Transformation and Forgiveness

There are various applications in our culture directed towards “feeling good about ourselves.” In contrast to being shamed and condemned it is an improvement. But it also misses the truth of things. Pretending that everything is ok does not make it so. There is within this, a kinship to the Penal Substitution Theory of the Atonement, in which God agrees to see us as righteous (because of Christ’s sacrifice) even though we are not. The faith of the Orthodox speaks of a true transformation, a righteousness that is truth because it is.

God is the author of our being – He deals in reality, not in fiction. The great weakness of legal/forensic models of sin and salvation is their failure to think in terms of reality. If sin is a legal problem, then its problem is not within itself but within some legal understanding that exists elsewhere. In the state of Tennessee, possession of marijuana is a crime. In the state of Colorado, it is not. Both are fictions. Pot itself is not “legal” or “illegal,” it is just pot.

I have been working my way through an interesting book, Robert Meagher’s Killing from the Inside Out. He is a Catholic theologian examining Just War theory. However, his approach is not one of examining the ideas of Just War. He examines, instead, the actual effects of killing and war in the lives and psyche of soldiers. His work consistently reveals the emptiness of Just War Theory to account for the actual experiences of human beings. War is not a legal problem; it is a matter of life and death.

Meagher spent some years interviewing soldiers. He notes the sad phenomenon of the suicide epidemic among our war veterans. In one chapter, he quotes a sad note left by one soldier for his mother:

Mom, I am so sorry. My life has been hell since March 2003 when I was part of the Iraq invasion. . . . I am freeing myself from the desert once and for all. . . . I am not a good person. I have done bad things. I have taken lives. Now it’s time to take mine.

Meagher uses the term “moral injury” to describe the wound carried by such veterans. They have acted against their own moral compass and find it difficult to live with themselves. This analysis, unfortunately, subjectivizes something that is quite objective. More than a “moral injury,” sin is an ontological wound. It haunts us because it is real. It is the madness of Lady Macbeth’s, “Out! Out! Damn spot!” tortured by Duncan’s blood that she imagines to always be on her hands.

It has been commonplace in American military chaplaincies (at least as I’ve come to understand them) to use Just War Theory as a means of supporting soldiers in the spiritual problems that surround their actions. “If you had not killed him, he would have killed you.” “You’re protecting the lives of our citizens,” etc. Such legal justifications are revealed as ineffective against the “moral injury” that Meagher describes. The same could be said of the whole of the moral world when conceived in legal terms.

I will suggest a primary text for considering our true, ontological transformation:

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Cor. 3:18)

St. Paul does not equate beholding the glory of the Lord as a reward for a life well-lived, or as an imputed righteousness at the end of our journey. He is describing something that is taking place at this present moment. When we are properly directed towards God, we behold the face of Christ. We see two things: Christ’s face (the truth of Who He Is), and our own selves (the truth of who we are). That encounter often provokes something like shame within us. The emptiness, brokenness, and sinfulness of our lives, when seen for what they are, make us want to hide in His presence. But as we turn our eyes back to Him, there is a slow cleansing, healing, forgiveness, and filling that take place. This occurs because, standing before His face, we are in communion with Him. Who He is begins to heal who we are.

Two passages from St. John’s first epistle come to mind:

But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have communion with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 Jn 4:7).


Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (1 Jn. 3:2)

To “walk in the Light” I take to be synonymous with “beholding His face.”  “Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound! They walk, O LORD, in the light of Your countenance.” (Ps. 89:15) To see Christ “as He is” I take to mean in the “fullness of who He is.” St. Paul notes that our present sight of Christ is “dim.” We do not see Him clearly because of our own brokenness and sin. This requires that we return again and again to the face of Christ. This is the slow, patient work of repentance. We cannot do it quickly – to see His face in that manner, all of a sudden, would be to die.

As noted earlier, to see Christ is also to see ourselves. Everything is revealed in the truth of its existence in the presence of Christ. St. Paul uses a very rich image of judgment:

For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Cor. 3:11-15)

That which lacks reality (sin, darkness, etc.) will disappear in the face of reality (described as “fire”). That which is real and true (the truth of who we are) will be refined. The false is lost, the true is saved.

This fire already burns among us:

“I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Lk. 12:49)

This “fire” is the presence of Christ in the fullness of its truth. The writer of Hebrews combines this image of fire with the image of shaking:

…whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire. (Heb. 12:26-29)

In both, it is the impermanent (hay, wood, stubble, the unstable) that are removed. It is the less-than-real-and-true that are burned and removed. If this imagery is placed into an ontological context, we see it as a purification, the destruction of sin and everything that distorts our being and existence.

The “moral injury” of a soldier is merely one example among ever so many. He carries his injury and sometimes feels as if the injury is greater than himself, that his life has been overwhelmed. The damage done cannot be healed through the various legal fictions we extrapolate into our world. Something must be changed, removed, shaken, consumed in the fire of God’s love. I have long loved the imagery in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. It paints sin in ontological terms. On the one hand, sin reduces our reality, leaving us ghost-like and thin as smoke. Sometimes sin is even seen as a ghostly lizard that whispers and controls every action. In his book, forgiveness is a matter of moving deeper into heaven, of becoming more real, more solid.

I imagine that many read his work as a metaphor for the legal/forensic forgiveness of sin. That, it seems to me, would be a very sad reversal. Lewis’ imagery is more expressive of the ontological truth than any amount of forensic reasoning. Sin is real and its effects are real, regardless of how we might reason about it. There is nothing for it other than to submit ourselves to Reality itself.

This theme resounds in the poetic words of St. Simeon the Translator that form part of the prayers in preparation for communion:

O Lord, now as I approach Holy Communion, may I not be burned by partaking unworthily. For you are fire and burn the unworthy, I pray cleanse me of all sin.

Of Your mystical supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of Your mystery to Your enemies, neither like Judas will I give You a kiss; but like the thief will I confess You: remember me, O Lord, in Your kingdom.

Stand in fear, O soul, as you look upon the deifying Blood for it is fire and burns the unworthy. May the divine Body sanctify and nourish me. May it deify my soul and wondrously feed my mind.

You have sweetened my longing for You, O Christ and transfigured me with Your love. Let my sins be consumed in the immaterial fire and grant me to be filled with Your joy, that I may rejoice in both and glorify Your coming, O good One.

How can I, the unworthy one, enter the radiance of the saints? For should I dare to go into the room, my clothing betrays me for it is not a wedding garment and I will be bound and cast out by the angels. But, O Lord, purify the stains of my soul and save me, for You are the Lover of mankind.

Master, Lover of mankind, Lord Jesus Christ my God, may these holy things not be for my condemnation, for I am unworthy. May they be for me a cleansing, sanctification of both soul and body and for assurance of the life and kingdom to come: for it is good for me to cling to God and to place my hope of salvation in the Lord.





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.



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99 responses to “Transformation and Forgiveness”

  1. Dean Avatar

    I think it was Luther who described us as a dung heap, with Christ’s imputed righteousness seen as covering the dung with white snow….a complete legal fiction for no ontological healing has occurred.
    We may also see our sin as a festering sore. Simply covering it with a bandage may mask the unsightly wound. But real healing only occurs as the doctor goes to the source of the infection, perhaps lancing it and allowing the infection to drain, by permitting sunlight and air to bathe the sore or by applying ointments or administering antibiotics. It must be truly made whole from within. Such interior healing often causes pain. Yet the suffering has to be endured to effect final healing.
    As bodily healing must be from within, must go to the source, perhaps creating pain in the curative process, so with the soul’s healing and transformation.
    Thank you Fr. Stephen.

