Being Saved – The Ontological Approach


I cannot begin to count the number of times I wished there were a simple, felicitous word for “ontological.” I dislike writing theology with words that have to be explained – that is, words whose meanings are not immediately obvious. But, alas, I have found no substitute and will, therefore, beg my reader’s indulgence for dragging such a word into our conversations.

From the earliest times in the Church, but especially beginning with St. Athanasius in the 4th century as the great Ecumenical Councils took shape, the doctrines of the Church have been expressed and debated within the terms related to being itself. For example, St. Athanasius says that in creating us, God gave us “being” (existence), with a view that we should move towards “well-being,” and with the end of “eternal being” (salvation). That three-fold scheme is a very common theme in patristic thought, championed and used again in the work of St. Maximus the Confessor with great precision, as he matured the thought of the Church as affirmed in the 5th Council.

At the same time, this language of being was used to speak about the nature and character of salvation, the same terms and imagery were being used to speak about the Trinity and the two natures of Christ. That language continues up through the Seventh Council and is the language used to define the doctrine of the veneration of the Holy Icons. Conciliar thought, carried on within the terms of being (being, non-being, nature, person, existence, hypostatic representation, essence, energies, etc.) can be described as speaking in the language of “ontology.” Ontology is the technical name for things having to do with being (“onto” as a prefix in Greek means “being”). There is a “seamless garment” of theological exposition that can be discerned across the range of the Councils. It is ontological in character.

Tremendous work and discussion on the part of the fathers resulted in a common language for speaking about all of these questions. Thus, the term “person” (an aspect of “being”) is used both for speaking about the Trinity as well as speaking about human persons and the one person of Christ in two natures. It is the primary “grammar” of Orthodox conciliar thought. No other imagery or language receives the kind of imprimatur as the terms raised up into the formal declarations of the Church’s teaching. To a degree, everything else is commentary.

Many other images have been used alongside the ontological work of the Councils. The Church teaches and a good teacher draws on anything at hand to enlighten its students. Nevertheless, the dogmatic language of the Church has been that of “being.”

So what constitutes an “ontological” approach to salvation?

Here is an example. “Morality” is a word and concept that applies to behavior and an adherence to rules and laws. “Immorality” is the breaking of those laws. You can write about sin (and thus salvation) in the language of morality and never make reference to the language of being. But what is created becomes a sort of separate thing from the conciliar language of the Church. Over the centuries, this has often happened in theology, particularly Western theology (Protestant and Catholic). The result is various “departments” of thought, without a common connection. It can lead to confusion and contradiction.

There is within Orthodoxy, an argument that says we are on the strongest ground when we speak in the language of the Councils. The language of “being” comes closer to accurately expressing what is actually taking place. Though all language has a “metaphoric” character, the language of being is, I think, the least metaphorical. It is about “what is.”

Back to the imagery of morality. If you speak of right and wrong in terms of being, it is generally expressed as either moving towards the path of well-being-eternal-being, or moving away from it, that is, taking a path towards non-being. What does the path of non-being look like? It looks like disintegration, a progressive “falling apart” of existence. The New Testament uses the term phthora (“corruption”) to describe this. Phthora is what happens to a body when it dies. Death, in the New Testament, is often linked to sin (“sin and death”). It is the result of moving away from God, destroying our communion with Him.

For most modern people, death is seen as simply a fact of life, a morally neutral thing. It can’t be a moral question, we think, because you can’t help dying. But, in the New Testament and the Scriptures, death is quite synonymous with sin. When Adam and Eve sin, they are told that it will result in death (a very ontological problem). A moral approach to that fact tends to see “sin” as the defining term and death as merely the punishment. The ontological approach sees death itself as the issue and the term that defines the meaning of sin. Sin is death. Death is sin.

And so, the language of the Church emphasizes that Christ “trampled down death by death.” In the language of ontology, that simple statement says everything. “He trampled down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowed life.” This includes the destruction of sin, freedom from the devil, forgiveness of sins, etc. But all of those things are included in the words of “death” and “life.”

An advantage in speaking in this manner can again be seen in comparing it to a simple moral approach. Morality is about actions, obedience, and disobedience. It says nothing about the person actually doing those things (or it can certainly avoid that topic). It can mislead people into thinking that being and existence are neutral sorts of things and that what matters is how we behave. This can be coupled with the modern heresy of secularism in which it is asserted that things have an existence apart from God, that the universe is just a “neutral no-man’s land.” The ontological approach denies this and affirms that God upholds everything in existence, moment by moment. It affirms that existence itself is a good thing and an expression of God’s goodness. It says as well that it is the purpose of all things that exist to be in communion with God and move towards eternal being. It is the fullness of salvation expressed in Romans 8:21-22.

Moral imagery also tends to see the world as disconnected. We are simply a collection of independent moral agents, being judged on our behavior. What I do is what I do, and what you do is what you do, and there is nothing particularly connected about any of it. The language of being is quite different. Everything in creation that exists shares in the commonality of created being. What happens to any one thing effects everything else. There is true communion at the very root of existence.

And it is this communion of being that the fathers use when they speak of Christ’s Incarnation and our salvation. When the Creed says, “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man,” it is speaking about salvation. It does not say, “Who, in order to pay the penalty that was due…” Such language can be used and has been used, but it is not at the heart of the Conciliar words of the Church. It is not recited every Sunday.

So how does Christ save us in terms of being? In essence (no pun intended), He became what we were in order to make us what He is. He became man, entering and restoring the full communion which we had broken. The Lord and Giver of Life, the Author of our Being entered into dying humanity. He took our dying humanity on Himself and entered into the very depths of that death (“suffered death and was buried”). He then raised that same dying humanity into His own eternal life. This is our forgiveness of sins. If sin is death, then resurrection is forgiveness. Thus we sing at Pascha:

“Let us call brothers even those that hate us and forgive all by the resurrection.” That sentence only makes sense in terms of the ontological language in which it is written.

We do bad things (immoral things) because we have broken communion with God. “Sins” are the symptoms and signs of death, decay, corruption, and disintegration at work in the soul. If left unattended, it will drag us into the very depths of near non-being in what can properly be described as hell. This is reflected in the Psalm verse, “The dead do not praise the LORD, Nor any who go down into silence.” (Psa 115:17)

In Holy Baptism, we are asked, “Do you unite yourself to Christ?” This is the language of being and communion. St. Paul tells us that in Baptism we are united to Christ in His death and raised in the likeness of His resurrection. He then adds that we should “walk in newness of life.” That union with Christ and infusion of His Life creates a moral change that can be described in the language of being.

The unity of language, I believe, is very helpful and salutary. It is easy for modern believers, nurtured in the language of morality, to hear teachings about the Trinity and the two natures of Christ, etc., and think, “What has any of that got to do with my life?” That is a natural conclusion when salvation is expressed in a language that is separated from the language of the doctrinal foundations of the Church.

There are some who have pushed the moral language into the language of the Trinity, such that what is important is the Son’s propitiation of the Father’s wrath. Such terms find no place within the Conciliar thought of the Church and can (and have) created problems. It is not that such terms have no use nor that they have never been used by any of the Fathers at any time. But they have a long history of being misused and distorting and obscuring the foundational doctrines of the Church.

In my own life, I personally found the language of being, when applied to my salvation, to explain the meaning of Scripture more thoroughly and connect my daily life and actions to the most fundamental doctrines of the Church. It allowed me to read St. Athanasius, St. Basil, St. Gregory, St. Maximus and a host of others without feeling that I had come to something foreign. It more than adequately addresses moral questions, whereas moral language cannot address anything else and creates problems and heresies when it is imported into the language of the Trinity. I should add that I have worked within this for nearly 30 years and have found nothing within Scripture than cannot be understood within the ontological understanding and that doing so frequently takes you deeper into understanding what is actually going on. It also forces you to ask the questions of “how does this relate to everything else?”

I hope this little introductory train of thought is helpful for those who are thinking about these things. It should explain why I see this as important and something that goes to the very heart of the Orthodox faith.

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.


128 responses to “Being Saved – The Ontological Approach”

  1. Brandon Avatar


    Thank you!! I was up all night driving myself crazy contemplating various ontological theories. (It becomes a fool’s dilemma when you lose the connection between ontology and sin/morality). I really needed this.

    Do you have any thoughts on either Gabriel Marcel or Bernard Lonergan?
    Do you or does anyone have any recommendations on Ontology?

    Thank you

  2. Deacon James Avatar

    Thank you Fr. Stephen – ontological became my favorite word about 5 or so years ago…I’ve no doubt you helped bring that into a part of my being. 🙂

  3. Randall Herman Avatar
    Randall Herman

    Thank you! This is helpful. I think of the Holy Trinity in the language of relationship, and your point that ‘true Communion is at the heart of existence’ helps me reconcile relationship and being.

