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. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Allow me to say that I have found allegorical interpretations of the OT very meaningful and insightful. Some years ago I read an article that a friend gave me on a Jewish mystical interpretation of Exodus. It mapped the stages of enslavement to breaking the yoke of Pharaoh to the sojourn through the desert to the conquest of the promised land to the stages of liberating the soul from the world to realization of the Immanence of the Divine. It seems to me that is the only proper way to understand those ‘myths.’ And if you look closely there is a strong mapping of those events to a person’s spiritual journey.

    As for my temperament, my apologies. I don’t water down my indignation at the horrible things human beings have done in the name of God. I would rather feel the shock and horror than allow myself to become comfortable with the thinking that ‘Well, God knows best . If God ordered the genocide of those people, then they must have deserved it (shoulder shrug).’ There are people who think like that. I do not want to be one of those people.

  2. Kevin Avatar
    Kevin

    I don’t see why we can’t interpret OT events allegorically without soft-pedaling the historical narrative. If we find the wholesale slaughter of a city distasteful, what about all the first-born Egyptians that God Himself struck down at Passover? How many people was that? Their sins may have been no better or worse than those of the Canaanites. I get the patristic idea of emphasizing the spiritual dimension of those events for the Church, but we also have modern scholars allegorizing the OT away almost entirely because their humanistic sensibilities are offended. In the 20th century, we saw “total war” and that leaves people with two opposing sentiments–horror at what was done and horror at the thought of what would have happened if it wasn’t done. Maybe I have a warped mindset, but I can read the OT and get the “logic” of what is described there given the course of Israel’s history after that time. Many Israelites were spiritually destroyed by the pagan religions of those nations they never completely dealt with and idolatry was an issue until the Babylonians exiled Judah. I suppose this is dealt with in another post and I’ll have to go digging for it rather than get it figured out here.

  3. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Father Stephen, some thoughts and a questions…
    Maybe a better question would be, why does violence still continue to this day. Maybe the difficulty in trying to square the violence in the OT in light of the New is because we think the sharp division between the Testaments is with God. But yet we know He is of the same mind, in the Old and in the New. Only the the revelation of Himself in Christ is what changed for mankind. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. So would it be correct to say that as far as violence goes, it has not changed (in fact, some would say it has escalated), because God (the same yesterday, today and forever), from the beginning, is working for our salvation through every thought, word and deed of mankind that has and will come to pass ? Violence is still with us. The only difference, and literally a world of difference for us, is the revelation of Jesus Christ (the same yesterday, today and forever), Who has shown us the way to peace (which is really peace with God) in His passion. And in our earthly journey we look for the coming age when all will finally be gathered together in Christ and violence, sin, and all manner of evil will be no more. Yes?
    What I’m trying to say is violence has always existed and still does. If some blame God, saying He allowed it to happen (in the OT)…well, do they now blame Christ for the OT violence and its continuation? If not, why? He was there too….

    The same yesterday, today and forever.

  4. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Also Thanks Simon for the description of the teaching approach used regarding OT readings. We witness this approach frequently in how they are treated in the Liturgical services. And we might miss it unless we’re paying attention to the juxtaposition of the stories to the Gospel stories or to feast-related services.

    I’ve learned a new word today: florilegia

    I appreciate your helpful comment Fr Stephen, for many more reasons than that. But also enjoy learning new vocabulary too. Thank you!

  5. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Paula, I believe you raise an interesting question:

    If some blame God, saying He allowed it to happen (in the OT)…well, do they now blame Christ for the OT violence and its continuation? If not, why? He was there too….,

    Since I wasn’t introduced to Protestant theology, I don’t know but sense that there is a perception that Christ ameliorated God’s wrath, and so the thinking is something like “that was the ‘old’ God and now due to Christ’s payment for our debts, God is now satisfied and we can now move on”. Also, I haven’t heard of a Protestant view that sees Christ as an ‘actor’ in the OT, since it’s seen as a historical work and “BC”.

    I don’t want to encourage a discussion off of Fr Stephen’s article however. It is the case that we see (or don’t see) certain things (as also indicated in the article that Esmee linked) because of the limitation of the ‘eyes’ of the protestant view in this culture. And getting back to Fr Stephen’s point, these ‘eyes’ prevent us from seeing many things, including ‘mundane’ miracles, in a revelatory way.

  6. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thanks Dee…yes, for 12 years I was in the non-denominational churches and as far as I can recall only the prophesies about Christ were spoken of. But you are right, no direct action on His part. I do remember one pastor touching on theophanies. He said they were “very interesting”, but didn’t go any further. It was as if the God in the OT we read of was God the Father, then when the time was right, He sent His Son. Although we believed in the Trinity, it was, how do I say, blurry concept.

  7. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I get the impression that some on the blog think that naturalism appeared on the world scene with the rise of modernity or in the West. That isn’t true. Daoism is a very naturalistic religion. Really, because Daoism is so completely naturalistic even in its metaphysic, what you see is a confidence that when you understand the ebb and flow of Yin and Yang, then Yin may be conserved and immortality achieved. In other words, when you understand how the system works, it can be controlled for good ends. Tai’Chi and the I Ching only make sense in a world governed by the deterministic nature of Yin and Yang, It isn’t that the Daoists don’t revere the gods. They do. But, even the gods are subject to the Dao. You know what the Daoists don’t fret over? Questions about why there is evil and human suffering in the world. The Dao is impersonal and the Yin and Yang ebb and flow naturally. Human suffering is problematic in Christianity because God is supposedly our Father who loves and cares for us, he is all knowing, all wise, and all powerful. If all these omni attributes are true, then why do the innocent suffer? Why doesn’t God help? It isn’t a mystery. At best it just doesn’t make sense and at worst it is an outright contradiction.

  8. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    I can’t help but think that a significant interpretative principle, (i.e.: the temporality of our current experience of suffering which leads to an eternity of heavenly glory), one that classical Christianity always retained, is completely lost in the manner we criticise OT -or any other sufferings/violence etc. How can that be?
    Kevin touched on it by mentioning our “humanistic sensibilities being offended”. He brought another ‘angle’ by reminding us that “in the 20th century, we saw “total war” and that leaves people with two opposing sentiments–horror at what was done and horror at the thought of what would have happened if it wasn’t done”.
    Forgetting this principle makes for the “problematic” of what Simon described as” “human suffering is problematic in Christianity because God is supposedly our Father who loves and cares for us, he is all knowing, all wise, and all powerful. If all these omni attributes are true, then why do the innocent suffer? Why doesn’t God help? It isn’t a mystery. At best it just doesn’t make sense and at worst it is an outright contradiction”.
    According to classical Christianity it is a mystery indeed!
    So when temporal suffering, death etc is viewed by our (often secularly/humanistically influenced) lens, forgetting the classical Christian saying of virtually all martyrs:

    “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)

    we miss the mystery of mysteries and accuse God, like the tortures of the martyrs often did in the face of the unspeakable suffering and weakness they witnessed (while –few– others interpreted the same as unspeakable bravery), saying: “descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”
    (Mark 15:32)

  9. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Kevin,
    There is no hard-and-fast rule about reading the OT and it is probably useless to belabor the point. It is sufficient to me that I see in a number of the Fathers a rejection of a literal reading when, as noted in a comment above citing Augustine, the literal reading would contradict the clear teaching of Christ. However, there are indeed others, including among the fathers, who are not troubled by this and do, more or less, what you are describing. We fail, I think, when we presume to force these readings on one another.

    What we must do in common, however, is recognize that the OT is inspired Scripture – reading it – we can see Christ’s Pascha. We might see many other things, which, for me, is neither here nor there. It is Christ who said of the OT Scriptures, “These are they which testify of me.” That is sufficient.

    As to why some are troubled with treating the violent accounts in a literal manner – is clearly because they have trouble with depicting God as the author of evil and are even more troubled with the notion of depicting God as the author of genocide. Given how many times in modern history such a depiction has been used to justify modern actions of genocide – that abhorrence seems warranted.

    However, it is wrong to simply remove such passages or ignore them. They are Scripture for us. The allegorical treatment of say, “Dash their little ones’ heads against a stone” (Ps 137:9), reads it as dashing our little wicked temptations and thoughts against the rock of Christ. To read it literally is more than abhorrent. I do not think I have ever seen a Patristic treatment of that verse that is anything other than allegorical. There is no way, in heaven or in earth, in which that verse can be squared (on a literally level) with Christ. Not then, not now. No is “blessed” for smashing the head of a child. How could a Christian possibly think that?

    Did the author think so? Probably. We do not read for “authorial intent.” We read for Christ.

    These are matters that require a good amount of thought – and, I might say – a bit of adjusting on the part of modern readers. A book that I recommend, though it is not easy, is Discerning the Mystery by Fr. Andrew Louth.

    Again, I would request that we not belabor this question in the thread.

  10. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Correction: *torturers of the martyrs.

    To clarify we mustn’t in our offense at suffering throw out the baby with the bathwater forgetting the centrality of the (outwardly “foolishh” & contradictory) faith (that considers present sufferings as not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us, that our strength is found in our weakness), and then demanding the ‘descent now from the cross’, that we may see and believe…

  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dino,
    I think it can be a hard word and a difficult approach – and – easily misunderstood. Christ’s Pascha, His union with us and everyone in our suffering, can be discerned in even the most troubling of passages. But I would caution, at least here in this setting, putting to much emphasis on paradox and contradiction. I would approach it differently – with different examples.

  12. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Fr., THANK YOU for that.
    For me it is important that we be true to the complexity and complications that the world, the scripture, or anything else that is presented to us. If it hurts us, then let it hurt us. Accept it. Don’t rationalize it or dismiss it.

    May I make a suggestion? Would it be helpful if you to put together a site of commonly asked questions and concerns that can be referenced? Just a thought.

  13. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon,
    It’s a good idea…but when my plate is much less full…

  14. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Dino, don’t you find it the least bit odd that an all-wisein being in working out our magnificent heavenly glory could forsee a world in which horrific suffering would emerge…and not find find some other way to get the job done?? How in the world is it possible that God could foreknow that this world was going to happen and he just let’s it happen? Are you telling me that the All-mighty, All-knowing God could not come up with another way of preserving free-will while at the same time not having a world glutted with suffering? If he couldn’t figure out a way to preserve those two conditions or he doesn’t have the ability, then somewhere along the way he lost one or more of his omni attributes. Now if God could have in all his wisdom and power found a way to secure salvation and protect free will without the emergence of suffering, then no matter how you look at it, God chose not to which means he chose this world. No one and nothing forced his hand.

    My conclusion is that God in his infinite wisdom and power could have worked things out differently. In his wisdom and power he could have arranged for the preserving of free will, securing salvation, and prevented a world where children are sold into the hands of tormentors. He could have. But he didn’t. That you don’t see that as a problem, but as a mystery just tells me how powerful rationalization can be in attenuating the effects of dissonance.

  15. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    What it tells me is that we are not dealing with the philosophers’ God, with the classical omni’s. The God we Know is made known in Christ’s Pascha. The other God is a non starter and a product of imagination.

