The Ontological Model Part 2: How Good Is Your Will?

bicycletree

Suppose I give you a bicycle for the convenience of travel. Suppose, however, that the bicycle is broken: flat tires, missing spokes, a chain that slips frequently. Nevertheless, you figure out a way to make it go. The ride is bumpy and you often have to stop and fix the chain. You fear that one day the wheels will just come apart as the spokes yield to the weight. Nevertheless, in fits and starts, you bumble along the road. This, I suggest, is an apt model for the human will.

The will is not absent, but it’s broken. It’s more broken in some people than others.

For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God– through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. (Rom 7:15-25)

St. Paul’s famous lament, “The good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice…” is a heartbreaking echo of every human heart. It is particularly frustrating in a culture that elevates the power of the will above all things in its strange perversion of liberty. We have a will, and it plays a role in our life. However, it is not the primary defining aspect of our humanity. Man as a moral agent is frequently little more than a fiction.

I have been writing about problems in the legal/forensic model of salvation. Juridical images have a place (primarily within preaching). They can easily become moralistic, describing the human condition as being largely about correct choices and the consequences for the bad ones. Indeed, in the legal/forensic model, moral agency is pretty much the only aspect of humanity that matters. Morality is about decisions. There are rules, warnings and consequences. We are then free to choose and suffer accordingly.

I will observe, parenthetically, that this same judicial model has come to govern almost every aspect of modern culture, particularly in liberal democracies of the capitalist world. For in those societies, there are winners and losers. It is quite comforting for those who have succeeded to assume that the failure of others is the result of their wrong choices. Indeed, the consequences of those choices, it is often thought, serve as a good lesson for all. America defines itself as a nation of moral agents, often presuming that it is the most moral of all nations.

However, the landscape of the nation points to one of the flaws of the juridical approach. There is, and always has been, an intractable portion of the population who fail to succeed. If you do historical studies you will find that the problem has existed in America since its earliest colonial days and has never disappeared.1 Successive political regimes have described the phenomenon in a variety of ways, but none have ever managed to make it disappear. Christ’s observation, “The poor you have with you always,” remains unchallenged. This intractable poverty is more than economic: it represents a failure of moral agency. Anyone who works with the poorest segment of society has to admit that there are some people who can never seem to manage their lives in a manner that avoids trouble and failure. Their own frustration is heart-breaking.

Moral agency generally divides people into winners and losers with the winners feeling somehow justified in their choices and decisions. But what if the will is like a broken bicycle? What if, in the lottery of life, the winners simply inherited a less-broken bicycle and only travel on well-paved, well-maintained roads? What if circumstances fail to reveal the brokenness of some while magnifying that of others? What if none of us is completely responsible for anything?

The ontological approach (I apologize again for the term) does not see human beings primarily as moral agents. First, we are beings. We have a will, but it is broken. The doctrine of the Church, as articulated in the 6th Council and its surrounding theology, describes our human nature as having a will (the natural will), but also notes that the natural will is impaired in its application through the mode of willing known as the gnomic will. The intricacies of this understanding do not have to be completely understood. If you want to try, then read St. Maximus the Confessor. He is the great Doctor of that Council.

The subtleties of this understanding go a long way towards describing the true frustration of the human predicament. St. Paul articulated it with his groaning, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” The brokenness of the will is a problem of being, not a failure of moral agency.

Certain versions of Protestantism recognize the brokenness of the will, but remain committed to moral agency as the primary lens for understanding our relationship with God. For them, man is thoroughly corrupt, incapable of truly willing the good. That some seem to succeed while others fail is attributed to the sovereign will of God. Some are chosen, some are not. It has been a very compatible theology for the landscape of modern capitalist democracies. The Elect do well – “God shed His grace on thee.”

The ministry of Christ seems to have gone past the question of moral agency. Those who championed their choices (Pharisees) did not fare so well in their interactions with Christ. However, He seemed particularly drawn to those who occupied the broken layers of humanity marked by poverty, disease and bad choices. A woman taken in the act of adultery finds compassion. A woman living out-of-wedlock, having failed five times in marriage is engaged forthrightly and finds salvation. Christ seems to look past the moral brokenness and into the very heart of their existence. He answers with mercy even the failure of religious belief, “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!”

