, whatever they are, He absorbs at great cost out of the purest love.

    Sacrificial imagery appearing with wrath and angry flashes of lightening in the Old Testament have a very pure motive that is not explained by PSA stories which treat them as images of justice. Christ taught sacrifice in Old Testament examples and then gave His own life so He could give it to us where we are, in the death we earned by walking away. He taught by example that we too must lay down our life because He can only be found in death, which fortunately for sinners is inevitable.

    Jesus upbraided teachers who kept the people from seeing a loving groom who had come to seek them out. They would keep people from seeing God laying dead for three days in a tomb so His broken body could be raised to feed them with divine manna. Whatever His justice is — it is HIS. Our job is to meet Him, to sacrifice ourselves too so we may obtain Him and His life.

    Nothing now separates us from the Father, the perfectly beautiful Father Who’s gentle nurturing is strong, Who gives food and breath daily, Who so kindly attends to us that we should blush in the face of such Love. He gives us His glory because it is the proper raiment in His house. He wants us there.

    Missing the mark, or sin, is not complex. It is missing Him. We don’t need bible lawyers of justice. We need to sacrifice ourselves on His altar, dying daily to ourselves for Him toward those whom He loves. We can say yes to the comforting Holy Spirit and present ourselves at any and every moment. This is what sacrifice means.

    Father, I hope you don’t mind me unloading here. The heresies your posts effectively tackle need to be tackled and your exposing them helps to save souls like mine. Thank you!

  34. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Terry, simply continue to seek God in all things. If we “stand up” or try to answer your questions, it is only ever to help you along whatever path He leads. God bless you in your journey as I am sure He has and will!

    I found a fun quote by Neils Bors that I like to think of when I get too analytical in my thoughts: “No, no, you’re not thinking; you’re just being logical.” It lets me poke fun at myself. 🙂

  35. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Bryon,

    Thanks, you are a kind person. It shows in your posts.

  36. Hugh McCann Avatar
    Hugh McCann

    Michael,

    Jesus absorbed the wrath & justice of God the Father so that we would enjoy those blessed benefits that you & I so rightly love to enumerate.

    To conflate 2 Cor. 5:21 & Gal. 3:13, He who knew no sin became our sin, and took upon Himself our deserved curse so that we might enjoy only life, righteousness, light, love and mercy from God the Father.

    I cannot know what version of “PSA” you were subject to, but as Fr John has here indicated, not all such thought is entirely antithetical to Orthodoxy. Please.

  37. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    I repeat, with all due respect, the Orthodox cannot lump all Protestants in one pile and judge them as all equal/identical. They all teach different things,

    I’d rather see you evaluate, as many do, a specific Protestant doctrine and not Protestantism.

    Having said that, I am not at all pro-Protestantism.

    Perhaps at this stage I am actually more anti-Protestant than I am pro-Orthodox. And I am working hard on that. I think God is pulling/leading me to the Orthodox faith. I am going, but I guess I can’t help going screaming and kicking.

    Blessings.

  38. Janine Avatar

    Hi Terry, thanks for your comment

    The thing that makes it ‘not penal,’ so to speak, is that it depends on who is doing the punishing. As the punishment is from “the evil one,” it is about injustice and cruelty and violence, the rule of the prince of this world. The One who takes it for us — in the condescension of Incarnation — and upends it for all time, setting us free, is the Lord of love. It is all an act of love in which we follow as “witnesses.” The justice is in freedom and mercy

  39. Hugh McCann Avatar
    Hugh McCann

    Conversely (or, coordinately), Terry, neither am I Pro-All-Things-Protestant.

    And cannot be Anti-All-Things-Orthodox! 🙂

  40. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Thanks, Janine.

    Would you further expand “the justice is in freedom and mercy”. I don’t follow that.

    Please, would you explain the differences between grace and mercy.

    Thanks

  41. Karen Avatar
    Karen

    It’s true, Terry, there are many different kinds of Protestants. I think there are likely even different nuances between those who hold some form of PSA. Some aspects of PSA are quite Orthodox. Others of its aspects cannot be reconciled with Orthodoxy at all it seems to me. I like to think in terms of being pro Christ first of all and the pro personal repentance and pro all my brothers and sisters whatever camp they may be in, rather than being anti this or that. I don’t always succeed in that, but that is where I would like to land. In upholding the centrality of Christ, I believe Fr. Stephen’s late Bishop of blessed memory, Bp. Dimitri (Royster), is a beautiful example.

  42. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Hugh,
    I could give a description of a substitutionary model, perhaps even penal, within an ontological understanding, I think. The language of the Father punishing the son, etc., can be very problematic. Again, the Nominalism, unspoken but assumed in almost all modern accounts of the PSA renders it more than problematic. You can, as Fr. John has illustrated, find a quote here and there, that repeats Western versions of the PSA within Orthodoxy. In the case of St. Philaret, he is working in a time and place in Russia when Latin (RC) catechisms are being used as the model and being corrected for Orthodox usage, but at a time when Orthodox education was at a low point internally. St. Nicholas Cabasilas writes in 14th century Byzantium, in a period under heavy influence from Catholic scholasticism. He, I understand, rejected the doctrine of the Divine Energies as they were being articulated by St. Gregory Palamas (a direct challenge to Roman scholasticism). So, both quotes are drawn from weak periods in the Orthodox culture.

