“That Which is Lacking” – Is Jesus Enough?

The average Christian, reading his Bible in happy devotion, stumbles across this passage:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church… (Col 1:24)

The passage is particularly disturbing for a certain strain of Protestant thought that emphasizes Christ’s sufficiency for all things. Christ has accomplished all things necessary to our salvation and we are thus able to “rest” in His completed work. For many, this is at the heart of grace. God has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves. What remains is for us to trust that this is so. Christ declares, “It is finished.” There is nothing left for us but trust.

This sentiment recently came crashing into a discussion of the Russian novel, Laurus. I attended (and spoke) at the Eighth Day Symposium in Wichita, Kansas. The presenter, Jessica Hooten Wilson, had spoken on the Russian novel, Laurus, in which the lead character enters the long, arduous life of a holy fool following the death of a woman and her child, a result of his own inaction. Wilson made mention of a review by Alan Jacobs (Baylor University) that described its spirituality as “Hindu,” and castigated its approach to Christianity. He wrote:

…though I know that Eugene Vodolazkin is a Christian, I remain uncertain about just what vision of the Christian life is being held out to me in this book…. In Laurus…long, hard spiritual labor pays for sins, as it does for the world…1

Vodolazkin nowhere characterizes Laurus’ labors as a payment for sin. Indeed, the concept is foreign to Orthodox thought. It is an absence that is so profound that a Protestant professor of literature felt the need to supply it, and with it, distort a beautifully Orthodox novel. In the discussion at the conference, a Protestant participant agreed that the novel seemed strangely unable to “rest” in Christ. Inasmuch as I am often not in dialog with Protestant Christians, I was caught off-guard by these observations. I forgot how foreign all of this is. Happily, it is also foreign to the New Testament.

Whatever one might think of grace, the work of Christ on the Cross in no way removes the work of the Cross from the lives of believers. We are baptized into the death of Christ, and continue to say throughout our lives: “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live” (Gal. 2:20). It is Christ who taught that we ourselves must take up the Cross and follow Him. There is no “resting” Christianity made available by a substitutionary work of Christ. The work of Christ is a matter of participation (koinonia) – we are baptized into it, live through its presence in us, and do not cease to share in that work, ever.

It is always difficult to listen to what is actually being said and not try to hear a conversation that is not taking place. Salvation, in Latin Christianity, was made captive, rather early on, to the language of “grace” and “works.” Within what would become a dominantly juridical framework, grace and works were easily externalized, raising questions about who was doing the “saving.”

When St. Paul says that he is filling up “that which is lacking” in Christ’s afflictions, he is either subscribing to some form of Pelagianism, or he simply has no notion of a juridical salvation. No doubt, the latter is the actual case. When he says that he is crucified with Christ, St. Paul means precisely what he is saying. Indeed, it is the deepest cry of his heart:

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him –  the power of his resurrection, and the communion of His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:8-11)

This has nothing of the language of earning, much less external grace and works. It is the language of the most intimate, mystical communion.

We know a little bit about this experience, for it is common in relationships marked by intense love. The coldness of a conversation regarding who did what, or what is owed to whom, has no place in such intimacy. Love speaks in terms of union. It wants to share in the deepest manner possible the life of the beloved.

There appeared a rift in Protestantism within its first two to three centuries. That rift, to a large extent, represented a deep dissatisfaction with a cold, sterile presentation of the life of grace. Early Protestants almost universally held to a doctrine of “cessationism,” teaching that miracles ended when the New Testament was completed. What remained were the rather mechanical/intellectual doctrines that assured of salvation. Dry as dust.

The reaction to this was the birth of Pietism, in a variety of forms and places. At its worst, Pietism’s emotionalism led to extremes of belief and practice. At its best, it produced holy lives and gave heart to what would have been little more than a dry death to Western Christianity. Inasmuch as Western Christianity survives our present difficulties, it will be the heart born in Pietism that saves it (or so I think).

The transformation of the Pietist conversion experience into the doctrine of being “born-again” has tended to confuse Pietism and classical Protestantism, framing the experience of the heart in the rigid language of doctrinal necessity. Like many aspects of Protestantism(s), fragmentation in doctrine and experience has been a continuing and dominant feature.

Classical Christianity, in its Orthodox form, is very rich in its vocabulary and stories of the human experience of God. It is always “ontological” in its approach to doctrine, meaning that doctrine is always about “something-that-is” and not about a theory, or a juridical arrangement. Because “something-that-is” is capable of being experienced, it is always seen as quite natural that the work of God has a describable, experiential component. If I am being crucified with Christ, it is inherently the case that such a thing is experienced in some manner. In the case of a holy fool, it might look a lot like the Laurus character. He must be contrasted with the middle-class American who sings happy songs on Sunday, perhaps even moved to tears, satisfied and assured that Jesus has taken care of everything such that he can safely return to the banalities of his life. Isn’t Jesus wonderful!

The simple truth is that the Kingdom of God “suffers violence, and the violent bear it away.” (Matt. 11:12) The gospel engages the whole person and assumes that we will love God “with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind.” That such an engagement might be described by some as “works righteousness” is merely indicative of a bifurcated Christianity that has placed God in a second-storey doctrinal reality, while the secular party rages here below.

Thank God for the Lauruses sprinkled across the historical landscape. The unity of faith and experience exemplified in their sometimes stormy lives whispers hope that God dwells among us and loves us, willing Himself into the messiness of our crucified existence, ever-straining Himself into the depths of our being, while we strain to respond in kind, enduring “that which is lacking in the afflictions of Christ” – our own response to His love.

Footnotes for this article

  1. “Russian Brahmin,” First Things, April 2016.

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.



, , ,



159 responses to ““That Which is Lacking” – Is Jesus Enough?”

  1. Ziton Avatar

    Thank you Father for your long reply to my post, and for your subsequent elaborations, particularly in your response to Dee. There is much there to chew on.

    I get that salvation is a deep mystery and that great care needs to be taken around it. In addition to the examples you and Dino gave, I often come back to that conversation at the last supper between Our Lord and Thomas and Philip in John 14. I feel a great deal of sympathy with them both : “but we do not know the way” and “show us the Father and we will be satisfied”. To which the enigmatic but also mysteriously detailed response seems to be variations on “I am in the Father and the Father is in me”. Yes, it’s a mystery and I can see why the pondering of Pascha, and attempting to re-imagine for people the eschatological landscape, is the safer and probably more personally appropriate strategy. I also have great admiration for the man born blind in John 9 who when put on trial (twice, like Jesus) was simply to describe what he knew, and avoid attempts to be drawn by the pharisees to talk about other stuff. Of course he was cast out of his community, but did meet his Lord whom eventually he was now able recognize …

    It’s also unfortunate, though, in terms of the matters raised in your post. To the extent salvation is a central idea but not clear as to details the temptation is always to add stuff in. Doctrinal mysteries that are explicitly paradoxical in their formulation like the Trinity and Incarnation have an inbuilt resistance to that, even if they need to be fought for sometimes. Salvation seems particularly prone to slipping and being degraded, and in the west has not only done that, but moved it to the center.

    Its utter centrality to western Christian thought is perhaps most evident when the thing some modern evangelical protestants seem to be most interested in finding out when talking to other Christians (including any of the historical denominations talking of divine mysteries) is some version of “but are you saved?” They see this as the only thing that really matters, and if you don’t know the answer to that, then your religion is perhaps not of much worth or interest to them. The fact that it the question is parsed in that way that it is underlines the way that they really do see salvation as a binary thing (saved/not saved) and it is something that happens once – for many of them at the time of initial conversion and/or baptism, or for some having had a “rebirth” experience. I rather suspect many evangelicals do regard this as “ontological” in the sense that that notion of salvation comprises an (almost) irreversible change of state of being. But as the main work has been done, lots of the rest of traditional Christianity (notably sacraments) just falls away as so much magical thinking, or (heaven forfend!) “works”, That notion of salvation is such a strong distortion field that almost every other Christian idea gets warped and distorted by it, a bit as if a smallish black hole had replaced the sun in the solar system. Suddenly everything gets moved out of place to circle the salvation theory e.g. sin, saints, Pascha (salvation was achieved on the cross .. ), the nature of ‘God’ even – a point to which I think your article was alluding. And theologically if anything goes to close to it, it just gets sucked in.

    And it gets worse as the Good News of Jesus Christ gets reduced to “you were going to hell and you deserved to because your ancestors 6000 years ate some fruit they were told not to, but now you don’t need to as long as you truly believe in and accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior”. (That is a caricature, but not much.) And then the modern society who increasingly has no real contact with Christianity or Christian stories any more thinks that is what the religion is about. It is not just evangelicals who do that, of course. The western church has been doing it since the high middle ages. Fear of hell (and its avoidance) has indeed been the principal reason offered up as to why people should embrace Christianity being the “good news”. What a travesty.