  2. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I am frequently staggered by Lewis’ genius – some of which was undoubtedly unconscious. He simply “got it.”

  3. Matthew Avatar

    Forgive me if I compare this to Kalomiros’s, “The River of Fire”, but thinking of God as a purifying fire really changed the paradigm for me. It truly allowed me to leave the Penal Substitution Theory behind. The fact that the Bible supports this idea in so many places, only confirms the wrong headed way I was taught, it also opened up so many other questions – such as what the nature of Hell might be. Thank-You father for once again presenting a Good God, who loves mankind.

  4. David Robles Avatar

    Fr Stephen
    Thank you so much for posting this. I will share it with family and friends.
    The Orthodox spiritual life is very practical. Salvation does not happen in a court of law, or in the world of ideas. It is a very concrete thing. We are actually transformed into Christ’s likeness. There is no more need to come up with clever rationalizations, to convince myself that there is not a problem with the discrepancy between my sinful life and the holiness of God. The only solution is to renounce sin and actually become like Him. When I began to learn about the Orthodox Faith , I was moved to great awe and astonishment when I found out that holiness is actually possible. The relics of the saints are empirical proof that this is true. I long to see my Lord Jesus Christ. May we all become like Him!

  5. Jeff Avatar

    I first read “The Great Divorce” when I was in my 20s. It was given high praise by a friend of mine, who, sadly is currently living as an atheist. When he described it to me and I heard the title, I thought it was about purgatory. Thinking which was most likely inspired by the legal framework through which I understood life in God. However, upon reading it, I was transformed and transported. Lewis’ writing and others’ like it have been the path to here…to seeing, to wanting what’s real, to understanding that Orthodoxy is the most humble and honest iteration of God’s abiding with us. Thank you, Fr. for being part of this path of God’s wooing. May he praised!

  6. Jeff Avatar

    “…who, sadly is currently living as an atheist.” I ask for your prayers for him.

  7. Burro (Mule) Avatar
    Burro (Mule)

    Jeff –

    Your friend has my prayers. Despite my profession, baptism, and my chrismation, I mostly live as an atheist as well.

  8. Jonas Avatar

    Masterpiece, Father. God almost always speak to me through your writings. It is usually something he speaks the day before and I get the confirmation from your blog. Just this morning, I was meditating saying ‘when I know the extent of my darkness, then I will know a bit of His love for me or who He is as you put it.
    And this is part my prayer every morning
    O Lord help me know the extent of my weakness that I may acquire perfect humility. Amen.

  9. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Thank you again, Father. And Dean. And Burro.

  10. Jeff Avatar

    Thank you, Burro. If the Orthodox Faith had not been, unbeknownst to me, seeped into my soul, I think I would, if I were honest, have to concede atheism. And as to living mostly as an atheist, I think I get that.

  11. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,
    The Penal Substitution model is only necessary because of Original Sin. If more time was spent on attacking OS, then consequential doctrines would disappear. For a Protestant, as soon as PSA disappears – the closure they were given as a result of OS, the ULIP in Calvinism – with PSA being the L – opens the door to the necessity of ongoing communion and union with Christ. It would at least ideally destroy nominalism. Imputed righteousness is not needed unless you have OS – and PSA sets up the logic of imputed righteousness.

    Are there any resources from the Fathers that comment on the sacrificial system of the OT. My guess is that the hostility between Jews and Christians in the early centuries led many Fathers in their allegorical approach?

    But I want to propose – that the sacrificial system is the key to undoing PSA. People are unclean due their “sinfulness” which is really just the reality of death in and around them. Jesus resurrection removes the unclean problem by removing the problem of death. People who were immoral were given the death penalty – whether or not this was carried out. Jesus deals with our immorality problem through the offering of His Life to the Father in our place – but not to appease anything lacking in God – but by giving Himself as man should do. We receive ongoing forgiveness through participation and union with Him in repentance, faith, and the Mysteries. It’s the new, fullfilled sacrificial system that does what no animal could have done – it forgives real moral offenses because no animal was the Incarnate, Resurrected Son of God. No animal was on the receiving end of punishment, neither was Christ. If God was the One whom we had sinned against, then no animal could forgive something we did against God – that’s why there were no sacrifices for moral crimes in the OT. Christ could heal man’s sins by being man, offering a pure sacrifice of love to the Father to heal the death – the physical death problem, and the moral death problem – in our place – in order to open the door to ongoing union with HIm in the Mysteries.

    I could elaborate but I don’t want to take up more space.

  12. Simon Avatar

    Jeff, Burro,

    Same here guys. I am very sympathetic to Jeff’s comment. I feel as if Orthodoxy was “seeped into my soul” before I “became” Orthodox. And if it wasn’t for that I am very positive that I would be firmly agnostic. If I am being honest, the first Orthodox moment of my life that I remember was around 8 or 9 years old. My thinking about the scriptures, the inwardness of the spiritual journey, and prayer were all very Orthodox before I even knew there was such a thing as Orthodoxy. I have understood Matthew 5:8 in an Orthodox manner for a very long time. The atheism that I experience–for me–is consistent with the idea that we do not have objective experiences of God. God just isn’t revealed by manifesting physical phenomena. God is known to the extent to which we stand in his presence and are transformed into his likeness. In a sense, coming to know God is coming to know ourselves. It’s self-revealing. It is direct and unmediated through the union of the soul with God. This makes SO much sense that I would say that an honest atheist is not far from the kingdom of God.

  13. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes! I like the thought of Orthodoxy “seeping into the soul” even at an early age, despite someone’s Church affiliation. One reason I like it is that Orthodoxy, to my mind, is a reality, a “something,” and not an ideology. It is possible to know it, have no word for it, and be completely surprised to eventually discover that it is a “thing.” In that sense, I think of it as completely natural – a creation of God.

  14. Nancy Holloway Avatar
    Nancy Holloway

    One of the icons I pray before every morning is that of the Transfiguration of Christ on Mt. Tabor. Thank you for helping me understand what doing that is doing to me!

  15. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Having been involved in challenging the Penal Substitution Theory for nearly 40 years, I agree that a certain take on Original Sin, or the nature and character of the fall, is deeply involved. However, I think it is important to grasp the very positive things that are not the PSA, etc., and learn to live them and share them with joy.

    “Ancestral sin” is actually a bit of a neologism (you won’t find the term in the Fathers). It has a sort of root in Romanides, and Hopko used it. Romanides is interesting, particularly in his early writings. I think he became increasingly strange as time went on – to the point of weirdness, so I sadly have to avoid recommending him unless someone is able to sift his stuff in a mature manner. The term, however, accurately describes an understanding.

    Strangely, you don’t find the term in the Fathers because it’s a reactionary term – an alternative to thinking about original sin. They didn’t think about original sin hardly at all. They thought about sin as death with very little (if any) notion of guilt at all. People outside of Orthodoxy don’t know that we celebrate Adam and Eve as saints. They are not viewed badly – just a little sadly.

    Sin as death generally views human beings as victims and hostages – not as the originators of evil. It’s a very different mindset. Indeed, the entire non-forensic worldview in the Eastern Church is an eye-opener.

    So, generally, when I think of these problems, I work at trying to help people acquire a mind in which the legal/forensic is simply not there at all. Learning to see things in terms of ontology, life, death, goodness, truth, etc., is a way of entering into the mind of the Eastern Fathers.

    Just some thoughts that came to me as I read your comment.