    On the other hand, the ontological view, as I’ve described it in my following article, is drawn from the heart of the fathers, St. Athanasius and the Cappadocians, St. Maximus, etc. who are the giant figures of Orthodoxy at the very height of its dogmatic formulations. Not all Fathers are equal. The PSA in the West is often the centerpiece of thought and theology – certainly something it has never been in Orthodoxy. I would suggest that the Conciliar period is a common inheritance of all Christians and should be the primary touchstone for how to read and understand the Scriptures.

    Is it antithetical? Close. And if it’s moved to the center, then it is out of place.

  43. Janine Avatar

    PS it seems to me that Christ is the absolute unimpeachable witness (literally “martyr” in Greek) against the prince of this world. He is the truly innocent who suffers unjustly from the one who “was a murderer from the beginning.” So we are to follow in His example.

    The courtroom language is not about God’s punishment; it is about the true Judgment and witnessing at the end of the age. Since the other image for that time is the wedding feast we have yet another understanding that it is full reconciliation and life

  44. Michelle Avatar
    Michelle

    Terry, you said,
    “One is the beginning; the other is the end………One becomes a Christian, a part of the church by engaging God and responding appropriately ‘on purpose’.”

    I actually agree with you here. There is a journey to be trod towards theosis. But, again, there is a paradox. Christ said, “the Kingdom of God is at hand!” What He is saying here is that the ‘end,’ as you put it, has been accomplished and is here, right now! But it certainly doesn’t look like it to our darkened eyes. If we had eyes to see, we would see the Kingdom in it Fullness right now, this very moment! And yet, paradoxically, there is a journey to be had, a ‘beginning,’ as you put it, in order to find this ‘end.’

    I think Christ proclaimed this ‘end’ when He exalted the pagan Canaanite woman. She was at the beginning of her journey, so to speak, and yet Christ calls us to wipe away the darkness from our eyes and see that the Kingdom, in all its Fullness and Glory, truly resided in this humble woman’s heart. Its a paradox, my friend.

  45. Fr. John Whiteford Avatar

    Janine, if the imagery of the final judgment is not at all about punishment, why does the parable of the sheep and the goats end with: “And these shall go away into everlasting *punishment*: but the righteous into life eternal”?

  46. Karen Avatar
    Karen

    Fr. Stephen, I read there is some confusion about St. Nicholas Cabasilus because of the way some articles were written about him and a close associate who actually defected and became a Roman Catholic during the Hesechast controversy–St. Nicholas is sometimes confused with the associate. From what I understand, St. Nicholas was a firm supporter of St. Gregory Palamas and the monks of Mt. Athos. Of course, that doesn’t mean he didn’t borrow language from the RC scholastics.

  47. Fr. John Whiteford Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, do you think St. Gregory Palamas represents some weak point in the history of Orthodox theology?

    St. Philaret of Moscow and St. Nicholas Cabasilas use the term “satisfaction”. However, neither us it in reference to satisfying God’s wrath. At a time when honor and satisfaction of that honor were powerful aspects of the culture, this was a powerful image that conveyed a completely biblical point, and as such, this is a completely legitimate image, as they used it.

  48. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Fr. John,
    Not to put words into Janine, but the final judgment has a great deal written about it, ways of describing what is in fact going on other than simply standing in front of the throne and being told where to go. Of course there is a final judgment – but the interior of that reality cannot be exhausted or simply limited to an almost cartoon-like image. Judgment, for example, “has already begun in the household of God.” Some Orthodox writers describe the sheep and the goats as being two aspects within each person. It’s not, by any means, a proclamation of a legal moment with sentencing, etc. That fails to do justice to the many ways the judgment is treated in the Tradition.

    What, for example, is the nature of “everlasting punishment?” etc. As surely as you can quote St. Philaret and St. Nicholas Cabasilas, I could quote St. Isaac of Syria or St. Gregory of Nyssa, etc. St. Gregory has much to say in this matter…and was later declared “father of the fathers.”

  49. Janine Avatar

    HI again Terry:

    Freedom: Fr. Stephen has spoken above of the ransom model. You can see it still today in the Middle East. Innocent captives are taken and held for ransom. Someone has to pay for hostages to be released. Christ “paid” for us. He is Liberator, and Redeemer. He is the “stronger man” who binds the “strong man” of this world. The kidnapper is not God. Rather Jesus has told us that those who sin are “slaves to sin.” It is evil that keeps us captive.

    He “pays” by serving as the ultimate unimpeachable witness against the evil one — and we are set free for all time. (“You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free”). This is His free sacrifice of love. We do not have to be slaves to this “worldly” way of thinking and being. We can follow Him; we are liberated because He gave up His life (trampling death by death). How you look at the crucifixion is everything (“As Moses lifted up the serpent …”). If you see justice in the crucifixion itself it is wrong. IF you see the victory of God over injustice and slavery to violence and evil then we are seeing correctly.

    Again I’ll refer back to Fr Stephen — it depends on who’s demanding the payment. It is the unjust evil one who demands death. The devil gets his due, but it is his end — the total transfiguring power of the Cross is just there. We are set free from his rule.

    Difference between mercy and grace — I don’t really know how to make this distinction and I would have to defer to Fr Stephen or others wiser than I. That seems to be a kind of mystery to my mind. I am an amateur thinker of things theological 🙂

  50. Fr. John Whiteford Avatar

    If one pays attention to the vigil for the Sunday of the last judgment, they cannot fail to not that eternal punishment is a highly emphasized aspect of that final judgment.