    As it is, in conversations on the rare times when things come up I tend to improvise based on personal experience. To earnest evangelicals asking me the “but are you saved question?” I hope I would be able to say something like : “I think I am both saved, but also in the process of being saved. I am on a journey with Jesus who is my way and my light and is leading my to the Father – salvation is an active process in which my poor sick soul needs to become free of its many shackles, become enlightened and see clearly, and learn to love. I am, as St Peter said, like a new born infant who is suckling on milk so that I might grow into salvation (his words). But salvation is also ultimately a mystery. I hope to participate in a deep peace that passes all understanding and an indescribable joy when I arrive at the father shore and see my Lord face to face.” I might also draw on the Exodus story too, as being the correct big picture allegorical model, as I think you were alluding to in your reply (?)

    My hope would be in such a conversation not so much as to try and defend the faith (which surely needs no “defending” in that sense, least of all by me?) or, worse, to attack their position, but rather to find ways of broadening the conversation and offering another perspective on what true religion might look like, recognizing of course that any real movements are from the Spirit. While something like that may have some good points if actually true (personal integrity being the key factor – o alas my behaviour …), Of course I worry about unintentionally misleading people into error, and/or misrepresenting the gospel – or even just being “fuzzy” (!!!). Hence my desire for something else that is good and authoritative I can point people to.

    I apologize for that very long piece, but as I hope you can sense this topic is both very interesting and personally important to me, and I felt a need to explain my earlier request. I hope it has been sufficiently on topic. You can blame your good article, and your thoughtful and caring follow ups if you like (“no good deed goes unpunished” as the saying goes 🙂 )

  2. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Sometimes, I get a bit “naughty” in my responses to the “are you saved” conversations. Jesus does this – He ignores the question and asks The Question. The Question will vary from person to person and it’s fairly rare that we get to know it – sort of a prophetic insight when we do. I suspect that every other response is pretty useless.

    A fruitful meditation: “Jesus, what is the Question of my life?”

    I know a priest who met St. Sophrony back when the priest was a college student. He had a brief conversation with the saint. I don’t recall what it was, but St. Sophrony gave him a “word” – said something to him that has guided the whole of his life since. He later became Orthodox and a priest.

    I had a woman do this to me – I was a young Anglican priest and met her. She had been an Anglican nun but had become Orthodox. I met her and was curious about her conversion. Then, I babbled on and on with my confused thoughts viz. Orthodoxy. She finally, quietly, looked at me and said, “Fr. Stephen. You think a lot. Someday you’ll think with your heart. Then you’ll be Orthodox.” I remember it like it was just today.

    I met her years later when I was with my family visiting an Orthodox Church during our conversion. I reminded her of the story. She had no memory of it. I have never forgotten it. It was a word from God – such a rare thing.

    I still think too much.

  3. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    And I talk too much!

    Father, for a minute there I suspected you were that man who spoke to St Sophrony. (?)

    Ziton…What you describe I can not argue. Because I was an Evangelical Protestant for 12 years…whole hog into it. You are pretty accurate in your descriptions. But if I may, please, I’d like to say one thing that may or may not mean anything to your conclusions. That Evangelical church was the very place I fell in love with Jesus. And I never stopped. It was there my life changed and took a turn onto a different path. I need not say more, except – there are many many others in those churches who’d be shaking their heads “Yes!” “Amen…me too”. Many. I am very grateful for that time of my life.

    God is in control…as we used to say. He is….

    That’s it. Thank you. I do appreciate your comment, Ziton.

  4. ScottTX Avatar

    “salvation is an active process in which my poor sick soul needs to become free of its many shackles, become enlightened and see clearly, and learn to love. I am, as St Peter said, like a new born infant who is suckling on milk so that I might grow into salvation (his words). But salvation is also ultimately a mystery.”

    Yes, but for Evangelicals (I was one), Hell isn’t a mystery, so how to avoid it better not be a mystery either. Hell looms so large that it’s taken out of their hands except for a confession of belief, then the rest of the work is done inside an inter-Trinitarian accounting transaction. The way the trade is set up, no finite being could be a party to it. Good works then become after-the-fact evidence that your confession was genuine, which explains away the works stuff in the book of James.

    Everything hangs on belief. Still sinning the same as before? Maybe you lack gratitude because your belief isn’t genuine, so go down the aisle again and start over. Altar calls feel like a second, third, or Nth baptism. Like a sleepy trucker who pops a benny. Zing!

    I’m not criticizing altar calls. It’s really the only form of Evangelical confession, since you have to get off your fundament and walk up past everyone. It’s not like you admit the details, “I pocketed some Chiclets at the TG&Y without paying”, but you’re admitting in front of everyone you fell short and want to do better. The walk of shame that leads to glory.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    This quote by Elder Aimilianos spoke to me tonight. I think after living life in the Orthodox Church a few years in, one tends to find an abiding peace in simply letting God come and be. One comes to Church “feeling” God’s presence. Our minds enter our hearts. Hearts uniting to Christ. It’s not so much about decisions, knowledge, or our thoughts. This is all from the neck up. It’s deeper, entering our hearts, allowing Christ to arise. It’s being and being in His presence, with Him.

    “When we are coming to church, what are we looking for? Fish in a desert? No, we are looking for that hidden “inward meditation” of the heart which unites us to Christ….The same thing happens in the church where you are mystically and sacramentally united with Christ. In and through your inward meditation on these things they will become a reality….In order to find Him strive to enter into that hidden, inner meditation and you’ll see that He’ll come of His own accord. You’ll see the heavy stone roll away from your heart and He Himself will rise!”
    ~Elder Aimilianos, The Way of the Spirit

  6. Ziton Avatar

    Thank you Father for another lovely reply, which nicely cuts through all the other stuff, including my pretentions. Your encounter story is delightful, as is the nun’s Word to you. It speaks to me too, even though I wasn’t there. (As you can probably tell, I suffer from the same affliction.)

    I shall take your suggested meditation to heart and see where it goes. I rather think I’ll be coming back to it a few times.

    That said, I do have a favorite question. I was pondering it again and circumstances when – almost too remarkably – up popped the Elder Aimilianos quotation from Anonymous so please allow me to share in case the coincidences and resonances mean something.

    I have always found it remarkable that Jesus’ first words in John’s Gospel (1:35) is a question – and what a question – to two would-be disciples : “what are you looking for”. The circumstances are that two would-be disciples are hanging around with the Forerunner (at least they had started hanging around with wise people), on what is a new morning when Jesus walks by. Unlike the synoptic accounts, Jesus does not come up to them, or call them out. He just walks by. I rather think this is the way many real truths work : they are often around for some time before we notice them, and even then it takes a wise person to point them out, as indeed the Forerunner does as he tells them “there is the Lamb of God” (an appellation that presumably does not mean much to them at this stage) but, we are specifically told “they heard him say this”, and start to follow. It is at this point that Jesus turns around and asks them “what are you looking for?”. Very first words. Deepest teaching ever in my books. It’s a total arrow question that pierces layer after layer of our (my at least) armor, and the answers to which change as I walk the path. I could go on and on about it, but I’ll leave it.

    Given the Elder Aimilianos quotation though, it is perhaps worth noting that the disciples response – which is first to name Jesus as their teacher (the first proper relationship) and then immediately ask him a rather impertinent counter question without having directly answered his – which is “where are you staying?” While impertinent, it is what any real interested student will want to know.

    To cut to Elder Aimilianos : When we come to church what indeed are we looking for? Isn’t it indeed to find out where the Way, the Truth and the true Life of things dwells? “Come and See”, He says (this is not an answer I can easily just tell you about, you need to experience it …?) “And then they stayed with him the rest of the day.” Thus begins Jesus ministry of redemption.
    AND going to your point Father, in this here is indeed a near a perfect model of real evangelisation I rather think. The Question is the thing!

    Apologies for another long post but, as I said, the coincidence was just too spooky to leave alone.

  7. Sue Avatar

    I first read Laurus in the winter of 2016 and count it among my very favorite books. There is so much I could say about it, but the most important thing is that while reading it, my heart burned with recognition.

    I hope it’s okay to share some of what Evegeny Vodolazkin said in various interviews about writing Laurus. These quotes echo much of what Fr. Stephen and others have been discussing:

    Vodolazkin described Laurus as, “The history of a man’s soul”, yet the book’s subtitle is, intriguingly, “a non-historical novel”. It is ultimately “a book about absence,” he said, “a book about modernity.”
    “There are two ways to write about modernity: the first is by writing about the things we have; the second, by writing about those things we no longer have.”