  16. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Here is a talk given by Fr. Paul Abernathy, an Orthodox priest in Pittsburg which addresses the trauma of war whether it is here or abroad. Much to contemplate here:

  17. Simon Avatar

    In the first volume of the Philokalia sin is described as ignorance, darkness, and lunacy. It is a condition that is cured. This post has changed how I see repentance. Repentance is turning around from our daily lives to stand in the presence of God. When I go to work and I begin thinking about programming or finding the solutions to a differential equation I can feel feel the outwardness of that activity. When I stop to pray I am repenting. I am ‘turning around’ and praying to the inward presence of Christ. As Fr. has discussed we are ‘repenting’ of our nothingness which doesn’t require the prerequisite of sin. Repentance in the sense of “Ooops I did it again” seems to derive from an awareness of myself that emerges from having turned to the light and now I see the menace of ignorance, darkness and lunacy staining the soul.

  18. Christopher Avatar

    “Let my sins be consumed in the immaterial fire and grant me to be filled with Your joy, that I may rejoice in both and glorify Your coming,”

    Glorify *both* – both “sins” and “immaterial fire” and “Joy”. Both Hell and Heaven, even evil and good!

    “Learning to see things in terms of ontology, life, death, goodness, truth, etc., is a way of entering into the mind of the Eastern Fathers.”

    Kierkegaard’s diagnosis was that modernity needed a Socrates, not a Jesus. In other words, a Socrates so that the modern could find a leverage point to get out from under modern assumptions (rather religious or not) so that he could “see” Jesus.

  19. Sophia Avatar

    “To see Christ “as He is” I take to mean in the “fullness of who He is.” St. Paul notes that our present sight of Christ is “dim.” We do not see Him clearly because of our own brokenness and sin. This requires that we return again and again to the face of Christ. This is the slow, patient work of repentance. We cannot do it quickly – to see His face in that manner, all of a sudden, would be to die.”

    This. Thank you.

  20. William Avatar

    I just started reading Sarah Ruden’s new translation of Augustine’s “Confessions”. Having grown up in Protestantism, I was taught to understand Augustine as the main proponent of original sin and total depravity. Early on in the book, Augustine writes about the sinfulness of babies (e.g., selfishly crying for food, violently–though harmlessly–lashing out, etc.) and school children (e.g., boys who would rather play ball than learn their letters). So I can see some commitment to the original sin concept in this. At the same time, there seems to be a sadness he has about all humans being caught up in this inescapable system (e.g., adults punishing school children for playing ball so they can learn to play in uglier ways as adults), but also a hope in God’s using it all for our good. So this seems to fit with the understanding of humanity being both “victims and hostages”, as you put it.

    I suppose my question is how do you understand Augustine? Can he be read in a way in which he isn’t the originator and champion of original sin and human depravity? How does Orthodoxy treat Augustine?

  21. Scott Weatherhogge Avatar
    Scott Weatherhogge

    Fr. Stephen,

    Regarding your comment about Adam and Eve being celebrated as saints. I’m often confused a little by this because the Resurrection icon (at least the ones I have seen) pictures Adam and Eve without halos. Since icons are always “out of time” I would expect to see their heads shrouded in the light of Tabor. What’s going on here?

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I have never seen them depicted with halos in any icon, actually. However, they are commemorated on the Sunday of the Ancestors, prior to Christmas.

  23. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    I keep going back to your text where you quote from 2 Cor 3:18. You imply in what follows that our transformation “from glory to glory” is another way to describe the slow process of healing. Here I think about the many times you’ve warned against the danger of charting our “progress”, since our transformation in Christ is largely hidden, and can hardly be gauged by our many inconsistencies. I made mention in the previous post about the times I am moved to speechlessness and tears upon the realization and stark implications of Reality, His ‘everything’, and my shame and nothingness. It is this realization plus that of His love and forgiveness where I become tearful and so very thankful. This is my experience with face to Face encounters as you describe in this post. It is overpowering, and at the same time very comforting.
    As for this hidden-ness, I wonder if there is a connection between this emotional response (even if it be learned behavior) and a healing/cleansing that is taking place, although I can not speak of any specifics. I ask because there are some who say that our emotions are generally not reliable indicators to exactly what is going on in certain situations. Or could this be “tears of repentance” that we ask God to grant us? As such, I do not want to be too presumptuous. Maybe my reactions are mere “emotion”, as like a child’s response to Christ’s bountiful Love.

    Just some thoughts of a personal kind. Thank you Father…a wonderful post!

  24. Paz Avatar

    Thank you Fr. Stephen for a wonderful post. To accept the whole spectrum of life (the suffering and the pleasurable) we often seek to find clarity and acceptance which often also includes the need to make sense of suffering, to live and to “die healed”.

  25. William Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    I’m wondering if I strayed too far from the topic with my previous questions about Saint Augustine, or if they’re too big to answer in a comment section, or if you’re short on time (or all of the above 🙂 ) I appreciate any help or resources someone could pass my way concerning Augustine and Orthodoxy. Thanks in advance!

  26. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I read him as Augustine – as opposed to Augustinianism. Very, very few (if any) of the Fathers could have withstood their theological writings being made into the single, dominant source of all subsequent theology. Caesarius of Arles is more or less credited with being one of the first to create an Augustinianism. But, to a large extent, all of the West is built on Augustine. In the East, no single father, no matter how important, carries that kind of weight. I would say that when Augustine is read together with the Eastern Fathers he takes on a useful and balanced shape.

    I like him in many ways. Have you read Brown’s biography of him?

  27. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,
    I think, for Protestants and Evangelicals who have some knowledge of theology, that it would be extremely beneficial for them – in fact it may save them an immense amount of time and lead them into the Church – if they understood that almost the whole of their soteriology is due to one false doctrine. Everything starts to click when Ancestral Sin (whether it is a neologism or not, it is a helpful word – like denominational labels are/or used to be helpful) is being consciously replaced in the mind of a convert. If they are shown where this presupposition leads, they will be able to answer a lot of questions for themselves.

    Mary, for example: If you are an Evangelical or Reformed Christian, or some mixture (which all are and it usually goes both ways) – then Mary, venerating her or thinking of her as Innocent, is an impossible proposal – because the anthropology that goes with OS has already rendered her so. Catholic attempts to spare and then elevate her are not convincing and shouldn’t be in my opinion. Once OS goes, it at least opens the possibility of someone being able to actually have been able by grace to achieve such a status as “More honorable than the Cherubim…”

    That’s one of dozens of examples. I think it would benefit many, maybe not all, but definitely Evangelicals and the Reformed, to have this presupposition (OS/Total Depravity) knocked out (in love) from under them – otherwise they will foolishly judge Orthodoxy inferior to their systems and never come into the fullness of the Church.


  28. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, did not a similar fate befall Origen in that his ardent disciples created Origenism?

  29. Matthew Avatar

    Thank-You Matthew Lyon for your comments. Before discovering Orthodoxy, I knew something was broken in the way I understood, and was being taught salvation. It was precisely when I re-framed what was wrong with myself as human, not in terms of a legal obligation to anything, but as someone in need of a “cure” (for lack of a better word) that things started changing. I first espoused a kind of “therapeutic” model, based on the idea of God as the Great Physician. But all this was outside Orthodoxy, based mostly on smatterings of insight here and there. It was very lonely. I am very grateful for Orthodoxy, and its ability to have rejuvinated my faith.

    I like the term Ancestral Sin much better than Original Sin, even if it may not be exactly the best term or way of looking at it – just rephrasing “Original Sin” is enough to cause a pause in the mind of a scholastic who has all the forensic terms down pat.