We are not autonomous moral agents running around shaping our lives and world by our choices. Our choices, having been exalted by modern philosophical theories, have reached an apex of absurdity. Justice Kennedy gave voice to the delusional view of modern moral agency:

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

Human beings are first and foremost human beings. Our very existence is a gift from God. Existence itself is good and is intended to become even better moving towards true eternal being in union with God. We are human beings who have a will (broken and dysfunctional). But we ourselves are not a will. Modernity tends to think of human beings as a will that has a body. Of course, many human beings (infants for one) either have an impaired will or are not able to manifest the will as choice and decision. These odd creatures are a bother to moralists. They are flies in the ointment that are generally relegated to some less-than-fully-human status. It is not surprising that in the secular version of the juridical world, such people are easily put to death as non-persons.

 Our existence is always contingent – it is a gift from God and only continues because it participates in His existence. Sin moves us away from that participation and thus towards non-existence. The primary category of sin is death, or non-being. This death manifests itself in us in many ways, including those that are described as “moral.” It is of note that the Tradition describes us as being in “bondage to sin and death.” This is the primary image of Pascha (Passover), and thus of our salvation. God sends Moses into Egypt to lead His people out of bondage. He does not go there primarily to improve their role as moral agents. Christ enters our world in order to lead us out of bondage to sin and death. The healing of our will is, over time, part of the fulfillment of that Exodus.

How good is your will? It’s of use from time to time, but also seems to be pretty dysfunctional at other times. It is not the core of your being. God Himself is the core of our existence. The traditional focus of the Christian life is growth in union with God through Christ in the Holy Spirit. Christianity is not a moral improvement society. There are many to be saved who will seem like the worst moral failures among us. In His compassion, Jesus loved them greatly. They have suffered much, often at their own hands.

The excellence of moral agents, like the wealth of the successful American, is not a matter for boasting. Everything is a gift. We have earned nothing. The gifts of God are given to us for the purpose of giving Him thanks and to share with those who have less. The excellence of a moral agent is measured in deeds of compassion and self-offering, not in the fastidious adherence to a code of conduct that is often little more than middle-class conformity.

God give us grace!

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Notes

Footnotes for this article

  1. An excellent review of this history can be found in Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash.

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.


Comments

118 responses to “The Ontological Model Part 2: How Good Is Your Will?”

  1. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Forgive me Matthew, I realize that what I might have said and still attempt to say may end up being just another frustrating comment.

    When you express concern about this conversation in your comments, what is frustrating you, I believe, is the response or the ‘redirection’ of the comment-response to Christ. Christ, is in fact, the answer.

    I may be glossing over too much but the consistent thread I’m getting from your comment is the relationship of the will to the exorcism service or to salvation or to all three.

    The key to salvation is Christ and nothing else. Also babies are baptized and they undergo exorcisms as well (all without much ado with their ‘will’) And I believe you already know these things about the baptism.

    My interpretation is that you persist in your questions for what appears to be a desire for a systematic treatment of your questions concerning the adversary and the human will. (If I interpret your comments correctly) I haven’t found such a systematic treatment. And that, in itself, is a form of statement about ‘how to proceed’.

    As I said before, I’m out of my depth. Therefore my answers are likely over-simplistic and frustrating. Please forgive me if what I say only adds to your frustration and if it is unhelpful:

    I note that if we are to live as Christ lives, what He has shown us to do with the adversary is relatively brief and simple, rebuke him and ‘move on’, that is, to say ‘yes’ to the love of the Father, and Christ focused His attention on the living the life of “Thy will be done”. The attention needs to be on Christ’s example, simply put.

