When Miracles Ceased

One of the stranger ideas that accompanied the Reformation, was the notion that miracles had ended at the time of the New Testament’s completion. Never stated as a doctrinal fact in the mainstream of Protestantism, it remained a quiet assumption, particularly when joined with an anti-Roman Catholicism in which the various visions, weeping statues, and saints lives were considered to be fabrications of a corrupt priesthood. Stories abounded during the Reformation about how this or that well-known miracle had been debunked. What replaced that Medieval world was the sober thought of the Bible as answer book.

Many held that miracles were quite unnecessary after the Bible was “completed,” since everything necessary for salvation was contained within its covers. Anglican ordinands (to this day) take an oath saying:

“I believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary for salvation.”

Miracles, visions or revelations from God were considered not only unnecessary but positively dangerous in that the faithful might imagine such things to carry an authority equal to or greater than the Scriptures.

Various groups within the Protestant world have actually codified this idea into a matter of their denominational doctrine. It is known as “Cessationism,” referring to the “cessation” of the gifts of the Spirit. The Modern Project itself, particularly in its secularized perception of the world, is a version of Cessationism. Indeed, the Cessationist ideas of early Protestantism were a primary force in the creation of the secular concept.

A secular worldview holds that things are just that – things. The world consists of a collection of self-existing objects (some of which breathe and think), that live within the bounds and limits of the “laws” of nature. If God is to be known or perceived, then either He must disturb the laws of nature or become an object among objects. The modern world, in the words of Max Weber, is “disenchanted.” It is as if you found your way into Narnia, only none of the animals speak, the trees have fallen asleep, and magic seems to have ceased.

This is the context in which we live. It is also a perception that, to a great extent, shapes how we ourselves perceive the world, whether we intend it or not. Secularism is the default setting for those born into modern culture. The world is mute.

This is in stark contrast to the traditional (Orthodox) Christian understanding. Only God is self-existing. Everything else not only depends on Him for its existence and continuation but is moment-by-moment sustained only by the will and goodness of God. As such, the world itself is a manifestation of the “divine energies” (the actions and working of God). Those actions and working of God are not something done “at a distance,” for His actions and works are themselves God. He is both essence and energies. And though the effects of His actions and works are not themselves God (the tree that He sustains is not Him), nevertheless, the effects cannot exist apart from Him (“in Him, we live and move and have our being” – Acts 17:28). Cessationism would be non-existence. Miracles not only continue, everything we see is a constant abiding miracle (including ourselves). There is only miracle.

The perception of God and our relationship with Him are inherently difficult for a modern or secular mind. For us, the world is mute, and we perceive God to be equally mute. As such, we think that He either does not exist or doesn’t wish to make Himself known. From the position of classical Christianity, just as there is only miracle, so there is only the action and working of God everywhere.

And so, we read such things in Scripture:

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts; heaven and earth are full of Your glory!

Confessing this to be the case slowly brings a shift in our perception and represents the renunciation of the Modern Project. Another way of describing this would be to say that the whole of creation is a sacrament. The bread and wine of the Eucharist, as the Body and Blood of Christ, are not exceptions: they reveal the truth of creation. The whole of everything is given to us for communion.

The Eucharist also reveals something of the nature or character of God’s divine energies (His actions and will). The God made known in the Eucharist is Christ crucified and risen. It is the Paschal mystery, the God who empties Himself and enters the depth and emptiness of our suffering that He might fill all things with His love. The modern person, upon being told that everything is sustained by the will and action of God often leaps to the many tragic sufferings within the world – as though they contradict that reality or suggest God’s incompetence. But they imagine a God other than Christ crucified, a God apart from His Pascha.

The Resurrection of Christ is the revelation of the goodwill of God, the promise of the final outcome of all things. The world that is being “gathered together in one in Christ Jesus,” is, through His suffering and death (within them), being united to His resurrection.

This is the context in which we pray and worship and in which we come to perceive God (with what the fathers describe as the “noetic” faculty). We pray and we listen and we think there is only silence. This itself is the secular perception. Everything around us and we ourselves exist, sustained by the voice of God. Their existence is the eloquence of His good will.

But what of miracles? If the whole world is a miracle, then what of those things that are commonly described as miracles? First, they do not belong to a separate category. That someone is instantaneously healed of a disease does not belong to a category of exception: it is a miracle among miracles that happen in a way such that we see the truth that might otherwise seem hidden. The danger in miracles for the modern mind is to think of them as exceptional. In doing so, we imagine the world as divided into the miraculous and the ordinary.

When we pray, if we expect the “miraculous” (in the modern sense), we will grow weary with the ordinariness of our experience. We imagine that we hear nothing, for we have already decided that the sound of the ordinary is nothing miraculous. I always caution inquirers and catechumens in the Church to be prepared to be bored. Though Orthodox services can be beautiful and profound, they are no more beautiful and profound than the world around us. The modern mind becomes bored by the so-called “ordinary,” because it has become accustomed to distractions that play to our passions. “Boredom” is what you get when you are not being entertained – it is a modern phenomenon.

Christianity does not begin as a discussion of the inner life. The Christian faith begins with the death and resurrection of Christ. That reality, which spans and unifies all things, is both present as a point in history with abundant testimony of eye witnesses, and as an eternal and ever-present moment that exists before all things and for which all things exist. Regardless of our subjective questions, the concrete reality of Christ’s death and resurrection remains.

Subjectivity itself, the world as we experience it inside our heads, is notoriously changeable and fails every test of reliability. It is the chimera of our existence, and can never be its foundation.

Years ago, when I was in college, I suffered a severe bout of depression. I was hospitalized for a week. After the hospital, I “white-knuckled” my way through the world and found a path back to sanity. One of those paths was to distrust my subjective experience. Nothing “sounded like fun” (that’s the nature of depression). But I reasoned that I needed to have fun and decided to treat fun as an objective activity. My now-wife and I began doing things that were the “kind of things people do for fun,” in an effort to teach my brain and body how to do something they had lost. It was very therapeutic.

It is a great joy when our inner and outer world agree. The tradition describes a pattern of life that strengthens “noetic” perception, and thus our awareness of communion with God. Largely, that pattern consists of the quieting of the passions and the acquisition of inner stillness. But this pattern, or its result, is simply a description of something within the spiritual life that is of value – it is not its basis or foundation.

To a great extent, modern skepticism presumes a world whose “ordinary” existence has nothing to do with the miraculous. Our existence and the providential character of the world are thus reduced to the random workings of chance. The world is inert and opaque and says nothing about God. As such, only the extraordinary, the “miraculous” (in the modern sense), can reveal God. It is a demand that God should agree to be a secular God, to reject His world as sacrament.

The Orthodox life is a consent to the world as sacrament, inasmuch as it is revealed to us in the death and resurrection of Christ. We do not believe in the death and resurrection of Christ because we see the world as sacrament, but the other way around. It teaches us that the fullness of our existence reaches beneath the surface into the providence of God’s goodwill at work everywhere and in all things. That we “see” this is always a gift and a joy. It is also a difficult thing in a world whose self-explanation has been 500 years of unrelenting disenchantment and anti-sacramentalism.

Will wonders ever cease?

 

 

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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Comments

222 responses to “When Miracles Ceased”

  1. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I have not written this post as a response to Simon’s earlier questions, but it represents a meditation as I have thought about the whole of our conversation.

  2. Mark Avatar
    Mark

    Great post Father. Many of my Protestant friends essentially believe miracles are impossible (as much so as atheists!) even though they may not necessarily state it that way. They would never be able to even consider the possibility of many of the miracles that occur in Orthodoxy.

    Although I see the Charismatic movement as problematic in many ways, I cannot help but wonder if their motivation (if it was a reaction against rigid cessationism) was correct?

  3. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Mark,
    If it was not a correct response, it was, at least, a predictable reaction.

  4. Sue Avatar
    Sue

    Fr. Stephen, thank you so much for writing this article. It was pure comfort and joy to read. Good News, indeed! ♥ I can’t wait to share it with my kids.

  5. Scott Avatar
    Scott

    In Lutheranism we were taught that the verse “in many and various ways God spoke to His people of old, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son” was the scriptural proof for cessation.

    How exciting it was to learn in my conversion to Orthodoxy of the imminence of God every day, everywhere!

    Thank you, Father!

  6. Margaret Maines Avatar
    Margaret Maines

    It seems to me that if one has encountered problems in this life and responded to them with prayer, then one must believe in miracles. We only need to look around each day to see the beauty of nature, a new-born baby, successful surgeries, an unexpected encounter, to know God has a hand in it! These might be the smaller miracles. Sometimes miracles are more dramatic to emphasize a stronger message from God or to get our attention to be ready and focused – to remain in prayer. Of course we learn to accept the more difficult times as our Cross and lesson, however again in prayer we remember the miracles that we were blessed with! Thankyou…..