    Vodolazkin says that in modernity the human being is at the top of the hierarchy. In the Middle Ages, at the top of the hierarchy was God. “In our post-Christian society, God very often is not present in our life at all.”

    “The massacres we have seen in the 20th century, no one in the Middle Ages could have imagined. Despite what you might have heard, a human life was estimated very highly in the Middle Ages. When they say that humanism appeared only in modernity, it is not true.”

    “I don’t do politics. If a journalist asks me for my political views, I answer normally that I have no political views. As a Christian, I deal with each event separately, and I try to judge it from a Christian point of view, of right and wrong.

    “I have a theory – well, theory sounds too serious, but I have an idea. Each phenomenon has different dimensions or, better, levels, and the political level is not the highest one. I am certain that the reasons of social events lie in the human soul. It is a concrete soul, where grows aggression, and this aggression echoes with the aggression in other souls.

    “I suppose nobody believes that Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s death in Sarajevo is the reason for the First World War. Everything was ready for the explosion; the assassination was the spark. Or, consider the Russian Revolution in 1917. Normally, history books tell us that it was a very difficult situation in Russia – there was hunger, starvation, and so forth. But we had much more difficult situations than that [before] in Russia, and did not have a revolution.

    “The reason of these events is the united energy of individuals. … We have to work with individual human beings, and their souls. My position is one of Christian personalism. The main thing we can do to fight this evil is to pray… To do something politically is not so effective. Politics is a result of the situation we have in our souls.”

    (It is important to underscore that Vodolazkin’s Christian “personalism” is very different from modern “individualism”. )

    Except for what he describes as “the gathering of the Holy Spirit”, culture is for Vodolazkin the second most important work that we can do. He cites one of his teachers, the historian and scholar, Dmitri Sergeyevich Likhachov, who wrote that the main thing that justifies the existence of a nation is its culture:
    “Every day is an eternity in the church, and all that surrounded these people. Eternity made time very long, and very interesting. Their life was very long because they had as part of daily life this vertical connection, the connection to the divine realm, a connection that most of us in modernity have lost.”

    (Most of these quotes were taken from two posts on the blog Garvan Hill: https://garvan.co/2016/03/08/modernity-laid-bare-i-the-history-of-a-mans-soul/ and https://garvan.co/2016/03/08/modernity-laid-bare-ii-the-beetle-on-the-road-to-munich/

    In a comment above Fr. Stephen wrote:
    “…it is impossible to speak of Orthodoxy without reference to that context (i.e. western forms of Christianity) – without shrinking the topic to a level that no longer speaks to our lives.”
    And yet, that is exactly what Vodolazkin did in Laurus. Vodolazkin shows us the Way with a story about a person on a journey that is in stark contrast to our modern lives and the “journey’s” people talk about today. Here is Arseny, who is set apart from the world he wanders even while immersed in it, whose wandering appears to be aimless even while it is guided by sorrow, mystery, love.
    Vodolazkin: “I tried to say with (Laurus) that there is another way to live: the way of the saints. It is not an easy way to walk, but maybe we can walk alongside it.”

    Thank you and God bless!

  8. Dino Avatar

    Perhaps an issue with the evengelical reductionism vs Orthodoxy (I could be wrong, just thinking out loud) is that the first has a smallish view of Man and a large one of hell. Orthodoxy has a large one of man, [who in his participation to Christ becomes universal – encompassing (as St Sophrony says) , deep roots in hell and high branches in heaven- and a small one of hell (CS Lewis shares this ontological view in his Great Divorce).]
    This clearly affects how we perceive salvation /theosis. It is an increasing intimacy and even ontological Union with the One who encompasses absolutely all including Hades, yet does not get swallowed up by it, rather he offers Life abundant even to those utterly dead and deeply buried, (as He did in a more concealed form when he came down to those who often ‘loved their darkness more than light’ because of their works.)

  9. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Yes Ziton. He comes to us right where we’re at. Just like the disciples. Plain fisherman. Blue collar workers who knew their sacred writings (what we now call the OT- whatever parts they had back then), but not a thing about the psychological, philosophical, sociological analyzing we do now in our modern minds. Yet, it doesn’t matter.
    We change, as frequently as the world turns (like the old soap opera), but Jesus is the same, yesterday today and forever.
    I can not speak for anyone else. I only know what I know. If it was “from the head up”, a complete emotional reaction back in my evangelical days, so be it. That is exactly where Christ met me. He knew what I was looking for. I didn’t. I was too busy trying to climb out of the pit. I’m still climbing.
    Christ arrives in the depths of hell, and like the harrowing of Hades icon, lifts you out. The healing begins in such an encounter. Every day a beginning.

    One thing I’ll say. My analysing as an Evangelical was miniscule compared to the analyzing I find myself doing now! It gets exhausting sometimes. It is good to take a break and give a lot of thanks. It is like a washing of the Water.

  10. anonymous Avatar

    Paula, I encountered Christ to a degree too, in the Evangelical church–I believe through meditating on the Scriptures. I am learning experientially, as St. Dionysius the Aeropagite taught, that the Divine Liturgy is higher than the Scriptures. I believe this pertains to entering the heart. I used to love to spend time with God in His Word privately, but I remember so often how I would feel frustrated, often finding the church services distracting from meditating on a heart level. Now I thank God everyday for bringing me to His beautiful Church: a sacramental life that washes, cleanses, unites….the Saints who help us come closer to God…..the beautiful iconography and hymnography…..one truly has to begin to experience as words are so limited in conveyance……but yes, I am so thankful too. So thankful.

  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thank you for these wonderful quotes. Vodolazhkin is an amazing writer and his thoughts seem very much on the mark. Considering them, I would, no doubt, revise my statement regarding Western forms of Christianity. However, I offer this observation: the soul in modernity is, to a large extent, the soul of Western Christianity. It is the cultural starting point of modernity. As we live out the struggle of salvation, it is (in Orthodox terms) the salvation of the West.

    Fr. Georges Florovsky had, I think, amazing insight into our present time. I have a couple of quotes in mind from his Ways of Russian Thought:

    The entire western experience of temptation and fall must be creatively examined and transformed; all that “European melancholy” (as Dostoevsky termed it) and all those long centuries of creative history must be borne. Only such a compassionate co-experience provides a reliable path toward the reunification of the fractured Christian world and the embrace and recovery of departed brothers. It is not enough to refute or reject western errors or mistakes – they must be overcome and surpassed through a new creative act. This will be the best antidote in Orthodox thought against any secret and undiagnosed poisoning. Orthodox theology has been called upon to answer non-Orthodox questions from the depths of its catholic and unbroken experience and to confront western non-Orthodoxy not with accusations but with testimony: the truth of Orthodoxy.

    and this:

    Orthodoxy is summoned to witness. Now more than ever the Christian West stands before divergent prospects, a living question addressed also to the Orthodox world. Therein lies the entire significance of the so-called “ecumenical movement.” Orthodox theology is called to show that this “ecumenical question” can only be decided through the consummation of the Church in the fulness of a catholic tradition that is unpolluted and inviolable, yet constantly renewing itself and growing. Again, return is possible only through “crisis,” for the path to Christian recovery is critical, not irenical. The old “polemical theology” has long ago lost its inner connection with any reality. Such theology was an academic discipline, and was always elaborated according to the same western “textbooks.” A historiosophical exegesis of the western religious tragedy must become the new “polemical theology.” But this tragedy must be reendured and relived, precisely as one’s own, and its potential catharsis must be demonstrated in the fulness of the experience of the Church and patristic tradition. In this newly sought Orthodox synthesis, the centuries-old experience of the Catholic West must be studied and diagnosed by Orthodox theology with greater care and sympathy than has been the case up to now.

    For a time in my life, as I looked at Orthodoxy from an Anglican perspective, I imagined and longed for an ecclesiastical reunion of sorts. There had been a time when such a thing was discussed by both – and a time that, for some, this seemed possible. As years went by, it became obvious that such was a delusion. The Anglican world was drifting deeper and deeper into heresies and nonsense. If there was to be a healing, it would have to begin within the souls of particular persons. None of us sees the outcome of our actions, but, by faith, I take Florovsky at his word, and see that slowly – within my own soul – this drama of the healing of the West is taking place.

  12. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Father and Sue,
    Excellent quotes and reflections. Thank you.