  16. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I have some sense of what you are saying about the inadequacy of conceiving of an abstract god with abilities raised to an infinite degree. I don’t worship power. So, a know-it-all god with the biggest imaginable stick isn’t very inspiring. But, nonetheless I think that it’s a valid question: Couldn’t God have preserved free-will, saved humanity, and prevented a house of horrors? If he could have done all that. then why didn’t he? If we admit that this question has even a modicum of validity, then how does one escape the conclusion that the world is as it is because God made the choice for it to NOT be some other way? If God could have preserved free-will, saved humanity, and prevented a house of horrors and didn’t, then that’s fine. But why not just accept it and enter the crucible it presents for faith–if it presents such a crucible. I’m not sure that it does for all people. If someone completely accepts that suffering becomes the very means of salvation and sainthood, then why wouldn’t you want a world with lots of opportunity for suffering?

  17. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Simon,
    Of course I find it odd, especially when witnessing horrific suffering first hand. But I can’t be making a God out of my own philosophical workings.
    Many Saints have extensively tackled this matter.
    Speaking of their words, I am reminded of their saying that if all of scripture were to be lost and only the parable of the prodigal son was to be left, that would be sufficient for us to understand all we need…
    This brings me back to the contradiction of the Father’s omnipotence, omniscience, benevolence, and His free creatures’ inevitable suffering.
    He allowed his son to follow his way and it was only through suffering that he really became humbled and was changed.
    Remember my earlier comment about the bread of shame?
    [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. God’s wisdom and power is manifested in the way he brings about our salvation, but His respect of our freedom of self-determination is indeed a limit to His omnipotence, if we want it to work another way to how it works –one that would appease our temporal ‘issue’ with suffering in the now, which will only later come to light as our glorification.

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’m using my phone so my reply is limited. Again, I think that Simon’s question presumed a meaning and character of power that is flawed. Christ crucified is the “power” of God. That has to be pondered in very different terms.

  19. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    What keeps me banging on in a sense is that we can’t eliminate the cross

  20. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Crucified power of God…I will attempt to sit silently with that.

    Dino, I understand that you do not want to eliminate the cross. And I truly don’t want you too. I think it is related to what Fr. said about the crucified power of God.

  21. Dee of St aHermans Avatar
    Dee of St aHermans

    Simon you’re not ascribing this to me specifically but to ensure that what I’ve written is not misunderstood: I refer to ‘western’ culture and I’m not talking about the ‘world scene’ regards to the impact of the Reformation on this culture.

  22. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    It is only through the Cross which is at the core of creation that we can know and appreciate joy. That is the antinomical nature of the Christian faith. Nietzsche hated it because it denied power as the essential ingrediant for triumph.

  23. Kevin Avatar
    Kevin

    Nietzsche didn’t really understand power. He understood it in the same way Satan did. It’s one thing to club somebody simply because you can. God can certainly snap His finger like Thanos and wipe us all out, but He didn’t. He came in the flesh and let us kill Him. And He still won. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Nietzsche.

  24. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Kevin, Simon, et al
    Well, said, Kevin!

    When St. Paul talks about the Cross (and describes it as the “power of God”) he notes that it is “foolishness” and “weakness.” This makes it impossible to engage in a normal syllogism – for syllogisms are wise. It is as you say, Simon, we can “sit quietly with it.”

    One thought, however: “Why not create a world with lots of opportunities for suffering?”

    In point of fact, we live in a world in which suffering is rather minimized (excluding the fact that everything dies). That we even exist points towards some sort of unthwarted drive which suffering has not managed to overcome.

    There is plenty of suffering, but I would venture to say that it is constantly mitigated. Very, very few of us suffer the full consequences of our decisions, or the decisions of others. Though we suffer, there is something else at work as well.

    If suffering itself were the means of salvation, then God could have just created a universe of pure suffering. But that is not the case.

    Rather, I would say that the Cross makes salvation possible despite the suffering – or that the suffering is not vain – it has been turned into something that, rather than working against us, works within us for good (or it can).

    There are depths and depths of mystery within all of this – nothing that admits of an easy statement. St. Paul’s foolishness and weakness seem quite apt. So, I sit and ponder.

  25. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Father,

    that the suffering is not vain

    In fact, even Nietzsche admitted that meaningful suffering is better than meaningless joy.

    I have often come back to this maxim from the ancient Greeks:
    “Man’s real problem isn’t suffering per se,
    it is the lack of meaning (‘logos’ [λόγος] or ‘noima’ [νόημα]) in suffering.”

    The mystery of the Cross, of course, is the mystery of the transformation of all suffering
    through the endowment of meaning (‘Logos’ [Λόγος]).

  26. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    This topic is the reason why I am Orthodox rather than anything else. I hope everyone understands that this is not just a matter of intellectual exercise for me. If it were, then this is a waste of time.

    This for me is a matter meaning and identity.

    It will and does define the kind of parent I want to be and how I will model for my son how to act in the world

    I hope everyone gets that sense from the things I say.

  27. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    The mystery of the Cross, of course, is the mystery of the transformation of all suffering
    through the endowment of meaning (‘Logos’ [Λόγος]).

    I feel like I need a little book of these kinds of expressions that I can just iterate over and over until it redefines how I think. I don’t mean brain washing. But understanding the value of certain expressions like this one will not just change years of thinking. There’s rewiring that has to be done. This has been quoted on the site before if I’m not mistaken.

  28. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I often think “If there is a hell, then I want to go to hell and stay there until I am the last one out.”

    Is there anything wrong with that?

  29. Kevin Avatar
    Kevin

    Wouldn’t that be an idea compatible with ascetic struggle? Is that what the most severe monks and nuns have in mind going in? To them, suffering is integral to their salvation and it’s not a meaningless suffering.

  30. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Simon,
    Speaking of parenting, I think that our consistency in our own daily internal fastening-to-Christ, curiously yields the integrity, tranquility, joyfulness, love, inspiration and discernment that can and will remain with our offspring – as a sort of guiding compass for their soul. Such ‘fastening’ requires that we heed not, the flow of ‘logismoi’ assailing us at all times, but struggle in the ascesis of faith (trust in God), hope(trust in God again) and love(trust in God once more).

  31. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    There is also an element of (difficult) renunciation here: fastening-to-God means not having any competing attachments. Even our own offspring cannot be loved the right way by us (‘directly’), it’s our attachment to God, via God’s unconditional love for His child (‘loaned to us’ is I can use such an expression), that will be the right fuel for the noble and magnanimous love that we ought to have for our offspring and for all…

  32. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon,
    That thought has been expressed by any number of saints. It is a good thought.

  33. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    I would rather feel the shock and horror than allow myself to become comfortable with the thinking that ‘Well, God knows best . If God ordered the genocide of those people, then they must have deserved it (shoulder shrug).’ There are people who think like that. I do not want to be one of those people.

    I know people who think this way. I used to be one. I am thankful for the discussion here, which reflects the understanding I have found in Orthodoxy.

    I commonly tell people who ask me the typical, “How can God allow evil/suffering/etc.?” that the answer is “God allows us.” I don’t elaborate; just let them chew on it for a bit. I don’t see us as “evil” but rather God’s long-suffering for us is related to His love for us. He allows us because He loves us and works for our salvation through all things. The mystery of the Cross.

  34. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Here also, is a post from another thread comment by Father on this topic.

    It’s a good and fair question regarding God’s participation in evil by permitting it. It is…the point of Ivan Karamazov in his famous diatribe.

    That God’s goodwill is at work **despite** evil is important. That He permits evil is obviously inherent in permitting our freedom, and even the freedom of a universe that is “subject to futility.” What kind of God is He is certainly made known in what He does. He is a God who permits freedom, on the one hand, and He is a God who interjects Himself into the consequences of that freedom. He is crucified in every moment of suffering by every and any human being. His suffering in every moment by every human being is also, like the Cross, the transformation of every suffering moment into the salvation of the Cross. The mystery of Pascha is present in everything.

    It does not make any of the suffering good. But it makes the evil deeds of our freedom of no effect, ultimately. It is a redemption that preserves our freedom. That, I think, is the path of love.

    There is a mystery in that “let it be.” Christ said, “Let it be” to his own crucifixion as well, and to the whole dirty history of the world. I do not think we solve that mystery from the outside – only from the inside. [It was] noted earlier, that we say “God permits” because it is obvious that He permits. These things have taken place and have been permitted to take place.

    For myself, the mystery of His “let it be” is resolved in His Pascha. I can imagine a world in which bad things are never allowed to happen. If I allow myself to really think about it – it’s a version of hell. There would simply be no freedom – a sort of Stepford Wife existence for us all. Freedom is apparently truly necessary to the fullness of our existence – an inherent part of our salvation and the life of grace. And it comes at a frightful price – up to an including the suffering and death of God Himself.

    It is, I believe, the path towards the fullness of our existence in His image. We must honor all of those who suffer, as though they had died for our sins (they did). Christ gathers all of our permitted freedom into Himself and His Cross. What was meant to us for evil (ultimately of our own devising) He has meant to us for good.

    That is the mystery of the Cross. I think the only way around such a mystery would be to say that it would have been better if God never created the world – that the price of human existence in His image is too great. That ultimately is Ivan’s conclusion. Apparently, God disagrees. I think that the only way to fathom God’s understanding in this – why He does not see the price as too high – is to enter into the mystery and go deeper and deeper. I think that an approach to that can be found in the practice of thanksgiving for everything and always – it is not a confession that says “I like everything, it pleases me.” It is a confession of the paradox and contradiction and, by grace, allows us to enter into the hell of human suffering and not despair. The Elder Sophrony once said that Christ has entered into the very depths of hell and is waiting for His friends to meet Him there.

    To glibly look at the suffering of the world and find a syllogism that allows us to walk away would be tragic and wrong. To say, “God permits,” as though that removes the agony, is a mistake. We can say, “God permits,” and then walk into the contradiction and meet Him there. Jonah sings from the belly of the whale. The Three Young Men sing in the fires of the furnace. We have to enter into the same place to find the song that is the mystery of God’s providence – the salvation of all things.

  35. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Byron,

    Thank you for sharing that. I am going to print it off and stick it in my wallet.

    Perfect.

    Now while I have something of positive value to savor I am bailing out on the rest of the discussion. I was looking for something of value and I have it. I just dont want to lose the sense of things that I have right now by rambling on.

    Thank you for bearing with me.

  36. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Beautiful quote, thank you Byron, and Fr Stephen for your eloquence- a gift from God and borne in humility.
    Indeed:
    “The mystery of Pascha is present in everything.”

  37. Justin Avatar
    Justin

    Fr Stephen’s comment on the theological “omni-‘s” of the logical West got me thinking – let’s coin some Orthodox Omni-s and create our own syllogism.
    Here goes:
    Premise 1: The Transcendent Particular is Omniagapic.
    Premise 2: The Transcendent Particular is Omnikenotic.
    Conclusion: Therefore, all creation is Omnipaschal.

  38. Kevin Avatar
    Kevin

    There’s enough jargon in Orthodoxy without the extra effort of mashing Greek and Latin together. I just thank God that Christianity didn’t originate in China.

  39. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Kevin, of course Nietzche did not understand much of anything but he was prescient in that he saw the direction the world was going. His wrong, corrupt and evil philosophy dominates much of the world’s thinking. Unfortunately it can be seductive.
    He got his idea of Christianity from the debased and deeply nominal Luthernism of his childhood. He rightfully rejected that but still believed it was authentic just as many today reject the God of Jonathan Edwards but think that is authentic Christianity and look no further.

