Thinking About Good and Evil

Recent conversations have brought up questions about good and evil, particularly in the natural world. When the world is locked down in response to a virus, it is easy to wonder about the nature of things. Can a virus be called “evil?” Is that the right word for it? In truth, we use words in a very loose manner in our common speech. We say “evil” about many things, without thinking carefully (or meaning to) about what we’re actually saying. This changes, however, when we attempt to do theology. For theology is always something that involves words, and often turns on the right use of the right word for the right thing. Classically, some of the largest controversies turned on a single iota.

We do not speak with precision in our daily life, and it is silly to expect that we should. But, it is also good to pause, now and again, to think carefully about our speech and what we mean. This article is a small attempt to speak carefully about the nature of good and evil and how Orthodox theology, at its most careful, speaks of them. I’ll also try to define my terms with some care. Here goes.

The Fathers, particularly the Cappadocians through Dionysius and St. Maximus the Confessor, belonged to a school of speech that took great care to hammer away at certain terms, reaching consensus on use and meaning. The seven Great Councils all belong to a single vocabulary project that, over time, developed a working consensus on terms and their application. Some of those words are key:






This list could be expanded even further, but I’ll stop with this. There are some fundamental ideas in all of this. First, and foremost, is the understanding of “being.”

Being, like goodness, and beauty, is foundational. Everything that exists, apart from God, is created out of nothing. And everything(!) that is created is good. God is not the author of evil. Thus, nothing can be said to be “evil” in its actual being. And here we have to think carefully about our language.

When reading classical theology, “essence” or “ousia” or “substance” all refer to the actual being of something – the simple reality that it is. Further, the word “nature,” or “physis,” is used to describe the “what-ness” of something. Thus, a tree has the nature of a tree; a rock has the nature of a rock; an angel has the nature of an angel, etc. If we ask what the “nature” of a tree is, we would answer “to be what a tree is.” A tree is not a rock nor an angel. Again, these are words that describe “being” or “what something is.”

The terms “person” and “hypostatic” are a bit more problematic. For nothing simply “is.” Everything that exists, exists in a particular manner. The tree outside my window is a unique tree and not just the essence of treeness. This expresses something of the uniqueness of what exists. It not only has being (essence), but a particular being (hypostasis).

When speaking of human beings, “hypostasis” or “person” have a quality that is more than mere particularity. There is a relational aspect of our unique existence. I am not fully “who” I am except as I am also in communion with others (more or less).

Related to this, with regard to all things, are the words “existence” and “subsistence.” Something not only has “being,” but the actual being it has is expressed in some manner that is describable. My “existence” encompasses everything that I am doing and every way that I function. Thus, if something is “existential,” it is a matter of the basic expression of my being in a way that can be described and experienced.

Two additional words are quite interesting: “will” and “energy.” Interestingly, the “will” in its most proper meaning, is a faculty and property of the nature (our essence or being). It is a nature’s drive to naturally be what it is created to be. Trees never want to be anything else. A virus wants what a virus wants (by nature). It does not do something else. You can count on it.

Human beings, however, have a different experience of the will, a consequence of our brokenness and lack of communion with God. We have a natural will (the will of our nature), that always tends towards our proper end, that is, what we were created to do and be. But there is what St. Maximus termed the “gnomic” will – a sort of experience of choosing. That will is not governed by our nature but has a kind of unguided freedom. Generally, when we speak of the “will,” we mean this “gnomic” will. The very fact that we have one is not natural. It is unnatural and is a cause of great suffering in our lives. Christian ascesis, to a large extent, concerns itself with the healing of this disruption in our makeup.

Indeed, according to the authoritative teaching of St. Maximus, Christ Himself did not have a “gnomic” will – a separated, fallen, choosing sort of confusion about His actions. He acted with complete integrity and union as a human being (united with His Divine nature). This can quickly become a very complicated discussion, so I will leave it at that. I will say that we often speak about the human will and human freedom in a manner that ignores this distinction and leads to some very false assumptions about what it means to be human.

For what it’s worth, we see a somewhat similar kind of integrity in the actions and life of the Theotokos. But that’s for another day.

“Energy” is a very interesting word. For years I imagined it in terms of physics, thinking it described some sort of force emanating from a being. However, it’s far more simple. “Energies” are our actions, our “doings.” With God, His actions and His being are one. God is what He is and He is what He does. We’re a bit more problematic.