    It just occurred to me that politicization creates a polemical-mind set that colors much of our thought. Polemics create a false impression that the means to healing the soul will occur with improvement of outer conditions. Ideals are personalized, and persons are idealized. And the soul languishes. Doctrine, cannons, scripture, patristics, the wisdom of the writings of our Saints, in the hands of a western politicized mind-set is a hindrance to the healing of a soul.
    Do I understand this correctly, Father?

    So, since we can not know the outcome of our own actions, I’m not sure how we can speak assuredly regarding ‘solutions’, apart from the perspective of Church. That is, our presence together as persons under our Head, Christ, participating in the unfolding of God’s ultimate purpose for creation, the gathering of all unto Himself. But we *can* speak assuredly in faith that it will be done, and in faith we abide, we follow. This is the means of the healing of our own self…mind, soul, and body. The is the fullness of Orthodoxy we speak about. And when we behold another face, another person, know that they are in need of that very same healing.
    And we pray…on behalf of all.

  13. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Fr Stephen,
    What you write on our wealth is a reminder of Luke 14:33.

    And as Dino mentions, wealth can be many things.

    The words that stand out in the scripture is ‘forsake all’. I believe this is the story of Laurus, isn’t it.

    I am constantly reminded how far I am from this path. And for that I’m grateful for St Therese’s words you mention above.

  14. Andrea Lowry Avatar
    Andrea Lowry

    “Do you know Fr. Tom Hopko’s 55 maxims? They are priceless gems for the little life:
    Here’s a link: https://holycrossoca.org/newslet/0907.html”

    Thank you. Fr. Stephen. Do we do jokes here on this blog? Fr. Hopko left off “Make Your Bed” of Jordan Peterson fame…..however there are still some gigantic life changing disciplines…

    “Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
    Don’t defend or justify yourself.
    Be merciful with yourself and others.
    Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
    Focus exclusively on God and light, and never on darkness, temptation and sin.
    Endure the trial of yourself and your faults serenely, under God’s mercy.
    When you fall, get up immediately and start over.
    Get help when you need it, without fear or shame.”

    Thank you, Paula, for speaking to me on the challenges of living alone.
    I was trying to type this while my 11 year old and 16 year old were arguing ridiculously in the kitchen over the pumpkin muffins one of them is baking to serve at church. I really appreciate the gift of your perspective at this moment. Blessings

  15. Ziton Avatar


    Thank you for those Florovsky quotes. They are helpful, and hopeful, and run deep. I was wondering about this line though, and wondering whether you may be able to help explain what it means: “A historiosophical exegesis of the western religious tragedy must become the new “polemical theology.” But this tragedy must be reendured and relived, precisely as one’s own, and its potential catharsis must be demonstrated in the fulness of the experience of the Church and patristic tradition.”

    It’s maybe in that context that I have also been pondering the opening line of your comment “the soul in modernity is, to a large extent, the soul of Western Christianity. It is the cultural starting point of modernity. As we live out the struggle of salvation, it is (in Orthodox terms) the salvation of the West.” I have been thinking – partly as a result of ScottTX’s and Dino’s comments about the relative size of hell in the western imagination (which I think is right – I have that black hole metaphor in my mind) – that maybe a root cause of the whole two-storey universe problem is the particular vision of what salvation is, and then the large focus on a particularly vividly defined vision of hell. Once hell and its avoidance becomes the point of the exercise (as bogey man), and set somewhere else, at a future point of no return, then that sets up a separation, followed by a need for a system to explain how it works and might be avoided, followed by a re-alignment of theological ideas around it, followed by a growing momentum towards theological systems of thought in general, albeit with some Aristotelian fuel thrown on that fire (I’m thinking Aquinas et al), all of which presages a general move into the head. Once the abuses around the increasingly complex salvific machinery really get going based on people trying to pull levers and manipulate the said machinery and system then the critiques of that start and people propose alternative machinery which then turn violent. Then to allow for society to function given all these disputes a truce gets called in which everyone agrees to differ on their views on the machinery and co-exist with these matters all being ones of “private conscience”. Thus is secularism born. If that is true, then you are indeed right that the soul in modernity is the child of western Christianity. I think maybe that is one reason I am so interested in getting to the root of the problem – not to criticize our western brothers and sisters who are in large parts victims of all of this – and many of whom in practice (as Paula pointed out) do startlingly well despite the constraints of a distorted theology (praise be to our loving Lord indeed who works all things to good ends!), and indeed perhaps do better in quite a few areas which we could learn from. (Met. Kallistos Ware has spoken on this.)

    I also agree with other commenters that while it is useful – for everyone – to try and get the analysis right, it is then important to figure out (feel our way into?) the best way of then ‘engaging’. As I think Paula was suggesting (?) polemical approaches just risk repeating the cycle the west got itself into and dragging us down the some whirlpool. Get to close to the black hole and they start feeding … So I think Florovsky is right. Love, healing, humility (!), proper peacemaking, discernment, honoring truth, beauty and goodness all come to mind.

    Intriguingly, you suggested that you see the healing in western Christianity occurring, and referenced your own soul. I am very interested in what you meant by that.

    Florovsky also suggested that a new ‘creative act’ is needed. Any thoughts on that? Do we wait for it to be revealed, or are we being called to envision that, and what do we individually do in the meantime? Presumably it is try, with God’s grace, to be the best version of ourselves until the right kairos arrives?

    One last thought: I have always found it useful to listen to the ideas in other religions and philosophies and versions of Christianity even. Even when I don’t agree with them, I have found the action of *really* trying to understand what they are saying and why to be of great benefit to me in clarifying or deepening my own understanding of things. I say that in part as a reminder to self about the spirit of engagement – I have been very blessed by engaging with other, and with a lived past much of which was no doubt very flawed.

  16. ScottTX Avatar

    “Once the abuses around the increasingly complex salvific machinery really get going based on people trying to pull levers and manipulate the said machinery and system then the critiques of that start and people propose alternative machinery which then turn violent. Then to allow for society to function given all these disputes a truce gets called in which everyone agrees to differ on their views on the machinery and co-exist with these matters all being ones of “private conscience”.”

    Or your local prince’s private conscience sets the creed, in which case you’ve described the path from Luther vs. indulgences to the Peace of Westphalia. And so on from nations to states, until individual freedom of conscience.

  17. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Ziton, all
    I think this post speaks to some of your questions, Ziton. How the healing of our soul is at the same time the healing of our nation.
    Father always points us to Christ’s Pascha. All divisions, arguments – even hell – is subsumed at the Cross.

  18. mark northey Avatar
    mark northey

    On a tangent mentioned earlier in the comments- Father it’s worth reading “the human icon” re. comparing and contrasting Hinduism and Orthodox Christianity at their best.

    I really love the book, “the young man, the gurus, and the monk (saint Paisios)”, however it is clear from Mangala-Frost’s work that this encounter with ‘hinduism’ would be equivalent to a Hindu coming to know Christianity through say Benny Hinn and the worst of televanglism.
    There is hinduism and there is Hinduism so to speak. Just as there is christianity and there is Christianity. The heart- everywhere- is the true battleground. If we fail to address the best and most sympathetic in alternative faiths and philosophies, we will never speak to the best of those persons who have approached the divine within the framework “they were dealt.”
    It is hard to see very much lacking in the Hindu Gandhi for example, but the Christian regime he was oposing was ‘full’ of what is lacking.

    Just a side comment, to recommend “the human icon” for a sturdy critique of Hinduism at its best.

  19. mark northey Avatar
    mark northey

    Also many thanks to the comment and links by Sue above, on Laurus.
    Reading the author’s own comments confirms my own experience of his book which I absolutely love for just the reasons he wrote it, I now learn.

  20. Ziton Avatar

    Paula, thank you. It’s a good article (of course.) I think that the issue of the centrality of Christ and his Pascha may perhaps be at the root of my problem with the whole salvation business in Western Christianity. Once one adopts an eschatology about “not going to hell, but going to heaven for all eternity” and embeds it as the center of the religious solar system and even amp-ing hell up to black hole status, this has the (no doubt unintended) practical effect of demoting Christ to being a cog (albeit a big one) in the salvific system – which then what we have really done is make it about us : while yes He is our Lord, His principal role in such a system becomes as being the one who paid the sin debt, and keeps on paying it, so with that done really we no longer have to worry about much because the end result is already settled (Father put that very nicely in his article). Rather than that of course it is Christ who is, and always should in our hearts be, at the center. He is the Sun, and all the other elements really orbit him. I think Hell only makes sense as a kind of outlying planet in His system (and in my view a rather mysterious dark outlying one at that, that really we do not, and cannot, know much about). His Pascha is indeed what matters, and it’s His. Our personal salvation, whatever that truly means, is at the end of it all really just a playing out of His ongoing creation. My own suspicion is (of course I do not know) is that our salvation will be to participate in his bringing all things (including hell) to Himself in the New Creation – but in a sense that has also already happened, and is still happening. Our Rescuer was the one who entered Hades to harrow it after all, and to bring out the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, to finally break their bonds, to His glory..