  4. Fr. Barnabas Powell Avatar

    Christ is risen!

    Thanks Fr. Stephen. I miss you, brother.

  5. Brad Jersak Avatar
    Brad Jersak

    This is incredibly clear and helpful. Resonating deeply. And the biggest aha! moment in the last year. 1000s pieces just fell into place. A keeper. Sharing widely.

  6. William Avatar

    Christos Anesti!
    I’m going to come back for a second and third read, it helps to re-align my thinking having stepped out of a propitiatory reality.
    I’m trying to soak up the reality of theosis and the authentic salvific gospel which is experiential..?
    Feeling very good,
    your friend,
    P.S. Thanks and God Bless, Dino.

  7. Bob Avatar

    One of the most fundamental descriptions of man is that ” he is a being that has that being as an issue”. It seems to me that this grounds man’s very nature in a response to Being.
    Sin,it has always seemed to me ,is as you have well indicated,an ontological problem before it can be viewed as anything else, i.e. a violation of a moral order. I think this more fundamental or elemental ontological order is what illumines all the rest of man’s activities.
    If love can be viewed as an “endless interrogation ” as one author defined our being, then I think this is only because our essential reality is ontological above all.
    “It is he who suffers his absence in me Who through me cries out to himself. Love’s most strange, most holy mystery— We are intimate beyond belief.”

  8. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    Yes, Father, extremely helpful! 🙏💗

  9. Brad Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, I’m wondering if you could please assess the following for accuracy and point out any glitches: I’ve been using Ontological vs Existential as what I think is an improvement on the language of Objective vs Subjective (which creates its own problems) to distinguish Separation and Alienation. For example, through the hypostatic union, there can be no ontological separation between Christ and humanity (God in Christ HAS reconciled the world to himself) but at the same time, through self-will and the delusion of autonomy, I can certainly suffer a very real Existential experience of Alienation. The prodigal son experienced the alienation of life with the swine … even while, ontologically, he never ceased to be a beloved son. God is ever toward us in love and Christ has united himself to us Ontologically (no separation), but existentially, I need to come home (therefore, be reconciled) to the Father’s love. Does this make sense, or do you think it might need tweaking?

  10. Fr Nathan Avatar
    Fr Nathan

    Christos Voskrese!

    I love it! The sin as symptom analogy was one of my points last week.

    I may have confused the issue by preaching it as sin as symptom and disease as opposed to the symptom of ontology.

    I first encountered this at Fuller through a study of John 15, the true vine and abiding I. Christ. It radically shifted my theolological ponderings.

    As for the term, I think we need a neologism, maybe “beingology?”

  11. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The connected ontological approach can he seen in all of the created world. It was actually quite commonly understood in pre-industrial communities and even into the 20th century. Certainly, many native tribal faiths clearly know the wisdom of it.

    My grandfather, grandmother, my father and his older brother homesteaded in Western New Mexico in the early part of the 20th century. Living in a sod hut at first. An arid land but full of the presence of God as my Dad discovered. From that experience he clearly saw the interconnectedness of all created life and that God was at the center of it all. He passed that on to me and my older brother. He preached it incessantly. Combined with a similar understanding that my mother had-the Orthodox Church became the only possible home for my brother and me (not that we did not try to find another home, but they all came up short.)

    Part of that understanding is the realization that no action, or inaction is isolated. Thus even morality is seen in an ontological light. “What you do to the least of these, you do to me.”

    Even the reality that sin brings death into the world is not just a philosophical pondering but at times a stark and inescapable fact from which we in modernity are largely isolated.
    The western tendency to move everything into the disembodied realm of thought even trivializes morality as it leaves no place for an experience of the Incarnation.

    If anyone here has not read St. Anthansius, On The Incarnation, get it from Eighth Days Books and read it slowly. (Edition with the forward by CS Lewis). Then read it again to allow it to penetrate.

    Christ is Risen.

  12. Barbara Levich Avatar
    Barbara Levich

    This important to save and savor. Thank you for putting it in a way that lay people can grasp.

  13. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Father, what a perfect transition this is from the previous post! So many thoughts along the way I have had, and such good comments.

    Michael…just one thing, forgive me…I know your appreciation for Eighth Day Books, thus your promotion…worthily, I might add. But for those who would benefit more immediately (for various reasons), I offer a link to the text:

  14. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Father Stephen,
    Father Bless!

    This article is one of my favorite topics that you expound upon. And I believe it is partly responsible to help my understanding of my initial ‘ontological’ (a word I wouldn’t have used at the time) interpretation of my observation of resurrection in the material and immaterial fabric of our universe.

    I plan to use this article for a discussion among catechumens who have been influenced by western theology. As I was thinking about doing this, I was preparing myself for potential questions, by coming up with questions of my own. (In other words my intention is to use a Socratic approach). But one such question is beyond my comprehension at the moment and I ask for help: Is an Orthodox understanding that death was in the world before man sinned? It seems that death is commiserate with sin (ie ‘part of’ not necessarily a ‘consequence of’) neither being the cause of one or the other.

    Do I understand this correctly? If I do understand this appropriately, how does Orthodox theology treat death in the natural world before man ‘walked the earth’. (please forgive my usage) I anticipate an ontological approach, but I’m not yet sure I will express this well without your help.

    Thank you for this wonderful article–very timely for me!!!

    Christ is Risen!

  15. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    “'[O]nto’ as a prefix in Greek means ‘being.’”

    And I understand that “ob,” when used as a prefix in Greek (as in “object”) can be taken to mean “thing.”

    Thank you for this post and your recent post on the Hiddenness of God, which have helped me understand the important distinction between the objective approach and the ontological approach. It appears to be a critical distinction between Eastern and Western theology.

  16. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Paula, reading it is most important but, not knowing the translation of the source you recommend, I have pause that it is on a Coptic website. There are aspects of their official incarnational theology that keep us from being in communion with them sadly for they have certainly born great witness to Jesus Christ.

    I trust the translation of the edition I recommended and the forward by CS Lewis is a gem in itself. Plus Eighth Day is an incarnational minustry. It’s very continued existence is a miracle of Providence. It would be a sad thing if because of my own desire for convenience and immediancy.

    But you are correct my love for Eighth Day’s owner, the ambience and peace of the store and it’s unmatched care for those served does make me biased. With all that I have been given through Eighth Way over the years, I feel that giving thanks and praise for them when I get the chance is the least I can do. For me it is an ontological imperative.

    The Incarnation is always in stock there and can be sent quickly if requested.

  17. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Michael…thanks…yes, I agree about the source. Matter of fact, along the lines of your concern, I had the same thing in mind when I posted, but didn’t know how to verbalize it. You say it well.
    Too, if I remember correctly, this is the version I first read, not knowing a thing about the need to be careful of its source. I gleaned from it what I needed to know at the time, and in time and further studies, it all fell together. Well, it is still falling together, I should say 🙂 .
    But, thank you. Your advice is well taken.

  18. Rostislav Isaac Syrský Avatar
    Rostislav Isaac Syrský

    Thank you, Father. Very helpful, especially when someone like me was stuck in the legalistic view of Christianity. May God bless you.

  19. Byron Avatar


    I was up at Eighth Day Books this past weekend. I happily parted with more money than planned. I too love that store; it is quite wonderful.

  20. Maria Avatar

    I have to wonder what all this terminology would mean to Jesus – in His time? Thank God He spoke in simple terms being direct and using parables to help all to understand…..Peace!

  21. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    Dee – According to the holy Fathers, there was no death and no corruption prior to the sin of Adam and Eve.

  22. Andrew Avatar

    “It more than adequately addresses moral questions…”

    Father, I feel I’m so close to “getting it”. I wonder if you could perhaps expound a bit on what is the proper place of morality (right action, obedience etc.) in our lives as Christians. How does an ontological approach address the moral questions? I think some of this ties in to what you’ve frequently said about “progress” and moral improvement, but I’m still trying to grasp it.

  23. Robert Fortuin Avatar
    Robert Fortuin

    Esmee La Fleur – this is not true. There exists a variation of thought on this among the fathers. There is not a unanimous position on this. For instance, some respected fathers hold to a “double creation” position, according to which death was present from the beginning.

    The breakdown of the modern notion of the linearity of time (“first this, then that”) here is a notable consideration.

  24. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    Robert (and Dee) – If I have misunderstood and misspoken based on the reading I have done, I apologize. Obviously, I should have let Fr. Stephen answer the question since He was the one addressed! I am often too confident in what I think I know. Please forgive me. Can you recommend a source to me for further reading on this alternative perspective?