    And every year, on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the Church anathematizes anew the idea that there will be an end to the punishment of the damned:

    http://fatherjohn.blogspot.com/2015/04/stump-priest-is-universalism-heresy.html

    Furthermore, Met. Hierotheos (Vlachos) makes the case that St. Gregoy of Nyssa did not teach this heresy, and certainly the Fathers of the Fifth Ecumenical Council did not believe that he did either. The quotes, allegedly from St. Isaac the Syrian that you would cite were unknown to the Church until very recent times, and have not been preserved by the Church. There is therefore no way to know how accurate those texts are, but at they very least, it is outside the accepted norms of the Church when we anathematize that very every year.

  51. Karen Avatar
    Karen

    Fr. John,

    I think you will find the answer to your question to Janine in her August 12 at 12:46 am comment to Terry. She is apparently not denying punishment per se–she is denying that the punishment is meted out by God, rather than the evil one, which, IMO, is another way of suggesting the punishment or torment occasioned by our persistent attachment to sin is not something extrinsic to the sin itself, but rather the natural consequence of sin. Sin, being a matter of ontology–of ontological corruption–is its own punishment.

  52. Fr. John Whiteford Avatar

    It is simply not Biblical to suggest that the devil does the punishing, and that God simply let’s it happen.

    St. Paul wrote: “since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).

    Commenting on these verses, St. John Chrysostom wrote:

    “There are many men, who form good hopes not by abstaining from their sins, but by thinking that hell is not so terrible as it is said to be, but milder than what is threatened, and temporary, not eternal; and about this they philosophize much. But I could show from many reasons, and conclude from the very expressions concerning hell, that it is not only not milder, but much more terrible than is threatened. But I do not now intend to discourse concerning these things. For the fear even from bare words is sufficient, though we do not fully unfold their meaning. But that it is not temporary, hear Paul now saying, concerning those who know not God, and who do not believe in the Gospel, that “they shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction.” How then is that temporary which is everlasting? “From the face of the Lord,” he says. What is this? He here wishes to say how easily it might be. For since they were then much puffed up, there is no need, he says, of much trouble; it is enough that God comes and is seen, and all are involved in punishment and vengeance. His coming only to some indeed will be Light, but to others vengeance” (Homily 3, 2nd Thessalonians).

  53. Janine Avatar

    Thanks Fr John, Karen, Fr Stephen, Terry, et al

    Hi Fr John thank you for your question to me

    Thank you Fr Stephen for your words and teaching also

    I would also say that along the same lines of what Fr Stephen wrote, the Judgment is such a great mystery. It also involves the mystery of time and the end of the age. What is the fullness of time going to be? What is the reconciliation of the end of the age? If we see the wedding feast parable, there are those who show up without the garment that was a gift of God. I would say to remain outcast *at that time (whatever that time and its nature really is)* is in itself an eternal punishment. IF eternal life is on offer, to be without the substance of that life is a kind of eternal loss. And yes the age begun with Christ’s Incarnation. When will we realize its fullness — ‘no one knows the time but the Father in heaven’ and Christ seems to make it clear that’s not really ours to speculate on

    It is like the “holy fire” we either stand in or are burned from (I wrote about this in a comment far up the thread). What do we fail to discard from ourselves that is incompatible with it? How much time do we have? I don’t know the answer to that. I think faith itself is a great mystery. God looks into our hearts and finds who loves God. Who can see past all the rest of us?

    IF I remember from classes (!) Gregory of Nyssa suggested the idea of universalism. I think again that belongs to the mystery of time. Forgive me if I offer a weak answer 🙂

  54. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Fr. John,
    As I stated yesterday, I do not understand St. Gregory Palamas to be espousing the forensic view of the atonement. It belongs rather to the ransom model. But all fathers at every time and every place have strengths and weaknesses. There is no golden age of Orthodoxy nor has there ever been. The fathers have to be read together and read with wisdom and discernment. This is what Florovsky meant when he described a “neo-patristic synthesis.”

    As to the matters of the 5th Council, etc. and the anathemas, I do not want to get into that debate here. There’s far more to be said than you’ve offered in your summary. But I really do not want to argue it. I understand your position (I’ve seen it plenty of times). I have my disagreements with it – though probably not the ones you might imagine.

    I hold all the fathers in reverence, but I think that means holding them all together, in the context of the liturgical and ascetic life, under the omophor of my bishop, etc. I think you probably do the same.

  55. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Fr. John,
    Chrysostom: “we do not fully unfold their meaning.” Yes. And that is the point. Punishment requires a lot of unfolding. For example, the same coming is Light to some and vengeance to others. That itself is something to ponder how this is. Thank you for your comments.

  56. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    “His coming only to some indeed will be Light, but to others vengeance”

    The presence of the Lord, it has been said, is a fire to those who hate Him and a blessing to those who seek Him. Fr. Whiteford, please forgive me, but I have not read anything which you have posted that would refute this. I think that we are punished, not by God’s desire or direct action, but by His presence; now as in a mirror, then in full. The fullness of God to those who hate Him yet are resurrected in His Presence may be considered “eternal destruction” (it’s an interesting phrase – to be eternally destroyed? to be destroyed over an eternity of time? If God never removes His Image from His creation, this is really as close to non-being as we could ever be. But I don’t believe it is He that destroys, but our own race towards non-being as we flee His presence that does that). Just my thoughts.