    Oddly, I don’t think of the ‘hell at the center’ problem of western Christianity as a sin a such, let alone the sin of a nation. I regard it is a very unfortunate, problematic and now very deeply entrenched (it now lies deep in the Western cultural psyche) heresy, and one which has spawned other heresies. Like most such heresies, it gained traction at the time(s) it did because local conditions were supportive – and perhaps too because that particular model does have a simplicity about it, and allows for people to build their own systems, which perhaps satisfies an underlying human desire for explanations that cut through and solve, and have the illusion of controlling, a problem. The cluster of ideas was also highly convenient for people in power – which is one reason why it has so often turned into kinds of ideology. While some sin – including group sin – has no doubt happened, I tend to think Western Christians are victims in this as much as anything. The real question for 21st century me, particularly in a hyper-consumerised, post-Christian, post-modern secular culture is whether it is possible or desirable to try and engage with our Western brothers and sisters about it. That includes whether that is my job, and if so the best way to do that. Father did not seem to think scripts really work, and that trying another tack about being intuitively open to people’s situation (and pondering ‘The Question’ for them) was an alternative, which was good feedback. Then the Florovsky stuff got me thinking again about the bigger issue, albeit I am not entirely sure I understand some of what he was saying. Ah thinking – I share Father’s slight frisson of (good-natured in his case) despair on that one! 🙂

  21. Dino Avatar

    The truth is that the most prophesied event of history (Christ’s incarnation, Crucifiction and Resurrection) is simultaneously the greatest prophesy af all of what will be.
    The end of history is the ‘seeing Him as He is’ (incarnated, Crucified and Resurrected) in all His Glory and partaking in it, each to different degrees.
    Now the Heaven & Hell bifurcation, understood in this light, is just a matter of gradations.

  22. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Ziton…Your ‘Ah, thinking…’ , seems to me Christ-centered, and is admirable!
    Regarding issues like heaven, hell, salvation – Father said it nicely…the ‘argument’ becomes thin…flimsy, I think he said. And with our western mind-set, discussion eventually gets ugly. Divisions are formed. Derogatory descriptions applied – ie infernalist on one side, ‘you’re just like a Calvanist’, on the other. Both ‘camps’ can easily apply quotes to match their beliefs.
    That is what I meant about ‘politicalization’. I use the term broadly. I see this in my own form of thought…right/wrong, us/them, then to equate the ‘person’ with their ideals that I do not agree with. It is the same demonizing that we see in political accusations. It has entered into our psyche. It is too late to ‘fix’ this by not watching or listening to the news…it has already become our mind-set.
    So, I think to be aware of this is important as we ‘witness’ to others about the faith. Let me suggest, please, what I have found….I have found that you can detect at some point in the conversation (usually early on) if there is a genuine interest in Orthodoxy or if they just want to prove their point and argue. The discussion very quickly goes downhill, I think, under influence of a politicalized mind-set. Seems it is difficult to see other without seeing a wall of division.
    Please do not misunderstand my point. Truth is not relative. There is indeed absolute Truth. Christ shows us that there is indeed division in this age – sheep, goats, wheat, tares. But let’s let Him do the determining.
    It has been said, the most effective way to ‘witness’ the faith is to live it. This just naturally happens when we enter into the life of the Faith…from the day of Baptism, forward. We are Christ’s now. It is a slow transformation. Much of it hidden. But it is there.

    Again, you know when someone is divisive, out to prove a point. You can also tell if there is a genuine interest. A lot depends on your demeanor whether a fruitful conversation can take place. Respect of boundaries is important. Experience with our own mistakes, and the healing grace of forgiveness can work miracles.

    I think you know all this, Ziton. You seem to have genuine compassion and concern for the salvation of all, as well as your own. It is a reflection of the Image within. Forgive me if it seems like I am ‘teaching’ you! Really, I am sharing my experiences as I reflect back over the years. I realize now that ‘others’ play a very significant role in our lives. Our ‘meeting’ was meant to be. Nothing is by chance. And all of it is formative…for the good.
    Of course we know that the ‘end’ of things is in God’s hands. He will continue to direct us, even in times of distraction, as He is center in our heart. He may get a little off center in our much thinking. Nevertheless, His will is done (Providence), we repent and get back on track. (yes, I am simplifying…the journey is fraught with struggles…we know that)

    One last thing about being “western”. Again I speak for myself. I am western. I was born in the west. More specifically, in America. Like yourself, I am interested, and have a care for, those of different cultures. I have always had a hard time, though, understanding the ‘eastern way’, because it seems so ‘hazy’ to me. I need concrete explanations to understand the ‘hazy’. Surely this is a western trait!
    Many people think the eastern way is ‘better’, I think, because we see so plainly our western faults. But the grass is not greener ‘over there’. I think this is another form of politicizing. Comparisons. Right/wrong. Good/bad. It is a very narrow way of looking at reality. Christ comes to all…every tribe nation and tongue (one of my favorite lines in scripture). I want to see myself and others as He does. I’m not there yet, but man, I try. I stumble, eventually get up, and continue on.

    Christ is center. The Cross. His Pascha. Surely, on behalf of all and for all.

    Thanks for enduring my ‘much thinking’ too!

  23. Anonymous Avatar

    Thank you, Dino, for your last comment. “Seeing Christ as He is” in His Glory, and partaking in it to different degrees. Very profound, again, thank you. I had these same thoughts as I was thinking about how there is tradition concerning the event on the Mount of Transfiguration: that it wasn’t the Lord who changed, it was the eyes (noetic perception) of His disciples that changed.

    Also thank you, Michael Bauman, for your comment:
    “I came to Christ experientially long before I came to the Church knowingly but every true encounter with our risen Lord is of and through the Church.”
    Also very profound for me, thank you.

  24. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Paula, the difference between east and west is the difference between an engineer and an artist.

  25. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Michael….such an apt contrast!
    It should come as no surprise that during my school years, my lowest grades were in the arts… scant as they were in the curriculum.

  26. Yvette Cathers Avatar
    Yvette Cathers

    Another amazing post. Your articles are always so incredibly written. Thank you.

  27. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    My mother was a dancer and my father a medical doctor, I am not sure which was the more analytical to this day but they were both mystical in their experience of God..

    God gives light and substance and depth to everything even.the sheerest gossimer and the densest concrete. Some folks loose sight of reality in the flights of fancy some in the seeming hardness and precision of stone and steel.

    That’s not jade!

  28. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Oh Michael…the densest of concrete!!! So I had to look up “jade”! 😀
    God love you! That was good….!!!

  29. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Paula, God loves His rocks. They each have their own particular life in them and they endure and unlike concrete are beautiful. I do not for a moment think you are all that dense. BTW my jade comment is a reference to a favorite parable of mine I have posted here before: The young man who wants to become a jade master apprentices with one. He comes every day and sits at the Masters feet holding a piece of jade while the Master talks about little or nothing. After weeks of this the young asks when the Master will start teaching him about jade. The Master simply replies, “Come back tomorrow.”. The next morning the young man arrives, the Master gives him a piece of fake jade that looks real. As soon as the young man takes the stone in his had, he says, “That’s not jade!”

  30. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Michael…you’re so kind!
    The jade story…even more beautiful after reading the parable. I must’ve missed the times you posted it. Previously, I was relating to jade’s “spiritual” qualities. Anyway, the parable reminds me of “wax on, wax off”. The boy was learning…the ‘knowing’ hidden, but it is there. So, just keep at it. Don’t despair in the banality (Andrea’s comment), even in the messiness, God is with us, ever so attentive…

  31. Anonymous Avatar

    God is with us, ever so attentive…Michael’s reference to our being God’s beautiful rocks made me think of a rock tumbler. We are all being tumbled together, our edges becoming smoothed over time. The trials and tribulations of our lives, the grit, continues to polish us. The water, the baptismal waters, continue to cleanse and work together with the grit. Together we tumble, smooth, and shine, transforming into precious gems inside His “ark of salvation”, the tumbler…each truly special and unique to our Lord, as He lovingly, attentively, creates a beautiful mosaic….just an analogy that popped in my mind when I thought of the rocks 🙂.

  32. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    “.just an analogy that popped in my mind …”
    And a good one, Anonymous! As we used to say. “and the Church says, Amen!”