    I’ll add a few sentences from Fr Alexander Schememann, from his book “Of Water and the Spirit” pg 21 under the heading of “exorcisms”:
    It is not our purpose to outline, even superficially, the Orthodox teaching concerning the Devil. In fact, the Church has never formulated it systematically, in the form of a clear concise “doctrine”. What is of paramount importance for us, however, is that the Church has always had the experience of the demonic, has always, in plain words, known the Devil. If this direct knowledge has not resulted in a neat and orderly doctrine, it is because of the difficulty, if not impossibility, rationally to define the irrational……..
    (pg 23 next) And when we contemplate evil in ourselves and outside ourselves in the world, how incredibly cheap and superficial appear all rational explanations, all “reductions” of evil to neat and rational theories….

    Matthew, please forgive me in this admission of my ignorance. Perhaps reading Fr Schmemann’s book might be helpful.

  2. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    In an appropriate reverence to the sacrament, I should have used the words, “Holy Baptism”.

  3. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Matthew,
    Sorry if this is a matter of consternation. I have never seen a particular development of exorcism as normative to salvation. It is a normal part of the Baptismal rite. But there are any number of instances in which it might be foregone (in emergency settings, for one). Essentially, saying “yes” to God is inherently saying “no” to everything else. The Baptismal rite represents a fullness and a completeness – but when something begins to be developed along the lines of what is necessary to salvation – then I think you are on problematic ground. St. Cyril is, of course, describing and explaining Baptism, exorcisms, etc., in what is/was a normative practice. But that is not to be mistaken for the basis of a dogmatic treatment of the subject. This is the kind of thing that too easily results in confusion.

    Theosis is union with God – plain and simple.

  4. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    Maybe the confusion is that I am equating freedom from demonic forces which bind the will with exorcism. For the will to function in a capacity where it is able to respond to God it must have some liberation from demonic energy. Otherwise God would be unjust to judge humanity. If Satan is so powerful over a person that they have no way to choose God, God is unjust to judge such a person. But also, if a person is to progress in holiness, in theosis, from one degree of glory to another – their will must have the capacity to engage with God in synergy. If through demonic activity the will remains bound such that either a person cannot will towards God or make any progress after initially willing, God is defeated. But if “by the finger of God I cast out demons – Luke 11:20, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

    So, while the exorcism rite may not be normative to salvation, freedom for the tyranny of the devil is . That’s all I mean, and that freedom comes normatively in Orthodoxy to my knowledge in baptism which includes exorcism.

    Dee: “The key to salvation is Christ and nothing else…”

    Salvation from death, the demonic, and sin is in Christ and nothing else, of course. Christ brings this salvation through His Bride to humanity and it includes a wide range of healing medicines to remedy our many maladies. I understand that I may be coming across as if I want some systematic treatment, I’m not sure why that would be the case, but I hear you. It’s not that, we have to be able to explain how the will can be functional (not in a systematic way) to choose God when it is so disadvantaged – and in addition to belief in the Resurrection which ideally would defeat our fear of death and put an end to passions, and in addition to needing our sins to be forgiven, is the need for Satan to lose his grip on our souls.

    I have no desire to formulate doctrines for the devil or explanations of the irrantional. My concern is that when we speak about willing, especially when it comes to sharing our faith with Protestants and possibly Catholics, that we have a Biblical understanding of what Messiah came to do on our behalf – and that includes giving freedom to the will where it was prevented due to sin, passions, death, and demons. I don’t need to know all about demons or exorcisms, not my concern – it’s that we are not prey to the “wolf of souls”. And also, when Protestants and Catholics have Original Sin and Total Depravity for the will, and the Pelagians make man’s will unaffected almost by sin – and they look at Orthodox and say we are semi-Pelagian or that we have a naive view of the fall, the extent of it, etc. – and if you were involved in these conversations they do – that we give a counter that is consistent with our beliefs and it is found in freedom from the demons, death, sin, forgiveness for sins, the grace of the Holy Spirit, etc.