    As Fr. Freeman has noted before, we should struggle with the idea of Hell but we should never consider it separately from the love of God. To my knowledge, Hell is not clearly defined in the scripture or the Tradition, although it is much considered.

  57. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Thanks for the replies and explanation.

    I am also impressed at the understanding of the Orthodox faith you all possess.

    Thanks

  58. Janine Avatar

    Terry, it seems to me you have a passion for truth. Loving the Person who is Truth is what it’s all about isn’t it? God bless, keep going.

  59. Mary Avatar

    Terry,

    Forgive me for chiming in. I also grew up in the coc and was an inquirer/catechumen for 8 years before finally becoming Orthodox. I have a lot of baggage, so I can relate to a lot of your comments.

    But you are correct that the coc and Orthodoxy both make claims to holding the “right” belief. It was my desire to be “right” that first lead me from the coc to the steps of an Orthodox church. However, there is a big difference in this, too. Growing up, I believed we were the only ones who were right, and that everyone else, (my Baptist school friends, my lapsed uncle) were going to hell because they were “wrong,” in other words, they weren’t following the right rules. This emphasis on “rightness” was ultimately very isolating to me – I had a hard time loving or connecting to people outside of my denomination. That may not be true for everyone, but it was for me.

    In Orthodoxy, though, while we do believe we’re “right,” it isn’t our “rightness” that saves us. Our right belief is a right understanding of what salvation means. Its about communion with all of mankind and with God. We are saved communally. This has changed my whole relationship to the world. Most of my friends and family belong to other denominations, but there “wrongness” is no longer a central matter for me. We are in this together. Loving them saves me. (And, as it turns out, arguing with them doesn’t.)

    Of course, this is what Fr. Stephen is saying so much better than I could. But I wanted to share that in my experience having confidence that you believe the truth doesn’t have to be at the expense of everyone who disagrees.

  60. Lou. Avatar
    Lou.

    Father Stephen:

    First, an observation of a God-fearing Protestant. To return to the start of your blog post, I have long looked on in wonder at Fundamentalists taking about the “Blood of Jesus.” It can be frightening. I’m not sure what they mean, but it is utterly CONCRETE.

    My (Episcopal) church had a Vacation Bible School where being “washed in the Blood of the Lamb” was highlighted. After a week, a gang of adults gathered asking to learn what the heck we had just been talking about! And the kids did not seem to be a quarter as put off or puzzled as their parents.

    I presume the Orthodox have a more sane way of dealing with the topic.

  61. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Lou,
    Yes. We drink it. It washes us.

  62. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    All,
    I have begun eliminating some comments on this thread. I think salient points have been made and simply saying the same things in disagreement is not useful. Read, ponder. The topic will not and should not go away. But if you find a comment not appearing, it’s the work of the Moderator.

  63. Janine Avatar

    re hell, etc. Maybe it’s neither here nor there, but I always think it’s notable that Jesus seems to be speaking to His disciples when He talks about it, His close followers. The warnings are to *us* (believers) especially about how we treat “the least of these.” I would say it’s particularly strong for those in leadership in His Church in terms of what and when and to whom He delivers these teachings in the Gospels. “To whom much is given . . .”

  64. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It is more than a little significant that in every place in which Jesus describes hell/judgment, it is in a parable. That invites us to go deeper. I think that in reaction to universalism, some go too far in the direction of literal and fail to ponder what’s going on. There are many things in various spiritual elders and the like who make very helpful comments on the matter.

  65. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    Father,
    It is interesting to note that the word translated as punishment has for its first meaning in the BDAG Lexicon: Correction. I found that interesting. I also found it interesting that the word often translated as “propitiation” appears in the All Holy Trinity prayer of the Trisagion as either blot out or pardon depending on whose Liturgy book one addresses

  66. MichaelPatrick Avatar
    MichaelPatrick

    Hugh,

    In this is your error: “Jesus absorbed the wrath & justice of God the Father”

    He paid our price (the price of our sins with all the tragic pains and effects) to inherit us for Himself and bring us to His Father’s house (kingdom) as a bride.

    Jesus did not pay the Father for us. The Father was not holding us back or keeping us out. We have all gone astray.

    Unlike Adam, when God says “where are you?”, we can answer “Here I am in your Son!” And we know we are in Him if we love as he loved, with sacrificial love to the end – til death.

    Salvation is costly. It is not trivial like some bail bond or pardon. Human life is always sacrificial from arche to telos. We live and die for others as Christ does for us. Made in His image, our nature is only fulfilled following Him in every respect possible. Since He keeps pouring out divine grace, everything is possible and required of us. This bar is much higher than any legal bar.

  67. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Thanks, Mary.

    Your comment seemed on target.

    Thanks, again.

  68. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Ladies and gentlemen,
    A verse from the Apocrypha, often overlooked by the non-Orthodox that more or less settles certain things. God did not punish Adam and Eve with death. He warned them of it be was not its cause.

    For God did not create death: neither does he take pleasure in the destruction of the living. (Wis 1:13)

    The second half of the verse is quoted in the NT.

  69. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Father,

    If God didn’t create death, who or what did.

    Surely, it was

  70. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Father,

    I understand God either does things or He allows them to be done.

    Would you explain this to me.

    I goofed up on the other part of this post. Sorry

    Thanks.

  71. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Terry,
    Death is not any “thing” at all. It didn’t have to be created. It is a movement away from communion with the Lord and Giver of Life. Death is a “natural” consequence of rebelling against the only One who keeps us in existence and in well-being (and desires to give us eternal being). The statement in the Garden was a warning. Don’t do this, because this will happen. It is not don’t do this or I will kill you.