    What you describe…yes, the love and care of God upon His “rocks”!
    Like the ‘matter’ used to describe us…mere dirt, clay, transformed, even perfected, ever so slowly (tumbling as if being led into the ‘straits’, sometimes dire straits!), yet purposefully, into His image…all the while hidden in that mosaic 🙂
    And to think The Son put upon Himself this mere clay, and endured ‘the straits’, just for that reason.
    Amazing Love…

  33. Drewster2000 Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    That first Florovsky quote in particular is cool water on a parched tongue. In my experience the general Orthodox reaction to the West (when they react at all) is to hole up in their bunkers, to cover their ears and hum in an attempt to not be poisoned with heretical filth. But he points out a better way, a higher way. And as you say so eloquently, it has to happen in relationships of one heart to another instead of some grand scale approach attempted on a corporate level.

    Thank you for those words.

  34. Mark Northey Avatar
    Mark Northey

    Father, I’ve decided to reply to a little hidden sentence in your comment at Jan. 31, 8:50am.

    You said:
    “I think some who write and speak about the apokatastasis are trying to talk back to the stupidity and banality of the dominant Western narrative. But, I find that they say more and speak more than I can, and that I cannot join the chorus.”

    For a while I found myself so agreeing with your sentiment here (that time frame must have been a good one for you, as your comments clustering around then were so spot on!)
    However the longer I sit with it, I cannot agree. I totally agree with the first sentence. This is why I think Hart’s work tacitly does actually only threaten the Western traditions in Christianity. There is nothing new in his thought, and nothing “prohibitted” in his his thought, from an Orthodox vantage point. There are theologumena, and a style of writing at home in the West more than (contemporary, popular) East. But nothing out of bounds

    My problem is with your second sentence. It’s not that I *would* join the chorus of apokatastasis. For the chorus so far is missing the real battle ground of the heart. It’s like a “legal fiction” read of juridical languague in scripture. Yah, we’re saved. Now what? I still have to live in this condition! With my passions and among my enemies!
    Same with Apokatastasis. Suppose all ultimately will be redeemed.
    Yah, so what? I still have to live in this condition! With my passions and among my enemies!

    So the conversation so far, being dominated by Western Christians (reacting to Hart) and Western formed Orthodox Christians (also, just, reacting to Hart), is missing this mark. So I dont want to enter that fray. So far I agree with you.
    I dont think it’s quite accurate as you have stated elsewhere, that the Fathers are silent on this out of prudence. Because, St Isaac was not silent. Was he wrong to speak clearly? And St Gregory was not silent. Was he too wrong to speak clearly? And Origen was not silent.
    And, in our age, after such a long period of diminution and oppression of Orthodox theology, yes, it is not mainstream to think and speak openly in terms of the restoration of all things. (We Orthodox are just emerging to think as Orthodox for the first time in centuries!) But in the words of my patron taken from the jacket cover of Hart’s book, Saint Basil the Great, “once observed that, in his time, most Christians believed that hell was not everlasting, and that all would eventually attain salvation.”

    While I see little profit in just holding a different opinion, I would have to disagree with your framing of this in terms of the received tradition. I am with Isaac on this: when rightly positioned within the whole Orthodox Way, we do more *good* by speaking courageously about the efficatious love of God to redeem all, than we risk in its being misunderstood.
    Context is everything.
    I would never take St John Chrysostom’s words on Hell out of context.
    Likewise, rather than remaining silent on something the Holy Spirit Himself appears to be speaking (look at the providential discovery of St Isaac’s “second part”, along with Hart’s brilliant argument, all given to a world dominated by ugly Western Christian distortions of the eschaton), I think we need to speak it rightly.
    Another brief analogy: How many times do we have to explain our doctrine of theosis, against a modern spiritualist ‘foo foo’ misunderstanding?

    Rightly speaking of Apokatastasis- not fearing the maligning and judgments of men- is the right path.
    “You are unable to be saved alone, if all others are not also saved. It is a mistake for one to pray only for oneself, for one’s own salvation. We must pray for the entire world, so that not one is lost.” – Elder Porphyrios (1906-1991)

    Love in Christ;
    -Mark Basil

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Mark Basil,
    Well, I speak and write in obedience. And that’s pretty much where it is for me. I don’t want to write any other way. I would also agree with St. Porphyrios and have made it clear that praying for the salvation of all is and should be a given for every Orthodox Christian.

  36. Mark Northey Avatar
    Mark Northey

    I love you Father Stephen.
    Asking your prayers;
    -the sinner

  37. Dino Avatar

    Mark Northey,
    forgive my re-visiting this subject please. In danger of being too reductionist, I think the one key element that any notion of apokatastatic inevitability fails to realise is that it makes our most God-like element (namely: utterly free eternal self-determination towards eternal Truth ) in to a façade. I repeat a quote from one of the greatest proponents of [what Saint Porphyrios says regarding] our inability to be saved alone, “if all others are not also saved”.

    …The power of love is vast and pregnant with success but it does not override. There is a domain in human life where a limit is set even to love – where love is not supreme. This domain is freedom [“προαίρεση”].
    Man’s freedom is positive, real. It concedes no determinism in his destiny, so that neither the sacrifice of Christ Himself nor the sacrifices of all those who have trodden in His footsteps lead necessarily to victory. There may be some – whether many or few, we do not know – who will meet even this perfect love, this perfect sacrifice, with a rejection, even on the eternal level, and declare, ‘I want no part in it’. It was this recognition of this abyss of freedom which prompted the Fathers of the Church to repudiate the determinist theories of the Origenists. Belief in Apocatastasis, understood as universal salvation predestined in the divine purpose, would certainly rule out the sort of prayer that we see in the Staretz [St Silouan].
    What was made known to the Staretz in his vision of Christ outweighed all doubt and hesitation. He knew that it was the Almighty God that had appeared to him. He was sure that the humility of Christ which he had come to know, and the love which filled him to the limits of his strength, were the action of God the Holy Spirit. He knew in the Holy Spirit that God is boundless love and mercy, yet knowledge of this truth did not lead him to conclude that ‘anyway, we shall all be saved’.
    The Staretz was unlettered but no one surpassed him in craving for true knowledge. The path he took was, however, quite unlike that of speculative philosophers. Knowing this, I follwed with the deepest interest the way in which the most heterogeneous problems were distilled in the alembic of his mind, to emerge in his consciousness as solutions. He could not develop a question dialectically and express it in a system of rational concepts – he was afraid of ‘erring in intellectual argument’; but the propositions he pronounced bore the imprint of exceptional profundity…

    “Saint Silouan the Athonite”

  38. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I would echo those thoughts a bit. That we “stand at the edge of the abyss” can include these large matters – like the salvation of all – and our inability to see it clearly – though we see the love of God. The rush to proclaim the outcome – with a kind of certainty – is like getting to the abyss, and saying, “That’s interesting, now let’s move on.” The abyss disappears and we are tempted to something trivial. It’s a good thing to ponder the imponderables – good for the heart. To look, to see, to not see, and to put my hand to my mouth like Job.

  39. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dino, I read recently on another site that true universalism that all WILL be saved is just another form of Calvinist predestination seemingly more benevolent. On further examination though such an idea, as St. Silouan points out, destroys our humanity.

    Thank you for the quote.

  40. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Yes, thank you all.
    Dino…I must say, I’m always learning new words here. ” Alembic”…when I read the definition, I just smiled…”An alembic [in Arabic and ancient Greek] is an alchemical still consisting of two vessels connected by a tube, used for distilling.”
    I envisioned the two vessels as the mind and the heart of St Silouan and the tube as the connectedness of the Saint to the Holy Spirit. The ‘picture’ is all one, in unity…no beginning or end. Such, I would imagine, is the existence of this Saint.
    Great word…worth a thousand words.
    I am grateful that St Porphyrios has given us these words about St Silouan, even as we are aware of “‘erring in intellectual argument’”. He has done a great service.

  41. Mark Northey Avatar
    Mark Northey

    Dino, thank you for your excellent contribution of St Sophrony’s commentary. My growing intimate love for St Sophrony ever-increases my respect for his thought. If anyone ‘stops’ at St Sophrony’s reasonings here, unwilling to accept that all shall be saved in the fullness of time, then I would be thrilled with such mercy, wisdom, and stability within our Tradition that saves.

    It remains though, that St Isaac found salvation and rose to great noetic heights holding exactly this conclusion: that all *shall* be saved. I cannot diminish my trust in Isaac’s noetic apprehension of the Truth, in order to increase my trust in Sophrony’s interpretation of the eschatological implications from his spiritual father’s prayer for all. Someone is wrong; they do not agree with each other and cant both be correct.