  25. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Jesus seems to have had no trouble having a conversation with the learned rabbi’s of His time, as well as the poorest of the poor. Sometimes we have to used big words (ontological) in order to teach something that would not have needed to be taught or explained in His time. We have created a bizarre distortion in Christianity (and the world), and wisdom requires speaking carefully, and even precisely from time to time.

    I don’t write in this way to make things complicated – but to make things that seem complicated clear and understandable. There are hundreds of ways of doing this which is why there’s over 2500 articles on the blog.

  26. Dean Avatar

    Yes, terminology with which we are unfamiliar can be frustrating at times. Yet when we stretch ourselves and ask God’s help more understanding does come. Yes, we certainly can know Christ without training in philosophy or theology. The most unlearned peasant in history can know Christ. Yet thank God for sites such as this. I know I have been stretched and challenged by Father’s teaching.
    As for parables….Christ said this to His disciples in the middle of several parables, after they asked why He spoke to them in parables. “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” Matt.13
    So, parables can hide as well as reveal depending upon the disposition of one’s heart. Because of the Pharisees’ hard heart, they were left without understanding.

  27. Dean Avatar

    Father, I did not see your response until after I had posted.

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    This (no death before Adam and Eve) is a bit simplistic – and is certainly found in many Fathers. In some, such as Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor, the whole question is treated with greater sophistication in order to deal with certain questions that occurred to them.

    For us – it would be impossible for anyone other than a “young earther” to suggest that there was no death prior to human beings. Dinosaurs are considerably older by many, many millions of years – and yet they died. As far as we can tell, the entire universe operates according to the laws of entropy which would suggest that the entire universe is not only subject to decay, but has been ever since it came into existence.

    Some deal with this by mounting pseudo-science arguments and creating an alternative “science” for Christians because they are having a theological problem. I do not find this to be at all helpful.

    Rather, I follow St. Paul. In the 8th chapter of Romans, he describes creation (i.e. the whole universe) as having been “subjected to futility” that it might share in our hope (of the resurrection and a coming liberation of all creation). He no where says that Adam and Eve caused the universe to fall. Indeed, if you read the Genesis account carefully, they are expelled from Paradise into this world (which is the language St. Basil uses as well). “This world” has apparently been subject to futility from its inception in preparation to receive us when we “fell.”

    Trying to describe the “fall” and the “expulsion” in historical terms is pretty much a non-starter. “Paradise,” both then and now, seems, somehow, to be “not of this world.” All this makes my hair hurt – but it seems to be the most sense that can be made of it in light of what we see and know, and what we don’t see and don’t know.

    It is this “double creation” that Robert was referring to. I think the double creation goes too far in that it says more than we know. I like to put the creation of Adam and Eve, as well as their experience in the Garden, in a “mandorla,” that place in icons where things are put that you could never see properly “in this world.”

    Those who insist on a linear, historical account of everything lack imagination, in my opinion, and help drive more than few believers to unbelief, by suggesting that they must believe things that are impossible for them to believe.

    A good, healthy dose of Maximus the Confessor (not just the selections we typically see) is a good cure for thinking of this in purely linear historical terms. It seems to be stranger than that.

    On the other hand, linear/historical thinking is easier – and becomes the route for many who do not find it problematic.

    What I would say about the “Fathers” – is that they do not assert certain historical/scientific explanations because they were/are privy to some special revelation and protection from error. They simply do not address certain questions that are common to our time because such questions would not have arisen in their time, given the general understandings. St. Basil, for example, when writing on the six days of creation, relied on the “science” of Aristotle – which was the best and most sophisticated of his time.

    Too many have made Orthodoxy into a pseudo-Catholic thing, where the fathers as a whole are made an infallible group to replace the Pope, or a pseudo-Protestant thing, where the fathers as a whole are made an infallible group to replace Sola Scriptura. These habits of thought are, to my mind, late Western developments that are not true – any of them.

    The Fathers contradict one another from time to time – and give evidence of various failings. I would suggest that almost everyone is subject to certain kinds of error within the realm of rational thought and experience.

    When we speak of the Fathers and their reliability, we are discussing their noetic perception. The nous simply isn’t interested particularly in biology, science, etc. It’s not a noetic question. Noetic perception sees the Truth of all things – and generally sees it as a whole and not as a collection of disjointed facts. This is sometimes described as perceiving the “logoi” of all things. That’s not the same thing as perceiving their sub-atomic structure, etc. Compared to their logoi – created things are icons.

    This is all probably more than was needed – but I thought I would comment at length in case it was useful to anyone.

  29. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Please forgive my misusage. Sin and death are not ‘commiserate’ –bogus usage.

    I intended to say something to the effect that they are co-incident. And Father Stephen says death is sin. Father please forgive me if the question I asked above about death in the natural world derails the conversation. That’s not my intention.

  30. Reece Avatar

    This was a great article, thank you!

    Maria- I think Jesus did speak of this in simple terms, as you mentioned, by talking about being “in the Father” and us being “in Him” and He “in us” etc. (John 15, 14:20, 17:23). Other NT writers did as well (for example 1 John 4: 9-17, Colossians 1: 15-23).

    Along those lines, something I have been pondering regarding ontology and salvation is the filial nature of it. For some reason, the filial aspect of existence and salvation is often left out- as if being children of God is just a side benefit or afterthought of salvation and not the true nature of the saving relationship. Jesus spoke of salvation in filial terms (e.g. John 14:6) and Paul seemed to say that being adopted and having a filial relationship with God is the very purpose for which we were created (Eph 1:5). Salvation is coming into communion with the Father through the Son in the Spirit. We can only come to the Father as children in the Child. Rejecting a filial relationship with God is death. It seems that for image bearers, existence, and therefore salvation have a decidedly filial nature.
    I have read that Athanasius connected deification and sonship too: Deification and Sonship According to St Athanasius of Alexandria:

  31. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dee, Robert, Esmee…
    Yeah, thanks Robert! When Dee asked that question I thought of St Maximus (I think it was him) who said the creation and the fall occurred at one and the same “time”. I even remember asking Father Stephen what was meant by this. I can not find the post. But I did do a site search and came up with two results:
    This is not quite as close as I’d like, but here’s an excerpt (Kalomiros on the 6 days of creation…at the very end):
    “Included in that first unit of Genesis, therefore, is all of creation and all of mankind. The six days of creation are mystical time periods of creation as we know it, as God formed it so it can cope with the results of the fall. The sixth day is the crown and completion of creation in its present fallen state and corruptibility. As a time period, the sixth day has not yet ended. While the sixth day has not yet ended, however, for us who live in time the seventh day has come and gone.”
    And another from Father’s post:
    “…Strangely, such jarring simultaneity has become less jarring (in a fashion) when Quantum Physics now speaks regularly of a particle being in two-places at once (indeed, a recent experiment has achieved this with material larger than the sub-atomic level)….
    The fathers (St. Basil for example) were quite clear that time was but a created thing, coming into existence only with space and matter. They moved easily around the false borders created by those who imagined time as a fixed, immutable reality. Creation is always mutable.”

    Esmee…no worries! You are fine!

  32. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    I am so very appreciative of the extensive response you have offered me on this topic, Fr. Stephen. It is enormously helpful in giving me a fuller picture of the complexity involved here. And as you have said before, it’s not an issue to “hang” our faith in Christ on, so-to-speak. But I still wish to try and to wrap my ever-inquiring mind around it as much as a limited human perspective will allow.

  33. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Mostly, when I think about the topic these days, it’s to stretch my poor mind so that I might see beyond (somehow) the conundrums we imagine.

  34. Dino Avatar

    Father, Paula AZ, Dee, Robert, Esmee,
    Perhaps it’s worth reminding ourselves here of the classical notion that ‘Man’ (as well as all creation – which Man recapitulates in himself) is created ex nihilo “mortal according to nature” called to be “immortal according to grace”.

  35. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Fr Stephen,
    You commented to Esmee:
    “Mostly, when I think about the topic these days, it’s to stretch my poor mind so that I might see beyond (somehow) the conundrums we imagine.”

    This is indeed why I asked you this question to help me see beyond as well. So much of our discourse in theology in this culture is shaped by protestant/western thinking. And having heard such thinking in one way or another has impacted my own reasoning as well–which is why I asked. I greatly appreciate your answer and it is indeed useful to me. (Although I hope I don’t contribute to your pulling out your hair… : ) )

    When I observed the Resurrection and where I had observed it, the observation confused me very much on account of the typical literal historical and moralistic approach used in western theology. Even having seen it myself, I’m still learning how to understand it.