    Maybe it’s only people who try and understand the theological differences that center around the will among the Reformed, Catholics, and Orthodox that see these things? I’m weird in that way, but I was a devout Calvinist and for me, whether it is spoken of systematically or not, the counter to Total Depravity – to the impossibility that the will can function towards God – is that it can if the enemies of the soul can be pushed back, removed – whether this is through exorcism, asceticism, whatever – then if “the Son sets you free you are free indeed.” Notice Jesus says this to Jews, that their father is the devil, after he tells them that they can only do the will of their father. The slave to sin is equted with devil as your father. John 8:31-59. They turn around and tell Jesus He has a demon! But before this He has said, “if the Son sets you free”, free from what? Satan as father, sin as slave master.

    I could go on all day on this theme because it’s all over Scripture. But my point is, we are not naive about the wills’ capacity if acknowledge that freedom from sin, death, demons, etc. can come about and must. Then we can walk in the freedom and glory of the children of God.

  5. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Matthew,
    I see your point. The question regarding freedom from demonic influence is worth considering. Generally speaking, the demonic does not override the human will. Even in the case of possession, the will is not completely overridden. It is severely curtailed, yes. I would compare it to being held captive by terrorists. I can’t get free – they’re doing terrible things to me – but I want to get out and I want them to leave me alone. There is, at the core, a freedom that cannot be destroyed.

    Think of the exorcism in the Baptism service. We renounce the devil. And a list of “spirits” (hardly distinguishable from the passions) are mentioned. The enemy is rebuked and told not to try to “influence” them, either by day or by night. It is also important to know that Christ utterly defeats the enemy in His Pascha. We are not now trying to repeat Pascha (it needs no repetition). Rather, we are “applying” the power of Pascha to this particular case. But throughout the service, we do not do again what has already been done.

    I very much understand your concern viz. Calvinism. Sometimes, errors can draw us into a line of thought that is too influenced by the concerns of the error. Sola Scriptura, it has been suggested in Orthodox circles, came about through the debates with Islam, when Christians in the West were drawn into comparing our “Book” to their “Book,” not realizing that they were changing the very character of the Christian Scriptures in doing so. The fundamental freedom and integrity of human nature is a dogma of the Orthodox faith. We certainly have a war against spiritual wickedness in the heavenly places – describing that battle carefully is important.

  6. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    Thank you. When I was wrestling with Orthodox notions of freedom, and it was a long haul for me as a Calvinist, Orthodox came across to me as Pelagian. Many Orthodox sound Pelagian. I could not see how Christianity could function without Original Sin, Total Depravity, etc. If you hop over to Reformed Orthodox Bridge you’ll find this is a common problem with Reformed Protestants and many Evangelicals. For them, though they profess a belief in Satan, soteriologically, Satan and the demonic have little to do with salvation. Satan doesn’t fit in the TULIP. But in Orthodoxy he is a real power to be defeated because he was lord of death. This is our counter to the charge that Orthodoxy has a naïve view of man, the capacity of the will, the fall, etc. Orthodoxy celebrates Christ’s victory over the demonic realm whereas Western theology has basically taken that element out altogether.

    For a Reformed/Evangelical Satan’s only power (besides the rare instances in their mind of possession, affliction) is the accusation of our sins before God which will damn us eternally. But when a person has faith, they are born again and Satan is no longer a player against their salvation. Even their notion of being born again derives from Total Depravity, then the notion of Satan’s defeat is tied to PSA – because if Christ was thoroughly punished by God for the sins of the Elect (or the world) then once someone has appropriated Christ then all wrath due to them from God (Original Sin again) was absorbed into Christ and Satan can bring no charge against God’s elect – Christ has forgiven, literally paid the Father with His blood, and the Elect may suffer much trial but it has been predestined according to the loving will of God – Satan is no longer a player. He may get “airtime”, he may be mentioned, but if you study the soteriology he eventually is reduced to a non-agent.

    I ask my Reformed friends, if you took Satan out of Scripture how would it change your soteriology? It would change the story of the fall and so forth (but the fall for them is explained by God ordaining it anyway) but pepole would still be born Totally Depraved or with a Total Impossibility of ever using their will to choose God, would still become Hitlers, would still perpetuate and invent new evils.