  7. Kevin Z Avatar
    Kevin Z

    As always, well written. Sir. I agree that this perspectivism of a dis-enchanted world also self informs the juridical view of religion as a ‘legal contract’. You barter ‘here’ to get hopefully get ‘there’. A radical born-again Church near my house is always passing around what seem to be an endless supply of neat little brochures saying ‘Are you Good enough to go to Heaven?’ It is filled with the predictable rounding out of legal speak as ‘salvation’. Their building is naturally the best place to receive the proper legal council after you find out how terrible you are.

    I know a lot of these people from said church. Prior to their ‘coming to Jesus’, many were completely out of control and constantly getting into a variety of trouble. It is no wonder to me the brand they would seek out would have the strictest legal speak. Because of the dis enchantment and reductionism, a life of ‘stuff’ is relegated to a means of self control and contract ‘buy outs’. I find many of their ‘good deeds’ do not come from the heart. They come from a place of either showing off how ‘good’ they can be, or they are trying to lock down their ‘salvation’ through said actions. It’s a strange model that leads to strange interactions from people driven by the need to self validate they are the only ones doing it right (how can anyone self appoint authority to know that?). Just some thoughts and observations. God bless.

  8. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Father,
    This is such a superb angle of approach to tongue-tie the incessant contrariness of our secular unbelief.
    It is a sad state of affairs that this prevalent, non-sacramental worldview has been elevated to such a pedestal, that exposures of its delusion (such as this post), or less diplomatic ones than this post, are criticised as themselves laughably deluded by the secular “…common-sense” assumptions…
    However, the latent pride lurking in such assumptions, though it remains well camouflaged, is a certainty.
    I guess that this classic saying applies even here too:

    “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.’”

    St. Anthony the Great

  9. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Dino, you dont see the irony in your comments do you?

  10. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I reject the idea that there is a latent pride in the demand that profound claims should supply profound evidence. In a world of charlatans it would be foolish to do otherwise. That isn’t prideful. But, if you’re one of the charlatans…maybe you need people to question the value of reason and common sense.

  11. Panayiota Avatar
    Panayiota

    Thank you Father again for putting words to the thoughts swirling in my minds and heart.

    “We do not believe in the death and resurrection of Christ because we see the world as sacrament, but the other way around.”
    I will pray that I can really know this, with all of me, so that it is possible to live in Him.
    Pray for me.

  12. Sue Avatar
    Sue

    Dino,

    I love what you wrote above. Thank you for sharing that quote from St. Anthony the Great. It brought to mind this one from Fr. Alfred Delp:

    “The course of the liturgical year and the message continues, and we keep on doing things–but not for the sake of custom and tradition. It comes from a sense of certitude about things and mankind and revelation–things that are fixed and valid in and of themselves. These give mankind the right to light candles and to believe in the light and brightness of existence.” ~Fr. Alfred Delp (†1945) was a German Jesuit priest condemned to death by the Nazis in Berlin, Germany.

  13. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Thank you again, Fr Stephen. This is a joy to read this weekend; ten years ago I attended my first Orthodox Liturgy, at St Seraphim’s in Santa Rosa. These things, and so much more, were rolling around in my heart then, and for some time before that. The Church has given me words with which to both understand and express.

    This posting and Original Incompetency are very important to me right now. I’m grateful.

    Dana

  14. Kevin Avatar
    Kevin

    There’s an idea out there that the universe is just some kind of simulation. There are esoteric proofs as to why that might be, but in a way, they might be right for the wrong reason. The basic “particles” of everything are just relationships between quantum fields. There is nothing solid–no “there” there. The apostle was correct in that it seems that God really has made all that is seen from that which is unseen and science can’t really tell us why it all holds together, so “by the Word of God” is just as good an explanation as any.

    An appealing thing about Reformed theology is that everything is tightly ordered. There is science, religion, secular, and spiritual. A place for everything and everything in its place. It’s like Newtonian physics. The problem with it is that it can only explain the inconsistencies by proposing an idea like cessationism and when it’s obvious something odd is going on, call it demonic deception or plead ignorance. As I move forward in Orthodoxy, I find that the “fuzziness” of it is more suited to the world as it is. While it has its absolutes, the Church is an organism, not a machine.

  15. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Simon,
    What seems so difficult to you (and to me I must admit) can be made extremely easy by yourself alone – but it is not to be demanded from outside. If that does ever come ‘from outside’ (like it did to young Saint Paisios if you read that comment on the previous post, due to his unbelievably good will [despite been apparently God-forsaken]) is another matter:
    The demand that “profound claims should supply profound evidence” is a camouflaging of a pride of sorts (and a self-censoring of the good-will we have within us), not camouflaging from others though, but from our own poor soul itself, that adheres to such demands from God. Do not assume that those who vehemently refuse to adhere to it have not suffered apparent ‘Godforesakeness’ as greatly as those who do however… It is often quite the contrary.
    There is certainly an internal decision to make the arbiter of truth, not “Truth Himself” (Who is outside of me) [and His witnesses], but my mind’s reasonings instead. There would be humility in choosing the first and pride in going with the second (our own mind/ego). This might be (almost sanctimoniously nowadays) called ‘common-sense’, but it is also a pride of sorts. It already has decided (as Father explains) that “only the extraordinary, the “miraculous” (in the modern sense), can reveal God. It is a demand that God should agree to be a secular God”.
    As Father wrote, ‘if we expect the “miraculous” (in the modern sense), we will grow weary with the ordinariness of our experience. We imagine that we hear nothing, for we have already decided that the sound of the ordinary is nothing miraculous.’

  16. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    I did not understand Christ at all until I encountered the lives and miracles of contemporary Orthodox saints who had clearly acquired the Holy Spirit. I cannot tell you what a thrill it was to discover – through the witness of these individuals – that there was much, much more to this life than empty vanities.

  17. Margaret Maines Avatar
    Margaret Maines

    A Saint once said, “we are not to THINK much; we are to LOVE much!

  18. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    I reject the idea that there is a latent pride in the demand that profound claims should supply profound evidence. In a world of charlatans it would be foolish to do otherwise.

    Pride is what holds us to ourselves; it is a refusal to be foolish. As Father notes in the article, We do not believe in the death and resurrection of Christ because we see the world as sacrament, but the other way around. You are asking to see the world as sacrament, for “profound evidence”, in order to believe in the death and resurrection of Christ. I understand the why of that; it is, as we like to think, common sense.

    I recall someone who posted once what it would take for him to believe in God. He listed a number of “proofs” that had to be met in a long, long list of “If this is to happen, then it should show this”. In the end, he spoke only of how God could submit Himself to him; the very definition of pride, although I doubt he realized it.

    I take heart that you are seeking and I pray that you continue to love in all you do. God is a good God and will not leave you.

    Please forgive me if I have spoken out of turn. May God have mercy. Glory to God in All Things!

  19. Margaret Maines Avatar
    Margaret Maines

    The person with the long list of proofs needed from God is still a child of God who has not received grace and maturity to see God as perhaps we/others do. Some may say he still has a veil over his conscience. What is truly needed for this person, is for others to pray for him – that he will receive the grace and enlightenment to encounter God in his life. God bless you…..

  20. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Simon,
    I wish such comments didn’t come out sounding as suffering from irony, but I take solace in the fact that if St Paul’s words sound as ironic as they do, perhaps irony is not such a bad thing, or at least its complete absence isn’t possible :

    “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe”

  21. Brandon Avatar
    Brandon

    Simon, in all fairness, you are justified in flipping Dino’s magnifying sear back upon his own worldview. Yet, the point still remains that there are ‘”secular common-sense assumptions” just the same as any other worldview. As someone whom has made a serious dwelling in both theistic and atheistic camps, I think that an important distinction to notice here is that the former (generally) admits that his is a position of faith, the latter is delusional and accepts his own subjectivity as reliable (he has no other option I suppose).

    Apologies if I completely misinterpreted the scope or main idea of your response to Dino.

  22. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Simon, the trouble with your approach, in my experience, is that many define as “evidence” specific things and refuse to see the evidence that is literally all around us all the time. Not to mention the unadorned lives of the modern saints. Or even the experience of many common and ordinary people we know and see frequently.

    My wife is a walking, breathing medical miracle. There have been at least six or seven times in her life when doctors, looking at the objective facts, told her she would die soon, or should have died. But “chance” intervened each time and she has not yet died. All of these things started occuring after a man with beautiful brown eyes, sitting in a big golden chair came to comfort her as a five year old girl hiding from her abusive father. She did not see that man again for many years until she came with me to my parish and saw Him sitting above our altar.

    The actual numerous encounters that occur to many people all the time ought to be enough “evidence” for anyone I would think. Still such evidence is often denied as the wrong type of evidence or no evidence at all.