    So, we have to look at their reasoning in our own humble and intellectual capacity.
    I actually dont see the conclusion Saint Sophrony draws as necessary. Lookit: It is like those who might say, “well if the unbelievers aren’t going to hell for their unenlightened unbelief, why bring them the gospel at all?” Or closer to Orthodoxy, “If God is almighty and all good, then there’s no need to pray for anyone in anything, as God will do the best by them anyway.” Our lives cannot be reduced only to these “ultimate ends”. The process matters; this moment matters. God desires that all shall be saved and will in the end have his way, and we pray for it too! And closest to Orthodoxy: God is utterly merciful in all things, yet we *ask* for his mercy constantly! We pray, and we share the gospel, because it is Good! We have tasted it and wish others to know the sweetness of Christ’s love, right now! That all will be saved does not mean we dont all have to make a beginning, in our freedom. Salvation is at the end of a great effort; there is no other way. Thus we must pray for all! This reason is enough to not become complacent. This reason is enough to pray for those in hell.
    So, my very dear saint and spiritual friend Sophrony, was not correct in his reasoning here.

    I believe that our faith is not irrational, not illogical. We strive know the truth in our inner being by process of purification. But the vast majority of what you and I believe, we believe not through this striven-for noetic apprehension but through lower epistemological modes (e.g. we are taking the words of other great saints; we are reading the scriptures; we are praying prayers; we are hearing homilies; etc.). This shapes our thought on a grand scale- and so it has shaped St Sophrony’s thought. And Saint Paisios’s thought. They belonged to a milue that taught them from a young age, that the Church believes hell is eternal. They were not privy to the exegetical explication of the scriptures Hart brings us, nor to his arguments from what we know about God, about freedom, and about personhood. These times, these arguments, are given to *us*, now, in God’s providence. We must be responsible with them; working them over within our Orthodox phronema and ascetical lives.

    As I pointed out there have been times in our Church’s history when Apokatastasis was a venerable and common understanding. We should not be ‘chronologically-centric’, reasoning from our current climate of the suspicion of this traditional position- now very much a minority- to assume it must be dangerous or wrong. It was not dangerous for St. Isaac. That is enough for me to not be afraid to think it through sympathetically. We must reason together, in the communion of love and truth that we share.

    Until I see someone actually interact with Hart’s arguments, understanding them and refuting them, I will not be able to dismiss them simply because “they’re just logical.”
    St Gregory Nazianzus brilliantly argued from logic, that God must be exactly triune! (Not one, not two, not more than three, but precisely three persons is the only logical conclusion, he argues). He and many other Fathers use philosophical argument, reason, and quintessentially the law of noncontradiction (the basis of logic), to demonstrate all sorts of truths that we hold as Orthodox.

    So far, I have not seen a response to Hart’s argument from God as the Good, free creator of all that is.
    Neither have I seen anyone grasp his (patristic) understanding of human freedom, and refute his conclusion that this freedom finds it end in the Good it was created for. (indeed as I’ve said: if our freedom is as great a thing as you say, never transgressed or overrun by God, then those in hell can never be *fixed* there; they will always be free, and worthy of our loving pursuit. To the end of the ages, they *could* still turn and choose the Good).
    Further, the interconnections between us all are so pervasive that really if anyone is is hell, it is because of *my* sin. God has made us thus; we are all saved or none at all shall know salvation. (I always personalize it: if it were my daughter left in hell, where would I be except by her side? I will never forget the imperfections of my fatherhood and how I have wounded her and laid the ground for distortions in her perception of her true Father’s love. I am similarly culpible before *everyone*- just as Adam’s sin had so great an impact on every other human being, and the second Adam saved us all in his own works. We, all of humanity, really *are* inseparably one).

    I know you are fond of Lewis’s thinking on this question. Again I see it as very good indeed; he has a heart and a mind, and uses them.
    But ultimately, where he rhetorically asks, “should one in hell be able to hold all of heaven captive?” he comes to the wrong answer. The answer is YES!
    Lewis fails to grasp the depths of God’s love here (he had a poor grasp of love of enemies)- God in heaven *is* held captive to every suffering of his creatures, *while* he is impassive still. This is the mystery, the true face of free love: we in heaven will forever pursue those we love in hell, for to do so *is* heaven for freely loving beings (we see it in Christ’s pursuit of us, going to the depths of hell already and setting the captives there free, as a foretaste of the End of all things.)

    Okay, I really should leave it at this.
    Hart’s arguments are sound. I have not seen them understood and refuted by any Orthodox. Our faith includes not minor but *major* saints and fathers who explicitly taught Apokatastasis. So it is demonstrably false that this teaching is dangerous to believe and teach openly.
    As I said, we must learn to hold it and articulate it *rightly*; carefully as with all holy mysteries, alongside and within the *whole* of the Tradition (including a very real, terrifying hellfire that I myself am ever in danger of, and I may have to remain there for eternal-like duration if I do not ceaselessly repent to my last breath).

    I dont believe Orthodox need to understand this truth. It’s hard to grasp and we’re all very new at thinking like Orthodox (I mean all of us in this generation, at this junction in history). But I dont agree that it cannot be held by Orthodox as truth, that all will be saved; not for the reasons you have presented so far, or that I have heard anywhere from anyone Orthodox.
    I love you brother, and deeply appreciate how you approach these matters;
    -Mark Basil

  42. Dino Avatar


    St Sophrony and St Silouan certainly had “tasted it and wished others to know the sweetness of Christ’s love”

    This modern Origenism has found a great impetus through the newly found Isaacian writings, (especially through their presentation via Met HiIlarion Alfeyev and DBHart) but, in Greece, some erudite Elders claim these authors confuse the Orthodox Abba Isaac of Syria (from Nineveh, born in the 6th century) with the 100-year-old subsequent pseudo-Isaac the Syrian (from Qatar, born in the 7th century), a Nestorian influenced by Origen.
    Since both Nestorianism and Origenism were refuted by ecumenical councils (3 and 5), the books which confuse the two men are perceived by these figures as misleading their readers. Many Orthodox Fathers refer to St. Isaac as the most soundly orthodox, while pseudo-Isaac’s works which were only recently discovered in an Oxford library (in a 10th-11th century manuscript) are understood by them to be heretical.
    For more (albeit in Greek), see:

  43. ScottTX Avatar

    As a former Protestant Fundamentalist who loved proof-texting from the Bible, I find this Orthodox idea of proof-texting from the Fathers kinda fascinating. As you add more axiomatic authorities, how can you avoid adding more contradictory viewpoints?

    How do you know when a Father is speaking “ex cathedra” or giving an opinion? Or worse, when is a Father giving an opinion while mistakenly thinking it’s “ex cathedra”? Tricky.

  44. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Scott, the answer is context. First there is no such thing as ex cathedra. Second the life in the Church will lead you into all Truth IF YOU LISTEN, life the life as best you can in perseverance and humility.

    I am blessed to be in a Cathedral parish who’s Bishop is often in the altar on Sunday and quote available. I live him dearly and as obedient to him as I can be. A few weeks ago I was talking with him about a serious concern that I thought was really on his level of Church polity. He told me I trusted him too much. Out of nowhere it popped out of my mouth, I don’t trust YOU at all. At that point I turned away from him and the conversation ended. I need to talk to him again to be certain that he understands what I was saying, i.e. my trust is in God alone.

    So it is in all of the Church tremendous freedom and tremendous responsibility tremendous patience to wait on the Lord even when hurt and confused. Somehow, someway the Truth is revealed. Dino’s comment is a small evidence of that.

    It sounds crazy, it looks even worse but it seems to be the way the Holy Spirit works.

    Fr. Seraphim Rose of blessed memory who is quite controversial for many in the Church said one thing that has always stuck with me which at first may see paradoxical: it is not as important to know the Fathers as it is to put on the mind of the Fathers.

    Only Jesus Christ is fully man and He is fully man because He is fully God
    His promise to us is that by following Him, we can become as He is. That means, ultimately, the Cross.

  45. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    …or in response to the title of this section: Jesus alone is not sufficient but without Him, nothing else matters and with Him all things are revealed. We must wait in patience and be prepared to hear Him.