    But the NT doesn’t take this line. Satan is the father of lies, he is the original rebel (I know it’s “the Satan” and all of that). When you factor in how the book of Enoch played such a tremendous role in 2nd Temple thought and for the Biblical writers, human depravity, the source of it comes from fallen spirits not Original Sin. Orthodoxy carries this line of thought. Fr. De Young has gone into some detail on this with his blog.

    Again, this is not about thorough explanations of what evil or the devil is and so on, it is about the fact that in subtle ways (I don’t expect to see Hollywood type exorcism events when I go to a baptism or when my Priest blesses our house), the hunter, the lion prowling – that we often barely believe in – desires to ensnare us. This is our counter to a naive view of man. When combined with Christ’s other work on our behalf, it is a satisfying, serious, Biblical, Patristic solution to the problem of the will.

    If Satan was powerless after the Resurrection there would be no exorcism, there would be no warnings in Scripture, and Jesus wouldn’t have taught us to pray to be delivered from the evil one. So, I agree, it is no new Pascha, it is applying Pascha. It is the movement of the reign of Christ into territory not surrendered to His Pascha.

  7. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thanks for your clarification Matthew. I didn’t come from Protestantism nor Catholicism before my conversion. There is enough of it embedded in the culture, which thankfully in my early childhood was extremely diluted by a very different culture. It seems all of us have ‘errors’ of one kind or another. If by providence I’ve missed the western theology ‘bullets’, I still bear the scars of other kinds.

    I don’t ‘hear’ Pelagianism so readily in Orthodox writers. But what I do hear are ‘imperialist Evangelical’ tendencies among former Protestants. My background/history make me particularly sensitive to such a ‘tone’. When I hear it I attempt to remind myself that such tone is triggering my own passions and to take care of my mind and heart not to get distracted by it. —easily said than done.

    May God grant you peace and joy. Thank you for your comments.

  8. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Matthew,
    Indeed. One thing essential about the Orthodox ways of speaking of the atonement (versus the PSA), is the narrative always involves the demonic forces of sin and death. The nature of the narrative of salvation is summed up in St. Paul’s statement, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” Christ’s Pascha is our Passover – it is our deliverance from the Egypt of Sin and Death, through the Red Sea (in which we are Baptized into Christ’s death), raised in triumph on the shores of the Kingdom, while Egypt (the demons, etc.) are drowned. Gustav Aulen dubbed this the “Christus Victor” model of the atonement – it is ontological in its character – we actually become participants in Christ’s Pascha – it is truly “our” Passover.

    That drama is completely missing from the PSA. Your observation that the PSA can be told with no reference to the devil is absolutely on target – and is revealed to be alien to the “scope” of the New Testament. It’s simply a completely different narrative. It misses the point that Israel’s life in the Promised Land is a “Passover-shaped” life. The rhythm of the Sabbath laws, particularly seen in the 7 year cycles and the Jubilee, is a reenactment of the Passover story within the life of the nation. This is played out on a cosmic level in Christ’s fulfillment.

  9. Vasilia Avatar
    Vasilia

    Thank you for these posts and conversations. I have been confronted twice in recent weeks with the Protestant perspective in discussion. I was mostly silent and asked questions (trying to avoid verbal judgement and offense, but also understand). This gives me some language and perspective to begin to feel comfortable to speak about Orthodoxy.

    We so heavily weigh on reward (and mental analysis) for what we discern and value. It is tough to have that be only part of a bigger picture. And I like the word ‘ontology’! The beingness of who we are is so tough to express.

  10. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Dee/Fr. Freeman, (I’m checking out after this)

    I sympathize with your comments. I have no imperialist delusions, not that I took that as an accusation. But I’m sensitive to the fact that Evangelical converts often bring their baggage into their conversion. The Reformed tradition is extermely critical of Evangelicalism and rightly so, they just think they are the solution. I think there is a uniqueness to a Reformed convert, and I’m not saying this to add anything to myself, but the devout Reformed are thoroughly trained theologically in soteriology and in all the competing views. I was, and could have made anyone who believed in free will squirm and doubt it extensively. In fact I’m sure I’m responsible for converting a few to Calvinism (or the Doctrines of Grace to be more precise). But the Reformation (and the Reformed today, the conservative ones), centered around the place of the will – who took Augustine most logically, most sincerely, most seriously. Therefore a Reformed Christian, who has read the polemics versus Catholics and Evangelicals and so on, is just in a good place to see where/what such a theology leads. Most converts I have encountered are few from the Reformed and there are few devout Reformed in our country anyway.