  30. William Avatar

    Thank you for the reply, Father. That’s a helpful way to think about Augustine. I’ve noticed a tendency, which I would call a fundamentalist impulse, to quote the Fathers (particularly Augustine) in a way that feels like the kind of proof-texting I did with Scripture as a Baptist. And that out-of-context quoting of Augustine is about my only experience with him until now. And I’m really enjoying the “Confessions”–even as I am resisting the urge to systematize him and find in him the seeds of 5-point Calvinism (which is, I suppose, itself similar to what happened with Augustine’s theology) and Luther’s denial of free will.

    I haven’t read Brown’s biography, but it’s on the list for a study I’m doing this fall. Would you recommend it?

  31. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


    I think Romanides (and I will suggest reading The Ancestral Sin – although I don’t know much of his other writings except on the internet) and others saw the need (rightly) to distinguish the Father’s view of the fall/the predicament of man from Augustine – the word Ancestral works. Those who minimize the differences, East and West on soteriology, are (innocently, I assume – except where ecumenical efforts are in play) absolutely ignorant.

    I too, am extremely grateful (in my case) for having my soteriology pulled out from underneath me and realizing the Biblical picture where I have responsibility (that is real) and hope for transformation (as modest as it may be). I am thoroughly grateful for the Church. Orthodoxy was my last hope and is now my only hope (since Christ is present in His Church).

  32. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    correction, *Fathers’”

  33. Matthew Avatar

    Mr Lyon,
    I will confess that while I own a copy of The Ancestral Sin, I’ve never actually been able to finish it. What I read, only confirmed the direction of my ongoing journey. but I did have to come up for breath, Actually, while it was more in harmony with my thinking, I found it becoming more and more scholastic.

    I guess I’m trying to say that I think we over complicate a lot of things. In Orthodoxy I find the rhythm of life, God loves us just as we love our children, he encourages us when we need encouragement, and discourages us when we need to be discouraged, just as we do with our own children. I see his death as a way of uniting the divine with the profane in a way that we don’t need to do for our own children, but for a reason that makes sense in a real way, since I would do if for my children if it were necessary. I’ve sometimes looked at Christ and said to myself that he sacrificed himself to us as much as he did to anything else.

    I view PST as the fruit of a poisonous tree, namely, Original Sin. Get the premise wrong, and everything else gets distorted.

  34. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Matthew Lyon,
    I understand your enthusiasm for Romanides Ancestral Sin. My warning is simply that he has a tendency to reductionistic thinking. “Everything went wrong whenever…” Elsewhere he tends to become rather mechanical and reductionistic about the Fathers’ teaching – almost reducing things to a methodology.

    The historical reality is not just a problem rooted to one thing. It’s far more complex and interconnected. It makes for good reading, much like a detective novel. I’m simply suggesting that it is simplistic and, eventually, less than helpful in that respect.

    Orthodoxy has a very large, organic reality about it that is diminished by any kind of reductionist approach.

    Here is a very important lesson: every argument with an adversary or opponent shapes your own thinking to mirror the adversary or opponent. Many times in history it has managed to give a lasting power to various heresies. The faith becomes “not this, not that” which is not at all the same thing as what it positively is.

    The more the Orthodox think about not being the West, the more we become “not-West” and less the Orthodox. Orthodoxy existed before the “West” had even drawn a breath. A problem with Ancestral Sin is that it is “not Original Sin.” Romanides tends to make things almost mechanical from there on out. This leads to that which leads to this, etc. It’s simply not a healthy way to approach things. And, as I’ve noted, his stuff becomes quite strange over time. He becomes “Romanides-ian.” This has never been healthy anywhere. Augustinian, Thomist, etc. Orthodoxy has no dominant father – and must be wary of even modern versions. I say this because there are indeed “Romanidesians” out there. I avoid them.

    So, I would read him, with a healthy does of salt – and read lots of other stuff. I recommend Meyendorff’s Byzantine Theology for a broader, healthier approach. It’s more work, but that’s the nature of things.

  35. Karen Avatar

    Father, wise advice. Thanks.

    Eleven years in, I would say genuine Orthodoxy is the lens through which I can look at the Cross and Resurrection and understand uneqivocably that this is the ultimate Revelation of the nature of love, such that I, transformed from within as a result of that Revelation, am rendered more and more capable of that kind of love for others.

    This is the only form of reductionism that istm may be safe and not end in some kind of heresy or distortion.

  36. Dean Avatar

    Your comments are always helpful.
    Why wasn’t I transformed more and more into the image of Christ as a Protestant (after 27 years)? Father often comments how we, particularly in the West, are engulfed in consumerism. We mistakenly think we have many choices but most of what we are is given. That I may choose between 125 different car models makes no difference in my life. As Christ said, can you add one cubit to your height?
    That you may choose between 70+ gender designations changes you, right? This consumerism is part and parcel of protestantism. Don’t like the denomination I’m in, choose another. The kids just don’t fit in this youth group, change to another church to serve their “needs.”
    All this reminds me of my mother’s-in-law quilts. They were pretty and utilitarian, made from lots of different materials.
    Yet when we come to Orthodoxy it is a seamless whole, like Christ’s robe. I no longer choose how I will be transformed, as I thought was occuring in my Protestant days. The One, Holy, Apostolic and Catholic Church transforms me with its ancient traditions, liturgy, prayers, etc. Transformation is slow. That’s okay. I know of nothing in the Church that is rushed. So it must be with my soul.

  37. Jeremias Avatar

    Lady Macbeth kills Duncan, not her husband. Just saying. 🙂
    (Forgive the petty English teacher).

  38. Dean Avatar

    My eyes are transforming…”Catholic and Apostolic Church.”

  39. Karen Avatar

    Thanks, Dean.

    I would have to say Orthodoxy was at work in me long before I encountered the Eastern Orthodox Church, or I would not have recognized the concrete forms of the Church as housing that Treasure when I began
    exploring her Dogma, Liturgy and Saints. In light of the foregoing (Dogma, Liturgy and Saints), I was able to see where the bits and pieces of the Tradition I learned from my non-Orthodox Christian background fit in that tapestry of the whole and was granted a coherent framework for understanding the Scriptures, my Christian experience, and Church history—a coherent framework I did not find in any other tradition. That is indeed a great blessing—like treading water and finally discovering rock, and no longer shifting sands, under my feet to stand on. Those things that were false and threatening to drown my trust in God’s Love I could finally let go of.

    I do think a lot of the consumerism we see in Protestantism for many is the result of that ongoing search for that coherent paradigm. As St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in Thee.”

    Unfortunately, what we sometimes also find in our current context I believe is some seeing in Orthodoxy, not so much Christ, as their preferred “flavor” of Christian religious expression. What they see may be pretty much a caricature of what Orthodoxy really is. Father’s example of “non-West” is perhaps one such form this can take. Some may see the beauty in our Liturgy and mistake a sensually rich experience in worship for Orthodoxy. Others may see the relative stability of our moral tradition, dogmatic expression, and religious praxis and mistake mere conservatism for Orthodoxy, and so on. What is absolutely essential to Orthodoxy, however, is Christ in all His fullness. We may find ourselves buffeted about in our faith even within the formal boundaries of the Church until we finally take hold of that reality.

  40. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Karen, I want to join Dean in saying how helpful your comments are. Thank you.

  41. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thanks, Jeremias!
    Fixed it!