    Dino I sincerely appreciate the “call to be immortal according to grace” that you describe. In fact that is indeed the endpoint in the catechumen class discussion I that hope to encourage. Nevertheless, I sense the need to prepare myself for questions I’m likely to be asked, considering that the catechumens know my history in the sciences . I prefer to present the ontological approach to the Resurrection and to provide a helpful understanding the reality of our being, to be best of my meager ability. Given how meager it actually is, however, that is exactly why I asked Father Stephen this question in the first place.

    Paula, your answer made me smile (in your reference to a particle being in two places at once) . Thank you.

  36. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    Dino, Thank you.

    Sometimes I feel that this is the only thing I should be seeking… i.e. not an intellectual understanding of what Christ is all about, but simply more of His grace and, thus, to:

    “Pray More. Think Less.” 😇 😇😇

    I appreciate everyone’s comments and contributions to this illuminating discussion. What a wonderful community it is!

  37. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Father…sorry, I’m another one who posted before seeing your response to Esmee at 3:27 pm.
    Thank you. That was a great explanation. The “mandorla”…really good, Father!

    Dino…I am having trouble tying together your last comment. Would you explain please? My brain is being stretched too!

  38. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    It is my hope that I do not present faith as a counterpoint to reason or intellectual endeavor. As far as I know one need not displace the other. But I will also emphasize that the mystery of the Resurrection itself is not fathomed by an intellectual approach. If my writing sounds like that it will be due to my clumsiness in writing.

  39. Dino Avatar

    Immortal according to grace (“κατά χάρη αθάνατος”) is a description of immortality within a ‘mandorla’ if you like. As opposed to being ‘creaturely’ or natural mortal (“φύσει θνητός”). This holds true for the angelic orders according to orthodox dogmatic as far as I know.

  40. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    No Dee, absolutely not! I was speaking purely for myself and reflecting on what is most important for me personally in my own journey to Christ. The thing that attracted me to Orthodoxy 15 years ago was Saint Seraphim’s famous words: “The purpose of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.” However, I have done practically nothing during the past 15 years to actually intentionally acquire the Holy Spirit for myself (through prayer and other ascetic practices invite the grace of God). Recent experiences have caused me to realize this sad fact in a very forceful way and to take a good, hard look at where I want to invest my time and energy for the remainder of this life that God has given me to seek Him.

  41. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dino…OK, I see now.
    ευχαριστώ (thank you!)
    (had to google that one. Hope I got it right!)

  42. Tony Rezk Avatar
    Tony Rezk

    Michael Bauman, the translation that is used at the Coptic site is the from, found here:

    I hope that you’re not suggesting that the translation may have been tampered with because of what you may think is incorrect “aspects of their official incarnational theology”, as there is really not much that is keeping Orientals and Eastern Orthodox from communion except for adherence of Chalccedon and the subsequent councils.

  43. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Andrew (@ 2:34 pm),
    I wonder if this article (and comments) would help the “coin to drop” :

    There is another:
    Sin is not a moral problem. December 8, 2014

    Also the leads in the “related articles”

    Hope that helps!

  44. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The problem with all sites, Orthodox, Catholic, Oriental Orthodox, etc., is largely a matter of quality control. Anybody can do darned near anything, make it look official when it’s not, and stick in poor stuff, polemical stuff, etc. I’m having increasing difficulty with young Orthodox (young in faith and years) going out on the web, reading some utter nonsense that parades itself as “Orthodox” and then coming to me with very trouble hearts and minds. All of it is done in a certain innocence, I suppose. But bad theology, even good theology with a bad pastoral approach, can do lasting and deep harm.

    It makes me weary. But, I’m sure that the site that is given as a reference is fine. Besides, Athanasius is pre-Chalcedonian. 🙂

  45. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Indeed, He is risen! I’m just hanging out in Tennessee, up I-75 from Atlanta… You are surely going to be at AFCon in June?

  46. Scott Avatar

    “When Adam and Eve sin, they are told that it will result in death (a very ontological problem).”

    In either a forensic or ontological paradigm, the Omnipotent’s hands are bound by causality, which I can’t understand.

    Forensic- If you sin, I must kill you because of Justice.
    Ontological- If you sin, you must die because of Entropy.

    In either case, the Incarnation happens because its events are the instrument God uses to work around the “If A, then B” problem of the cosmic narrative. Solving the “if A, then B” problem is humanly satisfying since finite beings such as ourselves have to use instrumentality to survive in a causal world. Any story resolved without a clear causal means is a dud, a “Deus ex Machina”.

    But Deus Himself has no need of instrumentality. He has created all from nothing, including every “If A, then B” causal relation. How then can God come to an impasse where His creatures need saving, unless He creates the causal relation that imperils them, creates another causal relation that lets them be rescued, then lets the creatures fail so He can rescue them? And maybe then not all are rescued due to God’s choices and/or the creatures failures. Puzzling.

    Instead of putting us all in gratuitous danger, maybe God’s teaching a lived lesson that will stick for all time.

  47. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Scott, the dilemma of the linear. It is difficult to escape. But linear models for our interrelationship with God are never satisfactory.

  48. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Adding to Michael’s comment, the ontological approach that Fr Stephen describes doesn’t presume that God ‘is bound’ by causality. (I’m not even sure I understand this statement.) At least that’s my understanding, and I hope to be careful in my own description.

  49. Scott Avatar

    “the Author of our Being entered into dying humanity. He took our dying humanity on Himself and entered into the very depths of that death (“suffered death and was buried”). He then raised that same dying humanity into His own eternal life.”

    What I’m trying to figure out is whether the Ontological approach describes a necessary transaction or a free declaration. Did God *have* to do A, B, and C above to rescue humanity? If so, He is bound by an outside necessity, like Aslan on the Stone Table using “Deep Magic” and “Deeper Magic” as a narrative mechanism to rescue Edmund. God has no need of any mechanism.

    If there is a law weaved into the cosmos that says, “If you sin, you will die”, that law was chosen by God, not “Deep Magic” imposed on Him as a constraint. An omnipotent Aslan would not need to get shaved and stabbed as the only way to save Edmund.

    It seems to me the gospel makes more sense as a voluntary declaration of love for humanity, not a partially-successful rescue operation by a deity with limited options. The Forensic view is definitely the latter. Is the Ontological view the same, but with rescue from death, not wrath?

  50. Dino Avatar

    The linear philosophocal connundrum of A and B, even when avoiding forensic models for the sake of ontological, leaves out the ontology of the ‘risk’ (to use an anavoidably anthropomorphic word) of creating in the image of God’s self-determination. It is an anthropomorphic rationalisation that protests at the respect of freedom and is scandalised by it demonising a love that trusts so ‘blindly’. Man is infinitely less trusting than his Creator is, to the point of accusing Him for His trust.. ..
    (A very Aslanesque deep magic.)

  51. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I realize that likely I’ve missed the point, but entropy itself isn’t always involved as a ‘cause’ of events (as it might be described by someone who is an atheist). For example certain chemical events happen even when ‘not favored’ by entropy. I apologize for these multiple comments and my lack of comprehension.

  52. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Oh dear I wrote my last comment before reading the few just preceding.

  53. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Scott, as I understand it, we are not naturally immortal since all created things are subject “futility”. We are unable to transcend that futility on our own. Thus out of live God condescended to enter into His creation in such a way and manner that the allows us to over come that futility. There is no necessity and the only “mechanism” is God’s unfathomable love for His creation. It is both a filial and conjugal offer. Because of that love, nothing is futile. He provides everything. We cannot fully comprehend certainly not by using cause and affect linear thinking.

  54. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    You ask: “Is the Ontological view the same, but with rescue from death, not wrath?” It is a rescue from death, yes. But I think you speak more to the point, that in His “voluntary declaration of love for humanity”, and really, in His resurrection from the dead, He has given us Life…our true being freely given back to us. And this, simply put, is the peace of God…His charitable love.
    Yes, Scott…the wrath you mention is not from God. I think our suffering can easily feel like wrath, but it is not from Him. But you see, we are not left destitute. He will kindle a very tiny spark, or even “a smoking flax”.
    I have found much kindling when I reach out to others…you know, the little acts of kindness, they go a long way. This is how it works…this is the “law of the Spirit of Christ”. It doesn’t have to be monumental. Just goodwill.
    God is good, my friend.
    Take care…

  55. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I ask for your patience as I make one last attempt:
    ‘If you sin, then you will die’ —in the ontological view this is like saying if you die, then you will die. Sin is death and death is not proposed as a consequence of death.