  46. Mark Northey Avatar
    Mark Northey

    all I would add to Michael’s excellent response, is that it is not our ‘right ideas’ or ‘right opinions’ that save us. What saints who disagree on these things share, is submission to the Orthodox Way of Life. This way- manifest ultimately in total humility and love even of our enemies- is what saves. There can be differing opinions and ideas on some matters.
    This one, where I am championing a minority view in the Church, is a great example.
    As I said above, who cares who’s right? We all still have to live our lives here and now. We must all engage in the hard work of our spiritual lives, living according to the grace we are given and acquiring the Holy Spirit.
    We all agree God’s love is absolute and he is perfectly just. I think this means certain things for the eschaton, others (most others today) think differently.
    I dont desire to convince anyone because it will make little difference to our salvation.
    HOW I hold this view, and HOW Dino (for example) holds his view: that matters much more! And how we treat those with whom we disagree.
    I have seen some pretty unloving behaviour from the “all will be saved” camp. We are all in need of inner transformation regardless our beliefs.

    If I am wrong (and personally, I am very open to this on all sorts of beliefs and opinions), I desire correction. If my views are harmful to anyone’s salvation, I desire to see them shut out by the love of the Holy Spirit.

    We will be saved not for our right opinions on peripheral matters, but for our repentance and ascetical efforts to put on the virtues, toward love of God and love of neighbour.

    Let me lay down this topic now, and pick up my prayer rope. I certainly need it for my own sake.
    Forgive me for causing any duress.
    -Mark Basil

  47. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Another thought on the flaw in universalism: repentance is not required as I understand it. Yet it is precisely in repentance that we become fully human, whole and healed and unite with our Lord. In that alone can we enter into the Joy of the Lord.

    There is an old spiritual: There is a Balm in Gilead that I have sung for a long time. It’s opening stanza is “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul”.

  48. ScottTX Avatar

    “Another thought on the flaw in universalism: repentance is not required as I understand it.”

    In Universalism, the purpose of Gehenna is repentance for the good of the inmates until the prison is emptied and sin is defeated. The malignancy in being is cured.

    A permanent Gehenna is for the people on the outside, so they’re no longer bothered with their former neighbors who made bad choices. The malignancy in being is encysted.

  49. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Scott, Dino, et al
    I watched the critique of DBH – and think that it is just that – a critique of DBH. It is not, however, an effective critique of apokatastasis. I think DBH’s problem is that he seeks to say out loud, and vehemently, even violently out loud, something which should, at best, be contemplated in silence, or near silence.

    I have long thought that Met. Kallistos’ heading of the topic, “Do We Dare Hope?” to be sufficient. My first confessor, after my conversion to Orthodoxy, said, “If you teach this (apokatastasis) you have exceeded the authority you have received (as a priest). But, if you do not hope for this, there is something wrong with your heart.

    I have tried to adhere to that, and to write in such a manner. Is it possible? Yes. Will it happen? How can I know the answer to such a question?

  50. ScottTX Avatar

    What God will do is speculation, but what about ourselves? When we see someone bound and dragged off to outer darkness, what will the saved say? “I’M Spartacus!”? “Let me take his place.”? “Sucks to be you!”? “That’s my son, let him go!”?

    You can’t just disappear people like a Central American death squad and everything’s OK.

    When will the damned cease to be my neighbor? Do we pass over them in silence like a crazy aunt locked in a sanitarium? Will we forget them under the influence of a beatific stupor?

    Hell makes people stop thinking like people.

  51. Dino Avatar

    Whether it is God’s love of the love of a neighbour, one can lways interpret it as their freedom wants to interpret it. For one that’s an internal paradise and for another an internal hell. This happens even now.

  52. Dino Avatar

    *or (the love of a neighbour)

  53. ScottTX Avatar

    Which of Jesus’ hellfire verses has any imagery of self-interpretation? You are bound, consigned, cast, nothing abstract and bloodless like having the freedom to take a negative perspective. It is done to you, you won’t like it, and it is not an interpretation. We all know where this freedom of interpretation stuff comes from- someone had an ounce of empathy and spoke against the horror of the traditionalist doctrine. When it’s torture, it’s eternal, and it’s done TO you, that’s monstrous.

    So, for example, George MacDonald said, “Hell’s not eternal”. His disciple C.S. Lewis said, “Hell’s locked from the inside.” Neither could abide the traditionalist doctrine, but chose different ways to blunt the horror. I think Lewis’ characterization of sinners and their ties to others was wholly unrealistic. The sinners in The Great Divorce are no longer people, but caricatures.

  54. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I would say that Orthodox tradition – its vast majority – certainly reads those passages in an “interpreted” form – find the notion of an assigned eternal punishment to be repugnant to what we know and understand of God.

    It’s hard to argue with a fundamentalist, for example, who takes those verses in their most literal form, and pictures a very Calvinist God. So, it’s right to conclude that Orthodoxy traditionally does not read those passages in that manner.

    The Orthodox defense of such a practice is that we’ve been reading the Scriptures since the beginning (and the Calvinists started quite late). I have written, and believe it to be the case, that the “thrust” of Orthodox thought is towards universalism and always has been. It has, however, a sort of “mental brake” that tends to stop before such a conclusion is announced and declared. But, the “logic” of Orthodoxy is clearly towards that direction.

    I would say that Christ teaching and work, taken as a whole, run in that very direction as well. Again, it is simply that there is a “brake” that is applied short of that full position. This is not a new reading, nor a modern reading. I would suggest that anyone who attend the most important service of the Christian year (Pascha) would reach the same conclusion. Indeed, it’s almost overwhelmingly so in that service.

    The “brake” exists – and there these occasional “leaks” such as St. Isaac of Syria and St. Gregory of Nyssa, plus many others here and there, that suggest that the “brakes” are holding something back.

    This, I think, is normative Orthodoxy, 2,000 years worth of it. Even in the NT, there are verses in which the “leak” is quite evident, where there is no qualification added to soften their blatant salvation for all theme. It’s there.

    I live with the “brakes.” However, I do not number myself among the “infernalists” (as they’ve been dubbed), because I think there are very wrong things that are said when such a notion of hell is held to be true – things that I think are not Orthodox.

    And, though I know that Dino draws strongly from the tradition, I think the freedom argument is overworked and overplayed and I’m not really very comfortable with it. Doesn’t mean I have an alternative to argue, only that it does not seem truly satisfactory to me.

    I should say, as well, that, the fact that Orthodoxy (for 2,000) years has not been very literalist in the treatment of the “hellfire verses” says something about how we handle Scripture versus how modern Christians seek to handle it.

  55. Dino Avatar

    Also, many translations side with the ‘locked from the outside’ exegesis, while the original, clearly has the ‘locked from the inside’ meaning (of CSLewis) contained or at least allowed within the Greek verb used {e.g. : πορεύεσθε} . So the original may say ‘go off into hellire’ or they will be ‘bound’, which can be understood as ‘I myself am given a chance to go off [or not]’ into the hellfire I choose, or I myself bind my own self (in the understanding of Kalomiros’ River of fire’ referenced on this site) . Elder Aimilianos, whose thinking on the precedence of man’s ‘inclinational freedom’ (elevating it to THE godlike element of man) I espouse (and keep repeating here) , had made a great deal of this mistake of translating these verbs discussed (albeit in Greek homilies not yet translated in English). The Judaic ”God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” style of speech, is the one that (unconsciously Calvinistic) translations seem to prefer…
    Besides, in Scripture, it is clear the the God who so loved the world brought His light but some preferred darkness.

  56. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Endless speculation as each train of thought twists and turns into a complex pretzel-like mass secured by a Gordian Knot. “A contrite and humble heart O God thou will not despise”.

    Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.

  57. Byron Avatar

    What God will do is speculation, but what about ourselves?

    We pray for the dead, Scott. We are told that it is beneficial, although we are not told what the benefit is. Our trust and hope is in God, who is good and loves His Creation.

    Not all things have the answers we sometimes seek but all things shape our hearts, drawing us to God (if they are good things).

  58. Joseph Barabbas Theophorus Avatar

    This was a bit of a sidenote in the comments, Mark Northey, but can you or anyone else point me to [free, English] sources for St Gregory’s use of logic and philosophy to show God must be exactly Triune? I keep coming back to his 3rd theological oration but I wonder if there is something more comprehensive that focuses on the number 3 specifically, and less so on the general thrust of arguing that trinity and unity are compatible. Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to blog via email

Support the work

Your generous support for Glory to God for All Things will help maintain and expand the work of Fr. Stephen. This ministry continues to grow and your help is important. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!

Latest Comments

  1. Fr. Stephen, thank you for the clarification. I hope you go on to “fill in the blanks” with more posts.…

  2. Ah, Father! Your words bring back memories as I came to The Church from a Christian organization from one for…

  3. Thank you for the swift response, Father! Now that you’ve pointed it out, I realize I’ve not properly acknowledged the…

Read my books

Everywhere Present by Stephen Freeman

Listen to my podcast