  42. Drewster2000 Avatar


    I understand the way you’re using the example of your mother-in-law’s quilts, but I see it a bit differently. In fact we are all part of Christ’s seamless robe. However, to our eyes we are bits and pieces patched together to make a homely quilt – a face only a mother could love, so to speak.

    Please understand me: I’m not condoning Protestantism. In fact I’m not thinking about it at all. I’m referring to how differently the Lord looks at things that we do. We look at our ragtag life/family/country and bemoan its petty, forlorn state. But somehow what God sees is simply another part of the seamless robe and just how beautiful it is. There is no us and them; there’s only us and Him loving us.

    I find that life is about learning to love the quilt we’ve got and letting Him work in our lives – so that slowly Christ’s robe can be revealed to have been around us and in us all along. So don’t throw the quilts out with the isms. (wink)

  43. Simon Avatar

    I think it’s weird how many Orthodox feel very self-conscious about “not condoning Protestantism.” Drewster, I agree with you completely. There is no us and them. And our humanity is more like a seamless garment as opposed to another kind of metaphor like marbles in a box. In the ‘marble theory of salvation’ people are like a box of marbles: Discrete, atomized ‘rugged individuals’ that are easily distinguishable and only loosely associated. Here salvation is something like marble collecting, ‘I’ll take this one and this one, but not that one..and definitely not that one.’ However, in the seamless garment theory of salvation the whole garment experiences something of the realization of salvation based on the salvation of any individual thread. I am imagining a large quilt laid out flat on the floor and two people lift the entire quilt just by grabbing one corner of the quilt with each hand. The marble theory is concerned with the salvation of the individual. The seamless garment (fabric of humanity) theory is concerned with the salvation of the whole. I think Grushenka’s Parable of the Onion is interesting in this regard. I don’t think that it is too much of a stretch to say that the ‘old woman’ in the parable could have benefited from a little garment theory of salvation.

  44. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Good modeling analogies, Simon!

  45. Drewster2000 Avatar


    Exactly. And I like your emphasis on the salvation of the whole being inexplicably contingent on that of the one. It resonates deeply with Fr. Stephen’s past mentioning of thinking of about everyone’s sin as our sin. I don’t remember his exact wording, just that it can take a person a long time to come to this point of view.

    I like the story of the American tourist who had her purse stolen in a small Chinese village. She cried thief and 4 men took off after him, eventually dragging him back to return the item in person. The lady thanked them for what they had done for her. They said, “Oh we didn’t do it for you. He has a young wife and 4 small children to support. If he went to jail they would starve. We did it for him.”

    We don’t often think like God. He sees us as ONE body.

  46. Simon Avatar

    Drewster, Yep. I like it. I think of the Orthodox Church as corners of the quilt.

  47. Dean Avatar

    We are one body as to our humanity, all cut from the same fabric of flesh.
    However, that does not mean we are all in the body of Christ, in the Ark of Salvation. People at every moment are moving toward Christ (even those in the Church ) and life or away from him into disintegration and death (sin). I fervently hope and pray that all come to the light of Christ. Some do in this life and others do not. What happens after we die is in God’s hands. I know He is loving and merciful, not taking satisfaction in the death of a sinner. As Orthodox we pray for the salvation of all humankind. “Our enemy is our life”—not sure of exact quote, but I think, close to what St. Silouan has written. Yet I cannot picture an amorphous enemy in front of me. I can, though, see my neighbor who throws trash into my yard, or hurls insults at my children. I can and must pray for his salvation. Same way for humanity. I know not how to love the world in a general way. But I can love the street person in front of me by giving her food. Perhaps you and Simon and I are saying the same thing.

  48. Drewster2000 Avatar


    I think we’re on the same page. In truth it is hard to say much of anything in human languages. Skewing of ideas from my keyboard to your mind and vice versa almost seems to happen by default. So I hesitate to repeat much back to you. But try we must…

    I will piggyback on something else Fr. Stephen said awhile back: In North America we so strongly focus on our differences. All I’m doing is pushing back a little. We are much more connected and of one cloth than we are different and divided. The minute someone tries to point out unity we are hyper-sensitive and like a flash we’re mentally adding all kinds of caveats about it and downgrading any sense of unity. This is no surprise since individualism is one of the foremost state religions.

    Nevertheless we need not have a knee-jerk reaction to being part of a group. Our job (stated at the end of your comment) is to love the person in front of us. That’s it. The judgment about whether or not we are in union with them is often damaging and distracting, leading to sin. But since we can’t seem to stop ourselves from doing it, it would be better to look at that other person and simply accept that we are one with them. Though we could cite a thousand differences, we are both children of God. This is a much better foundation to any interaction rather than a constant judging about where we stand in relation to them.

  49. Simon Avatar

    Dean, Drewster, I think this is a really interesting conversation. On the one hand, emphasizing a Garment anthropology challenges what we think about the plurality of humanity (there are lots of us) and emphasizing Marble anthropology challenges what we think about the unity of humanity. But if I was forced to make an err in this regard I would err on the side of the Garmentists.

  50. Matthew Avatar

    “Here is a very important lesson: every argument with an adversary or opponent shapes your own thinking to mirror the adversary or opponent. Many times in history it has managed to give a lasting power to various heresies. The faith becomes “not this, not that” which is not at all the same thing as what it positively is.”

    I think there is more of a fullness in embracing both the marblists and the garmentists as a mystery, then there is in exploring their dichotomies.


  51. Jeff Avatar

    Thank you for these metaphors and the insight you have imparted, Dean, Drewster, and Simon. It’s one of the reasons I keep reading Father’s blog and all the comments. It’s a daily, dynamic, and delicious way to center oneself on the path.

  52. Simon Avatar

    One thing that I like about the fabric of humanity metaphor is that the fabric doesn’t have to have a flat topology. In other words as points in the fabric are raised these might act as local maxima and the correllary to that is there will be places that recede and act as local minima. So although the overall fabric is raised together that doesn’t omit the possibility of differential experiences. Marbles in a box seems much less robust. You’re basically stuck with some form of decision threshold that dichotomizes the box of marbles into “it” and “not it”.

  53. Jeff Avatar

    To add to the list of each…

    Marbles = infinite reaction that never allows for union; concrete duality

    Fabric = a continuim that, unless stretched to tearing, allows for cohesion and change; duality is not integral but is not completely ruled out.

    I am continuing to learn what is meant by dualism (e.g., the Gnosticism, etc. of which Paul warns us), but I’ve thought dualistically for so long that I struggle. Can there be categories without requiring me to pass judgement? Does God’s forgiveness ask me to infer that he allows some disintegration in order to bring us (back) to life, integration, wholeness? A wholeness that re-incorporates me/us/them rather than saves just me?

    Perhaps focusing on God and his goodness is what He means by faith. I can fathom to a certain depth, but only He fathoms the complete depth. Besides, it seems I’m possibly averting my gaze (as Peter did on the water) when I become overly concerned about others’ (perceived) misdeeds, and Jesus would repeat to me Paul’s words to not “judge another man’s servant.” Romans 14:4

    And perhaps I’ve misread the comments and dualism is not being addressed here…

  54. Simon Avatar

    Jeff, those are good questions. I have a few thoughts that Ill share when I get a chance, but I think the question about duality is a valid question.

  55. Drewster2000 Avatar

    Don’t forget about quilts. Though I believe we are a seamless garment, that doesn’t mean we have the ability to see it most of the time. I contend it will look more like a quilt to us in the day to day. When we meet the man on the street, it can be hard to look at him and say, “we are both part of the same seamless garment.” But a quilt? Much more possible.