    I really recommend a book you can get cheap used on Amazon, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination by Lorraine Boettner. When you begin to realize this is what was brought to the colonies, then when it was modified because of the offense that people had to God’s complete sovereignty over salvation – you get a clearer picture of the Christian world around us. It’s why there are Free Will Baptists and Southern Baptists (in fact right now they are in an uproar because so many pastors have rediscovered their roots as Calvinists – though a Presbyterian would never call them Calvinists). Everyone is Reformed, Reformed-lite, or reactionary against Reformed theology in our country. When you understand the Reformed postition, you can begin to understand them all. And then when you ask, “what about the devil” and you get affirmation but you see the contradiction – you have an aha moment when you read the baptismal liturgy, many key players are missing.

    In fact, if I was sharing with a Protestant, one of the first things I would have them do is read it given the right opportunity.

    Thanks for your interaction,
    Matt

  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Matthew,
    Thanks for the book suggestion. Indeed, becoming generally, or deeply, familiar with the history of Protestantism in America is an excellent beginning for any Protestant. The general ignorance of where certain beliefs come form, how utterly dependent they are on American culture of one period or another, and utterly removed from ancient Christian teaching, is commonplace. I’ve long thought of Reform as a minor player in the contemporary scene, though its influence is growing. I have a brother-in-law who is a major player in Reform thought (small world).

    America has been the breeding ground of bad Christian theology.

    BTW, I read a book this year, Darkness Falls on the Land of Light, which is an excellent historical study of the effects of the First Great Awakening on the New England Puritan Churches. I love good historical writing.

  12. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Also,

    I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t have my own baggage, I know I do and it sucks to know I have years to go before I get rid of it all – but I have had a full blown discarding of the soteriology (Absolute predestination, Total Depravity, PSA, Monergistic Regeneration, absolute assurance of salvation) – and I feel that for many converts, they have never understood why these ideas are totally incompatible with Orthodoxy and it is because they never really knew how all of their theology was dependent upon Original Sin. I see it because the Reformed worldview is nothing without Original Sin.

    If you ever get the change to listen to Evangelical critiques of Orthodoxy – and they are coming, more and more, and will continue to. Listen and you will see that you can tie every one of their criticisms (and if you think carefully even criticism of Icons, Apostolic Succession, Mary and the Saints, etc) to their doctrine of Original Sin. It is unquestionable, therefore, if we do not question it for them – they assure their flocks that Orthodoxy is another false Christianity – all on the basis of a false anthropology of man that never goes questioned. Even those who renounce Original Sin among Evangelicals, keep a very Reformed sounding Gospel – why? They only ditched their first presupposition concerning the fall and man, but kept much of the rest. They don’t see that they have only modified, and with much contradiction, Reformed theology.

    And so, they accuse the Orthodox of a naïve view of man, the fall, etc. All the while, we have substantive, forceful arguments that give much weight to the role of the demonic, to death, to sin, etc.

    So, my concerns are evangelistic and also that the converts coming in don’t smuggle their Reformed theology into the Church because no one ever taught them how incompatible it is with Orthodoxy.

    Sorry, I thought I was done…
    Matt

  13. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr Freeman,

    Sorry again, but if a movement became normal within Orthodox catechism to spend significant time on how Original Sin affects the whole of their theology, Catholic theology, etc.. – then people, and I say this for myself because I want motivated by the Priests in our Church – would see, that instead of moralism, instead of nominal Christianity, instead of vaccinating ourselves with forgiveness of sins in some psychological capacity, we are all on the path towards Christ with much struggle having been baptized into Christ. Showing the stark differences makes ongoing union with Christ glow as the only path worth following towards the eternal day. Whereas the heretical paths mixed in with Orthodox piety may very well fail at producing healing.