    What is needed is a Providential understanding.

  40. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Justin…I liked it. I often think of the big three–omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent–and reason from there. But, I like the idea of starting with a different triad and reasoning from there. What would an Orthodox set of omni-attributes look like and where do they lead?
    Premise 1: The Transcendent Particular is Omniagapic.
    Premise 2: The Transcendent Particular is Omnikenotic.
    Premise 3: The Transcendent Particular is Omni-immanent.
    Conclusion: Therefore, all creation is Omnipaschal.

    I think the shift I need to make in my thinking is that God is kenotic. God did not employ a capacity for kenosis for only 33 and a half years. God is a kenotic being.
    Alright, so…God is a kenotic being. God is love. Corollary: Love and kenosis are complementary. In a one story universe God is immanent. Ergo, kenotic love is immanent/intrinsic to the universe. Ergo, the essential nature of the universe (creation) is Paschal.

  41. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    We usually mistake love’s enemy for hate, when, practically, love’s enemy is the misrepresentation of love (perhaps mixed with a tiny bit of ‘love’ there).
    Only when witnessing a saints’ noble love does this become completely clear.
    Unfortunately our daily experience of our own “loves” (attachments might be more appropriate a word), is usually an experience of the practical nemesis of love: namely, ‘love’ that does not utterly respect freedom of the other while continuing to love in doing so.
    No wonder we struggle to remember kenotic love as being sacrificial –not just in the sense of suffering for the loved one, but in the sense of suffering for the permission of the freedom of the loved one (without becoming indifferent as a result of such a permission).
    People, fortunate to spend time seeing holy people in their everyday living, [often folk that have gone way out of their way to spend much time in monasteries and the like] often end up using adjectives to describe such saints (as regards to how they would relate to others) that tend to be in pairs considered contraries…: “approachable yet dispassionate, joyous yet earnest, relaxed yet vigilant, free yet attentive, fearless yet careful, radiant yet compunctionate, ascetic yet open, soft-spoken yet magnetic, warm yet discerning, sensitive yet magnanimous, poor yet rich, accommodating yet uncontaminated”. A mosaic of an icon of Christ, as applied in the daily behaviour of a fellow human, despite the very human and ordinary aspect this invariably comprises.
    I think seeing what such authentic, kenotic love practically looks like in a fellow human being, how they deal with issues of the day, is invaluable and it is a pity that we probably witness less of such integrity, in hands-on action around us, in our times.
    Maybe the next best thing to first-hand observation is research.
    🙂

  42. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Im so glad Dino that you could spend time in the monastery and so that now you truly know what love looks like. Good for you!

    Here are people who live in isolation away from the world and its problems and theyre the exemplars in love?? They have left theyre families behind. Wont even leave to visit dying parents and theyrs the exemplars of love. I do not believe it.

  43. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dino…for as eloquent and knowledgeable as you are with Orthodoxy, sometimes your words can be quite irritating. What is it called when someone pours out well meant words which flow so impressively and when finally they are finished you sit uncomfortable…like you just tasted something that was about to go bad…it’s not quite rancid yet, but real close.
    Should I look at this as a test of strength, that will help me forgive when insulted, like you often remind us we need to do. What is it called when the person who teaches these virtues is the one doing the insulting, intentionally or not. Please don’t tell me this is the way the monastic elders deal with their “students”. And please don’t tell me about my ego. I know very well about my ego.
    Really….is the problem here a cultural thing? What is it? Are you going to turn this around and blame me for not being whatever ?
    It just gets old after a while…..
    But go ahead…carry on…..

  44. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    I cannot get Simon’s comment, “I reject the idea that there is a latent pride in the demand that profound claims should supply profound evidence,” out of my head. It leaves me speechless. The universe and life itself constitute profound evidence of the love of God. He created the universe and then brought each of us out of nonexistence into being to live and love within it. Excuse me, but is Simon claiming God should do something more profound than that for us? It’s enough for me, thank you.

  45. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    David, you are asking a different question than the one I was asking. My “father” paid all the bills, he bought me food, he paid for my clothes…did he love me? I dont know. Do you burn the people you love? Do you watch them suffer? So, the question I was asking at bottom wasnt about whether or not God exists, but whether or not God exists as you imagine him to.

  46. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Simon, and Paula AZ,
    I am very sorry my comment came out so annoying and tasteless.
    For me, I find inspiration that is applicable in seeing how a saint deals with everyday mundane matters – and it’s very difficult to come by.
    Next best thing is researching, reading about them.

  47. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Paula,
    I’ve been accused of that before so there’s a good chance the problem is as you say it is, I haven’t trodden as courteously as I should have.
    🙂

  48. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    David, I would take issue with the religious sentiment that we should be thankful for life. For me it is not obvious that that is a sentiment I should share. My personal experience of the world would lead me to infer the existence of a god who creates and abandons what he has created. He moves on. But as far as I can see…there is no loving father. Even as I entertain of the kenotic God, God is still far removed. If God inserts himself in our suffering, then I have never had a sense of that at all.

    Im very sorry to say that.

  49. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dino….I do not think your intent is to be discourteous. But there seems to be a disconnect at times. There are so many things that enter into a conversation besides the conversation itself. For one, we are all grappling for contentment within, and peace with God and others, all the while ourselves confused and disintegrated (to varying degrees). So, you know…on a blog as intense as this (blessed) one, this is bound to happen. Hopefully, I will learn…something…many things. Needful things. May we all, in these difficult times.

  50. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Simon,
    I think that there’s some miniscule, yet crucially determinative power within us, to try to see the ‘glass half-full’ or to allow us to see it ‘half-empty’, perhaps even in our greatest tribulations.
    If there wasn’t, we would be far more justified in our complaints for our ordeals, and all who find a way to hold on to that rare faith, even with the skin of their teeth at times, which enables them to struggle to be able to say, ‘thank you God, I trust your plans even if I understand nothing of them at all now’, would not be meritorious for doing so, it would have been entirely God’s grace doing that for them.
    Thinking out loud here…

  51. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Simon,
    You’re not the only person participating in this discussion who has suffered as you have. May God bless you with peace and discernment.

    In the intensity of the moment of suffering (now), I attempt to embrace God, but not in some abstract manner. It seems to be in the moment of suffering love itself helps to move my heart out of a state of victimization. Since I’m not a psychologist, nor philosopher, nor theologian, I really don’t know in an abstract manner how this happens. I am grateful for it but saying that doesn’t mean my suffering is over. As a victim, I could react and fight back, or leave. I’m not leaving and I’m not fighting. Since it isn’t appropriate to describe these circumstances I can’t be particular in my description here, but be assured this current situation is not my ‘home’ situation, whereas in the past, many many years ago, it was.

    Fr Stephen,
    I notice that when I’m in the midst of circumstances of suffering I may be able to embrace the suffering and the circumstances themselves, and then later I become angry. I believe this is associated with the toxic shame you have described for us in previous articles, doesn’t it?

  52. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    “As to why some are troubled with treating the violent accounts in a literal manner – is clearly because they have trouble with depicting God as the author of evil and are even more troubled with the notion of depicting God as the author of genocide. Given how many times in modern history such a depiction has been used to justify modern actions of genocide – that abhorrence seems warranted.
    However, it is wrong to simply remove such passages or ignore them. They are Scripture for us. The allegorical treatment of say, “Dash their little ones’ heads against a stone” (Ps 137:9), reads it as dashing our little wicked temptations and thoughts against the rock of Christ. To read it literally is more than abhorrent. I do not think I have ever seen a Patristic treatment of that verse that is anything other than allegorical. There is no way, in heaven or in earth, in which that verse can be squared (on a literally level) with Christ. Not then, not now. No is “blessed” for smashing the head of a child. How could a Christian possibly think that?”

    What amazes me in these comments is the assumptions made regarding the O.T.
    1) That if evil existed in the OT, God created it.
    2) That there ever was a “genocide” in the O.T. – genocide is never attempted or accomplished in the O.T. – you would need proof of that to make it such a common assertion.
    3) A good old commentary will show that David’s prayer was not a delight in the idea of baby-head smashing. It is a prayer that the Babylonians, who had smashed Israelite infants, should be punished appropriately. “The vile practice of destroying infants (which is done all of the time in America yet nobody is nearly offended at this – my comment, not to you Fr. Freeman) is well attested in the ancient world (2 Kings 8:12, Hos. 10:14, 13:16, Homer’s Iliad 22.63) and was therefore foretold of the fall of Babylon. Further, the Babylonians had apparently done this to the Judeans (as the connection with Psalm 137:8 suggests), and the prophets led the people to await God’s justice (Isa. 47:1-9, Jer. 51:24). In this light the Psalm is not endorsing the action in itself, but is instead seeing the conquerors of Babylonians as carrying out God’s just sentence (even unwittingly)”

    Now, can we get some sympathy here for David? Imagine someone conquers your little American suburbian Disneyland with your children’s heads opened up all over the pavement – will you just kneel down and say “Father forgive them” – that is an option, but you may desire justice – is that an evil impulse?

    So, Fr. Freeman you are wrong. The verse can be squared with Christ. Christ can sympathize with the pain of the childless conquered, he can sympathize with those who have been radically traumatized by war, he can sympathize with our desire for justice and for language which shows the depth of our hurt. In Revelation we have the saints under the altar saying, “How long..” And what follows in so many of the judgments is a response to their just prayer. How long? Our desire for Christ’s return will mean judgment for evil doers when it occurs.

    What troubles me most, in so many of these conversations is that God seems to be reduced to a force, but not a person. Judgment is depicted as something foreign to God when I read authors like yourself – which makes every instance of it in the Bible an anthropomorphism, and an incorrect one. Yet Jesus never does anything to correct the Jewish understanding of the O.T. except when it comes to sin (adding commandments, having escape clauses to get out of sins like no-fault divorce for men or ducking out of taking care of your family, what the Sabbath is all about, ethnic pride to the exclusion of the Gentiles, etc.). I really wonder how we can say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit….who spake by the Prophets” – if they were just anthropomorphically confused -worse, dead wrong – who needed a complete overhaul in understanding after Christ. Then how could Paul tell Timothy (or who-ever wrote Timothy since that’s probably on the table) to entrust himself to the O.T. that could lead him to salvation? Timothy would have to be an allegorical genius before the Fathers could help him out.

    Seriously, it’s a joke for us “middle-class”, never having seen-war, never having experienced barbarians to read our Bibles this way. Unfortunately most Orthodox that I’ve encountered don’t know how to read the Old Testament like Origen, with a literal meaning (based on the genre/context of the text, there’s no need to stress over if Jesus is a door or not), and with the deeper spiritual meaning that will push someone into depth of communion with God.

    Father, I apprecaite you and firmly disagree with you. I agree with your heart that God not be the author of sin or genocide, but that is not the only way to read the text that forces it to that conclusion. St. John Chryssostom upheld the literal meaning of these texts but also embraced allegorical or analogical applications.