    Or the evidence that my father as a young man in the early 20th century out on the high plains of eastern New Mexico, seeing, sensing and experiencing the presence of a personal God everywhere uniting all things for life’s sake. He later became a medical doctor as an intial response to that experience after studying bacteriology and chemistry.

    The list even that I know is almost endless. There is deep and profound evidence, it is just ignored, rejected or despised by modernity. Just like our Lord on the Cross was ignored, mocked and despised.

    Not much has changed. But then, what do we who accept such evidence do with it? Forgive me for being lukewarm and trusting too much in the wisdom of this world.

  23. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Simon
    The “good will” that is judged as foolishness is well prtrayed by Dostoyevsky here:
    “I want to say to you, about myself, that I am a child of this age, a child of unfaith and scepticism, and probably (indeed I know it) shall remain so to the end of my life. How dreadfully has it tormented me (and torments me even now) this longing for faith, which is all the stronger for the proofs I have against it. And yet God gives me sometimes moments of perfect peace; in such moments I love and believe that I am loved; in such moments I have formulated my creed, wherein all is clear and holy to me. This creed is extremely simple; here it is: I believe that there is nothing lovelier, deeper, more sympathetic, more rational, more manly, and more perfect than the Saviour; I say to myself with jealous love that not only is there no one else like Him, but that there could be no one. I would even say more: If anyone could prove to me that Christ is outside the truth, and if the truth really did exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ and not with truth.”

  24. Tanya Keenan Avatar

    Thank you for this post, Fr. Stephen.

    It reminds me of a favorite quotation from a mystery novel by Fr. Andrew Greeley OBM (Roman Catholic). His main character is, in this book, a bishop who has a talent for solving locked room mysteries…and for communicating how passionately in love God is with us. Anyway, the quotation I’m thinking of is at the end of The Bishop and the Beggar Girl of St. Germaine:

    “Bishop Blackie, we are so blind and deaf. The world is transparent. God is everywhere whispering to us, talking to us, shouting at us. Usually we do not hear. Sometimes we do. Then we know that everything is grace.”

    May his memory be eternal. And may we always remember that everything is grace.

  25. Kevin Avatar
    Kevin

    Aren’t we forgetting something? The Apostle Thomas said, “Unless I see the print of the nails in His hands and the wound in His side, I will not believe.” Jesus later showed him those things and said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believed.” Thomas was with Jesus for three years. He’d seen Jesus do all sorts of wonders, yet he still couldn’t believe Jesus had resurrected until he’d seen the physical–maybe the wrong word for it, now–evidence. None of us are going to minister with Christ in the flesh for three years, see Him raise the dead, cast out demons, heal the sick, and multiply bread and fish. Jesus cut Thomas a lot of slack considering, but His implication was that most people wouldn’t see Him in that way, yet be blessed for believing in what they did not see.

    I’ve read of wonderworking monastics who saw their gifts and visions as grave dangers because of the pride they could engender. When it comes to “seeing is believing,” we should be careful what we wish for. We all want a spiritual experience to validate something for ourselves, but there’s great risk to us if we’re not prepared. Occultism is seeking for spiritual experience outside of the boundaries of Christianity and it destroys people. Certain denominations seek “Christian” spiritual experiences as a matter of practice, but they are outside of Orthodoxy, so they are out playing in traffic. We can’t be sure of what they’re getting and even if it’s good, they’re unprepared. I don’t approach Orthodoxy hoping to see these things as a primary objective. Seeing, smelling, and touching a myrrh-streaming relic or icon or seeing the Mother of God sounds great, but it can be bad for me if it becomes a thing of pride or a distraction from the normal practice of Orthodoxy. I’d love to win the Mega Millions next week, but that could be immensely destructive to me, as well. I’m going to keep doing my morning and evening prayers, try to remember to pray at mealtimes, go to Matins or Liturgy, and try to root out my own sins. Dull, mundane stuff. Signs and wonders aren’t up to me and I don’t want them if I’m not ready for them. The saints who have experienced those things generally have been free of their passions. Who of us is close to that? There’s a lot of repetitive work in Orthodoxy. Jesus used the analogy of putting your hand to the plow. What did that involve? Walking behind a donkey or an ox all day. The scenery isn’t so good and neither is the smell.

  26. Margaret Maines Avatar
    Margaret Maines

    I always thought getting behind the plow meant we need to be tilling the soil – which again means working our souls to have them cultivated and polished too! Preparing and ready to meet God. 🙂

  27. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Dino – I might not be Orthodox but for Dostoyevsky. I have been thinking of returning to him again. I am an intellectual, so I am naturally inclined to view everything as an intellectual problem. But finding God is not an intellectual exercise. It is a matter of experience. And reading Dostoyevsky is, for me, a transformative experience. Great religious fiction (C.S. Lewis also comes to mind), like a great icon, allows us to participate in the Truth, as opposed to merely hearing about it.

  28. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Kevin – Thomas is my favorite apostle, because I am just like him. In the same way, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” Is one of my favorite verses.

  29. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Dino, JWs have a saying “Even if this isn’t the Truth this is still the best way of life!” And that is what your Dostoevsky quote is saying. I am not comfortable when our loyalties and beliefs trump truth. To be frank if I find myself wanting to believe something…I almost compulsively begin looking for reasons not to believe it.

    When I found out Dostoevsky was Russian Orthodox I thought that was surely the final nail in my metaphorical conversion coffin. I have to admit Dostoevsky understands the human condition.

  30. Yvette Cathers Avatar
    Yvette Cathers

    Outstanding article, as usual, which is why you’re one of my regular reads. I’m not entirely understanding what you mean by, “the world is mute.” Can you explain that one?

  31. Paisios Jones Avatar
    Paisios Jones

    I remember the exact moment and place when you told us that church would be boring. I thought it odd and a bit off putting, but in context it is the truth of this miraculous life. Miracles that are hidden in the every day are beginning to show themselves to me in a very special way. I am thick headed and tainted by my years searching for the extravagant miracles that I forgot to note the smile of a child, the predictability of the seasons, the beauty of a greeting from a friend. I am learning that in the Divine Liturgy that the miracles are highlighted in the the rather ordinary acts of the both the people and the clergy. I have never counted the “Lord Have Mercies” on a given Sunday, but each Sunday it seems a different one grabs my heart and draws me to a sincere place of prayer. Ordinary but miraculous is the Epiclesis. Ordinary but miraculous are the readings. “Ordinary but miraculous” didn’t bring me to Orthodoxy, but it surely keeps me here.

    Thank you Father for teaching me to pay attention to the mundane miracles. I forget often, but perhaps I am learning.

  32. Margaret Maines Avatar
    Margaret Maines

    A Saint once said, “God can be found in the pots and pans of the kitchen!” 🙂

  33. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I appreciate Kevin’s words. I am reminded of several verses. In the letter of first John “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us.” If the things that are seen with the eyes and heard with the ears and touched by the hands aren’t important, then why does the apostle refer to these very things as a means of grounding his authority. He is clearly saying that unlike others who presume to know what they are talking about, he knows because he was there and saw the Teacher and learned what he knows from the Teacher himself. And in first Corinthians “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” That sounds exactly like the opposite of what I have heard. The very reason that signs accompany preaching is so that a person’s faith is not in the preaching and wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”

  34. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Kevin, you are correct. But it also incumbent upon us to recognize God’s Providential hand in all things. The mind of the world constantly drums into us just the opposite. Indeed the ultimate message is that destruction and power and personal control are the way.

    Nietzsche saw it clearly the vast difference between the Will to Power and the death and Ressurection of Jesus Christ are wholly incompatible.

    To live in God’s Providence requires that we increase our awareness of it operating in all aspects of life while realizing that we deserve none of it. Still He gives and gives and gives–everything, to the just and unjust, the good and the evil whether we believe or not. Otherwise there would be nothing.

  35. Lynne Avatar
    Lynne

    Deear Father Freeman, what you said about doing fun things with your wife when you were depressed to teach your body and mind reminded me of a video I just watched about the plasticity of the brain. It seems you can heal and even grow your brain by what you think and say and do.

  36. Kevin Avatar
    Kevin

    Simon,
    Most churches I’ve been to are all about the sermon. Evangelicalism has no liturgy, so it has to be all about the preaching. The music, too. If the band stinks, people won’t stay. If the pastor doesn’t motivate, people won’t stay. There is little spiritual there. To them, icons, vestments, chants, incense, and prostrations are just non-essential trappings that distract from the preaching of the Word of God. Those things aren’t really distractions, though. They are cues for our spiritual attention. It’s as easy for the mind to wander during Matins as it is during a sermon, but the difference is that we’re already in a spiritual environment. The cues are right there to bring us back. In First Whatever Wherever, you’re just sitting there, maybe checking your phone. It’s hard to track a 30-45-60 minute sermon where the pastor is bouncing around the Bible and flashing charts and whatnot. Orthodoxy isn’t like that. Good preaching could take five minutes if it cuts right to the essence of what we need to know. How long is Chrysostom’s Paschal sermon? Like five minutes, right? Most Protestant pastors would save up a real stemwinder for Easter Sunday because that’s like the Superbowl.