    And even death is not pure non-existence. Because only God could take existence away but He does not. “The gifts and callings of God are without repentance.” He doesn’t change His mind. It’s why the devil and his angels still exist. Their existence is God’s gift.

    But death is a “relative” non-being, a movement towards non-being. It results in the death of the body (the separation of the soul from the body) and the dissolution of the body.

    The healing of that death is the resurrection. Salvation is not complete until the “redemption of the body.” Romans 8:23

  72. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Thanks, father.

    That is understandable.

  73. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father would you say that despite our distinct personness that I’d God were allow anyone to pass into non-existence it would mean the same for all because we exist only in Him not as discreet and unconnected individuals who are autonomous?

  74. Hugh McCann Avatar
    Hugh McCann

    Thanks, Michael Patrick, though your first and third paragraphs don’t make sense, I agree with the second!

    He paid our price (the price of our sins with all the tragic pains and effects) to inherit us for Himself and bring us to His Father’s house (kingdom) as a bride.

    But I don’t see what “curse” otherwise means.

    At the last, all outside of Christ will suffer God’s wrath for their sins. No?

  75. Onesimus Avatar
    Onesimus

    Terry,

    God bless you and your earnest seeking.

    Fr. Bless,

    You ministry here is a gift to all of us. Thank God!

    Perhaps – if you continue along this pedagogy and the ontological theme so necessary for Orthodox life – you can tie in the centrality of Love within ecclesial life to ontology.

    I feel as if this connection is the “missing link” that makes us modern Christians view formulaic doctrine and theology as primary instead of a reflection and gift of Love working amongst its members “in the Spirit.” Correct doctrine as it were is not what makes Orthodoxy…Love is what makes Orthodoxy, and doctrine is simply an outpouring of charismata overflowing from that Love.

    Perhaps for Terry and many of us who have never had the connection overtly made, I think it is fundamental in parsing out what it is to be saved through faith working in Love, which is greater than faith. (1 Cor 13:13)

    Perhaps this is not the time, but having read the comments over the last few days, I feel as if this may continue to illumine many readers to the questions at hand. If anyone can make that connection clear, by the gifts of God working in us, it is you. For me, this connection was / is key and is the primary difference between Orthodoxy and all other “orthodoxy.” It is not simply a matter of doctrinal opinion, but wholly a matter of “putting on Love” which binds us in perfect harmony. Misunderstanding what the “haritikon anthropon” is and conflating this “divisive man” from one who simply holds an incorrect idea seems crucial to my understanding of ontological soteriology we participate in “in Christ.”

  76. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Onesimus, thanks for the encouragement.

    Over the years I have preached and taught several lessons on Onesimus.

    Thanks

  77. Westy Goes East Avatar
    Westy Goes East

    I’ve been disturbed about something, and this blog post is the best place to bring it out, I think. Please forgive me if I’m hijacking the conversation.

    For Lent this year, I decided to read the Lenten homilies of St John of Kronstadt in the book “Season of Repentance”. The homilies were great. But as I was reading, in some places, I detected a hint of PSA. But when I got to the end of the book, 2 of the last several homilies were blatantly in-your-face, God punished Jesus in our place. It left me very depressed and discouraged, that one of our saints would seem to be so off of the Orthodox beliefs about something so important.

    Thanks for allowing me to post this.

  78. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Michael Bauman. I like first names but there are two of you.

    Would you please explain to me how we exist as non-discrete, connected, non-autonomous individuals.

    I hope I said that right. I don’t understand.

    Thank you.

  79. MichaelPatrick Avatar
    MichaelPatrick

    Hugh,

    God’s “wrath” and “curse” relate to His grace. I have little confidence we can discuss these because I suspect that our understanding is too far apart. But I’m willing to try.

    Let’s start with the foundational positive attribute of grace. What is His grace to you?

  80. Dee of St Herman's Avatar
    Dee of St Herman’s

    Michael B. Thank you for your kind words. Sometimes I fear I go overboard. Lord have mercy.

    I think Michael B. might be referring to our connectedness in God’s image, the basis of our nature ontologically. There is more than this I realize, but I would be getting out of my depth to say any more.

  81. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Michael B.,

    I wasn’t trying to be nasty. I really don’t understand.

    In some of these posts one needs a theological dictionary to refer to.

    If I’m having trouble, surely others here are.

    And I am learning here.

    Part of learning is expanding your vocabulary, and I can do that here.

    Thanks

  82. Onesimus Avatar
    Onesimus

    Terry,

    Not speaking for Michael B., and I’m butting in… (forgive me) But I’d offer what I can, and he can offer his response. I think Michael B. And I understand this generally the same way.

    Generally, within Orthodoxy there is a difference between a Person and an individual. These are not the same. A person is what God created us to be, an individual is what we have become according to the fall.

    In the simplest terms, a person is a unique and true aspect of human ontology which reflects the “image and likeness” of God and His Trinitarian personhood. It is the pre-fall condition and what we are being “renewed” into “In The image and likeness of Christ.”

    Opposite this; An “individual” as we commonly understand it, is a fallen manner of being and a perversion of personhood, which actively divides itself from the whole. It’s reference become itself. It seeks its own, and not the wellness of the other.