    From https://glory2godforallthings.com/wholecounsel/2018/10/09/here-there-be-giants/

    Matthew Lyon says:
    October 9, 2018 at 9:12 am
    Often when Orthodox expounded on the conquest narratives, taking a symbolic/allegorical approach, that we are commanded to dash our passions on the rocks – I see the application, but sometimes they seemed to de-historicize the events. But, if there is truth to a race of men, who are somehow in existence due to demonic activity however that worked out, then there exists an analogy that really makes sense and maybe some of them knew this, some of the fathers who were aware of the second temple worldview and who had embraced it.
    Again, if Joshua was dealing with real demonic beings, and if our passions are aroused through demons, then it is by analogy that Joshua has a Christian application instead of by allegory. The baptismal liturgy with it’s exorcism prayers, following Jesus’ example, and an understanding like you said, of how sacred space was now to spread outside Israel, could move into geographically occupied territory of Satan with no need to conquer them physically (not that the Nephilim would have still been in existence) but with repentance, faith, baptism/exoricism. The Christus Victor theme is only reasonable/Biblical – not an optional take on atonement.

    Reply
    Fr. Stephen De Young says:
    October 9, 2018 at 10:32 am
    I think you’re tracking with this correctly. As an example, Origen, the prime example of allegorical interpretation, says at the beginning of his commentary on Joshua that the teaching of the book would be horrible if it did not ‘have the figure (figura) of spiritual warfare’. Figure here is often understood in line with the English word ‘figurative’, as if Origen is saying that essentially Joshua is worthwhile because he’s found a way to interpret it ahistorically. However, elsewhere Origen makes it clear that he accepts the existence of the giants and the traditions discussed in this blog post. So the Latin ‘figura‘ would probably be better translated as ‘character’; that the narratives of Joshua have the character of spiritual warfare. So, you are correct, the Fathers in these instances are using something more akin to an analogy than to allegory.

    Again, reading the OT as a Jewish person would have in Jesus time, and Christian interpreters following in the tradtion of second temple Judaism would shed a lot of light on all of these issues.

    Thank you for all you do! I hope you can take this in love (while it is frustrated love, if that’s a thing).

  53. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    Dee,
    Thank you for your comment. I agree wholeheartedly. Everyone carries a cross in life and we should not presume ours is heaviest… it is most likely not.

    When I first saw Dino’s comment early this morning, I was going to thank him for that beautiful list of “contrasting attributes”, as something worthy of printing out and putting in the wallet for future reference (such beautiful things to strive for!). But but the time I got to work and to the computer, there is a full-force pushback… Truly, I do not understand.

  54. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I never presumed my cross was the heaviest.

    I merely stated…never mind.

  55. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    Dino –

    I always appreciate your comments. I too have drenched myself in the Lives of the Saints and contemporary Elders and Edlresses who have not yet been sanctified but most likely will be at some fiture time. I have received incredibly strength and inspiration from their words and experiences. They truly love unconditionally through the grace of the Holy Spirit. However, I have an Orthodox friend who’s response to these stories and counsels is exactly the opposite. He finds them hard to believe and he feels criticized and judged by them because he cannot live up to their examples. He will not read them anymore because they actually make him feel bad. It greatly saddens me that this is the case, but it is his experience and I have to accept and respect that. My only explanation for our very different experiences is that he was horribly abused and neglected as a child and I was raised in a very loving environment. I can read about the asceticism and virtues of these holy men and women, and even though I am not able to emulate them them as I would wish, I do not see it as a criticism or judgment of me personally like my friend does. And when I have tried to share some of their words or stories with him verbally, they just irritate him, much the same way several readers here have been irritated by your words. I am learning that the best way I can help this person is simply to pray for him, and maybe that is the lesson in all this for me. “Pray More. Talk Less.” May God continue to guide all of us on our journey towards Him.

    -Love in Christ, Esmée

  56. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    Simon,
    I am talking about myself, not you… I presume that often.

    But it’s only by learning to how to think the way Christ teaches us to think in the Gospels that we can overcome such things, and learn to engage that “crucially determinative power within us, to try to see the ‘glass half-full’ or to allow us to see it ‘half-empty’, perhaps even in our greatest tribulations.”

    Where would we learn that if not from the Saints that devoted their lives to it fully? (such as monks away from the world?) Here in the world we are crushed under the weight of our daily life, but death still awaits each one of us. If we don’t know (and thank, and glorify) God in this life, how can we hope to manage in the next?

  57. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    Simon,
    Well, monastics do, in a sense, leave the world behind. Yet most have a stream of continual visitors so the world comes to them. The demands these visitors can make on the nuns can be quite vexing. Besides all this they have daily chores to do…milking goats, cooking for many, keeping up a garden, cleaning the churches and meeting rooms, sewing, washing, attending services, going on at most 6 hours sleep, broken into segments, their own private prayers, etc. Then they have tensions living with 30 others, in close quarters. They are under strict obedience to the abbess. I have never seen anyone, man or woman, work harder than these nuns do. I say this with 40 years of work experience. It is no fairytale existence! And I have known of nuns visiting sick relatives. These are some observations I’ve made over the past 15 years working and worshipping along side them. Without much love and forgiveness none of this would work.

  58. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    Let me add that I was a firefighter for four and a half years. Each shift was 24 hours of tight living with 5 others. Tension and interpersonal conflicts could easily occur. Yet monastics are 24/7 for life, in very close space/relationships that can also be tense at times. But what a commitment to Christ and His Church! They are really not that much different than many of us. Just that their life is lived under very different circumstances.

  59. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Esmée,
    Everyone is different, but I think you make a notable point in mentioning abuse as a factor in the occasional uneasiness when hearing about these examples of saints, especially when such standards get an unwarranted citing.
    I believe it can be a far more significant element –in prompting a frustrated reaction– than the foreignness of such concepts.

  60. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I dont value the opinions of monastics. I value the input of people who are actually dealing with the messiness of the world and understand the difficulties of the human condition.

  61. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I dont see the lives of the saints as a judgment of me. Not even a little bit. Neither do I find them inspiring. These are people who have chosen to something with their lives just like everyone else finds something to do with their lives. That’s fine. People do all kinds of things with their lives. But I dont have any reason to believe that they occupy some privledged position or an underprivileged position. But what I do not believe is that it’s their prayers that are keeping the world going.

  62. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Dee – You mentioned “Nature Journal.” Is that something other than the journal entitled “Nature?”

  63. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    Simon,
    I hear what you say. I was saying these words myself a few years ago….
    The difficulties of my life seemed insurmountable and unsolvable (both with family issues, health issues, financial issues, professional issues). It was my ‘rock bottom’ and I was utterly alone, with no one to help me and nowhere to turn. So I turned to God out of sheer despair… And He heard me, and “He lifted up my life”…
    It’s still hard most of the time, but with Him in my heart, I don’t fear anything, especially not death. It makes life beautiful to live, if only on the inside and unknown to anybody else. I pray St. Silouan’s prayer for ‘all people to come to know God’ like that.

    You are always in my prayers.

  64. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    Simon,
    I did not see your second comment before I sent mine…

    It may be that it is only *YOUR* prayer that is keeping this world going… Or mine….
    God is waiting for every human being to offer Him true repentance (that changing of our mind in how we think about Him) and is waiting for us to come to Him, because all others have already done so…

    What if He is waiting for us, you and me?

  65. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Matthew,
    Thank you for your thoughts and quotes. I am not anthropomorphizing or doing quite the things you imagine or accuse me of. What difficulties I express with the text, on a certain level, is not unknown within the Fathers. I noted that passages could be found elsewhere in the Fathers that disagree. However, I think your error is in assuming that such questions are only rightly treated in one manner and not another – or a pure insistence on what I think is a problematic reading. I appreciate it – but assure you that I am writing well within the Tradition.

    I would suggest, as I did above, reading Discerning the Mystery by Fr. Andrew Louth. This topic of hermeneutics is not as simple as you’ve described it, I think. I’m also not at all sure that Fr. Stephen De Young’s reading on Origen in any way raises the historical over the allegorical.

    Chrysostom is a preacher, neither a scholar among the Fathers, nor very given to mystical readings at all. He is among the most literal interpreters in the East (perhaps because he was from Antioch). I’ve had this conversation with some serious patristic scholars – such as my Archbishop, Alexander Golitzin, whose breadth and depth of knowledge and reading extends well beyond what any of us parish priests can claim. Again, how I have treated these things lies well within the bounds of the Tradition.

    I might add that we live and believe in a context that has been poisoned with 500 years of historical literalism whose legacy has been the destruction of Christianity and, often, the destruction of the world as well. If present Orthodox interpreters lean more towards the figurative reading – there’s a darned good reason. Frankly, many of the arguments I encounter about interpretive matters sound like a rehash of Reform arguments. They leave me flat.

    But, I won’t belabor this.

  66. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Everyone,
    These latest elements of the discussion/conversation seem somewhat beside-the-point to me. I am not surprised that some people “choke” on some monastic teaching/stories. It is, indeed, largely cultural. If those stories were actually effective in the world to which I minister, the blog would simply feature those stories. As occasionally flavoring, they’re fine, but we should not be offended or surprised that someone has difficulty with them, nor suggest to them that the reason is something wrong about their spiritual life. That, I’m afraid, is counter-productive to our lives.

    On the other hand, Simon, when you speak dismissively of the saints lives, or of the monastic tradition – you’re speaking to a lot of folks who clearly think otherwise. All that you get from that is some push-back, which is of no benefit to you or them. It’s not a fruitful conversation.

    It is nowhere stated in the “Rules of the Blog,” but I will observe that when a comment is directed towards someone, with a criticism, it is loaded. First, it may very well carry a message of shaming – which, I think, is sin. Disagreement is an art (one that is quickly being lost) that should be practiced “artfully,” with care and politeness.

    I have not mediated this problem as carefully as I should, I think. But when I encounter unpleasant disagreements within the comments, I confess that I feel a pain that is almost physical. We fail to consider the harm we do. I need the blog to be safe – emotionally, psychologically, doctrinally, or it utterly fails in its intended ministry.

    So, head’s up.

  67. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Esmée – Thanks for the link to the article on Max Weber

  68. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Matthew, a few more thoughts.

    I think a problem arises when we ask what are essentially modern questions of the text and the fathers. The modern anxiety is about history as the place where truth resides (it’s part of its secular view of the world). It’s not the primary question or even a major question among the fathers. It’s not their anxiety the way it has come to be ours.

    Origen, for example, can easily say that Joshua needs to be read figuratively (spiritual warfare), and later talk about giants once roaming the planet. But they both rest inside his head in a way that they both rarely reside within ours.

    He sees the text as authoritative because it is Scripture. We tend to see the text as authoritative because it is a literal account of something else. The truth isn’t in the Scripture, but in what it is about.

    There are obvious places where history is crucial – for example – the death and resurrection of Christ. On that point, St Paul not only recites the Tradition which he had received, but goes on to name eye-witnesses in a manner that would fit the strictest historical model.

    But this same St. Paul can invoke allegory without blushing and in a manner that is not, I think, actually about the historical. I’m sure Sarah and Hagar are historical – though i think it’s not terribly important that the details of their story are verbatim, etc.

    Moderns, I think, have forgotten how to read Scripture as Scripture and get tangled up in interminable arguments that are mostly little more than fideistic pronouncements. At least the best of the Fathers really engaged the text and asked hard questions.