    Now, why don’t we see signs of power associated with Orthodox worship? It did happen in the early centuries, but it came at the price of persecution and martyrdom. It has happened where Orthodoxy is breaking into new territory or is under persecution. In “Orthodox countries” and in America, the lack of such signs of power are probably a symptom of spiritual malaise and disorder. Where Orthodoxy is cultural, it’s kind of like the prophet that gets no honor in his own country. There is also no need for signs because the gospel has been preached, believed, and then neglected. “You have Moses and the Prophets,” Jesus said. The 20th century was a bad time for Orthodoxy and in America, it left a lot of jurisdictional confusion and ethnocentrism. My impression is that for much of the 20th century in America, Orthodoxy was more Greek, Arab, Russian, and Serbian than anything else and many churches didn’t see the ripe fields right in front of them and didn’t change their focus from ethnic ministry to evangelism in time to answer a culture in flux in the middle of the century.

    Would signs still be appropriate in America, though? I see that there have been miraculous icons, but I’d never heard of them before encountering Orthodoxy. Were those things for the faithful, or were they meant for everyone? I don’t know. Anyone who claims to find an image of Mary on a piece of toast is on TV in a nanosecond, but we never hear of a weeping icon. Orthodoxy has discretion, at least, even if it might be too much. That’s a delicate issue, though. There’s not much piety in America, but there’s a lot of nosiness. If you start waving around weeping icons, you’ll get a few pilgrims and a lot of idle curiosity. A certain level of faith is probably required in a culture for God to use signs. Pagans didn’t believe in Christ, but they were “devout” pagans and certainly understood signs. In the modern world, we’re conditioned to see it all as a trick or as something simply paranormal without any deeper spiritual meaning. I’m not sure what sort of signage Americans would even understand. Seventeen years ago, we watched thousands of fellow Americans die and a great landmark crash to the ground on live TV. Seven years later, our economic hubris almost crashed the global economy. Nothing much has changed and we are still closer to a societal unraveling today than ever. So, this generation seeks a sign? I’d rather not contemplate what the response could be.

  37. Christopher King Avatar
    Christopher King

    Alleluia: Now is a miracle. Yesterday is a miracle. Tomorrow is a miracle. Always, and eternally is a miracle.

  38. Bob Attaway Avatar
    Bob Attaway

    Thanks for this article,Fr. Freeman. This secular mindset has infected me all my life. As a Catachumen, I’m having to have my mind and my whole life reset. Please pray that God’s grace will be there for me. Thanks again, and God bless.

  39. Margaret Maines Avatar
    Margaret Maines

    Interesting when you used the word “infected” – the secular world is very infected for sure and spreading more and more rapidly each day. We have to take steps to protect our souls and our families/friends through proper worship, sacraments, and prayer. When I experience the Divine Liturgy, all I can think of is how Jesus and the Apostles left this for us – not all that changed and came after. The Divine Liturgy has the mysticism that is missing in other denominations and once one experiences that, they never return to the watered-down empty way. It needs to be experienced but also the history has to be learned and understood to know and appreciate the roots, Tradition and Truth. Thankyou!

  40. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Kevin all good points brother. I think I agree with you on almost all counts.

    The continual criticism. There is way more heresy, delusion and outright ignorance in the domain of religion than there is truth. So as far as I am concerned secular is and should be the default expectation. Secular people can love and appreciate beauty and even be profoundly affected by awe. But that doesn’t mean Zeus makes lightning. If religion wasn’t so utterly disappointing, if it wasnt responsible for so much ignorance and violence….then we wouldn’t have a secular society. Secularism is what results when rational people realize that religion has failed to deliver truth and peace. So Im a secular person and that’s a intelligent place to….which in not something I can say for hundreds of millions of people in religion. And mind you I was not always secular.

  41. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Lynne,
    At the time I was desperate…and the approach seemed sensible. My plastic brain!

  42. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    When I read Dostoevsky’s statement – it seems very “Russian” to me (rather than necessarily Orthodox). It is the statement of his soul – that there is something greater than reason, per se. It is, by no means, a rule of thumb or an Orthodox principle.

    I think of a similar thing when Puddleglum, the Marsh Wiggle in one of Lewis’ Narnia books, uses much the same effort to break free of a spell cast by the White Witch. Normally, intuition and the deeper things of the heart are not so evident that we would ever use them to drive a car or do our daily stuff (or just going about the daily task of believing in God). But, there can arise situations where they are allowed triumph because their certainty is even stronger than reason…and, in such situations they most often seem to be correct.

    My phrase for this is being “authentic.” There are choices and decisions I have made in my life in which the decisions was prior to, and greater than reason. Reason often works best for reflection. But there’s nothing that we can use as a general rule of thumb. So, we try to live authentically.

  43. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yvette,
    I meant that, from the secular perspective, the world does not speak. From within the faith and the life of providence, it shouts.

  44. Nikolaos Avatar
    Nikolaos

    Simon

    In today’s Gospel reading ( new calendar ) the parable of the sower provides a unique insight on the word of God, as a seed that has been dropped everywhere. This helped me understand the difference between Orthodoxy and religion.

    Orthodoxy is the word of our Lord Jesus Christ falling into good soil and producing hundredfold. In my view the only reason anyone would be a Christian is because they trust and accept the word of Christ. Seeing Christ or experiencing miracles are not sufficient to make anyone accept Him ( many if His contemporaries did not accept Him ). Once inside the Church through baptism, a lifelong process of spiritual progress becomes possible, aiming to heal us and help us attain the likeness of Christ.

    In religion, the sower is man, not God. I cannot help thinking that the devil is behind every man who sows seeds that are of their own word and not of God’s word. It started with Adam and Eve and continues to present day. This is why religion divides humanity and is the source of much suffering. Christianity has also suffered a lot from heretical views, the word of men who did not follow Christ.

    By the prayers of the Fathers of the 7th Ecumenical Council (celebrated today), may the Lord protect us from religion and any type of false belief.

  45. Joshua Donini Avatar
    Joshua Donini

    My former delusion pointed to Luke 16:31 as support for the end of miraculous events. “Scripture is all we need,” they would say.

  46. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    I, having been a Reformed Christian for many years, was never that bothered by cessationism – but now I see it as a byproduct of Sola Scriptura. If there was a miracle, it would be a new form of revelation, which could be consider on par with Scripture. The miraculous for the Reformed was only given as evidence of Jesus’ divinity and of the Apostle’s teaching which needed no further affirmation after the Canon. This is how they often treat the Resurrection and when combined with Penal Substitution, the Resurrection can be de-emphasized with only the death of Christ having soteriological significance for the most part.

    Just as determintal, to me, as a denail of the miraculous, is the denial of the work of Satan. Where are the exorcisms in Protestantism? The demonic was also seen as confirmation of the identity of the Messiah, of the Apostolic authority, and Satan takes a backseat.

    But all of this flows from their soteriology. Really there is no need for the miraculous, for exorcism, when your real need is a legal declaration of righteous due to Total Depravity. This is why I constantly try and emphasize in my posts and conversations with other Orthodox that the root of all of the Protestant-Orthodox confusion on the Protestant side is Original Sin.

    If Original Sin sets up the need for monergism, and it does whether synergism is affirmed here or there or not, then imaginatively you can razor off the unncessary; miracles, Satan, works, saints, etc…

    Thank you Father for this excellent post!

    Matthew

  47. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    I have been cautioned my whole life against spiritual delusion. First as a denominational Christian, regarding denominationally prescribed facts; than as I was exploring God, cautions of ontological delusion.

    My take as I grow has become that by their fruits, you shall know them.

    I don’t question delusions that bring me comfort in sadness, or those that push me to connect with others. Ones that convict me to repent when I do harm. I look to others who demonstrate the peace that I want, the Jerry Falwells, and the Jim and Tammy Fae Bakers of the world don’t demonstrate that peace; Fr Paisios did. The fruits of the Spirit are my guide, and I test them. In my mind, Satan gets no credit for them, and I ask myself what he might have to gain from them.

    What I do know is that the biggest spiritual delusion I feel I face, and share with others, is the belief that I live in a dead world. A world subject to the deistic notion of a clockwork mechanism, left on its own to wind itself down. The whole of progress is aimed at forestalling that inevitable entropy. It’s the compelling spirit of our age, and the most powerful delusion I face. Until I break free from that delusion. I don’t worry much about the other stuff.