    Getting more into the dogmatic aspects of this reflected in the Ecumenical Councils;

    Trinitarian theology of the Ecumenical councils expresses that the 3 Persons of God exist in one substance. In Greek this is 3 “Hypostases” = persons and 1 Ousia = substance. Love unites the Trinitairian Hypostases into One indisolvable Ousia eternally. This Love is a free and eternal “mode of being” which is constituent of Life Himself and our “being” relies on likeness to that “image” gifted to us in creation by grace. God is Life by His “mode of being.” His mode of being is Love. Only in Trinitarian love can we receive eternal life, and have personhood re-established within us. We crucify the “old man” (individual) and put on the ” new man” (I.e. Christ).

    Mankind is created in the Trinitarian “image and likeness” of God. We are unique and unrepeatable persons who can only find our created personhood and receive our “being” and the telos of our personhood in Christ-likeness, which seeks to be One Ousia with both the Father, and with us. Life and identity are found in selfless, co-suffering Love. Our being – our very existence – is tied directly to the mode of being of God, “in whom we live, move and have our being.”

    Ontologically falling from “image and likeness” means “corruption” or a disintegration of humanity’s Ousia (a gift of God by which we share in His being) into individualistic parts which actually denies our true Hypostasis (personhood bound in Love). True Being is only be found in ‘being” like God in one Ousia bound by selfless Love. Individuality is not personhood. It is the opposite of personhood, as it sees itself as “it” and conceives itself in reference to itself, not in reference to its true hypostatic nature and Ousia (image and likeness) by which its being is contingent.

    All of this is very deeply connected to Trinitarian expressions of the Fathers and Ecumenical Councils which of course we believe is given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

    Forgive me if this is overly abstract at this point. I have only quickly typed this out and it will no doubt lead to greater questions. I’m pointing to the tip of an iceberg. I have faith that the further down this road you travel the more it with draw all things together. It is complex and deeply interrelated, but I can recommend further reading both online and in book form if you are interested.

  83. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Onesimus,

    Thank you for that explanation. You are right: I need to do a ‘bunch more’ reading.

    However, my reading list and my to-do reading list is booked for weeks and even months.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts. Thanks

  84. Onesimus Avatar
    Onesimus

    Terry,

    I completely understand. May God bless you.

    When we are “amputated” (in one respect or another – even as “Orthodox”) from the Trinitarian aspects of human anthropology and the centrality of Trinitarian Love to the Gospel and the restoration of our true humanity and personhood in Christ, we lose the cohesiveness of the problem of sin and death and the depth and breadth of salvation.

    This is the power of the ontological that the forensic (however well intended as a teaching tool) cannot contend with. I feel that the forensic can have immense power (as Fr. Whiteford suggests). But I would suggest that this power is only established when bound to and leading to the ontological. Unfortunately, in my view, by and large, the former has been divorced from the later and been mistaken for the Gospel itself, and PSA extrapolated from the trucation of one aspect of something that points to the ontological. Fr. Freeman I think seeks to confront that departure head on and shock many of us out of a very shallow interpretation embraced by a large swath of Christian doctrine and praxis.

    God speed. Pray for me ( I need it.) I will pray for you.

  85. MichaelPatrick Avatar
    MichaelPatrick

    Onesimus, I appreciate your emphasis on ontological coinherence. The dislocation, corruption and stink of sin is best understood by seeing what it actually does to the body. Ours (humanity) and Christ’s (trinity).

    Thank you!

  86. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Onesimus,

    Thanks so very much.

    I’ll try harder.

    You are a good man and kind.

    Thanks for your prayers. I will also pray for you.

  87. Joseph Conder Avatar
    Joseph Conder

    Father,

    Sorry to be a Quibbler, but I think it should be clarified that when you say that nominalism came in in the “Middle Ages” you meant the *late* Middle Ages. In the High Middle Ages, there were nominalists in the West but I believe they were in the minority. Anselm, Aquinas, Bonaventure et al were linguistic and legal realists: they believed concepts and the law referred to the very nature of things as created by God. Joseph

  88. Justin Avatar
    Justin

    Fr Stephen:
    It seems to me, with regards to death as non-being (or as close as you can get to it): All life is ontologically God’s Life. When God gifted us Life (His Life), then non-being becomes impossible, for His life is mine, and my life is His – we share One Life. My created life is His Uncreated Life. Perhaps I can put it this way: There is only One Life – God’s. There is no ‘life’ other than His own which can be annihilated without Him disappearing along with it. Or, to put it another way, God cannot section off the ‘piece’ of His gifted-to-me life that is ‘me’ and cause it to cease to exist while the rest of His life that is ‘Him’ continues. While we are eternally separate and distinct (I am eternally created by the Uncreated), we are also eternally inseparable, eternally One Life.
    These things are so very difficult to express in human language. I’m sure anything I’ve written above is highly susceptible to gross misinterpretation. I hope I’ve blabbed enough to make myself fairly clear.
    This is what makes sin so tragic. Here is an ontological definition of sin:
    “existence moving away from Existence toward a non-existent non-existence.”
    This is what makes sin so uncreative (it is limited – you can only move so far toward non-being) while righteousness (moving toward God) is infinitely Creative because it is Unlimited. Seen in this light, the cartoonish notions of hell, punishment, nominal legalism, psa, annihilationism, etc. just stand out as absurd. It seems to me the basic Reality I’ve attempted to describe here (albeit perhaps rather poorly) is intensely clarifying. It really has a way of cutting through all the bs and getting down to the heart of things.
    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

  89. Justin Avatar
    Justin

    PS I just read your most recent article on Ontology – looks like you have already given your thoughts! Thank you Father! 🙂

  90. Alex Volkov Avatar
    Alex Volkov

    Westy Goes East,

    It is not only St John of Kronstadt but also some Fathers who used the language with a hint of PSA. But this doesn’t mean that they preached it.