    There is St. Isaac of Syria who is deeply beloved among the later Fathers:

    That we should imagine that anger, wrath, jealousy, or such like have anything to do with the divine Nature is something utterly abhorrent for us: no one in their right mind, no one who has any understanding (at all) can possibly come to such madness as to think anything of the sort about God. Nor again can we possibly say that He acts thus out of retribution, even though the Scriptures may on the outer surface posit this. Even to think this of God and to suppose that retribution for evil acts is to be found with Him is abominable. [p. 162-163]
    It is not (the way of) the compassionate Maker to create rational beings in order to deliver them over mercilessly to unending affliction (in punishment) for things of which He knew even before they were fashioned, (aware) how they would turn out when He created them – and whom (nonetheless) He created. [p. 165]

    Just because (the terms) wrath, anger, hatred, and the rest are used of the Creator, we should not imagine that He (actually) does anything in anger or hatred or zeal. Many figurative terms are employed in the Scriptures of God, terms which are far removed from His (true) nature. And just as (our) rational nature has (already) become gradually more illuminated and wise in a holy understanding of the mysteries which are hidden in (Scripture’s) discourse about God – that we should not understand everything (literally) as it is written, but rather that we should see, (concealed) inside the bodily exterior of the narratives, the hidden providence and eternal knowledge which guides all – so too we shall in the future come to know and be aware of many things for which our present understanding will be seen as contrary to what it will be then; and the whole ordering of things yonder will undo any precise opinion we possess now in (our) supposition about Truth. For there are many, indeed endless, things which do not even enter our minds here, not even as promises of any kind. [p. 171]

    [from Isaac of Nineveh (Isaac the Syrian). ‘The Second Part’, Chapters IV-XLI . Translated by S. Brock]

    That he can say such a thing suggests that there was some leeway within the Tradition. I’ll rest with St. Isaac.

  69. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    “On the other hand, Simon, when you speak dismissively of the saints lives, or of the monastic tradition – you’re speaking to a lot of folks who clearly think otherwise. All that you get from that is some push-back, which is of no benefit to you or them. It’s not a fruitful conversation.”

    Fair enough.

  70. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Simon – I am disappointed that you chose to interpret my comments on the miraculous nature of life and the universe as expressions of “religious sentiment.” Please be advised that religious sentimentality offends me. I have gone through too much hell to put up with that kind of . . . animal waste. (Because I am a visitor in someone else’s forum, I am not using the terms I would naturally use if this were a face-to-face discussion.)
    My comments were made in a good faith effort to honestly convey my present life experience. It has not always been like this. I have suffered and struggled for decades to get where I am today, and it is only by the grace of God made manifest in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ that I am finally able to enjoy the miraculous nature of the world and my life in it. He has truly trampled down death by death and restored life to those in the tombs, of which I was one.
    I am tempted to share the details of my struggles here, but my guardian angel is reminding me that this is not about me. It is about you. Simon.
    I respect the hell you have been through and the legitimacy of the struggles you are having today. We all do. So, please forgive me for suggesting that you might be a bit more respectful of the struggles and experiences of others, especially the saints and monastics who you have most recently treated with disdain. They were in their own hells too, Simon, but they found a way out. I respect them for that, and I am grateful that they decided to share their journey with me. They help me see the way.
    That’s enough. I have said too much. Please forgive me for running off at the mouth.
    You are always in my prayers.

  71. Brandon Avatar
    Brandon

    That quote from ‘Isaac of Nineveh’ has very similar affects on my thinking to that of ‘Plato’s Cave’. The difference being the additional added character of God actively intervening in the cave to free our fixed gaze from staring at the shadows on the wall. (Or maybe there was a character like that? I can’t recall).

  72. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    David, there is nothing wrong in anything you have said to me. You are being honest and forthright. What is there to forgive?

    At the end of the day I don’t know how anyone can chafe at the thought that subjective experiences and values might be sentimental. I am intensely sentimental. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with it. The first time we took Micah to one of the local rivers he picked up a rock and gave it to me. I have carried that rock with me ever since. I’m sentimental. I don’t understand why that is so offensive.

    As far as the monks and saints go I have no choice, but to accept the stories about them as hearsay. That’s it. That’s all I’m really saying, brother. Maybe they know God maybe they dont. I would have to take your word on that. That’s what I hear people say.

  73. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    How is it hearsay, Simon, if it is written in their own words? If you have not read Wounded By Love by Saint Porphyrios, I would highly recommend it.

  74. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Simon – I was using the term “sentimental” in the sense of “sentimentality,” i.e., “an appeal to shallow, uncomplicated emotions at the expense of reason,” “resulting from feeling rather than reason or thought,” and I thought you were doing the same. It was in that sense that I said that I have no time for religious sentiment. Its hogwash to me. Appealing hogwash? Definitely. But hogwash just the same.
    Life is suffering. The Buddha knew that. And Jesus certainly understood it, since he came down from heaven and joined us in it. There is nothing sentimental about that.
    He suffered and died the most horrific and humiliating death imaginable. Nothing sentimental about that, either. Then he went to hell! How unsentimental can you get?
    So I want nothing to do with religious sentiment or sentimentality.
    My God suffered humiliation, pain, death and hell for me. I found Him in hell and He restored me to life. That is not a religious sentiment. That’s a fact, Jack.
    BTW: I have many physical mementos of children, grandchildren, parent, and others. They are very important to me. In fact, they are sacred. The sacramentality of the material world is a big part of what I am talking about. These material objects are especially sacred to me because of their connection to those I love so much. That love comes from God, who is love. So I would not say that I am sentimental about them. My love for these things is not a result of “feeling rather than reason or thought,” It is the result of my God-given understanding of what the universe really is.
    I better shut up before I embarrass myself any further.
    Love you, man. Thank you for your kind words to me.

  75. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    David, Thank you for your question to clarify. Yes the journal Nature:

    https://www.nature.com/

  76. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I’m not sure why, and I’m not sure that this benefits anyone, but for whatever reason I’m compelled to write this. I’m not so convinced of my righteousness whatsoever. When I contemplate what happened to the children who were fed to the ovens in the Nazi concentration camps, I see myself as the child who was delivered to the fire and I see my self as having the hands that put the child in the flames.

    One thing that happened before I was baptized was a small miracle that enabled me to be able to say with complete sincerity: I am the chiefest of sinners. I’m indeed grateful for this miracle. Until it happened I wasn’t sure I could say that prayer with sincerity. And I had wondered without such sincerity whether I was ready for baptism. Thankfully, the Lord answered my prayers ‘big-time’. When I had confessed this ‘miracle’ my confessor, he said something to the effect (paraphrasing), “Welcome to the arena”.

  77. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon, David, Dino
    I have removed this last bit of conversation. I do not want to see a replication of Ivan Karamazov’s dilemma rehashed on the blog. Simon, the dismissal of monastics is simply unnecessary and inflammatory and does nothing for the conversation. I have requested and request again that the emotional tone of comments be dialed down. Thank you.

  78. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    Thanks for your reply. I am concerned to recover the mind of second temple Judaism which the Apostles and Jesus took as the presupposition for their worldview – which is reflected in the Fathers who came before Augustine. After Augustine (not to mention everything else he gets pegged for) – things like believing in the story found in 1 Enoch/Deut 32/Psalm 82 and how it formed the thought of what was going on in the work of the Messiah – had widespread acceptance even though 1 Enoch and others were not considered canonical in the end. These things, when seen through their worldview, makes room for analogical readings of Scripture which eliminate much of the need for allegorical readings – while giving allegorical readings their place.

  79. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Matthew – my caveat about what you are describing is that it is very difficult to actually discern what that generation “believed” about the stories of Enoch, etc. The modern mind is ultimately secular – “believing” that something is true only in a historical sense. It is their capacity to do something else that is lost on us. For example, moderns still think that allegory is a literary technique. It is not. It is the discernment of something that is real and true and actually there. It is not something that is merely “required” because we don’t like the literal – it is to be discerned because it is true and real. It is that mind that is lost. And that mind is likely present in a large measure in the readings of Enoch, etc.

    Also, from an Orthodox perspective, we are not Protestants trying to recover some golden age. Enoch, as intriguing as it is, does not form part of the canon (except for Ethiopia) and for likely good reason. The study of Second Temple thought is interesting, and even useful, but does not represent some great wonder that must be recovered. Its study becomes part of the greater conversation.

  80. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    I wish it was clearer in your writing that you are contrasting schools of interpretation. You seem to have little appreciation for the Antiochian school but at the same time do not acknowledge that the Alexandrians didn’t deny a literal meaning but believed in a deeper meaning and sought it. I just finished listening to Fr. Hopko https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/war_and_violence_in_the_ot and he and many others I’ve read would be in complete disagreement with you. But it seems you gloss over the fact that these two schools exist, are fully Orthodox, and then accuse the other side of believing things that could never be consistent with Christianity. Those are very loaded claims.

    My objections are not to allegory, but to allegory as an apologetical back-up plan for everything uncomfortable due to the fact that there is a binary option imposed on the text of Scripture: either uphold that David delights in baby-head smashing or allegorize – that’s an imposition that is unwarranted. We both know that until recently our understanding of second temple Judaism (as well as much of the contextual content of the OT) was lacking – but it was not lacking in the first 3-4 centuries, it was their world. So, there is no need to return to a golden age, and I never suggested Enoch or like material be canonical, but this was their world. These interpretive options fell out of favor with Augustine (but I believe they provided the basis for Orthodox soteriology) and later the memory of these interpretations were lost – which often gives you the binary options, which really aren’t binary, people force them artificially. For example there is no command to genocide, but it’s stated as an either/or, God commands genocide or Joshua is ahistorical – all the while there was never a command to genocide.

    As an aside, I believe fully that the reason Orthodox soteriology is the way it is (the Saints/Mary’s participation in our salvation, explanations for human depravity that take Satan seriously but do not deny free will, Christus Victor, missionary expansion, on and on when I’m not as tired) are explained by, and can be proven successfully, by returning to the original worldview of the N.T. and early Fathers. If we can criticize the Reformer’s for neglecting 1500 years of history, how can we be safe of such criticism if we neglect the worldview of Jesus, the Apostles, and the first 3-4 centuries which laid the basis for Canon, liturgy, etc. The first 3-4 centuries again, give us Bible, liturgy, developed Christology. Why would we not want to have their mind if we could? So, no return to a golden age, but a recovery of the Apostolic mind that gave us everything.

    You didn’t respond to my original post, but again, if we know now that David is calling out in pain, the pain of his people and community, of Israel – that God would do justice for his people – in the depth of despair, I am pretty sure Christ can enter into that, and you, from all I’ve read from you, you would be the first to say, yes, Christ enters the despair of the heart, the frustration and exhaustion that evil excises us with. If we ourselves had ever lived in a darkness so bleak, that child-sacrifice, glee-filled child-head bashing to decimate a population, was an experiental memory, I think we would have more room to talk on what is Christian and what is not. Many people on this blog talk about suffering abuse at the hand of others. If there was no reason to hope for repentance in another person because the darkness in them was so extensive that they could gleefully smash children, I think asking for justice to be an appropriate response that needs no allegory. In fact, if you took someone’s story of horrific abuse, and then talked to them about it as an allegory, what abuse would you be engaging in? So, there is an interpretation consistent with history, with Christianity, and that has a deeper meaning in two ways: consolation, and the inner fight with our own passions and actual demons. Never was there a need to allegorize. Now, if there really was only two ways to read Joshua, imprecatory Psalms, etc, then I suppose I would side with you. That’s just not the case. That’s why most of the time I think what is really set before us in typology, is analogy, not allegory.