    And I support Matthew’s point. It’s easy to slip back into focusing on “not this” or “not that”. But as limited beings we are unfortunately bound to only consider one thing at a time and sometimes that means looking at what something is not. Thus there will always be room in this life for apophatic theology.

  56. Simon Avatar

    So maybe its a matter of scale. At more granular scales of resolution the marble metaphor works, at another level of resolution the quilt metaphor emerges as a better descriptor and at more global scales the fabric is more seamless. This is the case in physics. Forces that exert the greatest influence at one scale are entirely negligible at another scale.

  57. Drewster2000 Avatar

    That seems totally plausible, Simon. So many things are ultimately both/and.

  58. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Pardon…but I’d like to make a brief observation…
    Simon! I think I must’ve misunderstood your comments recently about allegorical interpretation….because in the metaphors you use here, you seem to have a very good grasp of the beauty, the depth, the significance, of that very thing… not by denying the literal but observing what is “beyond”!
    (Couldn’t help but notice this, Simon!)

  59. Jeff Avatar

    Simon, yes scale was probably what I was trying to grapple with. Thank you.

    Drewster, the longer I live (only 53) the more I see both/and. Although, I think I kind of grew up that way. Maybe being a middle child is a contributing factor 🙂. And yes, the quilt idea needs more of my attention.

    As a side note, and maybe alluding to your comment to Simon, Paula, I’m becoming more and more convinced that describing anything without using metaphor seems to be nigh on impossible. And maybe that’s me receiving the world as sacrament and being more and more at peace about my life being, our lives being, contingent.

  60. Agata Avatar

    You made my day with your “only 53”…

  61. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Yeah Jeff…thank God He bids us to look past the “flatland” in search for understanding just what Life is…what its all about. You could not have understood the world as sacrament if you had stayed within the bounds of Flatland! It is the wonder of language, a gift given to created beings with the capacity of intellect, that we have the ability to use metaphor, simile, type, allegory to express Reality that is beyond what meets the eye. We have much to thank the great minds of the past who asked and sought for answers to these hard questions, not to forget thanks to the Fathers who knew and declared the Cause and Reason for all (as you speak of contingency!).

  62. Jeff Avatar

    I’m glad! 🙂

  63. Dino Avatar


    One key problem of modern man is not just that he lacks socratic thought and that he lacks joy: it’s that we are so distracted and spiritually side-tracked that even when we have glimpses of truth, joy, trust, philosophical perspicuity etc, these are just that: short-lived glimpses.

    Staying power is lacking.
    A certain (old-school) stability must be regained somehow [especially the practical stability of a daily spiritual schedule, something like a spiritual tithing of our 24-hour day] in order to start living a spiritual life (that will not feel like it can be ever swayed or rocked), a life that will eventually allow us to understand ontologically (living it) the truth of the Christian ‘life of light’ –a life of continuous joy and peace even in the face of great tribulation–, a life that we so easily misunderstand due to our very remote-from-it-lives and worldviews.

    Elder Aimilianos, due to being a man who lived the living God unremittingly (which was a corollary of many things, but worth special mention for us here is this: his tireless devotion to his tempered daily spiritual roster), and also due to having been [accordingly] rendered utterly free –in the deepest sense of that word–, could emphatically say things like this :
    “Worry is utterly foreign and unnatural to the human person {!}”, or “Joy is like seeing, it’s the natural condition, if you have the tiniest diminishing of it, you know that there’s a problem with you”.

    Our own imprisonment in worries, concerns, attachments, disturbances, objections, etc is therefore also a corollary of not having a steady spiritual schedule and of living unremittingly the living Ego and its myriad interests rather than the living God.

  64. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    While I do not doubt one word you’ve said in having identified the problem (which is within us, the ego, the myriad interests, etc.), most of us out here also need some practical advice on how to overcome these obstacles. I’m talking about the relatively younger crowd, who still have children at home (both young and young adult) who may or may not be in school, who work full time, and face all the responsibilities of living a joyful Christian life in a very busy, harsh world. Socratic thought is not only not helpful, it is not even in our vocabulary…and need not be for that matter.
    So where does that practical advice and guidance come from? As it is, we seem to be mostly self-taught, with occasional advice, *face to face* with one(s) whom we can trust. Consistent practice of a “rule” is met with failure time after time as other issues that come up that must be dealt with. The support system of old, ie family, friends, jobs in the very community in which we live, does not exist anymore. Half the homes are single parent, the other half, both parents work. Who is holding the each other up? And what are the children learning if not that in order to survive you must take care of yourself before others?
    I just finished reading a book that Esmee (our friend here) suggested a while back called A Layman in the Desert by Daniel Opperwall. It is a rare book of practical advice written by a layman. He addresses such thoughts as “well I’m not a monk…or I’m far from living a priestly life”. While he is clearly sympathetic to the modern Christian’s plight, he does correct those thoughts and gives good practical advice, specifically addressing how to model the teachings of monastics and clergy (ie the Church) and puts it in the context of our everyday lives, with its challenges.
    Just thought I’d mention this Dino. I know your response was to Christopher, but many others read here as well, and those are the ones I have in mind.
    Thank you. I always appreciate your comments.
    And thank you Esmee for mentioning that book!

  65. Dino Avatar

    The response to this -probably the most common– objection of lay people (with our understandable and inevitable cares) is fairly simple. It’s an objection rooted in the truth that a monastic does not have the cares of a family provider, but it is worth noting that Elder Aimilianos lived the living God not as a care-free monastic disciple but as an extremely responsible leader of two huge brotherhood/sisterhoods…
    This in itself should make us probe the possibility that our objection’s foundation is not robust.
    The simple response to this objection is that once we inaugurate a spiritual life that is steadily scheduled with the two ‘legs’ of regular sacramental and regulated mystical basis, then we can be confident that we can (even if living in hell) “despair not”. We can continually praise God’s mercies. We can simultaneously do our job, delegate wisely, help out actively, and we should even enjoy getting tired in all of this (rather than object), precisely because of those few hours that have been put aside to present ourselves to, and ‘live’ our living God, each day/night. All, without demands from others or from God but only with effort on our behalf (and even this without worrisome demands from the self but with a firm positivity – in fact most of our effort should be towards this positivity some times).

  66. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    “… our objection’s foundation is not robust.”
    Dino…yes, agreed! Opperwall addresses these objections by giving examples from, of all things, St. John’s The Ladder, quoting Abba Moses, and the rest (I forget their names)!
    You make a good point in that Elder Aimilianos had a huge responsibility as well. Again, Opperwall makes that similar point, that although the monastics do not “live in the world” as we do, both have the same responsibilities, that is, the demonstration of love toward God and neighbor. He is in line with the monastic/Church teachings, but just explains it in the words of a layman. He does not rest on excuses!
    And Dino…don’t forget…I’m saying…many, dare I say most, of the folks I have in mind have a great deal of trouble finding “those few hours…day and night” to present themselves to God. In the book, he shows how this can be done in the midst of the busyness, when they do not have those few hours, but maybe a minute or two or ten…
    I think we agree that even in our distractions we can still commune with God. My point is that people nowadays need to find encouragement and support outside of themselves as well, in a society where we are at odds with each other, and God forbid, ultimately with Him! We need help to “despair not” and have a “firm positivity”… to not take offense at people and things!

  67. Simon Avatar

    I would imagine that at the end of the day God is able to what he wants to do with grace. If there is a single mother out there with four kids working odd jobs at odd hours to make ends meet, then I would imagine her heartfelt prayer in those few moments she is able to steal away is worth more than all the prayers said by any monk over the course of a day. Im thinking of the widow in the temple who gave all she had.