  48. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Simon,

    I do not think that believing in miracles means becoming superstitious, but it should make us less skeptical. We had in our former church, the son of an older couple who had stage 4 cancer (I don’t remember what type but it was untreatable) and after prayer was fully healed. We, like Father has said, suffer from dividing the world into supernatural and natural. Miracles are therfore regarded as outside the normal Newtonian way of things, God breaking his own laws of nature, etc. But if the entire world is sacrament, the entire world a Narnia, then whle there is every reason to be skeptical because of dishonesty, we should be able to be more open and less-critical of “miraculous” since the “miraculous” is in other another sense the ordinary.

    I would recommend a 2 Volume set by Craig Keener, Miracles.

    Also, none of this takes anything away from the fact that Jesus appealed to his own miracles as proof of who he was, or that the Resurrection is the reason to believe Jesus is the Messiah. It just means that is not the only function of miracles.

    Last, I was expecially glad to find out some time ago, that Orthodox perform exorcisms over weeping icons and the like so be sure it is not a deception. So, the skepticism on the Orthodox part seems to be who’s behind a miracle where we have (speaking for myself) have trouble believing in miracles in general. You know the Jews never said that Jesus hadn’t performed miracles but that they were done by the power of Satan. G.K. Chesteron entertained the idea that maybe every sunrise God was saying, “Do it again.” If you’ve never read Orthodoxy by Chesterton, it is wonderfully refreshing.

    God bless you,
    Matthew

  49. John H Avatar
    John H

    Simon

    You asked for arguments based upon reason and common sense. Therefore I shall appeal to logic, mathematics and science.

    Firstly, logic. All of our experience reveals that our everyday reality consists of contingent, conditioned events. In short, everything depends on something else for its existence. For example, all of life on this planet depends upon the continuing existence of the esrth’s atmodphere. Without the presence of the atmosphere exerting pressure of approximately 15 pounds per square inch and providing us with oxygen and plants with CO2 all life on the earth would cease to be in a matter of moments.

    But the atmosphere itself is a contingent conditioned reality, which depends for its existence upon the presence of nitrogen and oxygen molecules, which are themselves contingent, depending for their existence upon atoms, subatomic particles, quantum fields and undoubtedly a grand unified field that physicists are now looking for.

    But every single one of the preceding realities is itself conditioned, depending for its continuing existence upon something else. But there cannot be an infinite regress of contingent, conditioned realities. One must admit that either the first contingent reality arises from nothing for no reason or that it is caused by an unconditioned necessary Reality, which everyone calls God. The former option is as absurd today as it was in the days of Parmenides and Heraclitus; Aristotle and Aquinas. Therefore there necessarily exists an uncondioned reality which constantly creates and sustains the reality thst we dwell in.

    He is ipsum esse subsistens, the pure Act of existence as such. For a much more airtight pithy statement of the foregoing argument, please see the Summa Theologiae First Part, Q. 2 or 3, especially Aquinas’s Second and Third Wsys.

    Sorry this post is already too long and I have covered only arguments based upon logic and metaphysics. Math and science must be addressed in a subsequent post.

  50. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Fr Stephen,
    When my son was finally diagnosed with pyloric stenosis, he was three months old and below birth weight. The medical personnel didn’t recognize the symptoms because he was breastfed (unheard of almost at that time and therefore I was accused as a ‘radical’ mother who was starving her child) and because their medical books said that the physical manifestation should be about the size of a walnut. Only because I stood in the doctor’s office and ‘demanded’ that my son be admitted into the hospital or that I be taken out of the office in a straight jacket (I was ready for that) did they admit him (perhaps just to get rid of me).

    The radiologist in the ER said the barium swallow went no further than my son’s clavicle level in his esophagus and insisted that a surgeon see him. The surgeon saw him but the palpitation revealed nothing and I was told that it was probably nothing and that I might have to finally take responsibility for his deteriorating condition. My hopes lied in what the radiologist privately told me, and I promised him I would tell no one else, since my son was about to be operated on and that they would likely find out what had gone wrong.

    He had the operation. They gave him no anesthetic because the medical field had proof that infants his age didn’t have a mature nervous system to perceive pain. One of the nurses told me screamed incessantly during the operation. I was told afterward what they did to him.

    They found the pyloric stenosis. It was the size of a grapefruit, not a walnut. Then I was told I was such a good mom for keeping him alive when just hours before I was told how bad a mom I was.

    I offer my opinion, for what it’s worth (nothing really ) now based not only on this experience but many years of work and study in the discipline of science. It is only when science, and the medical field that is dependent upon it, is treated as a ‘canon’ ie as a religion, that things go wrong. Of course that’s just part of my ‘hoary hypothesis’ ie opinion.

    His survival seemed to me to be a miracle. But I wasn’t a believer in Christ, just a believer in God the creator, at the time. I didn’t need to go around trying to convince others that there are such things as miracles. Nor did I perceive myself to be something special (ie blessed) I just accepted it and moved on. But it was experiences such as this that kept me privately aware and grateful.

    As always I’m grateful for your articles, Fr Stephen. This one in particular sheds a little more light on why I always regret when I tell stories such as this one. For most it’s only a story, perhaps something to be ‘consumed’ and nothing more. It seems that I waste my breath. Last, I ask for your prayers. I’m short on patience, lately. I’ve been in ‘teacher’ mode lately, and have been asked to conduct work this modality in my personal life. Sometimes I take that too seriously.

  51. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Lest I be misunderstood, treating science as a religion isn’t the only bad thing that we do but that among the things we do in science, treating it as a religion leads to much error.

  52. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Also, realizing the context of my submission, I believe it’s necessary to say that I’m not referring or responding to previous comments in this thread either. I sincerely appreciate all commentators’ words.

  53. Kevin Avatar
    Kevin

    I just finished reading “A Man Is His Faith” by Fr. Alexey Young. It’s short and to the point. Simon may find it useful. The second half deals with the Orthodox mindset and its vast difference from Western philosophy. All of us, I presume, are products of modern philosophy even if we don’t realize it. We’ve grown up in “The Matrix.” Orthodoxy is the red pill…or was it the blue one?…my memory of the movie has faded. Learning the truth isn’t the end of the war. It’s just the beginning.

  54. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thank you Father Stephen for sharing your meditations with us. What you say here blesses the soul. I am grateful for the hope you give in a seemingly hopeless world. What I have gathered after some reflection is that the eye that sees the world as sacrament (sacred space) is able to do so because it comprehends the significance Christ’s death and resurrection. (I recall Fr. Schmemann writing about the sacred and profane) And in that it knows the world as sacred, that is, redeemed, sees redeemed creation in Christ as death conquered and all things granted new life, miraculous. Thus, miracles are not looked upon as anomalies…a sacred act in a profane world, but are expected in a world redeemed by the crucified and risen Christ.
    I would add that miracles (weeping icons, healings) are also given for us to know God as Love – acts of grace and mercy (uncreated energies) as He reveals Himself to us, in His love for mankind, not only to give Him praise, but that all who see would believe.

  55. ME Avatar
    ME

    Dear Father, What influenced the Protestant reformers? Did they also study Classical Philosophy and tend toward Stoic thinkers rather than Platonists? I am supposing they had the normal education of their times!

  56. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    ME,
    It’s a question with a very complex answer. Both Luther and Calvin were trained in Medieval Scholastic thought. They were not particular philosophically trained in any of the schools. To a large extent, they would best be described as “Nominalists” – which was gaining strength at the time.

    Luther’s work would have disappeared, most likely, has the timing been different. It was the sponsorship of a political power that gave him and audience and protection to do his work. The Reformation was at least as much about politics as it was about belief. It was the greatest political revolution, I think, of almost any time – giving birth to the modern world. Almost all of its effects were unintended.

    I recommend the book The Unintended Reformation for a good, thorough, historical analysis of the Reformation.

  57. juliania Avatar
    juliania

    Thank you, Father Freeman, for the reflections on miracles in your post. And since Dostoevski has already been quoted, here is what he, the author, says at the beginning of his last novel:

    “… it seems to me that Alyosha was even more a realist than the rest of us. Oh, of course, in the monastery he believed absolutely in miracles, but in my opinion miracles will never confound a realist. It is not miracles that bring a realist to faith. A true realist, if he is not a believer, will always find in himself the strength and ability not to believe in miracles as well, and if a miracle stands before him as an irrefutable fact, he will sooner doubt his own senses than admit the fact. And even if he does admit it, he will admit it as a fact of nature that was previously unknown to him. In the realist, faith is not born from miracles, but miracles from faith…”

    The contrast between brothers in the novel is that both Ivan and Alyosha are realists. And while Ivan’s agony as a non-believer is more dramatic, it seems to me it is Alyosha’s path through that same agony that is more affirming, more applicable to our own modern day struggles. Because he succeeds, not from his own effort but by the gift of Grushenka’s onion – the most unlikely place to find grace in the context of the novel.
    “Do you see this woman?”