    Last, on St. Isaac of Syria, of course he is correct that God has no anger, etc, in his essence – but in his energies, that is another thing. It would be just as appropriate to say, correct me if I’m wrong, that God is timeless in his essence, but in his energies he enters time and space. It seems to me that the essence/energies distinction upholds God as personal and also unknowable which removes our abilty to ascribe attributes to his essence. I’m sure you much better read than I am on these things though. What do we make of Jesus anger toward the money-changers? Is it inappropriate to ascribe anger to Christ or any emotion life in him for that matter? Of course not, otherwise we’d need a gnostic Christology. And that’s where I feel like this all leads maybe, gnosticism/Marcionism. I’m not calling you a heretic so please don’t respond as if I did. But I do think Christology should have some influence on what we can say about God in his energies. If Christ can sob, ball, over the fate of Jerusalem, we can say God has no such sobbing in his essence, but Christ in his union with humanity, can and does express every emotion we have, such that he can fully sympathize with us in every possible way being perfected as our high Priest. To deny this in his person would be some form of gnosticism. To deny that God in his energies has any emotional life leaves us with a god who cannot relate to humanity.

    I will look into his writings more fully.

    Thanks for your time and effort with me. If you truly believe I’m in the wrong place, pray for me. God knows I don’t want to be wrong about who he is.

    Matthew

  81. Kevin Z Avatar
    Kevin Z

    This has been interesting to follow. Coming, slowly, towards Christianity from a completely inimical and antagonistic standpoint would have been impossible for me without readings of the Saints and monastics. Experiencing many recent points in life where nudges from Saints I prayed for (not to) led to a deeper and more profound sense of reality and helped me open my heart to the reality of God.

    As far as prayers and keeping the world going. I dunno. Even ‘science’ is leaning towards a consciousness model, breaking their own former models. It only takes seeing prayer manifest a change in reality one time and then all bets are off. I think it’s liberating and exciting to consider prayer as a ‘reality battery’. Being in the presence of a holy person or site… it unpacks itself right in front of you. That’s pretty special.

  82. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    I’ve stated this significant interpretational component before, but appears overlooked: the OT suffering and death (whether of guilty adults or innocent children) that is so unsettling to our sensibilities might, especially in the Light of Christ’s harrowing of Hades, all fall under the ‘umbrella’ that St Paul describes as: “sufferings of this present time” which will pale into insignificance “compared with the glory which shall be revealed.” (Romans 8:18)
    If this is the case, the tragedy we perceive in the barbaric practices of the OT times might be a little like Plato’s cave’s projected shadows too.
    A day will come when sufferers will look back and (as CS Lewis says) will be able to say that their sufferings were more than worth it.

  83. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Simon, really good. Thank you

  84. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Kevin Z,
    There’s no way to circumvent saints and monastics in Orthodoxy, hey! the overwhelming majority of all hymnography of our Church, every single day, each Vespers, every Matins of the Year, are mainly about them (and by them). The Orthodox Church is the Church of the Saints – no rest is found by those who are unsettled and unversed with this, until they reconcile themselves with it.

  85. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Although Simon, I am forced by your description into reevaluating the term fathead. I have always thought of it as a pejortive. Perhaps it ought to become a compliment praising some on for their brains? As in “Wow, to come up with that idea, you must be a real fathead!”

  86. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Michael, the lipids act as insulators to the neurons just as nylon thermoplastic insulates electrical conductors in your home.

    Dino, I get the feeling that you think that it is only through the weakness of our emotions that causes people to be unsettled by suffering. I just want you to know that truthfully from the bottom of my heart if remaining orthodox means that I will eventually be like you—then I am GONE. If the destruction of human life is something that we can just pass off as just some temporary inconvenience, then what are doing here?

  87. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Matthew,
    I appreciate the questions and the conversation. This response will probably not be sufficient to all of your points and questions, but I hope it will help to suggest something of what I am doing and what I think.

    First, the so-called Antiochene/Alexandrian split – the “two schools” – that represent different proper poles of Biblical exposition is, I think, largely a fiction of German Protestant historical studies that sought to dismiss the allegorical method and exalt the German historical approach. It is a common trope that has been repeated so many times that it can be found in many places and everyone just assumes it to be true.

    I would suggest a good read on the Antiochene School: Fr. John Behr’s The Case Against Diodore and Theodore. I found it a slog to read, but worth the effort. Solid, patristic scholarship rather than German mythology.

    The fact is that the Antiochene School was largely Nestorian in thought and method and did not form one of two poles in the Church’s thought. Their use of historia, was actually bizarre, in many cases utterly refusing to see anything(!) in the OT as actually referring to Christ, other than the few prophecies that seemed undeniable. They divorced the OT from the NT in many ways – not unlike their fissure between the humanity and divinity in Christ.

    But, for Protestant thought, the historical was championed because it divorces the Scriptures from the Tradition of the Church (and its authority in reading it). Protestantism want a Bible that was, more or less, independent of the Church, and more subject to reason – hence the development of various historical methods of reading. The Antiochene School was something that was latched on to as a justification.

    The Liturgical life of the Church and the Church’s use of the OT in its worship life and texts is dominantly more allegorical (I’m using this in the broadest sense of the word) than historical. Indeed, the Church’s whole eschatological understanding, in which the Lamb is slain before the foundation of the earth, etc., represents a triumph of a Christological reading over the kind of pure historicism of the Antiochene approach. That is to say, their work does not play an important role in the dogmatic and hermeneutical work of the Church.

    Having said that, it is obvious that the texts have a literal and historical meaning. It can be seen. However, it does not form a proper basis for dogmatic construction and understanding – nor can it because, taken alone, and apart from a Christological reading, it is but shadow. If it were otherwise, then how is it we are no longer under the Law, and how is it that the Laws are not applied to the Church?

    The movement away from a historical reading begins in the NT. How could the Gentiles not be circumcised unless there is something greater by which we read those texts?

    That’s some suggestions on that matter.

    As to the energies and essence and emotions. Christ is fully human as well as fully God. As human, He has emotions. He is not, however, ruled by the passions. The emotions He has are whole, complete, good and without sin (rarely the case for us). The anger of Christ is, I think, often misused to justify our anger, when our anger is rarely anything other than sinful (being a product of shame).

    God does not have an “emotional” life – I’m not at all sure what saying that He did would even mean. When we speak of His wrath, etc., the words are our effort to describe something that is, at best, analogous, but not properly described as an “emotion.”

    God knows us utterly. When you suggest that He must have emotions in the manner we do in order to relate to us is an importation of modern psychological assumptions into somewhere they do not belong. First, “emotion” itself is a modern term that, in the theory of personality is by no means something we necessarily can point to as consitutive of what it means to be “person.” I do not mean that we will not “feel,” nor that we should not “feel,” etc., but that those very things are quite complex and bound up with a host of problems. It is we who need God to heal us – which He does by becoming human – but without sin. I’m not certain that I’ve ever had an emotion that wasn’t somehow also tied up in my brokenness and sin. I would love to know what it is to sorrow as Christ sorrowed. It was pure, unalloyed with sin. Our sorrow is pretty much never so clean.

    Fr. Thomas Hopko and I differ, I think, on the thing about violence. Indeed, I was sort of surprised when he first did some talks on it, in that they seemed to contradict some things he had said at an earlier time. I wasn’t sure whether it was a new thought, a reaction to something he perceived as an error, or whether it was something he had always thought but not said as clearly. I wish I had had an opportunity to discuss it with him more deeply. I’ve talked to others about it – some of whom shared my reaction.

    As to Marcionism/Gnosticism. I hear that criticism frequently as a defense of the vital importance of a historical reading of the OT. Oddly, Origen, whatever one might say of him, was neither a Marcionite nor a Gnostic, nor did anyone ever charge him with such. But, I’ve seen where the exaltation of the historical reading goes – it runs in the two directions of Protestantism, either a dead fundamentalist defense of the text with things as silly as a 7,000 year-old earth, or a triumph of historical-critical method in which everything dissolves into nothing.

    The texts of Scripture are only rightly read dogmatically, from the point of view of the faith of the Church as it has been revealed. Whatever serves that understanding is acceptable. If a literal treatment is of use (as in the frequent use of OT illustrations for moral exhortation) then that’s fine. But it is the Christological reading, in whatever manner, that is ultimately authoritative in the life of the Church.

    I do not believe in the Two-Schools theory. That’s not really an Orthodox idea.

    In your last point – to know God is something that comes for us by keeping the commandments of Christ, and being immersed in the life of the Church – its prayers, its sacraments, its practices. That alone gives the light of Christ in which we read the Scriptures.

    Now – for what I think I’m doing:

    I write in a world dominated by the modernist assumptions of Protestantism, often in a secularized form. Most people have never heard of or seen the typical Orthodox treatment of the OT – nor seen how it is used in that manner (in the wide varieties of allegorical or Christological interpretation). I think the Orthodox use of Scripture belongs to neither of the Protestant schools (literalism vs. historical-critical) but is something entirely different. If I come down strongest on a certain point or emphasis, it is what I generally deem most important for someone to see and hear in order to understand Orthodox thought.

    I hope that is useful in our conversation – to promote mutual understanding.

  88. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    Fr. Stephen,
    Thank you so much for your response to Matthew…and thank you Matthew for your questions. I’ve said it before, Father, but your comments at times are more pithy and cogent to me than your articles. Thanks!

  89. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    If this life is really of so little value that its only meaning is found in being completely forfeited for the future life, then why are we here? Just to show that we would make the forfeit? Why did Jesus cry at the death of Lazarus? Stupid me thought that it was because human life had value and when its lost there is something of a tragedy in that. Of course, if every loss in next to nothing in value when compared to the glory of heaven, then why not march into the city and just kill everyone in it?

    Simon, there were early martyrs who thought this way (concerning their own lives) and they were reprimanded for it. The Church values what it has received and it has received Life. And not just life as a gift of existence but the very Life of God. This Life is never of little value (as I know you do not believe, but I want to respond to your question); death is never what the Church chooses because it recognizes the Life of God sustaining all things.

  90. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    The problem of pain, without publcly going into personal issues, is one I was forced -like many others- to “study” again and again and again. Especially its impact on our perception of God’s love for us. And especially what it is that is within man’s feeble powers to do about it – what God does is God’s business. This drives a great deal of what i keep returning to as i hope it can help oters too.
    Nothing we can do will stop God loving us, but, He will also stop at nothing (other than our free-will) to make us worthy of our high calling. God is desperate for us to give Him a reason (from within our own freedom of self-determination-towards-Him) to save us.

    The least inclination –hatched inside a soul– to surrender our wretched self-will (something man will normally never even begin to attempt), will be instantly seized by God and exploited to save: it will be used to assist us in turning genuinely towards Him and away from our egos/selves.

    This can seem most difficult for us at times though, and the way it is brought to fruition without, abolishing free-will, can be ‘crucificially’ painful for us at times.

    The more positive and benign the ‘methods’ required, and which are deemed sufficient enough to bring about change in us, (for our entire being to turn Godwards), the better it is for us of course.