    As I read the last words ‘rescue from death’, l’m attempting to say that there is indeed more that is going on in the ontological view. Death itself in the ontological frame has a different meaning. For one, it isn’t ‘natural’. Often ‘the prodigal son’ story is used to explain this but so few words are used. It is said that before he returned to his father, ‘he came back to himself’. The mechanism, as you put it, is to actualize what we are to become here and now.

    Last, God is transcendent but acts in and through His creation. There is a tendency among some writers to conflate God with His creation (involving issues of causality).

    I hope some of this might be helpful.

  56. Dino Avatar

    Scott, Michael,
    I’ll have a stab cat larifying my above point.
    Love – i.e.: perfect love of God for His creature – is the farthermost and most definitely misconstrued virtue/notion for a human mind.
    Our philosophical challenges regarding God’s ‘arrangements’ for his (freely self-determined) creatures (us) suffer greatly for this reason.
    We cannot comprehend such a love that allows so much freedom!
    We reason that it would be scandalous if a parent (who somehow had such a power of foresight) allowed their offspring, once it becomes independent, such freedom that they could eventually destroy themselves (despite having been carefully cultivated/ reared/ matured through many edifying ‘limits’ placed upon them while they were still dependent). If the parent had the power they should intervene on their grown up offspring’s freedom we think.
    Our “love” is also so deeply infiltrated by attachment that we become scandalized by such respect of freedom and protest. We rather understand keeping a loved one “in a golden cage” or else releasing them once we can lessen our attachment and vulnerability (that caring for their destiny causes us) to a degree that hurts us less.
    In other words, if we find we can “love someone & set them free” – as the song goes- we basically jump to the other ‘camp’: of not actually caring that much…
    We cannot ever comprehend a love that forever cares while also forever taking upon itself all “burden” of the other’s freedom, especially since this respect of the loved one’s freedom is the thing that causes (and increases a hundredfold) the dread burden to be born.
    That is why I likened such love to a very ‘Aslan-esque’ “deeper magic”…

  57. Anonymous Avatar

    In my life, when I walked on my journey in earnest towards the Orthodox Church, desiring to enter Her Mystical Union, I had to fully understand Baptism to fully understand salvation.
    These excerpts from the OCA website bring to light Baptism unto Life, Communion with God:
    Theophany is the baptismal feast of feasts. It announces and celebrates as much about our own baptism as it does that of Christ. Both Scripture and the Church Fathers bear witness to the fact that our “illumination” becomes a reality only insofar as it enables us to participate in Christ’s own baptism and in the life and works that flowed forth from it.

    The feast proclaims two interrelated yet apparently contradictory themes: the death of believers, and their new birth to eternal life. As the apostle Paul declares in Romans 6, our true death occurs as we enter the baptismal waters. There we “die” with Christ, in order to be raised with him into a new mode of existence. “We have been buried with him through baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we also might walk in newness of life” (6:4). The sacramental grace conferred by baptism, and not our physical, biological demise, thus marks our true death. It signifies and accomplishes our dying to the “old Adam” and our rebirth as the “new man,” in the image of the crucified and resurrected “Second Adam,” the eternal Son of God (cf.1 Cor 15:45-49).

    At the same time, as Jesus affirms in John 3, baptism is a “new birth,” a “birth from above” (the term anôthen signifies both “again” and “from on high”; this is what leads to Nicodemus’ confusion in John 3:4). Paul expresses the same idea in Titus 3:5 with the term palingenesia, “rebirth” or “regeneration.” Baptism through water accomplishes the washing away of sins, incorporation into the Body of the glorified Christ, the Church, and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

    The relationship between water and Spirit is seen by the Church’s theologians as linking creation with baptism. The first chapter of Genesis declares that God brought all things from non-being into being by his Word. This initial, stupendous act, was fulfilled by the Spirit “moving across the face of the waters.” In the “new creation” of baptism the catechumen descends into the waters to “die” and be “co-buried” with Christ. Yet this gesture is only fulfilled by chrismation, anointing as the “seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit,” which makes us “christs,” anointed ones. As the Spirit descended visibly upon Jesus and dwelt within him from the time of his baptism (John 1:32-33), so this same Spirit is bestowed upon the newly baptized and chrismated children of God, to dwell within them, and to purify and sanctify them in their pilgrimage toward the Kingdom.

    Baptism, though, confers not only the Holy Spirit. The Fathers also affirm that through baptism “the Lord is in us,” united to us and we to him, as Bride and Bridegroom. Thus the ritual also signifies a sacred marriage, a nuptial union, as proclaimed in Ephesians 5. In the words of St Mark the Ascetic, “at baptism, Christ comes to live at the altar of the heart.” In his work on Orthodox Spirituality, Fr Dumitru Staniloe transposes this affirmation onto a mystical plane, declaring that “at baptism [Jesus] is in me, a supreme kenosis” (p. 227). Baptism confers not only the Spirit, it also creates a union between the believer and the Son. The Father sends both the Son and the Spirit to dwell within and to sanctify those who submit themselves to rebirth, in faith and in love. And thereby the Father fulfills the work of what St Irenaeus of Lyon called “his two Hands.”

    Finally, the Fathers affirm, baptism sets us on the pathway toward “deification.” It creates the conditions—ecclesial and eucharistic—by which those who allow themselves to be led by the Spirit can pass through the ascetic stages of purification and illumination, to arrive at last at union with and communion in the God of love.

    Baptism, however, can only be realized in the life of a person insofar as he or she accepts to make that pilgrimage with a certain ascetic discipline that focuses on repentance. St Peter of Damascus (11th-12th c. ?), St Symeon the New Theologian and many others, make the point repeatedly that baptismal renewal demands asceticism, a gradual dying with Christ. This they see achieved through a purification of the passions by the keeping of God’s commandments. Baptismal grace remains hidden in the heart, St Symeon insists, until it is activated by the energy of the Holy Spirit (Practical and Theological Texts, 74ff). This suggests that acquisition of that grace requires a “synergy,” cooperation between God and the human person, in which God takes the initiative but we respond with faith, obedience, and a relentless struggle against our innermost impulses that make us rebel against the divine will and reject divine mercy.

    The baptismal pilgrimage, and the struggle it entails, is summed up in a remarkable passage by the fourteenth century spiritual master, St Gregory of Sinai. The pathway of the baptized Christian is conceived as reproducing the various stages of Christ’s own earthly life:

    “Everyone baptized into Christ should pass progressively through all the stages of Christ’s own life, for in baptism he receives the power so to progress, and through the commandments he can discover and learn how to accomplish such progression. To Christ’s conception corresponds the foretaste of the gift of the Holy Spirit, to His nativity the actual experience of joyousness, to His baptism the cleansing force of the fire of the Spirit, to His transfiguration the contemplation of divine light, to His crucifixion the dying to all things, to His burial the indwelling of divine love in the heart, to His resurrection the soul’s life-quickening resurrection, and to His ascension divine ecstasy and the transport of the intellect into God.”[1]

    This passage, as clearly as any other, makes the point that baptism is not merely a ritual of initiation, a liturgical “passport” into the life of the Church. Nor does it involve a mere “imitation” of Christ’s own baptism and the events of his life.

    As the work of the “two Hands of the Father” in the life of the believer and the entire community of the faithful, baptism offers us actual participation in Christ’s own death, resurrection and glorification. It offers, in the fullest sense, eternal communion in his divine life.

  58. Anonymous Avatar

    I should also add, I should have said “more fully” understand Baptism to “more fully” understand salvation, as there is always mystery in this great ontological Holy Mystery.

  59. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Scott, et al
    Oh my, the things that happen while I sleep! I woke up to read this thread – still sipping on my coffee, but I’ll make a few suggestions.

    I liked Dee’s thought, “If you die you will die,” in understanding the warning in the Garden. It is a “risk” to God as well, to echo Dino. God is not bound by causality – and the ontological understanding is not a story of causality. It is, I think, the story of the Cross.

    The creation of human beings with the view to their full and free participation in the life of God is the story of voluntary self-emptying. Voluntary self-emptying (love) is the very character of who God is. Suffering is not the problem (though it seems to be the one we wring our hands about the most). Love is the “problem.”

    The story of the Garden has as its center a Tree that involves voluntary self-emptying. It is the one thing that cannot be eaten in thanksgiving and love. It is necessary to “suffer,” to restrain oneself, in order to bear its presence. We are working with symbols in this story – so no one should push the literal aspects too far.

    We do not choose that path of self-emptying. Instead, we choose a path that is its opposite – death (self-consumption). But even this is not, finally, a path of destruction. God enters the path of death and transforms it so that it becomes a means of self-emptying and thus of union with God in love.