  68. Simon Avatar

    Prayer rules and regimens are fine. Jesus certainly took out time to seek out lonely places for prayer, but we cant limit the operation of God’s grace to people who have the freedom and convenience to do so. I would imagine God’s grace would be much more available to someone who prays despite the difficulty of their lives.

  69. Dean Avatar

    Paula, Dino,
    Thanks for your good input.
    When I was working full-time and raising a family prayer was more difficult than now that I’m retired.
    Mornings I’d shoot for 20 minutes of prayer which included about about 5 of the Jesus Prayer. Then I’d pray more driving to work. Once at work teaching high schoolers I would sometimes not think of prayer for several hours! I would attempt to pray a little more in the evenings, not always very successful.
    As a retiree I have the time for prayer. It can be a true “tithe” of my time…I think that’s what Dino said. I have no excuse not to, and the more time I spend in prayer alone in the wee hours of the morning the more I desire it.
    I know that a person can’t postpone prayer and a regular “schedule” until retirement. I just know it is easier and I thank our good God for giving me this opportunity and blessing. And for more time with grandkids!!

  70. Dean Avatar

    Didn’t see yours til I had posted. Yes, the widow’s mite…God’s abundant grace in trying circumstances. Thanks!

  71. Simon Avatar

    I dont know, man. It seems like we are making complicated that should be more organic. A seed doesnt have a routine for breaking the surface of the ground. A sapling doesnt set aside time to reach upward to the sky. And after some maturity the tree doesnt give any thought to unfolding its leaves to receive the light of the sun. It does it naturally on its own. Grace is organic and natural. The things we do–if they do anything at all–is just to give people something to do who feel like they need something to do.

  72. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Well yeah Simon…I think all people, whether they know it or not, are naturally drawn to our Creator…yes, it is the natural order of all creation. However, even seeds get trampled upon, and the trees get bogged down, stripped and “plundered” and only with some plowing and replanting begin to rise up again…and draw on that Grace! There has to be some effort…from within and from without! But you are right…Grace is always here…in abundance!

  73. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Is it not the case that the transformation of which Fr Stephen writes comes about through the struggle of the Christian life, in all its forms? Remembering the commandments and living them while ‘under trial’ is a form of prayer, at least this is what I understand. It seems forgiveness, by necessity, involves repentance. These acts following Christ’s commandments, forgiving and repenting, happen by the grace of God while we are fully engaged in the activities our lives, not only in the quiet moments of prayer that refresh us.

    I’ve been inspired by Fr Stephen’s words. And here I’ll add more from Bishop Irenei Steenberg:

    “It is only in the fully sacramental life that the cell is a fruitful plot; but by this life, it can bear more fruit than any other (And this is true not only of the monastic’s cell, but of the cell of our Christian struggle wherever it may be quietly, attentively kept–whether in the home or in the monastery). “

    That quiet Christian struggle is always upon us, in all moments, in all places. And I think that we might not always be aware of God’s presence, and yet He is there, and here among us, with us, in us.

  74. Simon Avatar

    I agree.

  75. Simon Avatar

    I fear rule-making. Its easy to confuse what we’re doing with the real work that needs to get done. AND it may place an inadvertent burden for those who cannot follow the rules. The yoke of Christ is easy and his load is light.

  76. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Simon…sure, I understand….

  77. Dino Avatar

    Simon et al,
    There are indeed numerous examples like the widow’s mite, of people whom Grace visits for all sorts of reasons and of regimented prayer rules that might go on for years in dryness of [perceived] Grace.
    However, the well-intentioned heart of a believer like Elder Aimilianos wants to know in its youth what it is that he can offer. He has no self-preoccupied motive ‘to see God for himself’ but a good-willed motive “to offer” and to “remain steadfast in his offering”, and therefore seeks the ‘rule’ of daily “being seen by God”. This is a key difference. It is not a rule as we think of it, it is the key to freedom and true liberation in Christ and it is a Christ (rather than self) – centered thing.

  78. Simon Avatar

    It seems very odd to me (odd to the point of arbitrary) to place in juxtaposition ‘the desire to see God’ to the ‘remaining steadfast in offering oneself to God’. Are you saying that the one is inherently ‘self-preoccupied’ and cannot be ‘good-willed’ whereas the other is always ‘good-willed’ and can never be ‘self-preoccupied’? This is arbitrary. Anything we do can either be self-preoccupied or good-willed, I would have thought whether that movement was ‘good-willed’ or otherwise would depend on how the person is drawn into the action by the Holy Spirit. A burning desire to see God in my understanding is a grace of the Holy Spirit. To see that as being ‘self-preoccupied’ seems arbitrary and unnecessary or worse a misunderstanding of what a self-preoccupied action is.

  79. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Your words bring to mind the part of the prayer (the Cherubic Hymn) the Priest recites during the Liturgy, where it says “,,,for Thou Thyself are He that offers and is offered, that accepts and is distributed…”. I think of our desire to self-empty, as our Lord did/does for us…and as you say, to offer ourselves back to Him. I believe this type of “offering”, that is, what this looks like, is unique to each person, though. And I say, we still need guidance on exactly what this means and how to go about doing it in practice.

  80. Simon Avatar

    Paula, I understand what you mean. On the one hand, we hear all these older Orthodox voices that talk about how to read the scriptures or how to pray or what constitutes a ‘self-willed’ action as opposed to a ‘good-willed action’, but there’s no “discipleship” per se for the laity to educate the lay mind. On the other hand, I struggle to understand why it requires anything at all besides the very simplest things. Perhaps you would take a few moments to describe what it is you think is missing. Maybe help me to see the problem better.

  81. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    In his 55 Maxims, Father Hopko says, “Pray as you can, not as you think you must.” It is, in fact, his second maxim. I embraced it effortlessly.

    But his third maxim is, “Have a keepable rule of prayer, done by discipline.” This was more difficult to embrace.

    There is, I think, great wisdom in these two maxims. Taken together, they tell me that a rule of prayer is necessary. It may not be the same as the Rule of St. Benedict or the rule of some other religious order. It may or may not involve reading all of the Psalms every week, as the Orthodox monks do, or reading through all of the Psalms every month, as Catholic monks do. But it must be a rule. It must be something I do every day, at more or less the same time every day.

    Since it must be a rule I can keep, it is a rule I must develop for myself, with the guidance of my spiritual director. But once I have come up with my keepable rule of prayer, I must keep it.

    As Dino said,

    “A certain (old-school) stability must be regained somehow [especially the practical stability of a daily spiritual schedule, something like a spiritual tithing of our 24-hour day] in order to start living a spiritual life (that will not feel like it can be ever swayed or rocked), a life that will eventually allow us to understand ontologically (living it) the truth of the Christian ‘life of light’ –a life of continuous joy and peace even in the face of great tribulation–, a life that we so easily misunderstand due to our very remote-from-it-lives and worldviews.”

  82. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    BTW and FWIW: The Ancient Prayer Book and The Ancient Faith Psalter have been and continue to be of enormous help to me in developing and maintaining my own rule of prayer.

  83. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    I meant Ancient Faith Prayer Book, of course.

  84. Simon Avatar

    You have heard it said “A prayer rule is good for the soul.” But I say to you “A soul ruled by prayer needs no rules, for it is good.”