Our doings are often in contradiction to our being. For example, anything we do that is a movement or action against true existence (our being) is a contradiction of who and what we are. Murder is an action that is inherently evil. Note, it’s not the “being” that is evil, but the misuse of the being in its evil actions.

The Fathers (particularly the Cappadocians, Dionysius, Maximus, etc.) view the creation as inherently good, which is also the same thing as saying that it exists and has being. But they do not see the creation as having the fullness of the Good. Everything that exists is created to move towards union and full participation in the Good (God Himself). Creation is dynamic and moves and changes. Sin and evil are a deviation from this dynamic. The path the Fathers describe is: being, well-being, eternal being. Being is a given. Our present life should be an increasing acquisition of well-being. Our final goal is full participation in eternal being, the very life of God.

I have found it very helpful to keep all of this in mind when thinking about sin and evil. Orthodoxy makes a strong link between sin and death. Sin is a movement, a misdirection, a drive and direction towards non-being. It displays as murder, lies, deceit, etc., everything that moves us away from the path to God. It is, however, a false path, and not the thing itself. We may say that a man is evil, but, if we are precise, we must say that his actions (energies) are evil. It was certain errors in the West that led some to speak of human beings as totally depraved and actually evil – or, in Luther’s phrase, “a mass of damnation.” That imprecise language did much harm.

What about the things in the world that are called “natural evil?” This would include events (earthquakes, floods, plagues, etc.). What is “evil” about such things? There is nothing inherently “evil” in the shifting of planetary plates (earthquakes). It’s what planets like ours do. It creates continents, mountains, etc. It is normal. We use the word “evil” in describing these things because of the suffering and death that comes in their wake. But earthquakes are not death and suffering itself, nor is a virus.

Sometimes people speak of the world as “fallen,” and go on to describe the world as therefore bad or evil in some manner. “Fallen” is not a term found in the Scriptures, and can sometimes be a bit problematic. St. Paul speaks far more carefully about creation’s problematic state. He says that it was made “subject to futility.” What he meant by that was that creation (like human beings) was made subject to death, decay, and destruction. It does not mean that creation itself is death, decay, and destruction. Those things are a sort of anti-creation, part of that drive towards non-existence. But they are not part of the natural order itself. They are its destruction.

The problem is death, not creation. Christ’s relationship with creation is interesting. He is asleep in a boat during a storm, unperturbed. The disciples are afraid (they fear death). They wake Him up. He speaks to the winds and the sea and says, “Peace. Be still.” I suppose He went back to sleep after that. There was nothing “evil” about the winds and the sea, though they could well have sunk the boat and drowned the disciples. Christ “rebukes” fevers. He tells demons what to do. He withers a fig tree. In Christ, we see a foretaste, or a small glimpse of humanity and creation in its right order. St. Paul describes creation as “groaning like a woman in child-birth” longing for the restoration of this relationship in its fullness. He calls it the “glorious liberty of the sons of God.”

St. Dionysius the Areopagite’s The Divine Names, has a very dense passage on all of this, in chapter 4. He uses a very interesting verb in describing evil, borrowing from an earlier usage of St. Gregory of Nyssa. The word is paryphistimi (παρυφιστημι – a sort of “standing beside”) which essentially equates with the noun, παρυποστασις. It is an attempt to describe the “parasitic” character of evil. It doesn’t exist in and of itself, but is spun out of the will of sentient creatures.

In dealing with the so-called “problem of evil,” it is important to place it squarely in the realm of God’s providential care for all creation. The death and decay to which we are subject certainly have the capacity to draw us towards non-being. Conversely, they also draw us toward repentance, turning towards God and the path of life. We are not dualists. The battle between good and evil is not a level playing field. The whole of the field is the arena of our salvation and the working out of the whole of creation’s union with God. Even death has a strange place in all of this. In Christ’s Pascha we hear echoes of this place. Christ tramples down death by death. The very thing that is our enemy is the same thing used to destroy our enemy. It is the ultimate statement of God’s good will triumphing in all things.

Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered. Let those who hate Him flee before His face!

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.