  58. Mario Avatar
    Mario

    Thank you Father for this well needed article. It seems as though cessationism contradicts itself to the degree of ignoring the commandments found in the New Testament Scriptures. For example we are commanded to go to the elders of the Church to pray over us and anoint us with oil if we are sick How can one reconcile their belief in the philosophy and heresy of cessationism after reading instructions from the scriptures, which would quite clearly have to be ignored.

    Or how about when Paul encourages us to ask for the spiritual gifts? and by this I mean in the Orthodox Tradition. With cessationism this would be in vain, or would they argue it doesn’t apply to us today.

    So with the philosophy of cessationism, there is the Ceasing of miracles; No commandments to follow; No grace, and in the end no God! It is the willful action in refusing to see and experience God’s grace at work through His people. Sounds like spiritual blindness par excellence.

    Miracles have not ceased, neither through the Saints and recent elders and even faithful lay people. Our Holy Elder Sophrony of Essex was told he didn’t have long to live, and even though he had his stomach removed because of cancer he didn’t die till he was 97! (1896 to 1993) and many had been healed even when he was still alive on earth. The amazing thing was that even though his stomach was surgically removed, over time he had grown another, albeit a smaller one. Isn’t that incredible!

  59. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Michael Bauman,
    Seeing God’s providence in the sense of: wilfully shifting our focus away from wanting to be forcefully “hit by it in the face” in order to see it, towards trying to do ourselves what is in our power to see it, is not some delusion, but the genuine good-willed thankfulness that makes a saint of man in seconds. The acceptance of our powerlessness combined with gratefulness for all that God allows, is a jump from hell to paradise.
    God will always be doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves. In AA they say if a recovering alcoholic grabs a bottle of booze that’s open and puts it up to his mouth defying God and men and all, God is so powerful and so unwavering in His unconditional love towards us that He clearly can knock that bottle right out, but statistically His providence doesn’t do it so obviously. What would addicts need the 12 Step programme for if God were going to do it all?
    Let’s put it another way. Have you heard of ‘the bread of shame’? What’s the bread of shame? It’s kind of an unusual expression. Well, picture this story I came across. A young kid is on a baseball team, junior league, and he is hitting a home run with every single pitch. Every pitch! He knocks that ball right out of the field. The crowd is cheering. He wins the game for them! They lift him up. They carry him around. The crowd is cheering and he feels so wonderful. And then the next day, he finds that his father paid the pitcher to send him only good pitches and he paid the crowd to cheer, absolutely everything was rigged in his favour, and he goes into depression and shame. So, if God did all this for us, which He easily can (there is nothing else but God), then this would be the result.
    God’s greatest individualised gift to us is this odd combo of our free-will with His providence. This way, when we’re eventually saved – by Him, yet with our small input too (which is choosing to allow God’s will to pass through us) – we experience this salvation, with this odd combo of ownership and utter humility.

  60. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I think the pitcher story is a helpful story, Dino. Thank you for that.

  61. Andrew in BG Avatar
    Andrew in BG

    Yesterday at Coffee Hour after the Divine Liturgy I was, well, trying to socialize with some other 20somethings. I didn’t feel much connection unfortunately…In my old graceless I would have simply written these people off as not intentionally spiritual enough, or else we would have hit it off immediately. That’s an easy tangent. One of them remarked that while she has a severe gluten allergy, the weekly reception of the Eucharist never gives her any problems. I felt awe. What more does this traveller need to hold fast to regarding the Grace in the Church’s Mysteries, then a personal anecdote such as that? Humility! Wonders never cease.

  62. John H Avatar
    John H

    Dear Simon;

    Following up my previous post, it is interesting to observe that most of the Fathers and Scholastic Philosophers did not see any conflict between reason and faith, science and religion.

    That confidence is amply justified. For example, contemporary physics confirms the patriotic bejiel that both the world and time itself have an absolute beginning. Three current scientific theories confirm the aforementioned belief.

    Firstly, the Borde Vilenkin Guth theory holds that in any universe where the rate of expansion is greater then zero, there must exist a point at which everything began. Most contemporary cosmologists think that the beginning of everything was the Big Bang singularity, which occurred about 13.5 billion years ago. At the Big Bang singularity the laws of physics break down and the curvature of spacetime becomes infinite, which means that it does not make any sense to ask what happened prior to the Big Bang. Only a transcendent cause is a sufficient explanation of what set the Big Bang in motion.

    Secondly, it is an observable fact that we live in a universe with extremely low entropy. Indeed, if the amount of disorder/entropy were greater, than galaxies, stars, plannets.and complex living organisms could not exist. The second law of thermodynamics states that the amount of entropy in our universe increases with the passage of time. So if one assumes that past time is infinite, than the universe would have reached a state of maximal entropy long ago. Meaning the current universe as we know it would have ceased to be long ago and therefore we would not be here either. Thus, the assumption that past time is infinite is obviously incorrect. Contrary to Aristotle’s belief, the world is not eternal, indeed contemporary physics shows that it cannot be.

    Third and finally, it is also an observable fact that certain universal constants, like the value of the gravitational constant or the mass of a proton are finely tuned to support the existence of the current universe with its diverse galaxies, stars, plannets and intelligent life. If the value of the gravitational constant decreased even by a small amount, then galaxies, stars, etc. would not exist. Similarly, if the mass of a proton was slightly greater, than atoms/matter as we know it could not exist. This strongly suggests that the value of such universal constants was intentionally determined by an intelligent designer Who willed the universe to be in the form in which we find it. By the way, the odds that the constants just happened to randomly assume the values needed to support a universe hospitable to life are infinitesimal: something like 1 divided by 10 to the 23rd raised to 10 to the 23rd.

  63. Kevin Avatar
    Kevin

    Just a note: the idea of a singularity before the “Big Bang” has disappeared in favor of “cosmic inflation” from a small, but definite, initial state to a state where matter and energy condense out, for lack of a better term, of the inflating universe. The analogy of the universe exploding into existence from a single point is outdated. If you think about it, a singularity has no volume. Nothing can come from zero, so there must be an initial volume. Practically, it’s the same, though. The state before “inflation” may remain unknowable.

  64. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thanks Kevin interesting perspective. What the Stanford group has been doing of late involved singularity and I heard they got pushback.

  65. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I hope this isn’t too far off the target of Fr Stephen’s article, but since John and Kevin mention it, I have copied a link to a discussion for general lay public reading, put out by Stanford U. The article describes how distasteful it is for some physicists to find that some of our best theories of our universe’s origins take into consideration the anthropic principle. And it is interesting to note how a theory seems suspect because it appears to support the anthropic explanation. One description of this explanation is that of all universes that might be possible, the one we’re in just happens to have laws that support life capable of reflecting upon itself.

    The very fact that this is simply the way things are is how most of us might think–not giving it more thought than that. But for scientists (physicists specifically) who want to describe the universe in the form of equations, taking account of the existence of life does put a monkey wrench into the works, so to speak. All that I’m doing by bringing this into the blog is to give a kind of bird’s eye view of what entanglements scientists get into when they want to avoid topics or theories that might be construed to resemble ‘intelligent design’.

    Theories such as Landscape Theory, undergo heavy debate not just about the data (or the lack of it) itself, but what for it might suggest (ie intelligent design). And some theories (even while they appear to be supportive of an anthropic explanation) do not have corroborating evidence but are taken seriously (ie not treated as mere speculation) because of the explanatory power they offer. I’m saying all of this because I have had conversations here in this blog prior to this particular comment stream to suggest that when I do certain kinds of work in science (physical chemistry) that is not deductive but more inductive in nature, it’s taken as though I have stopped doing science altogether, as though I’m inventing some sort of fantasy. Such a response is somewhat insulting, but more than that, such a perspective doesn’t seem to have been introduced to the practice of science itself.

    I’ll repeat what I’ve said in the past (several times now), science revealed the icon of Christ’s resurrection in nature to me. For that reason, among others, I have a great appreciation for Fr Stephen’s writings about modernism and its effects on our thinking about God and on our thinking about reality. Due to the historical impact of the Reformation that Fr Stephen describes, such an observation (of Christ’s icon in nature) seems far-fetched and contrived for some people in this society. Concomitant with that observation (that I’m living in a fantasy) is the assumption that science must be very circumscribed by very tight parameters of praxis. To some extent it is circumscribed by very tight parameters in the deductive modality. But the reality of doing science is simply not that alone. There’s actually a lot more to it than that.

    For those interested here is the link:
    https://news.stanford.edu/2018/09/10/landscape-theory/

    I will also mention that I’m not responding to what John or Kevin have written specifically, but their comments have stimulated a memory of earlier conversations.

  66. Yvette Cathers Avatar
    Yvette Cathers

    Fr Stephen, I’m thick-headed.
    Your response to my question:
    “Yvette,
    I meant that, from the secular perspective, the world does not speak. From within the faith and the life of providence, it shouts.”

    Do you mean that the secular world cannot hear the shouts of the world, and that the faithful can?