    God bless you,
    Matt

    I promise this time, I’m done….

  14. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Matthew,
    Your posts made me smile. I thought I was the only one who did multiple posts. : )

    I was worried after I posted my last comment, that I had made a mistake to add my experience into the mix. I had hoped that you would understand that I was not attempting to ascribe characteristics to you. This medium doesn’t offer much in the way of nuance. Only a really great writer can do that (I’m not one of those, as all can see) and even then, readers will see or read only what they desire or have predisposition to see. I’m grateful that you didn’t take or apply my comment to yourself, when I described a protestant “tone”.

    We are all involved in catechism in some respects. As you have well described, the process is unequivocally one of transformation. And yet, sometimes (without going into particulars) there is at least an attempt among some catechists to approach their entry as a form of ‘integration”. And this is especially so it seems, when people from “Christological” backgrounds desire to enter into the Orthodox Church. It seems their approach is similar to that of ‘entering a different denomination’ of Christianity, rather than that of transformation. For this reason, I’m oriented toward Holy Baptism for all, although I realize this is a “hot” topic and my opinion is only that, an opinion. Please understand, however, that those who I have known who have entered without Holy Baptism have been a source of great joy and edification. Not the least of whom is Fr Stephen. I sincerely believe discernment is necessary, as well.

    I sincerely appreciate your elaboration of the pitfalls of those of us who have had a firm (and even not so firm) foundation in the Reformed theology. Your personal struggle has shed much light and I hope that I will be able to apply what I have learned from your struggle, so that I might ‘shed’ some of that baggage or help others if they should ask for such help. Indeed, since, as you say, this culture at large has been influenced by it. These are ample reasons to reflect upon my own understandings and misunderstandings. (Thanks be to God, I’m leading a discussion on Holy Baptism and your mentioning these issues are timely)

    Fr Stephen, thank you so much for your continued reflections and instruction on this theme. Your comments are so helpful and affirm the Orthodox approach. I’m ordering up that book you mentioned. One of my loved ones is into history. (I have a lot of reading work this summer!!!!)

  15. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    I promise this time, I’m done….”
    😀
    God love you, Matt!
    I love your tenacity. It speaks loudly of your love for God and neighbor .
    Really, I thank you all for this thread!
    Matt, I remember in another post, a while ago, Father encouraged a dialogue with you when you were maybe hesitant to explain yourself more extensively (probably there was some push back on our part). I remember that. It is a sweetness of pastoral concern and a love that covers the “lack” and brings out the best.
    Thank you…

    (interesting conversations going on here and there on the blog 🙂 )

  16. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Dee,
    I am disappointed that we were not baptized as well. I understand the logic and Fr. Hopko’s series on the Canons is very helpful on this. But, I’m talking about all this exorcism, freedom of the will stuff – and I was not exorcised. But my wife, when we were about to be Chrismated had always assumed she was baptized as an infant. I asked her to call her mother and she had not been. I have to say, that her baptism was one of the most memorable times in my life where I sensed the Holy Spirit, and especially so during the exorcism prayers. So much of my study into the Church, it’s origins – their world being my world was extremely real during her baptism. This happens in liturgy from time to time but it was extremely moving during her baptism. I don’t think there should be any private baptisms unless an emergency required it, and I also believe that catechumens should be dismissed and treated like catechumens not like people joining another denomination. I’ve suggested to our Priest that we re-implement this practice. The people in the Church are not given the opportunity to know who the catechumens are, they don’t get to see that the Eucharist is for believers and feel the weight of that, they don’t have the concern to pray for the catechumens, etc. And the catechumens don’t get the benefit of taking their conversion so seriously, that this is more important that anything else in their lives, and feel the weight of what they are embarking on – or have the proper time devoted to actually catechizing them. These things go together that I have such a concern for.

  17. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    Matthew Lyon – At my OCA church, catechumens do leave the Liturgy after the point at which we pray for them in the service and go receive catechetical instruction from a knowledgeable parishioner most of the time. So the practice has not been entirely abandoned.

  18. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Esmee,

    That is encouraging!

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