    I believe St John of Kronstadt used the language for educative purposes. He talked to common people, using the language they could understand. He emphasised the sacrifice of God’s love for us, saying that we were bought at a very high price.

    It means that once we broke our union with the Source of Life, we were not able to “fix” the problem by our own efforts. No moral rules and no human practices could help us. We needed God as the Divine Physician to heal our corrupt nature and save us from death which is the main result of the broken communion.

    Thus, please don’t be disturbed. It is very common to hear these words – “bought”, “paid”, “payment”, “God punished Jesus in our place”. They are all human terms to explain the divine process. (Even when we say “God the Father” and “God the Son” – they are all human terms that help us to have an idea about the first person and the second person of the Trinity. In fact, the reality of the Trinity is beyond our human experience and understanding).

    So, when you read the works of St John of Kronstadt, read them, as Michael Patrick says, with the Orthodox mindset. I.e. with prayer, humility and under the consensus of the Fathers who shared St John’s faith that Christ rescued us from sin, corruption and death. In other words, the Son of God transformed our human nature and restored our broken communion with God.

    I assume Christian faith gives us the right understanding of the relationship between God and man: God is love, ultimate love. That is the key.

    “A certain monk told me that when he was very sick, his mother said to his father, “How our little boy is suffering. I would gladly give myself to be cut up into pieces if that would ease his suffering.” Such is the love of God for people. He pitied people so much that he wanted to suffer for them, like their own mother, and even more. But no one can understand this great love without the grace of the Holy Spirit.” (St. Silouan the Athonite)

    St. John Chrysostom: “God loves us more than a father, mother, friend, or any else could love, and even more than we are able to love ourselves.”

    We can’t comprehend divine processes, therefore we have to use human terms and certain analogies. They can be of some help. However, they are always limited.

    PS For those who inquire about the Orthodox faith, I want to say that it is not our knowledge that makes us Orthodox Christians. Any demon can know all these things better than we do and still stay the same demon.

    What really matters is the proper spiritual life that draws us near to God.

    If we want to know God, i.e. to have an encounter with Him, the Church gives us the tools. She teaches us the right prayer (with attention, humility, reverence, gratitude, love and repentance), fasting, giving the alms, keeping the Gospel commandments, and reading the Bible with the right interpretation (under the guidance of the Holy Fathers). In the Church we partake of the Holy Sacraments and unite ourselves to God through receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Church also teaches how to purify our hearts and fight against our passions and sinful thoughts. Thank God for He left us His Ark of Salvation!

    Let’s never forget that it is not our knowledge that makes us Christians. We are not Christians because we agree that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, or because we know the Bible from A to Z, or because we have the right understanding of what happened at the cross. We are Christians because we imitate and follow Christ, bearing our own cross and keeping His commandments. We are Christians because we see who we are: great sinners, failures and wretched souls who can do nothing good on our own. Therefore, we are always in need of our Savior. We need the Lord every second of our life, day and night, more than we need a breath of air or a gulp of water.

    We can know the theory. We can try our best to keep the Gospel commandments (though we often fail. Well, at least me). But if we can’t see that we are perishing, if we can’t cry from the bottom of our heart, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” Then who are we? “Theoretical Christians?” Moralists? Theory and good moral qualities help but only God saves. On condition, if we plea to Him, in repentance and humility.

    I am sorry for I wrote so much. Please also excuse my poor English. I just wanted to say to those who are interested in Orthodoxy, try to pray more than you read. At least for some time. Please come to the Church. Attend the Divine Liturgy. Even if you have no idea of what is going on, repeat the Jesus Prayer or its short version: “Lord, have mercy!” (With attention, humility, reverence, and repentance).

    Imagine that you died and now stand before the Lord, what will you say to Him? What will you bring to Him? Your knowlege? Your “good deeds”? Pure and loving heart? As for me, unfortunately, I am afraid, I will be empty-handed. Wish I could bring love, repentance and humility but I am lack of any virtues and full of many sins. I pray so that on my deathbed, with my last breath, I had enough time to say, “Save me, Lord! Have mercy on me!”

    God bless.

  91. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Joseph,
    It begins with Ockham who is not late. But, indeed, the older Realism lasted for a good while.

  92. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Westy,
    Our saints are also people of their own times and circumstance. Prior to Nicaea, for example, there is some latitude in how even saints speak of the Trinity. St. Cyril’s confession of One Nature is perfectly Orthodox prior to Chalcedon. In modern times, particularly, the PSA has simply floated in the culture, including Orthodox cultures. Russia in particular had a very strong presence of Catholic and Protestant (mostly Lutheran) thought.

    The PSA, as much as I dislike it, has echoes in various times and places for various reasons. Elements of it are often used within preaching. It paints a vivid picture and can be very moving at times. Moralism is also a not uncommon feature. They used to sometimes speak of “preacher’s license.” That’s the use of things in order to make a point even thought the things might be a little questionable.

    Most people have very little theological training and have never engaged in rigorous theological reflection. That often means that their “theology” is more than likely drawn from moralistic imagery or other things they’ve heard preachers say.