  85. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    My experience, pastorally, is that a set rule is easier for some than others – and largely by personality differences. A good confessor can help an individual find “what works.” It is “what works” that matters. Having said that, there is great good in a bit of discipline, the efforts we do that are not always pleasing to ourselves. Those who only pray when they “feel” like it, will feel like it less and less. On the other hand, I have seen people struggle with a strict prayer rule that they actually hate – and that damages the soul. No doubt, one of the greatest cares in the life of an Abbot such as the Elder Aemelianos, is the unique needs of the community.

    My Archbishop, Alexander Golitzin, became a monk under the eldership of Aemilianos at Simonopetra. He stayed there first (by invitation) as a student completing his doctoral dissertation. The only “rule” imposed on him by the Elder was, “You may have anything you want, but you must ask for it.” It is a very warm and complex story, told best by Vladyka Alexander. But it illustrates the love, compassion and wisdom of this living saint.

  86. Simon Avatar

    It has nothing to do with “when you feel like it” or “not feel like it”. Its like talking about that a fish that swims “when it feels like it.” But, if that doesnt make sense, then I should withdraw from the discussion.

  87. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Oh Simon…I will try!
    “there’s no “discipleship” “…..Correct! For the majority of us out there…yes, that is true. There is a world of difference between a confessor and a spiritual guide. Our confessors are usually our parish Priests, though priceless as they are, being a spiritual father is not really feasible. (of coarse there are exceptions…some people actually do have guides, mentors and such)
    I will tell you what has helped me greatly. Absent a spiritual guide, but wanting to “be Orthodox” more than I want to breathe (just saying…!) I listened to Fr. Stephens advice from the very first time I came here…his articles (gems!), the books he suggested, his prefacing Christ’s Passion, his demonstration of kindness, patience with me and others here, his pointing to the importance of attention to the Liturgy, not to mention the wonderful comments….those things and more stuck in my mind. That’s my spiritual guidance…so it obviously is not necessary to have the kind of spiritual father/mother we read about…because as you know…it is not available…but there are alternatives.
    As for our “spiritual growth” requiring the simplest things….I don’t know Simon! For me, things just didn’t and still do not come simply! I mean, yes, our growth should be simple…because really, we are not asked to do any great Herculean feats but to simply love God with all we’ve got and love our neighbor…and everything else should fall into place! But we’re too broken, fragmented, as we say, to do these simple things. That’s just the way it is! I do not know how to agape-love…I do better if you love me! It is extremely hard for me to love those who don’t even like me! I may be able to keep my composure (maybe), but my thoughts, well…you know. So as best as we can, not to prove to anyone else, because you don’t have to, but with a heart toward God…we do what can. You know all the advice…I like Father’s, though….pray, love, and give alms…or as he said “give people your stuff”! But it is not simple! And it takes patience, time, and not to worry about “how you’re doing”! Just do! Watch others too…the ones you admire. Hang with them if you can!
    Lastly, I have a great deal of respect for the monastics and the ascetics they’ve taught us, because they know, absolutely know! , that we need to tame our passions in order to have some kind of peace of mind…because that is the way back to our God given “nature”….high time we move back that way…toward Life….no?
    Simon…do what you can…and listen to your conscience…it’ll tell you when your full of it…you can only fool yourself for so long. Because before you know it God shows you, and the fooling will be done! But He’s so very kind…our gracious God!!!

  88. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Mercy! Forgive me Father…I didn’t see your response before I posted!

  89. Simon Avatar

    All I meant to say by “simple” things is that I don’t think the simple things are that simple. Take just the Jesus Prayer. The way I have said the Jesus Prayer from the time I was introduced to the Orthodox Church until now has changed considerably. In fact, the prayer rule I now keep is greatly simplified compared to the rule I used to keep. I have found that there are depths to doing simple things carefully, deliberately, and mindfully.

  90. Jeff Avatar

    Is it possible that our very participation, pursuit, and effort, however it happens willing/unwilling, conscious/unconscious, simply/complicated, difficult/easy–all of it, cultivates our hearts and makes us available to be molded and purified by God’s grace?

    These elements are what I’m picking up. Is it possible that simply deciding to struggle to follow and actually then continuing to struggle to follow is how it works. And sometimes I focus on one area more than another, but through the whole process I honor God and others.

    Rereading my own comments, in some ways I sound dismissive, as if I’m saying it’s much ado about nothing. Words fail me. I don’t want to sound that way, but I’m having difficulty articulating what I’m sensing. It seems that even this struggle to write these words and the preceding conversation represent the honest gaze God desires. To love another we can only show up and stay there regardless of outcomes. For it is not outcomes God wants. God wants me. God wants you. God wants us.

    Sound preachy? I think it does. Most of the time when I’m posting, if I’m honest, I’m preaching to Jeff. : )

  91. Jeff Avatar

    *is how it works?

  92. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Yes there are great depths to doing simple things carefully and mindfully. I am a fan of ‘simple’! Regarding the Jesus Prayer…if you’re talking about the lengthy descriptions of how to go about praying, such as breathing, posture, and such vs simply reciting the prayer…yes, even the simple reciting can lead to depths, if done as you described. No doubt. I think someone said above, these things can be tailored to fit each persons needs, according to their ability.

  93. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    In brief:
    A prayer life is only a single part of the whole of our communion with God. The whole is best described, I think, by repentance – a turning around to face God (and thus our true selves) and to struggle to remain mindful of Him in such a state. Prayer, repentance, confession, alms-giving are the four things constantly mentioned as the core of the Orthodox life. All of them need to be present in some manner. Even a little bit, a tiny bit is better than nothing and can be magnified by grace into a very great thing.

  94. Dino Avatar

    “doing simple things carefully, deliberately, mindfully” and consistently cannot fail to mold one’s soul towards that steadfast joy and serenity that the beholders of God were given.
    Certain secrets that a good guide can offer will also help immensely (this could be a very wide range of ‘secrets’ revealed at the appropriate times, like the optimism in the face of a despondence, the communication of the superiority of night-time over daytime stillness, the authoritative sanctioning to ignore certain thoughts that continue to feign importance, etc)

  95. Simon Avatar

    Consistency–Yes, consistency!

  96. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Yes Father…thank you.
    Repentance…you describe that well. Turning to face God, thus our true selves , and the the struggle to remain mindful of Him.
    Best is what little we have, His grace can magnify. Oh the goodness of God!

  97. Fr. Seraphim Ramos Avatar
    Fr. Seraphim Ramos

    Dear Fr. Stephen,

    I did not take the time to read all 96 comments, however your article brought to mind a chapter in the Road to Emmaus magazine by Dr. Timothy Patitsas called “The Opposite of War is Not Peace”

    Thank you for your love, your words, and your life.

  98. Pr. Scott Smith Avatar
    Pr. Scott Smith

    Fr. Stephen,
    I delight in a lot of what you say here, particularly regarding the ontological wound of sin. But it seems to me the idea that legal matters are fictitious is an assumption which you take as a given. To my mind, legal matters are real matters. They don’t occupy physical space, and of course human laws change and may appear arbitrary, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t “real,” unless I’m missing what you mean by “real” and “fiction.” As a Lutheran, of course, my mind goes to the doctrine of the eternal law. Is there any similar teaching in Orthodoxy?

  99. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Pr. Scott,
    If we speak of an “eternal law” – then we’re describing something ontological. But, no, Orthodoxy doesn’t have a tradition regarding such a doctrine. It would describe it in a different way, I think. I suspect it would speak of the “logoi of created things.” You can’t speak of an “eternal law” as something existing that is just a principle or rules. It would have no substance, it would seem to me.

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