    The story of creation (ontologically understood) is the story of love – of a love that acts to preserve freedom (there can be no compulsion in love) and yet makes it possible for freely chosen mistakes to be redeemed.

    God is not bound by causality – He could obviously have done it all a different way. I cannot imagine such – I’ll leave it to science fiction writers. What I can say is that contemplating what He has done and is doing and will do – is itself a slow means of coming to understand His love – in its fullness. That is the Christian proclamation.

    That contemplation requires, over time, our own inner healing, and is a means of that healing as well. The more fully we are healed, the more clearly we will see.

    For myself, the beginning point of that contemplation is that I see the love of God in the face of Jesus Christ in His self-offering of the Cross. It stands as a promise. It is enough of a promise that I’m willing to follow it. Slowly, over a life-time, it is becoming clearer.

    God is His own Law. If there is a Law in the universe, it is just God Himself. In considering the Law, we are considering God. The “Law,” in Orthodox Theology would be described as the “Divine Energies” of God, or His providence. The witness concerning that Law is well stated by St. Paul, “For those who love God, all things work together for good.” And, “God is gathering together in one, all things in Christ Jesus.”

  60. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Oh Father…I read your comment…sipping my coffee too, clearing the cobwebs…I don’t know how many times!
    We do wring our hands over suffering. But you say the real problem is love. But isn’t voluntary self emptying both suffering and love? As we slowly (and it is slow!) “unattach” from our worldly attachments (which is another thing I do not understand, since God is everywhere present, and in all things) and move toward “real” life in voluntary self-emptying (love) this whole process is intimately connected with suffering! This is where I am at now. I am nearly 64 yrs old and like a child just beginning to realize this “suffering bit”. At the very same time, love is very much there. I can not come near to explaining this. You do it much better. I will say this…it is with through multiple instances grief and loss that God is teaching me something. All I can say right now is life without suffering is not life…and true life is found in the selfless love of God.
    But I ask…how do you keep unattached…this is what I don’t get. Are we not attached to all things through God? Obviously I am having a problem with this! If I am unattached, how can I voluntary self empty and “be” love. Is God unattached?
    I become attached, and try not to covet, control, and manipulate the other for my pleasure and selfish needs. This is how I understand ‘do not attach’. Am I tracking this correctly? This is actually a difficult thing to do, because we can be pretty controlling. I don’t have children, so that’s one less thing that I most certainly would have controlled. But raising animals…oh, what control I have! Yessiree, that is until they die. Through this, God is showing me…something. I can not explain….but it is good…and I see His love and care.
    Any thoughts, Father?

  61. Scott Avatar

    Thank you. Lots of good replies. Hard to address them all.

    Dino- true, I am scandalized by the idea that any father would value the abstraction of freedom over well-being. It sounds like a monstrous dilation of a free will theodicy. If you presume some will be lost… how do you explain it? God lets you fail in perpetuity because of “freedom”? Jesus’ rescue sounds like a partial one if He just hands the baton to you and leaves you to win or lose the race. I’m looking for a Jesus that actually saves, not one that merely enables the possibility of being saved.

  62. Dino Avatar

    Attachment means loss of freedom. There can be no unconditional love without freedom (from attachment). Conditional love isn’t quite love.
    You explained it well yourself in both comments where you have had a go.

  63. Dino Avatar

    It is only when a person says (as the father Karamazov says somewhere I think) “your salvation/paradise is not to my liking” that God remains “lifted up from the earth, drawing that man to himself” (John 12:32) without receiving a response.

  64. Dino Avatar

    We can only speculate regarding universal salvation, especially when we approach its philosophical ‘necessity’.
    We can also say that a person who remains negative towards God’s love invents a damnation as his ‘salvation’. Its paradise that is hell for Satan, not ‘hell’.

  65. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dino…thank you for the encouragement. I am learning, brother…

    Scott…another response from one who is still trodding!
    You say: “God lets you fail in perpetuity because of “freedom”? Jesus’ rescue sounds like a partial one if He just hands the baton to you and leaves you to win or lose the race.”
    When *we* fail and suffer the consequences of our actions, God in no way abandons us. When Jesus hands us the baton He is with us in every step. But He does not “do it” for us. How would one grow if all were given on a silver platter? He is with you Scott. There is something about suffering that is central to all this which, like I said, I am at a loss for words. But God is with us, walks with us through the fire and each time we come out a tad more “purified”. Even unnoticeably so.
    As for universal salvation, I agree with Dino. We can only speculate. I will tell you what I do…I pray that I be counted worthy myself (I know my sins all too well), and I pray that none should perish. None! We pray for the world at each Liturgy too. I heartily attend to this. God beckons us to do so.

  66. Scott Avatar

    Dino, I’m not sure how to parse that. I’m looking for a Shepherd that looks for His lost sheep until they’re found.

    I’ve come out of Calvinism where the Shepherd says, “Some of you are not of My flock.”

    Now I’m seeing a Shepherd that says, “I’ll always be here for you, but if you wander off, you have to make your own way back since the freedom to wander is more important than saving you from wolves.”

    Yanking your child’s hand off a hot stove doesn’t make them a robot.

    However- God, if the only sure safe harbor from wrath, death, outer darkness, gnashing of teeth, a burning trash heap, whatever, is to make me a robot, then make me a robot.

  67. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The “heart” of a universal salvation is correct, and your longing for such a thing is not amiss. There is, I think, something of a “veil” that leaves this hidden – so that the Orthodox faith does not say it out loud. Of course, there are a number of Fathers (not minor ones, either) who do say it and are not condemned.

    I have pondered the “veil,” and why it is something that is not openly spoken. I suspect it might belong to St. Paul’s “things which cannot be told, which man may not utter.” I have long thought that the essential thrust of the ontological model and of the Christus Victor imagery of the atonement – tend towards universal salvation. It is their natural path. It is clear that God Himself is not willing that any should perish – which is to say that God is a “universalist.” That He hasn’t removed the veil is, I think, important – though I’m not sure how to explain the importance.

    The Elder Sophrony said that so long as there is a single soul in hell, Christ will be there with them. That sounds a lot like a Shepherd that looks for His lost sheep until they’re found.

    What I will say is that the heart you are expressing is not uncommon in Orthodoxy – it is not a stranger in these parts. But the mystery beckons us to go higher up and farther in.

  68. Dino Avatar

    Of course when you say, as you do, that ‘even if the only way to be saved is to make me a robot… make me a robot’, you are clearly desirous of salvation.
    But we cannot understand that there exists such a freely self-determined being that “sees” salvation itself as damnation. (“not to their liking” according to the selfish Father Karamazovs words to his son Alyosha). There are no wolves to save the sheep from as much as, as Father Stephen once said, the ones who choose hell, somehow desire that. It is their chosen warped interpretation of the same thing (as what is Heaven to the saved ones) : God’s love.
    An imperfect glimpse of that is seen when a self-obsessed child reacts with spite to its Father’s magnanimous love (remaining steeped in its mutinous selfishness even when its brothers struggle to make him see the error of his self inflicted darkness).
    How this eventually pans out and what time has to do with it, or not, can only be speculated.

  69. vicki Avatar

    I think God, our guardian angel, the intercessions of the Saints and the Theotokos often do yank our hand off the hot stove – but it is we who are unaware if the intercession – due to lack of discernment, stillness or possibly seeking our own will rather than the Will of God. Kind of like Balaam being unaware of the angel yet his donkey was totally aware -(Correct me if I am wrong Fr Stephen/Dino)

  70. Dino Avatar

    There is a very long conversation on the matter in the comments section here:
    we would just be covering the same grounds again I think…

  71. Dean Avatar

    The diadem of Orthodoxy contains many jewels. One of which I knew nothing when I became Orthodox was this… that we may legitimately hope for the salvation of all. A veil is covering this, as Father says, yet as I grow older this hope grows stronger. It helps to know that some well known and beloved Fathers of the faith believed this and were not condemned. Hope is so vitally important in many areas of our life. This hope regarding all mankind simply spurs on my yearning for Christ…the good God and lover of all.

  72. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Amen, Dean. Well said. I can not help but hope.

    Dino, thanks for the link.
    I think it is not only good, but beneficial to discuss universal salvation…but it requires a thorough parsing out in each area, and one gifted in leading such a discussion. Fr Aidan is such a one. Even though there is no straightforward answer, thus no end to these discussions, many people, covering a wide range of thought, benefit by, and receive much needed hope, through them.
    As Dean said, some of our Fathers lean heavily toward salvation for all, without condemnation. Apparently they believe that God’s love is just that bountiful. Without knowing what they know…so do I!