    St. John of Kronstadt is not a “theological saint.” The Catholic Church makes the distinction of calling some saints “Doctors of the Church,” meaning that they fulfilled a key roll as teachers. It’s not a title given to all. It’s a somewhat accurate description of things. I have drawn some wrath before by stating that St. John Chrysostom was not a great theologian. He was a great orator. He was not a wonder-working saint. St. John of Kronstadt was not a great orator or theologian. He was a wonder-worker.

    The fallacy that saints are perfect people in every respect is simply not true. Almost every canonization is done in spite of certain flaws and problems. Like our other brothers and sisters, we have to take the flaws as they come and not despair.

  93. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Justin,
    I first started thinking/praying/believing with the ontological understanding when in the late 70’s. I’ve lived with it for years. I’ve noticed a number of things about it. For one, I think it has an inherent drive towards the universal apokatastasis. Every Father who writes in this mode has leanings in that direction and some state it blatantly. I find that interesting. I do not state it blatantly because I believe there is sort of a fence at that point that says, “Don’t go there.” But, like many, I believe it is permitted to hope for such.

    It is probably the great dividing line between accounts that are rooted in the legal/forensic view and the ontological. If you embrace the ontological, you will likely at least peek over the fence on occasion. It also does much to explain the difference between those theological figures who are willing to have a conversation about the apokatastasis and those who rail against it with all their might.

    I believe the ontological approach does a far better treatment of understanding love and mercy (and even judgment).

  94. Karen Avatar
    Karen

    Alex, thank you very much for you comment at 6:17 am. It stuck me as being very much on target and quite eloquent. (I don’t think your English is lacking anything.) 🙂

  95. Nes Avatar
    Nes

    Father, regarding your comment:

    “Whatever hell is, it is not the willful torment of a human being by God for the purpose of satisfying His justice. The purpose of hell is not torment. God has no need to torment. If there is torment, God is not its cause. God is its cure.”

    I can understand the torment of hell not being God actively torturing the soul (rather the souls torment is caused from separation from God) but I can’t understand the idea that He isn’t the one facilitating that torment.

    How can we understand Luke 13:28 if it is not God himself who rejects the sinner?:

    “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.”

    There is a “throwing out” that God facilitates. When some try to enter, they won’t be allowed in, they will be actively cast out:

    “…you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ “But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’”

    That doesn’t sound like the God you’re describing where if one tries to enter they are gladly accepted. That form is elaborated in the parable of the Prodigal Son, to be sure, but then how do we understand the divergence of these two parables—the parable of the Narrow Door and the Prodigal Son?

  96. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Nes,
    I take certain things about God as a given. For example, God is love. There are certain aspects of that without qualifiers. Not actively torturing would seem obvious.

    I believe a Christian should be uncompromisingly committed to that understanding. The whole of Christ’s ministry points to that reality. Even on the Cross He pronounces His forgiveness to His enemies and tormenters.

    Having said that, we turn to things such as the parables regarding hell and judgment and statements similar to them. Those statements and parables are not given to us in order to convery a geography or mechanical account of the metaphysics of hell. Generally, they have a clear point – and that is their point. It says, “Take this very seriously.”

    Sadly, many have taken such moral admonitions and parables and elevated them above foundational understandings such as the love and goodness of God. The result is a complex, semi-pagan deity, with wrath, anger, retribution, pleasure, delight, etc. Everytime I hear someone say “but” in response to the love and goodness of God – I wait for gospel to disappear in smoke.

    So, I take certain things as givens. Then I struggle to understand the other things and ask God for wisdom.

  97. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Terry, I should have left it at non-autonomous. But, even though we are created in the image and likeness of God we are contingent to God. Our existence, our being is nothing without God. Through Him we are all interconnected. We bear one another’s burdens and share in one another’s joys even when we are not aware of it.

    As the great Christian poet John Donne wrote “no man is an island”

    When Jesus Incarnated He took on our full nature including a fully physical body all of which He took with Him when He ascended.

    We are even more tightly linked to Him because of that. Therefore while we can still seek non-being or be tempted to it, I am not sure it is possible to achieve. We can certainly do a lot of damage to ourselves and others but at the same time the prayers of those striving for holiness and union with Christ are pulling us up. All are drawn to the Cross on which He is lifted up.

  98. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Michael B,

    By interconnected do you mean relationships?

    I agree to seek for non-being is not good.

    I don’t know many people who are seeking non-being.

    Thanks for helping me to understand your thoughts better.

  99. Isidora Avatar
    Isidora

    At this point there are 199 comments! Is that a record? Mostly to make it a round number, I will share this: Terry, I am praying for you. I was chrismated into Orthodoxy just 3 months ago (on Great and Holy Saturday) and I do remember getting cold feet right before I did. I believe it was demons, trying to sway me away from taking that step. When I went through the long day, which included my chrismation and receiving the Holy Eucharist for the first time, I was mostly numb (partly from fasting and tiredness!), but since then, the reality has been sinking into me, and I am so certain this is the right path, despite the struggles (my husband has not converted with me and mocks my practices–“oh, you’re starving today?” “how many times are you going to church this weekend?” etc.). This experience is not like a gnostic aha (which does not exist except as delusion) but it is more like an embodied awareness. I am an intellectual–I have a doctorate in English, but being Orthodox is not about knowing enough information. (I love knowing there is enough for me to keep learning about Orthodoxy from now until I die!). It is about being in God’s presence, with the help of the mysteries.

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