110 responses to “Thinking About Good and Evil”

  1. Dino Avatar

    This is quite classic question. How would we describe something like the death brought about by a carnivore, such as a spider or a T-Rex, using this language precision as regards evil.? Many pious explanations, like St Paisios’ one, included personal, farfetched yet confident speculations (not so much of a pre-fall deathlessness in beasts but) that they only scavenged the already dead.

  2. Byron Avatar

    Many thanks, Father. This is a wonderful post, well worth more consideration.

  3. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The relationship between paradise and the historical universe is not something that is clear – and the tradition has lots of ambiguities in it. That said, we have no knowledge or awareness of anything in the historical universe that has not been subject to death and futility. It is quite possibly the case that it has been so from its beginning as a consequence of the fall (which need not have been historically precedent). St. Basil speaks of us as falling “from paradise into this world.” We have no description in Scripture of a pre-fallen universe – just paradise. And the relationship is not clear. Where I think we get into trouble is trying to put everything on a single timeline as if reality were linear – I don’t think it is. But it’s common for people to think in that manner, and so you get well-meant pious explanations that assume that as being the case. Doesn’t make it so.

  4. Joseph Barabbas Theophorus Avatar

    Two tough ones. First, is it appropriate to say that hypostasis is a common property of created things? I hear this a lot (or think I hear it in subtext) recently, from contemporary authors, but I just can’t recall seeing it in the Fathers. I don’t have a list of quotes handy, but I remember my view changed when I studied it a few years ago from that idea to the idea that hypostasis is a property of *Divine* nature, one of the Divine Energies; if we have any hypostasis, it is part of our union with God, not from the human side (which is stuck in change and becoming, in either case). You are more well-read on the Cappadocians: do they say anything very clear on human hypostases outside of Jesus Christ?

    Second, to follow up on a discussion a month or two ago, would it be more precise to take St Paul’s statement that “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us…” (2 Cor 5.21 (OSB/NKJV)) to say that he was united to all the forms, the manners, the prequestites, and even outcomes of sin only? Or is there something deeper that changes/fills the non-nature of sin? If the latter, how do we reconcile that with the warning to avoid sin even now, as if there was still something unfilled about it (eg, Romans 6), and that he became like us except for sin? It seems very difficult not to veer to either the conclusion that sin is somehow also good (ie, it would be part of our redemption, even if not part of what was assumed) or that is impossible/doesn’t really exist [anymore] (in the light of Christ’s union with us, destroying its ability to break our union with Him). Thanks.

  5. Dino Avatar

    Thank you very much for your response.
    The issue I am wondering (additionally) was how do we describe the natural ‘evil’ of natural (carvivorous) killing (eg. of a spider -[the example of the T-rex took it the pre- or post- fall framework etc but that’s a different question]).

  6. Rhoda Blaauw Avatar
    Rhoda Blaauw

    A very enjoyable, informative article, Fr Stephen.
    Thank you.

  7. Isaac Avatar

    Thank you.

  8. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I think that perhaps the ‘either/or’ definitions of modernity might make our understanding of the ancient concepts difficult to grasp. It seems we think things must be either wholly good or bad, either evil or not. Having a good nature but evil actions doesn’t seem to fit the paradigm we have created to model the ‘way things are’.

    Your explanation of the differentiations are helpful Father. But I’ll admit that I wish I had more immersion in the writings that you have had. Ironically I believe I have a sense how you are able to synthesize these concepts so well— it is because it has been your work and life of many years lived in the traditions and readings. There has been a similar sort of synthesis in my own life’s work. (I only wish it was in Orthodox theology if there is such a thing).

    I suspect after years in study and a life time of experience and prayer, the understanding of the relationships and meanings begins to ‘gel’.

    It also helps to have a good memory of the writings of the Fathers across the spectrum you’ve mentioned.

    I’m especially appreciative of your thoughts concerning the historical universe:

    “We have no description in Scripture of a pre-fallen universe – just paradise. And the relationship is not clear. Where I think we get into trouble is trying to put everything on a single timeline as if reality were linear – I don’t think it is. “

    I agree, I don’t think it is either.

    Thank you! This is yet another keeper for further study and reflection.

  9. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Generally, when we speak of the “will,” we mean this “gnomic” will. The very fact that we have one is not natural. It is unnatural and is a cause of great suffering in our lives. Christian ascesis, to a large extent, concerns itself with the healing of this disruption in our makeup.