  73. Jeff Pauls Avatar
    Jeff Pauls

    Father Stephen, it’s all here. Your words, these comments, tug at my core. Because of our merciful, wise brother, Jesus, whose Spirit is ever offering me comfort, according to God Our Father’s loving will, I am here. I may have always been Orthodox, I don’t know. I’m certainly not one yet, at least by name, but I will be. I see no other way. For as this thread gives evidence, with Peter would I say, “Lord, to whom [else would I]…go? thou hast the words of eternal life,” and your servants here are sharing them. May God grant that I may celebrate baptism and chrismation into His Holy Orthodox Church sooner than later.

  74. Anonymous Avatar

    Glory to God!

  75. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Jeff…I thought you wuz Orthodox! 😀
    Yeah…Father said once before…all people are Orthodox, they just don’t know it!
    Indeed, Glory to God!

  76. Jeff Pauls Avatar
    Jeff Pauls

    Amen and amen. Paula, in my heart for sure. 🙂

  77. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Jeff, I thought you were Orthodox too!!!

    Glory to God for his mercy! I’m so delighted to learn of your intentions!

    May God bless you, dear brother!

  78. Jeff Pauls Avatar
    Jeff Pauls

    Thank you, Dee. I appreciate your encouragement.

    Thanks to everyone here. I covet your prayers.

  79. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I think that universal salvation is veiled, if it is, because we would likely misunderstand it.

    St. Paul’s imagery of going through fire and if one thing survives that is enough is instructive and quite hopeful. Whatever salvation is, it is not individual. Neither is it corporate. It is a shared struggle and a shared victory or it is nothing.
    In a world conditioned by the belief in the individual such a notion is difficult. In tribal days, not so much. Tribal cultures live and die on understanding the connections. They are fragile when they do not allow those connections beyond certain bounds.

    As Christians we are given a larger vision and participate in an interconnected cosmic reality that is also deeply personal and passionately intimate.

    Death however is without connections. Those that seek it and revel in it are deeply isolated and feel bereft of connection. That is the seduction of oblivion.

    When we struggle, we do not struggle alone as John Donne wrote so beautifully.
    I thank each of you for helping me bear my burdens.

  80. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think you’re right, and the point is important. There is much that the radical individualism of modern culture skews when we begin to think about theological questions. The Eucharist has a wholeness about it as it teaches us to pray, “On behalf of all and for all.” It reveals the heart of God.

  81. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, a good part of the struggle for many is maintaining the awareness of those connections, then an appreciation for them. People who suffer from suicidal ideation and other difficulties we tend to call “mental illness” have quite a difficult time with that, even more than the usually low societal level. It is one thing to see the reality, another to do what it takes to maintain and expand connections, with God, each other and the rest of the created world. 1 John 4:20 reminds us of how vital to salvation is our connection to one another.

    One of the more evil things that our culture has done is separate young people into their own ghetto with no rite of passage or even anyway out, or so it seems. Suicide in the young is related to that IMO. My grand-nephew just “graduated” from Kindergarten. We have so few genuine rites of passage, we are forced to invent silly ones that mean nothing.

  82. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Michael I’ve been thinking about your comment about a rite of passage for youth. To some extent we see this within Orthodoxy, with regard to marriage, baptism, ‘churching’, and funerals. I don’t know of any regarding the transition between youth and adulthood specially, if this is what you meant. Are you suggesting something specifically for youth transitioning to adulthood?

    I agree wholeheartedly there seems to be an interrelational disconnect among the youth but it’s hard to describe. It seems that their phones are the medium of connection in their relationships. I’m ‘old school’ perhaps. But this kind of connection seems to me to facilitate a virtual reality, despite arguments I’ve heard to the contrary.

    One of the many aspects of the Ontological approach to salvation that I really appreciate is the physical and spiritual connection made to the entire cosmos. This is a connection that goes beyond the ‘stars out there’, and as your and Fr Stephen’s comments indicate, is also very intimate and close at hand.

    I thank you both for these reflections.

  83. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dee…something in their comments caught my eye too.
    About rites of passage, I think where Michael says: “Tribal cultures live and die on understanding the connections”, points to the necessity of tradition, ritual/rites for a sound and healthy life. It is the glue that holds people together. Rather than one rite of passage for the youth, it seems an entire life lived according to tradition is the binding factor, from young to elder.
    I am not sure if this brings any light, Dee. But it captured my attention, as I am in the last part of Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars. The altars were not the only thing that were stripped. In the decimation of every semblance of Catholic tradition, they literally stripped away the fabric that held those people together as a community.
    There is another book I recently read…” Rituals and Ritual Theory in Ancient Israel”. I could not quite grasp why we “do ritual”, especially in liturgical practice. This book answered my question. The author, Ithamar Gruenwald defines ritual almost as instinctual, as is language. I set aside Duffy’s book, to read this one, and came away with a clearer understanding of the necessity of tradition and ritual/rites. It is this that I think not only our youth, but our whole society has cast aside for autonomy and individuality.
    A lot to be said for tradition.

  84. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Paula and Dee, you both hit on things. Rites of passage are quite complex. They stress test at the same time as they empower by giving adult tools and responsibilities and position to. The Bar Mitzvah is the only extant one I can think of.

    Graduation from college fulfilled that to some extent until the tools given were no longer valued and the cost became a burden and no position. Everyone is expected to find their own place, invent their own identity. There is less and less even a common humanity.

    Paula is right. It is the Tradition itself that is the key that binds us to one another and to God and affirms our common humanity. The practice of Christian Tradition is under attack by the nominalists and the radical deconstructionists.

  85. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Paula I’m always so grateful for the wealth of literature resources you offer us. These sources sound very helpful and I’ve got them written down. Thankfully I’ve got reading time these days and the topics of your recommendations are amazingly timely. Indeed you are right that all of the Tradition envelopes and infuses our lives making each day ‘a rite of passage’. Thank you so much for your edifying words.

    And Michael I think such a specific rite of passage into adulthood would be helpful for Orthodox youth as well. But I’m not able to think of what sort of approach would have an appropriate theological foundation.. I’ve heard that some Orthodox children start to do confessions in their teenage years which might bear a little similarity to the bar mitzvah. But I’ve also heard that some children start confession earlier than teen years.

    I thank you for bringing up this topic. It is good to think about these things regarding the life in Christ that the Tradition offers and the contrast of such a life with modernity.

  86. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Paula, et al
    Duffy’s work (The Stripping of the Altars) is essential reading, I think, when trying to understand the unintended consequences of the Reformation. We read history and imagine pre-Reformation Europe as merely a Europe that was loyal to Catholicism instead of some other Protestant thing. But that cheapening and marginalization – as though Catholicism and Protestantism were two versions of the same kind of thing – is a hallmark of our time – but not theirs.

    Whatever criticisms the Orthodox might have of Catholicism, when reading Duffy’s depiction of pre-Reformation England, we should recognize a great deal of ourselves and our sacramental world there as well. The conversations with that Catholicism would be a very different thing. Today, everything (including Orthodoxy) tends towards the thing that was invented in the stripping of the altars.

    Young men (to use the example mentioned) cannot be initiated into adulthood today because there is very little adulthood to be found – much less the rituals. Today, getting your own iphone is the initiation into the “adult” world – it is being plunged into deep individualism in which the electronic world becomes the greatest reality.

    Oddly, in our time, old people persistently try to be initiated into youth – a never-ending fool’s errand to avoid death. The world has been turned upside-down.

    In the Church, we have many vestiges of an earlier time, though we are constantly pressed by our own culture. I have a sort of memory of the period of time in which I began to grasp the reality of myself as an old man – and 65 is old – proudly so. We avoid seeing it as such in the mistaken world of the cult of youth. But, in the life of the Church, to be an old man – an old priest, is a venerable place to be. I am grandfather (something of the original meaning of “Batiushka”). It is not simply being older than the children – it’s being older than most of my congregation. There’s a permission to be slower – and they tolerate hearing my stories repeated (grandfathers only have a handful of stories). It is accepting a certain kind of love that is sweet. I feel that my congregation helped initiate me into my older years.

    It is said that the best theology is not done until you’re over 60. I know that there are many things that are only understood in the “rear-view mirror,” such as Providence. You also see your own death – and in a manner in which it cannot be seen when you’re young. To be young is to fell “unfinished.” There are so many things yet to be done. To be old is to draw near to the finish line – a sense of completeness and fullness (“full of years”).

    It is something to be cherished, though I society avoids it like the plague.