  67. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yvette,
    Yes. Indeed. You’re not thick-headed – I’m just writing very thinly. 🙂

  68. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    Andrew in BG – I have gluten intolerance also and take Holy Communion with no ill effects whatsoever. When I first considered becoming Orthodox, this was a huge concern of mine. My parish priest told me that the Church teaches that the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ and that NOTHING detrimental could ever come from partaking of the Holy Mysteries. He also told me that there were several other members of this parish who had celiac and took Holy Communion with no ill effects. I spoke with them and they shared their experiences with me. Several of them were eldlerly and several of them were children. None of them eat the prosphora or blessed bread. The mother of two of the children was blessed by our priest to make gluten-free prosphora for her children so they would not feel left out. I have been taking Holy Communion now for 13 years without ever experiencing any of the symptoms associated with my intolerance to gluten (terrible rash among other things). And yes, it has significantly increased my faith in Christ and the Truth of Who He is.

  69. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    I cant help thinking that jokingly belittling “flying monks” and the like has quite a few scriptural testaments to the contrary
    Philip in acts comes to mind.

  70. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    ” When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. “

  71. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    That scripture doesnt say that Philip flew.

  72. Deborah Avatar
    Deborah

    Thank you. I think I have always believed what you have written as truth but have been taught otherwise. What a joy to read this article! “There is only miracle”! Amen!

  73. John H Avatar
    John H

    Simon,

    I would recommend the following 2 books to you; The Experience ofFod by DavidBentley Hart andNew Prrofs for the Existence of God by Robert Spitzer, SJ. They are far better than I at responding to arguments raised by New Atheists and Secularists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. Plus there are no typos;I apologize for the ones in my posts.

  74. John H Avatar
    John H

    The Experience of God by David Bentley Hart and New Proofs for the Existence of God by Robert Spitzer, SJ.

    That last post was particularly ugly. Definitely should not write during the morning commute on a small iPhone.

  75. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dee,
    I am glad you provided that link. After the comments above regarding those particular theories, I wondered, in my mind, what is the purpose of all this knowledge. It is an innocent question, and asked in ignorance, coming from one who has no bent whatsoever in what I call the “hard sciences”. I believe it has a purpose, and trust it is a worthy one. So I look to learn, to the best of my ability. I have even read articles in the past about the theories mentioned in the link.
    One of the thoughts I come away after reading the Sanford article is this: those scientists who are convinced that unseen energies which, for example, take the form of “strings” or do not even have form, i.e. a graviton really do exist, wouldn’t have to take too far of a leap to believe in miracles, nonetheless the existence of an Intelligent Designer. Again, I ask ignorantly….if it were as like you and Susskind say, that all the results point to intelligent design, are others who continually reject such a thing afraid their work will come to and end, or drastically change?
    Thanks again Dee for your input. I appreciate your honesty.

  76. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Paula, Dee, et al,
    I think that the more we read and understand the present serious discussions regarding cosmology (how things began and what they really are) the clearer it seems to me that the split between natural and supernatural or between normal and miracle are quite artificial, have no basis in reality and are an outmoded way of thinking about the world. And they are bad theology. 🙂

  77. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Father…your comment above…I’d have to agree!
    Thank you….

  78. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you Paula for your good question. The reasons that scientists reject a theory because of its appearance to have an anthropic explanation, will likely vary with each scientist who reject a theory on that principle. When science is narrowly defined by a scientist, their own reasons for making such a definition so narrow (in contrast to what actually happens) is likely related to their desire to constrain their own and other’s practice of it. Or at the very least, to imagine that is all that is done by their definition, keeps it from being co-opted by interests and philosophies other than their own. But the narrow definition actually doesn’t operationally ‘protect’ the practice. It is done in the way that it is done for a host of reasons, including those that are honestly looking for a reasonably good explanation. Politics plays a part in the findings of science these days among other influences. In this latter situation I encourage the reading of Nature Journal, which has a wide (cross political boundaries) editorial board and peer review, before other journals which might be more easily influenced by local politics.

    But in the end, I believe Fr Stephen’s description of the influence of modernity on the society at large, offers an explanation on why society itself and their scientists (physicists in this case) are uncomfortable with the anthropic explanation-leaning theories.
    Thank you, Paula, for your interest in my comment!

  79. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I just saw your comment Fr Stephen, and yes, indeed.

  80. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thanks so much Dee. You understood well my question where I sensed a “protection of the practice”. I appreciate your helpful response.

  81. Yvette Cathers Avatar
    Yvette Cathers

    Thank you so much. You don’t “write thinly.” Your articles are always very clear and cogent. I’m just starting to get my senior brain is all.

  82. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yvette,
    At age 64, my brain is getting on with age, more wrinkles!

  83. Yvette Cathers Avatar
    Yvette Cathers

    I’m only 55 and already walk like Fred Sanford. I don’t know if I’m pushing 60 or dragging 50. lol

  84. Burro (Mule Chewing Briars) Avatar
    Burro (Mule Chewing Briars)

    Father Stephen et ominia –

    I had been thinking a great deal about “common sense” and what it entails. My wife is from South America and it is common-sense for her not to serve the family foods that are incompatible; “hot” foods such as milk and cheese do not square with “cold” foods like fish or spinach. I learned this after making the whole family ill with a spinach souffle that, according to her, was prepared improperly owing to my gringo ignorance of the qualities of the ingredients involved. I have learned at least not to discount her concerns simply because I don’t understand them.

    Her father has kept a diagnosis of prostate cancer at bay for 20 years by self-treating himself with a regimen of ‘cold’ Amazonian herbs and plants that I find dizzying, but which is common sense to him. He also does not ignore his American doctor’s advice to avoid meats and dairy, even though, like me, he doesn’t understand why it’s bad for him.

    I guess “common sense” is part of the noia which we are supposed to meta

  85. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    This topic is relevant to me at a fairly basic level, and speaks directly to the spiritual delusions I mentioned earlier. It is frequently assumed that I have not fully converted to the Orthodox Church because of my family.
    That is not true.

    When I visit the Church, and see the communicants venerate the icons, I have read and recognize the importance of what they do. That the worshipers are experiencing something is obvious, I believe that they experience a connection to another transcendent reality vital to their life and the life of the Church. Yet, growing up as I did, with the circumscribed God that I did, believing the things that I have, this is still something I cannot do. A part of me is still suspicious of giving myself over to this reality that frankly seems almost to good to be true.

    Having lived with very “human” Gods who feel pride, anger, and indignation. I still feel as though I am an Other, something separate. Therefore, when I speak of my experiences, I speak of my inability to fully commit to the transcendent God that I want to believe exists within Orthodoxy.

  86. Dee St Hermans Avatar
    Dee St Hermans

    Hi Matthew,
    I apologize I don’t remember whether you mentioned you’ve converted. But I think that it does take time, almost like being in a foreign country, to become accustomed to the ways of Orthodox worship and life ways. It’s somewhat funny to myself now, but when I first saw parishioners kissing the hand of the priest, I was absolutely certain I would never do that, nor kiss icons for that matter. My heart changed in the matter, but I really don’t know how it changed, as I’m not really inclined to do what others do, just to become ‘one of the pack’ so to speak.

    But I am shy about kissing the priest’s hand in front of others who are not Orthodox. I find that curious and interesting too.

    I’m not sure why someone would think you’re not Orthodox because of your family. Are you saying simply that you’re not ‘cradle’ Orthodox? If so then I get what you’re saying, I believe.

    Also I can relate to what you’re saying in the last paragraph. Sometimes I struggle with the Old Testament stories because of the language used to describe God. That language is heavily imbued with a Protestant culture’s meaning. I hope I’m not sounding critical but I’m referring to our culture at large which has been heavily influenced by the (unintended) effects of the Reformation. I find I have to work to extract my brain from it, and I’m aware that I’m not always successful with that effort, either.

    May God bless you Matthew and bring you peace.

  87. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    The god of the OT is not a god anyone ought to worship. He is cruel and vindictive. The OC has a history of acknowledging that if the OT stories were intended top be taken literally then we should be offended. Now I believe that these stories were taken literally for hundreds of years–maybe as many as 1500 – 2000 years. The Church believes that not only can the OT be read allegorically, but it should be read allegorically. So, it isn’t just a Protestant reading of the OT that makes it offensive. That isn’t fair. In my opinion, when the OT is taken literally the god of the OT is indistinguishable from the devil. When read allegorically, or as they say noetically, the OT reveals Christ, God, and salvation. I thinkt hat is the most fair thing I can say about it.

  88. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    I would have loved to have heard what Jesus said to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. He opened their understanding as He took them through Moses and the prophets pointing out the places which spoke of Him (still largely veiled without the Church’s understanding). My heart would have burned within me also upon hearing His interpretation! Indeed, the OT is only understood correctly through Christ and His Pascha.