    An awareness of our utter weakness, merged with thankfulness for God’s eternal mercies, (brought about through a variety of methods) instantly causes this vital, salvific reorientation of our entire being Godwards. However, the ‘inverse’ subjective interpretation of the ‘methods’ used to bring this about, i.e.: a negative view of ‘how things are’: one of intense self-will, further self-centerdness, suspicion and distrust of God’s providence, plant us firmly in a camp of insolence and undermine our own interest.

    Its true that my many mistakes and sins themselves eventually, can sometimes indirectly show me some of the force of my God-spurning self-absorption, (through their painful consequences). However, the weightier the sins are, the less I normally suspect their profundity while still wallowing in them; this is because they are a ‘disguised evil’.

    Pain however, (whether as consequence of sin or not), is an exposed evil, an unmistakeable evil; who doesn’t know that something is wrong when they are being hurt? So the pain and suffering that plague our lives, are but another tool in God’s hands for salvation and the more we strive to interpret it this way, the better for our soul’s direction.

    Our dangerous and unbeknown to us self-absorption is given a disruption, a chance, an upset, by this tool, as it forces us to consider this (self-absorbed) life’s futility.

    Now, far more practically, what we ought to do in the face of this agony and pain is just this: what a child does when it gets scared and turns to look at its mother… It does not look at what is scaring it, contemplating the thing or dissenting at its own mother about it.

    So we do best to simply turn to Christ, away from angst, stress, downheartedness and mutiny, without self-repression but with trustful gratitude no matter what the challenge to the contrary might be. It is a most simple counsel that unfortunately creates push-back in its simplicity. We somehow leave it last, after we have tried all other ideas that come to our heads and they have all failed us. Then and only then do we realise that ‘thinking much’ is no match to trusting, believing and humbly loving, which we (other than painstakingly scrutinising these notions and failing) never risked surrendering to. The truth that there can be times when our push-back stems from our approach to the fearful place of “my God why hast Thou forsaken me?” does not mean we must make a huge chapter of it alone. That would put us in a most perilous position…. That we will have suffering, we have been warned about by Christ, let us focus on the rest of His admonition which can truly help us though : “take courage for I have overcome”.

  91. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Simon – Christ freed me from my hell and He continues to do so. (My response to the fellow on the street is , “Yes, I am saved. And I am being saved and I hope to be saved at the end of my life.”) When Simon rails own about the suffering of little children, I see my Lord and Savior in those children, as He has taken upon Himself the pain and suffering of all mankind. For Simon to suggest and for you to agree that, to be truly Orthodox, I must take upon myself the suffering of all mankind was more than I could bear. I cannot bear my Lord’s burden for Him. I can only praise and thank Him for bearing mine.

  92. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Father Freeman/Simon,

    First, Simon, you mainly missed the thrust of what I was saying. I would just be re-writing what I said to respond. David’s prayer, in a defeated state of depression on behalf of Israel, is something Christ can sympathize with. Our enemies, and we live in a Disneyland where we have none and have no way to sympathize with such an “un-Christian” prayer, Christ can conquer. Our enemies, our sin, which leave us tormented by guilt for sin, Christ can forgive. On and on, I could keep going and I never needed to deny David the validity of his prayer – or a consistently Christian application of it. Again, what will you do with the Saint’s blood under the sacrificial altar, calling out, “How long…? It’s the same sort of prayer. It’s a prayer for the inequity to be done away with and there are only two ways: repentance (which in Revelation is the point of all the judgment as in the OT), and judgment – unless we want some more hermeneutical gymnastics.. God delivers people over to Satan in Corinth so that they will come back – and often they do. Judgment is hard love.

    I feel as if the commonality I share with you has been underestimated and downplayed. Of course I see that the proper way of reading the OT, what you call an allegorical reading, is the reading that interprets the OT through the lens of Christ’s Pascha (and his entire life for that matter). The difference for me, is that most of the time I see it by analogy. Christ is analogous to the sacrificial system, but in a greater way. I want to preserve the analogy and I believe it is being broken by people who often deny the reality of an event or ascribe error to the theology contained in something recorded (Joshua was never commanded to do x,y,z, David was sinful or stupid when he talks about baby smashing). I see an allegory between pagan religion and Christ, but an analogy between the OT (in large part, not exclusively) and Christ and for an analogy to exist – you have to have some basis in reality which you have denied in other places – where I said there must be a Passover to get a Pascha. If you need an analogy, you need a Passover. If you allegorize you don’t technically. It leaves the OT on par with the best of pagan writings – that’s how it comes across in your responses.

    You have to admit that for many interpreters they were faced often with only two ways of reading a text (since contextual information into the OT was lacking; either take it at face value or try and interpret it anew with a view to the Cross/Resurrection while lacking such contextual information). Origen was very different in this manner. He did both and more. Why in the world would he write all those commentaries, be the father of textual criticism, compile the Hexapla. He did it all. All I’m saying, is that in many cases, especially where we are dealing with an apologetic issue – because when anyone reads God’s wrath in the OT they are faced either corporately or personally with an apologetic issue because a question arises regarding the goodness of God – that this is a false dichotomy to choose only between false theology and Christian allegory. This is often the motive behind allegory as it relates to wrath and it moves on from their to other “attributes”. (Aquinas and others didn’t believe God had any wrath, love, etc. – that’s just how we experienced him.) And it is the same concern in Protestant circles. I’m already aware of the conservative Protestant concerns, how they relate to Sola Scriptura. The questions that arise from viewing God as angry and vengeful are shared alike by Protestants/Orthodox and atheists who love to quote-mine the Bible for God’s dirty work. Then there is the work of OT specialists who provide context and understanding into the way in which the original hearer would have processed what was going on. To say these people provide no value, because as you have said, we don’t care about authorial intent, is a fundamentalism of another sort to me. The move away from 6 Day Creationism in conservative Protestant circles (and you know it exists in Orthodoxy so another false comparison) was due to science but also very much in seeing the literary differences in Genesis. That’s a good thing I would think.

    The mark of a prophet was a direct revelation of God which is the same goal of theosis. If we can say that the prophets saw God, recorded what God gave them or their best effort aided by the Spirit to communicate their experience, I find it hard to believe they got so much so wrong.

    I don’t claim you are anthropomophizing, it’s that you are saying the prophets were. Again, I find it very hard to say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit… who spake by the Prophets”, if the Holy Spirit inspired errors or inspired false anthropomorphisms. As you do not wish this Alexandrian/Antiochian split forced on you, I also do not find it fair to now lump me into a Protestant/liberal Protestant dichotomy.

    More, I don’t feel as if you personally have been as upfront with your own conditioning. All of us, myself included, have been conditioned one way or another and we often withhold our own preferences/prejudices to interpret the Bible this way of that because we want to look objective. I was thoroughly Calvinistic before coming to Orthodoxy and extremely conservative, you were a mixture of a fundamentalist and a liberal Protestant who I believe attended a liberal-Protestant seminary. Neither of us can escape our past, I know I can’t. But leaving my Calvinism and Protestant baggage didn’t force me into liberal-Protestant concerns or, binary options. Many conservative Protestants were convinced that Reformation theology was wrong due to people like N.T. Wright who showed contextually that the Reformer’s assumptions were wrong and that they were answering questions that the Bible didn’t pose – and they have been led into the Church. I know Wright is part of the reason I’m Orthodox. But, for most Orthodox as well – since I listen to lectures from their seminaries – usually they will listen to “authorial intent” interpretations and can often see that Tradition was more influenced by “authorial intent” – which elaborates and elucidates the typology of Israel and Christ, why the early Fathers thought they way they did, etc.. You and I are a product in many ways, as much as we both hate it I’m sure, of our time. Can you really say, well, I know you can’t from other posts – that archaeology, evolution, the ancient near-Eastern context the Bible was written in, cosmology, etc. – have not biased us toward interpretive directions? Of course not. The mainline Protestant takes evolution as the way of things, de-historicizes much of the OT, discards the theology as being an infantile process, understands God only as love, and are by and large Universalists. Why should they arrive at such a similar understanding of God as many Orthodox? Think about it, it would be far easier for a liberal Protestant to accept your theology than a conservative Presbyterian who is not a fundamentalist. Why is that? When the mainline Churches ditched Sola Scriptura, inerrancy, they were left with the same apologetical (by apologetical I mean it as defined above, mainline Churches have by and large no need for apologetics) concerns as anyone else who picks up the Bible. Treat it as pagan literature, an infantile process, etc. When the reason for allegory is apologetic, while there may still be a valid application derived, the analogy is destroyed – true typology is destroyed. Say we believed, as many do, that the sacrificial system was a concession by God to do the pagan thing they were used to – now Christ is analogous to a mistaken people, by allegory he could be like any pagan sacrifice – which is why we get Penal Substitution. Plus, your Universalist tendencies are very obvious among your posts – which would make sense of your preference for what you have said are passages with no possibility of reconciliation with Christianity when taken literally.

    So it would be fair if you gave me similar treatment, noticing how I have may have been conditioned. I don’t want to make assumptions about you but to emphasize the lack of bias in each of us. According to Simon anyone who would uphold God as having wrath – needs to believe in such a God – and is a fundamentalist.

    My comments on God’s emotional life did not need disection, you knew what I meant. God in his energies is dynamic, personal, interactive, changing. If Christ is fully personal or relatable to human existence and he portrays the full range of human emotion – then when he calls his Father kind, loving, tender, wrath-withholding, wrath-abiding, etc. – then, while Christ must relate to us in our limited state – it is no violene to God to say he has an emotional life. It’s not a modern projection and it’s not fully anthropomorphic.

    I never suggested Christ’s anger was a justification for our anger, I’m not sure why you included that, I never inferred such a thing.

    I think, it would satisfy me to have you say, yes, there is a way to preserve history, God’s commands that sound like genocide (but are not, when we read them in the context of their situation, that we lack their “supernatural” worldview which included demons, people sold fully into demonic captivity, that since Israel was in some ways synoynomous with Israel violence against them was against God, that repentance was preferred over killing, that when people come into your town smashing your children – which I doubt anyone commenting here has taken some time to digest what an experience that may be – that they may be justified in asking for justice – and that typology, practical application, deeper truths are all still there and when understood correctly are fully Christian. Otherwise, the whole history of Orthodox interpretation that agrees with me, or I with them, is not consistent with Christianity.

    God bless you Father,
    Matthew

  93. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Juliania- Thank you for sharing on The Brothers K. It was very helpful to me.

  94. Kevin Avatar
    Kevin

    I’ve run the gamut from Catholic to Calvinist, but when a priest gave me an hour and a half introduction to Orthodoxy, I realized that I couldn’t carry my old “passport” into this country. Orthodoxy existed outside of the stream of Western philosophical debate, so any preconceptions I brought in would be useless or harmful. Reading my upbringing or my 21st century notions into ancient teachings would only lead to delusion. I know that there are a number of 20th century converts who have written books about Orthodoxy, but I’ve only read “The Orthodox Church.” I’m hesitant to read others because even though they have converted, I can’t be sure they’ve “de-Westernized” their basic way of thinking. I’m much safer going back to older material. About “The Problem of Pain,” that is a relatively early work of C.S. Lewis. I’ve heard that later in life, he rethought much of that and saw it as youthful inexperience. Besides, he was still a thoroughly Western man and his thinking remains within that box.