  87. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dee…you are a faithful and loving sister. Your love and dedication to God overflows and is life-sustaining, to me and all those who come into your presence…because God is with you.
    I think of the verse in Ps 50 as I read your recent comments:
    “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
    And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.
    Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
    And sinners shall be converted to You.”

    Daily, your salvation is restored and upheld by The Spirit, as you teach these catachumens! What a wonderful thing. I smiled large when I read you are doing this. May I encourage, don’t worry too much about the preciseness of your words. Your “best” God will honor. And He will stir their hearts to hear what is needed! Plus, the people will sense your sincerity.

  88. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Paula, thank you so much. You have no idea how much I needed to hear these words when I read them . God bless you dear sister.

  89. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dear Father…thanks so much for your words this morning.
    Some more thoughts. Thanks for allowing me to indulge.
    I indeed do see ourselves in the sacramental world of pre-reformation Catholicism. We both carry forth Tradition as we know it. As a Protestant I witnessed the stripping of the altars in our lifetime. I was taught that Catholicism is a false religion, and even has demonic elements. When I left those people, they knew I became Orthodox. I was told I was in a false religion. I was not welcome anymore. Afterwards, I wanted to know why these terrible division came about. Duffy, in a straightforward, but non-malicious way, sheds much light on these things. Still, history and schisms and divisions run deep and in many directions.
    Surely you understand this more deeply, Father. I am trying to imagine what that “different conversation” with the Catholics would have sounded like.
    You have spoken about the abomination of iconoclasm. This is worth reading about, I think. The reformers liked to have killed the image of God, unintentionally perhaps, but so very destructively nevertheless. They smashed the statues, the stained glass windows, burned the wooden sacred objects, melted the metal ones…the faces on many of the statues were blotted out, chipped and scratched away. This makes me shudder. Lives were lost, on both “sides”, bodily and spiritually.

    I appreciate how you tie the aftermath of the reformation into our current situation. The images on these iphones are false images of the real self. Iconoclasm in the 21st century.
    And Father, your words about that sweet love between you and your congregation, as they honor you in your elder years…oh what goodness! How can that be, except that Christ be in the midst! We do claim our priests as our own! We don’t call you “Father” for nothing! 🙂
    I thank you for your words about our elder years. Pardon my repeating myself. I can not describe how, but things are becoming much more apparent to me these days, as I enter the last “chapter” of life. The nearness of my death, the death of loved ones. and reflections upon the past can put you in a different “space”. Lately, there has been a very gradual, almost imperceptible, softening of a very hard and calloused “shell”. You are right…in hindsight I see God’s hand, but I dare not explain it. I can’t. But I know that because of this I can relate to others who suffer in anger and despair.

    Lastly, you mention the fullness of years. Another “line” that is dear to me in my prayers for my animals. I pray for their “length of days”. It is no coincidence that most of my animals live very long lives. With little-to-no needed visits to the vet. If I am bragging, I am bragging of the goodness of God. He is gradually taking them one by one these days. I can actually grieve and thank Him ever so much, all at the same time.
    So many thoughts, as I grow old. God is good, as is all created things. I grieve over divisions, schisms, fighting, hatred. I rail against arrogance and the uncovering others’ sins. And I know all this because I have done it myself.
    I hope before God takes me that I can be at peace with it all.

    Thank you Father Stephen. One of “our own”….

  90. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, you are correct, there is no adulthood to pass into. I had never thought of that before. It will take some time to process. Intuitively it seems connected to the desacralization and iconoclasm of our age.

  91. Jeff Pauls Avatar
    Jeff Pauls

    Paula AZ, et al,

    Thank you for the continued discussion. It’s well worth it. Having read The Unintended Consequences of the Reformation per Father’s recommendation and now his affirmation of Stripping the Alters, I have just purchased both books you recommended, Paula.

    As to other resources, can anyone comment on the value of resources offered by Orthodox 360? I have benefitted from much of the material I’ve found here and on Ancient Faith in general, but I also want be careful to avoid anything that may lead me astray.

    Thanks again for the love/wisdom each of you share.

  92. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Never heard of Orthodox 360 till now! Interesting site. If you have benefited from it, all the more good. It looks like good use of another tool for outreach.
    I think it important to remember that not all Orthodox churches look like those filmed on 360’s website. For one, the cost is enormous to build such a magnificent structure. I have learned through our own moderate sized parish that just the cost of the iconastasis (icon screen), apart from the cost of icons that cover all the walls of the church, was high enough to have taken several years to finally have one. Mind you, the icons on our walls are wooden icons hung on nails! And they are as equally beautiful and as much venerated as the ones in the magnificent places…because the image presents the one same person!
    Jeff…I confess too, a biased view, as I lean toward the small and simple. Still in awe, though, of the beauty and magnificence of the larger places.
    I only briefly looked at the 360 website. But I could not help but notice…on the map of the U.S. where it shows the little red 360 icons, you can just about draw a line down the middle of the map. The side I live on is bare! I laugh, because that is par for the coarse out west. Aside from CA, we are not high on the venue! But our priest, Fr Gabriel, comes from a mission parish (Antiochian) back east, and is now in the midst of (re)introducing, if you will, us to the community and the community to us (and in the process, us to each other!). I do not even know if Fr Gabriel knows about Orthodox 360. Maybe he’d utilize it. Maybe not. It may help, But I don’t think it’s necessary. Our witness is the most important thing…they will know us by our love, Christ says.

    Jeff…have you been to an Orthodox service yet?

  93. Dean Avatar

    “It is accepting a certain kind of love that is sweet.” Thank you Father. I just accepted that sweet love from my family this morning as we gathered for breakfast to celebrate my 73rd birthday. I love that my grandchildren love me and still seek my presence…11, 14. and 20. Precious! You mentioned “fullness of years.” Spanish is right-on when a birthday is “to complete years.” Don’t know how many more I’ll complete. That’s well as long as all are in Christ. Yes, as we age each day we think of our death. I find that a salutary thought. After 70 I truly see every single day as a wonderful and undeserved gift from God.

  94. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Oh Dean…Happy Birthday brother! So sweet a celebration!

  95. Jeff Pauls Avatar
    Jeff Pauls

    Yay, Dean! Happy Birthday, brother!

    Paula, I actually found this website when I did a search for Alexander Schmemann’s “For the Life of the World.” I had read it and I wanted to find some reviews to post to my Flipboard magazine entitled “Books,” where I include reviews of books I’ve read or think might be interesting. And up popped their 11 minute video on Schmemann’s gem. I believe they’re OCA as opposed to Antiochian. And that was actually some of the impetus for my question.

    Because, yes, as you asked, I have been to a number of Orthodox services, witnessing the celebration of the Eucharist. I also frequent a vespers/Bible study hosted by the same congregation twice monthly that meets closer to where I live. My good friend, who converted a number of years ago, attends there. It’s St. John Chrysostom Antiochian Orthodox Church in York, PA.

    Interesting that you mention CA, as I have immediate family in central/coast CA and a number of Aunt’s, Uncle’s, and cousins in the Reedley/Fresno area. I grew up in OR, so I’m familiar with the dearth of Orthodox congregations as compared to the the East coast. While the church I’ve visited in York has most of the ceiling covered with iconography and the screen is fully represented, I have yet to witness the kind of church shown on the website that started this part of our conversation. Coming from a Mennonite/ Evangelical background, I also lean toward simplicity, though I am beginning to learn the value of a church that will use matter so extravagantly in order to give the veneration due our glorious God.

  96. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    Jeff Pauls – I belong to an OCA parish and the OCA is fully trustworthy from my knowledge and experience. I am not familiar with the website you mention however and therefore cannot comment on it specifically.

  97. Jeff Pauls Avatar
    Jeff Pauls

    Thank you, Esmee. I thought that was probably the case, but it’s good to hear it first hand from someone who has demonstrated sound doctrine and behavior here on Father Stephen’s blog. Cheers

  98. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    Jeff Pauls – I will add that Father Stephen has been an honored guest speaker at our church and my priest loves and respects him. I share Father Stephen’s posts in our private parish yahoo group frequently.

  99. Jeff Pauls Avatar
    Jeff Pauls

    Excellent. Thanks again, Esmee La Fleur. 🙂

  100. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    How interesting, Jeff, how you came across O-360! Flipboard…wow, I’m learning new things today! You are one who knows his way around the web and utilizes it well! Glad to hear that.
    Sounds like you are well on your journey having been to some services, with bi-monthly vespers and bible study…and a good friend at your side. Very glad to hear that!
    And I agree with you about the extravagance of a large church. We honor the beauty of God in the sacred art and items found in our churches. Big, small, mid-size…all is good!

    Thank you Jeff for your insights as well! Much appreciated!

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