  89. Kevin Avatar
    Kevin

    The heretic Marcian didn’t like the OT and went so far as to say that it wasn’t even God in the OT, but something lower. Orthodox Christianity is a continuation of OT “Christianity.” The righteous of the OT were looking forward to Christ, but we have the privilege of being on this side of the Cross. We get to read the story from the end. We can’t disavow the OT. Unpleasant things happened, but why should that surprise or offend us? Christ had not come. Israel was in the midst of brutal, idolatrous nations. They became brutal and idolatrous at times, too. God commanded them to do some difficult things for particular reasons that only existed at those times. There was a time when it was right for the Allies to bomb Germans and Japanese. In May and August, 1945, it ceased being right. Christ put an end to the idea of Israel as an earthly kingdom. That kind of war is over. Orthodoxy retains the OT so that we can read it through the Cross on one level, but also take the good and bad examples from it on a practical level.

  90. Karen Avatar
    Karen

    Kevin,

    I’m no expert in patristic interpretation of the OT, but I think perhaps the Fathers did not even believe it necessary to justify OT history as that commanding genocide was “right for God to do at that time.” Christ is the key to the interpretation of the OT. He taught us to love even our enemies, and the Scriptures say, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” St. Paul wrote in Romans 8, “if God is for us, who can be against us.” An artist at the publisher where I used to work is widely known for his artistic calligraphy. He produced a piece when I worked there from this passage which simply read “God is *for* us.” That is a bottom line truth revealed in the gospel it seems to me we must not compromise by offering our own human rationalizations for why the OT writers wrote their narrative histories the way they did.

  91. Karen Avatar
    Karen

    Simon,

    I largely missed most of this discussion in the other thread that prompted Fr. Stephen’s first comment on this thread, but have now gone back and gotten myself up to speed..

    All modern (and all non-Orthodox) approaches to reading the Scriptures are riddled with potential hazards as you from your own experiences are all too keenly aware. The God who has revealed Himself in the Incarnation has revealed Himself as the Lover and Redeemer of all humanity, of even His enemies!

    You are right to argue against literalist applications and readings of the OT. Keep focused on Jesus in the Gospels, and remember this is the greatest Revelation of what God is like ever given to humankind.

    1. We *all* both love God and do not love Him (perfectly) at the same time. Any soul that yearns for wholeness, truth, beauty, connectedness, or who is capable of love for any other human being, etc., genuinely loves God as well.

    2. God is present even when you do not see Him. He has carried you this far and I believe has freely and willingly committed Himself to go the distance with all of us and to complete the work He has begun in each of us—*especially* those of us who have been most wounded by our enemy and who feel the least capable of being pleasing to Him (“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”). Having pursued us all the way into Hell, He will never leave us nor forsake us, even though we dwell in the lowest parts of the earth. Do or say what you will, you will never, ever, EVER exhaust His patience or loving good will toward you.

    3. I, alone in my family, was chrismated into Orthodoxy Holy Saturday 2007. My husband has remained Evangelical in a congregation where “believer’s baptism” is taught. Our children were ages seven and ten when I converted and we became a two-church family, having “dedicated” our children to God when they were infants. This left us in a quandary and in limbo about what we should do with our kids regarding their Christian baptism. I never felt right about pushing unilaterally for their baptism in the Orthodox faith, so I have just made all this a matter of prayer and we have always made it clear to our kids a) it is normal for Christians to be baptized, and b) if they desire baptism, we will support their decision to be baptized no matter which church they opt to be baptized in. My son (at age 21) for the time being has become one of the “nones”. He is agnostic about many aspects of traditional Christian teaching and has not been baptized. He is an amazing young man, and I am so proud to be his mom. I pray for his salvation every day, but no more so than for my own! We committed him to the care of the Lord (and to His Holy Mother) when he was little, and I know he will be ok, no matter what comes. My special needs daughter, at her request, was received by Holy Baptism into the Church at my parish this past August. It was a most blessed event. It was more than ten years in the making. As Fr. Stephen likes to remind us, “God is not in a hurry and neither need we be.” God is good all the time. We change, but He never does.

    As always, you are in my feeble prayers as well. It is a privilege to be able to pray for and with those in this little online “community”. Kind regards….

  92. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Kevin,
    It is frequently the case that the example of Marcion is misused – and any critical treatment of the OT lumped together with him. A very dangerous matter, in terms of the heart, is that Christians, driven by a mistaken understanding of Scripture, will find it necessary to justify genocidal actions as worthy of God – in the circumstances – as though He were just doing the best He could. I think this is both inadequate and, as noted, dangerous for the heart.

    There is, throughout the Fathers and the early Church, a discomfort with things like the violence in the OT. They responded to that discomfort in a variety of ways – some more adequately than others. The fathers are not a single, solid, voice. They are more like a chorus and we have to listen to them as a whole.

    I personally appreciate the distinction offered by both St. Maximus in the East and St. Ambrose in the West. They described the OT as “shadow,” the NT as “icon,” and the Age to Come as the Reality itself. As shadow, we can see only the “outlines” of the revelation in Jesus Christ – but such things as the violence, etc., certainly keep it hidden to some extent.

    In Christ, we see the true image of our salvation, with great detail. In the age to come, we will know even as we are known.

    Though it is perhaps correct to speak of OT and NT as One Church (Khomiakov famously did so), it is best, when saying this, to understand that the beginning of the Church is Christ’s Pascha and not that which, historically, went before Him. He is the Beginning and the End. We may say that the OT participates in that which is made known in Christ, though we must dig beneath the surface, or better, look to the icon of the NT and the Reality of the age to come, in order to discern the truth of the OT.

    I am aware that, in saying this, I have some critics. I remain convinced that their arguments are far more in line with neo-Protestant readings and less with the Fathers – particularly as a chorus.

    And that, of course, creates a problem. I’ve been confronted before with a long citing of quotes drawn from this place and another, that will seem like the “chorus.” I think that such florilegia are notoriously unreliable. If someone hears a different chorus than I do, then I will let God be the judge (and my bishops, whose judgment in this matter seems to be on my side).

    Simon tends to state things a bit strongly (such is his temperament). But, it is hard to argue that the imagery drawn out in the OT (if not read through Christ’s Pascha) would hardly be the stuff that drew us to belief in the One true God. I would prefer that this not become a longer conversation, unless there are questions that need to be asked.

  93. Panayiota Avatar
    Panayiota

    Just to make c comment about kissing the priests’ hand…
    When one does kiss the hand of the clergy, is because this is the hand that administers the Eucharist. It has nothing to do with the western expression of kissing the ring of a hierarch.

  94. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Yes definitely Panayiota! I appreciate your elaboration on that. And for that reason, those who do not understand or who are not OC (or both) regarding the meaning and the receiving of the Eucharist, may misinterpret the kissing of the priest’s hand–which is I suppose one reason why I’m shy about doing it in front of others who are not in the faith.

  95. Panayiota Avatar
    Panayiota

    I know what you mean Dee. Then there are those priest who quickly take away their hand so you don’t kiss it. It can be confusing even to us Orthodox.
    We’re supposed to greet one another with the kiss of peace, but I have definitely noticed that makes people uncomfortable. They recoil:) not the reaction I intended.

  96. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    I thought that we also kissed the Priest’s hand because he is a representative of Christ. Is this an incorrect understanding?

  97. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Simon,
    On the ideas of secularism, and Protestantism, my perspective (specific to my non-protestant and non-western european cultural history) is to see secularism as a very “protestant”-related perception. And in school, it was both my mother’s (and as a child, it became my own) perspective, that what I was supposed to learn in school was the protestant/secular understanding of the world. A Seminole view of the world (not originally Christian) is actually vastly different, from the secularist/protestant view. From the Seminole culture perspective, my capacity to successfully live in the ‘outer’ culture was to learn how to speak and navigate in the ideas of the greater culture. In the process of that navigation, secularism and protestantism were the same entity as they had come from the same source.

    As I have participated in this blog, I have learned from Fr Stephen, that it isn’t only from the perspective of the Seminole culture, that there is a rather close relationship between the two, specifically between secularism and protestantism.

    I’m not trying to assign some attribute to all Protestants. Not only is that not fair, but I don’t in the least believe it to be true. Nevertheless, having lived in the dominant culture for all my life, the effects of that world view have been noticed, primarily because I had originally a different cultural background as a child. Therefore I notice its effects and unintentionally drop into that perspective despite myself, out of long years of navigating in those waters.

  98. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    Dee – During my college days, i found this book by Max Weber to be quite fascinating even though I was still a very long way from becoming a Christian of any kind, and I had no clue that Orthodoxy even existed. No idea if it would be of interest to you, but I share it just in case.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Protestant_Ethic_and_the_Spirit_of_Capitalism

  99. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thanks Esmee, I’ve taken a look and will read it in full later this evening. I really appreciate this.

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