  95. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Is there something wrong with challenging the anti-Western sentiments in Orthodoxy?

  96. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Matthew,

    I apologize for any unfairness or inferences that were wrong. I don’t think I meant to do that, but it’s easy to not get these things right. Please note that I removed Simon’s comment, in that I thought it did not advance the conversation – but added to the confusion. Sorry.

    I will say carefully, at the outset, that what you’ve said regarding the validity of David’s prayer is a very good and valid point and well worth making – as well as your thoughts viz. genocide. The historical has an importance – one that at least deserves fair treatment and careful study and not to be too easily dismissed as it often is. And I can see how some of my work and responses could be taken too much in that direction.

    Since you mention being upfront with my own conditioning – I’ll start there. All of this I hope will be by way of conversation and not by way of point-counter-point or argument. So, let’s start again.

    1.Fundamentalism and Liberalism – I’ve never been either, but have had lots of experience of being surrounded by both and exposed to them. By fundamentalism, I mean a kind of literalism regarding the text in which everything is utterly, historically accurate, precisely as stated and can only be examined in that light (I don’t know if that’s a sufficient description). By liberalism, I mean someone who does not think that the Scriptures are authoritative and that they are filled with factual errors and bad ideas, etc. The first was the world of my childhood (at least at Church) though not in my home. My parents were never fundamentalists. They would have been called “moderates,” I suppose, though they didn’t think very much about any of these things.

    The liberalism I encountered in college and seminary (Anglican) in abundance. I thought it was bankrupt and I generally couldn’t see why anyone who thought in that manner bothered to be a Christian. I knew priests and professors who did not believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. Again, this never held any attraction for me.

    So, I found myself, for a very long time, in a crack between two worlds, both of which I found wanting. But, no doubt, their questions have influenced me, and how I think about what seems important.

    I should say that I’ve never been exposed much to Reform or Calvinist thought, other than with unpleasant arguments that have arisen from time-to-time on the internet.

    But the two ends of the Protestant spectrum have raised certain questions for me:

    1.If there is historical uncertainty within some of the texts of Scripture, are they fatally flawed, or is there a way to read them authoritatively?

    I suppose that it is that question that drew me towards what I often encountered in the Fathers – their ability to handle the text in a manner that transcended the problems created by modern historical questions.

    2.What is the relationship between text and history?
    This is a question that is obviously related to the Protestant spectrum, a good portion of which is generated by the nature of modern historical research and studies and the critical approach associated with it.

    It has seemed to me that both ends of the spectrum treat the history itself (the events on the ground) as the essential matter – and the question being whether the text is a reliable account of those events. I am no doubt affected by this process. I’ve seen and read and heard many of the varied historical arguments regarding various texts, besides the more obvious ones. I’ve been exposed to enough of that to know (or believe) that trying to defend the faith on this basis simply makes the text hostage to the historical arguments (one way or another). This has seemed like a problem that is distinctly modern and a mistake, if adopted by an Orthodox Christian.

    My reason for this is that I do not think the text has a careful one-on-one relationship with the events it reports – at least not always – and for a variety of reasons. The text is primarily written from a doctrinal/revelatory/liturgical direction in which accounts are shaped in a manner that strict historiography would not always approve. This, to my mind, in no ways affects the text’s reliability as authoritative Scripture (useful for “doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” 2 Tim. 3:16)

    Saying that, of course, can make it seem like I do not value the historical question or reading at all, or enough. If so, that’s my fault, and I can only plead the inadequacy of my own explanations as well as my concern that the text not be hostage to historical arguments.

    I think, to be fair, that you are not arguing for such a hostage relationship, but that the historical reading be given more weight and proper attention. I cede the point.

    Allegory, Typology, Analogy, etc.

    I want to be a little more clear about what I’m trying to say regarding the use of allegory. I have used the term in its largest sense (similar to Paul’s), in which the term includes the various means that may be hidden within or beneath the literal. Typology is a form of allegory in this classical meaning of the word – and perhaps my use of the term is confusing. I apologize – but I’m not sure I have a better word, as yet.

    I do not follow the argument, which I’ve seen before, that the thing read in a typological manner must be a historical fact for the typology to be true. At least that’s a question I’ve heard raised. I don’t know if that is your concern or not. What we have is the text – and what is described in the text is the type – the historical question is not uninteresting or unimportant, but is not a sine qua non in the matter.

    The primary criticism of the allegorical method that I have seen in the Fathers, is a criticism of its excesses. Let’s say someone read “bush” in the text, but said the bush was “the virtues.” There are lots of sort of specious examples in some allegorical treatments, including Origen. No, the bush must be a bush in order to be a type. The burning bush is a type of the Virgin Mary, for example, who, like the bush, bears fire but is not consumed (she is ever-virgin). I have no problems about the historical question of Moses seeing a burning bush (I believe it), but what we have is the text – and it is the description in the text that serves as the type. I do not have to have an argument about bushes.

    Allegorical Realism
    I go a step further than mere analogy or literary typology – and this, I think, is also a way of taking the history seriously. I see the Christological reading as similar to the sacraments. I see bread and wine, but I believe and know it to be Christ’s Body and Blood. The truth of the bread and wine are sacramental. Christ is truly there – not allegorically, not analogically, etc. By the same token, the Christological reading is a discernment of what is truly there, beneath and within the letter (and within the history). It is the primary meaning – though not destroying or discarding the other. Thus, the Virgin Mary is truly present in the Burning Bush. She is not inferred or merely seen by analogy – but is truly there, beneath and within the letter.

    I think this agrees with a patristic understanding – I have in mind this passage from St. Irenaeus:

    If anyone, therefore, reads the Scriptures this way, he will find in them the Word concerning Christ, and a foreshadowing of the new calling. For Christ[1] is the ‘treasure which was hidden in the field’ [Matt. 13:44], that is, in this world – for ‘the field is the world’ [Matt. 13:38] – [a treasure] hidden in the Scriptures, for he was indicated by means of types and parables, which could not be understood by human beings prior to the consummation of those things which had been predicted, that is, the advent of the Lord. And therefore it was said to Daniel the prophet, ‘Shut up the words, and seal the book, until the time of the consummation, until many learn and knowledge abounds. For, when the dispersion shall be accomplished, they shall know all these things’ [Dan. 12:4, 7]. And Jeremiah also says, ‘In the last days they shall understand these things’ [Jer. 23:20]. For every prophecy, before its fulfilment, is nothing but an enigma and ambiguity to human beings; but when the time has arrived, and the prediction has come to pass, then it has an exact exposition [ἐξήγησις]. And for this reason, when at this present time the Law is read by the Jews, it is like a myth [mythos], for they do not possess the explanation [ἐξήγησις] of all things which pertain to the human advent of the Son of God; but when it is read by Christians, it is a treasure, hid in a field, but brought to light by the Cross of Christ, and explained, both enriching the understanding of human beings, and showing forth the wisdom of God, and making known his economies with regard to the human being, and prefiguring the kingdom of Christ, and preaching in anticipation the good news of the inheritance of the holy Jerusalem, and proclaiming beforehand that the human being who loves God shall advance so far as even to see God, and hear his Word, and be glorified, from hearing his speech, to such an extent, that others will not be able to behold his glorious countenance [cf. 2 Cor. 3:7], as was said by Daniel, ‘Those who understand shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and many of the righteous as the stars for ever and ever’ [Dan. 12:3]. In this manner, then, I have shown it to be, if anyone read the Scriptures. (haer. 4.26.1)

    This has come out of conversations and correspondence with Fr. John Behr. He describes this as “reading the Scripture as Scripture.” It also reminds me of this in St. Maximus:

    All sacred Scripture can be divided into flesh and spirit as if it were a spiritual man. For the literal sense of Scripture is flesh and its inner meaning is soul or spirit. Clearly someone wise abandons what is corruptible and unites his whole being to what is incorruptible. 92. The Law is the flesh of the spiritual man who here corresponds to sacred Scripture: the prophets are the senses; the Gospel is the noetic soul that functions through the flesh of the Law and the senses of the prophets, revealing its power in its actions. 93. The Law is a shadow and the prophets are an image of the divine and spiritual blessings contained in the Gospel. The truth itself, foreshadowed in the Law and prefigured in the prophets, is revealed in the Gospel as now present to us through actual events. (Two Hundred Texts on Theology and the Incarnate Dispensation of the Son of God) Written for Thalassios, 1.91-93

    Am I overly concerned with the Scriptures being held “hostage to history?” That could be, and you would be correct to point at my background experience as something that has shaped that concern. My attempt at understanding has been to remove the question and the Scriptures outside of the entire conversation between conservative and liberal Protestantism. I think they both crash and burn in the end.

    On the emotions of God – I’m not sure I responded well or with understanding on that matter, and I ask your forgiveness. I suspect that a face-to-face conversation would be required to really get at what we both want to say and understand each other.

    I appreciate your persistence and take it to mean that this matters to you – that what I think and say matters to you – and that this is worth spending the time and effort on. I pray God’s blessings for you!

  97. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon,
    Not on the face of it. But I think it takes us in a direction that I don’t want to go. It’s a different conversation.

  98. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    Thank your for the thoughtful response and the time you put into it. I very much appreciate it. God bless you and your flock.

    Matthew

  99. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Matthew,
    I’d like to know if anything within my response seems problematic or inadequate. I’m interested.

    I realized as well that I did not respond to your observations on my “universalist leanings.” Briefly: I think God is a universalist, in the sense that “He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). That is also balanced with the fact that He wills for us to become “by grace what He is by nature” – that He wills us to be friends, and, in that sense, treats us as equals (cf. my recent article on Face to Face). That being said, our freedom is allowed a god-like power (such is His love). That we might refuse His welcome is thus a distinct possibility. I have never denied that.

    But, and this is where I think my “leanings” are most evident: I believe that my heart should be like God’s – always willing the salvation of everyone. That, for me, means holding some form of hope that it is actually possible, even though I have no evidence to claim that I know it will become fact. I simply observe that many who do not hold that hope seem to develop something within their heart that is at peace with the loss of some – i.e. something goes wrong in their heart. That’s not necessarily the case – but I observed it rather commonly.

    There is no teaching of the Church that proclaims universalism, however. On the contrary, there are some strong voices in the other direction. It is the thin voice of a few (St. Isaac, Nyssa, and a few others) that makes me know that at least voicing the hope is not out of bounds. I generally do not voice it very loudly or firmly – but, mostly, as a “leaning.” Mostly it is as a pushback against those who too easily want to crush the hope.

    I should add that though universalism would be (and is) a popular liberal notion, for their own reasons, my reasons have nothing in common with theirs. Having endured and suffered at the hands of liberals across my 20 years as an Anglican priest, I can say that there is very little in common with them in anything. I paid a price to be where I am, and did not do so only to become what I loathed.

    I hope that this is helpful, at least in understanding why I say what I say – its intent. Again, I appreciate the time you’ve put into this conversation, and welcome any feedback or thoughts.

  100. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Father,
    I appreciate everything you write and I very much appreciated the added clarity of these comments too. I always trusted that these notions were the foundation of your (truly tradition-aligned) ‘phronema’ in all your communication here and suspected that they were as you describe them here, but it is also useful for everyone to know them spelled out so.

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