    Forgive me Father as I pull out some of your thoughts. These too are especially helpful as we are now in Great Lent and experiencing a desert of sorts in our current circumstances.

    Also I appreciate further that you have emphasized there was indeed an established vocabulary:

    “ The Fathers, particularly the Cappadocians through Dionysius and St. Maximus the Confessor, belonged to a school of speech that took great care to hammer away at certain terms, reaching consensus on use and meaning. The seven Great Councils all belong to a single vocabulary project that, over time, developed a working consensus on terms and their application.”

    I’ve heard some Orthodox say that the Orthodox don’t have theology. When such things are said , is this in reference to western-style scholastic theology? Or am I misunderstanding what was being said when the claim is made that the Orthodox don’t have theology?

    I appreciate further elaboration on this Father if it is appropriate. I’m sometimes lost in the weeds of my thinking.

  10. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Modernity makes much of either/or linearity. Indeed a case could be made that modernity falls if linearity falls.

  11. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    A non-linear approach does not mean chaos. Clearly there are some aspects and processes that seem to behave in a linear manner and are best dealt with that way. History, theology, philosophy and time do not fall into that category except in very discreet instances.

    Dee, I was taught chemistry in college by a man with a doctorate in quantum mechanics. Even intro chem was taught with quantum over tones. Absolutely fascinating to me. Went the history route though. Some of the same real basic principals seem to apply there too

  12. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dee…I suspect you are correct about the either/or mode of thought so prevalent in our culture. It blends in well with legalistic morality – right and wrong – which closes off the shaded area which I think of as ‘the whole of the field’, i. e. per Father, ” The whole of the field is the arena of our salvation and the working out of the whole of creation’s union with God.”

    No doubt that the whole of the Faith takes a lifetime to, little by little, fall into place. It takes a dogged determination to keep the pursuit in front of you, despite the obstacles encountered. Matter of fact, the obstacles, once embraced, reveal, usually in hindsight, the very instances needed in working out our salvation. That is, God’s providential care.

    Regarding Orthodox theology, or the lack of, perhaps it is ‘systematic’ theology that will be hard to find for the one who looks for clear and concise explanations.
    Due to the nature of life itself, as an ‘organism’, stable, relative to a ‘one’ (a tree), and also in the ‘many’ (the trees), yet, using the reference in this post, there is (non-linear!) motion – being, well-being, eternal being – in creation ‘becoming’, sharing, in the fullness of our Creator, and that Orthodoxy is well described as ‘organic’, systematic explanations would fall short in describing the complexities of life.
    So we learn from the ‘many’, those who have gone before us, whom God has prepared.
    Which brings me to a quandary I find myself in. I am not sure how to come to terms with this, and it has a lot to do with an ‘either/or’ line of thought….
    What do I do when I find the Cappadocian school of speech helpful, but only up to a certain point? That certain point seems to be the point where they start ‘hammering away’ at all the subtleties. Does a person need to go this deep into a certain ‘language’ in order to reap the fullness of the goodness of Faith? Is Orthodoxy all about the Cappadocians? You see where I’m going…if Orthodoxy is meant to embrace every tribe nation and tongue, this particular ‘school of speech’, then, is limited in its usefulness. It is helpful in defining Christological issues, but even there ‘language’ has failed.
    There are other ‘Fathers’ that speak about Orthodoxy in a language that speaks to those particular people who surround them, as well as those like myself who learn from both the Cappadocians and the “Fathers” of other lands.

    Finally, thank you Father Stephen for your delineation of terms that can be challenging for us to grasp. Yes, it is another post to ‘keep’. Thank you.

  13. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Paula, regarding theology:. It is important that someone dive deeply into 5hese mysteries because bad theology is deadly. For most it is enough to “do theology”. Live the life of the Church as fully as able and allowing God to give the increase.
    It is important to know the out lines of heresies and why they are heresies. One of the reasons for the deep dives is that the Arians and other heretical groups all had their proof texts from Scripture to support their erroneous beliefs and teaching.

    Seek the Truth always and do not settle for less. My dear wife likes the approach of “Yea God!”. But she also prays a lot to the saints and the angels asking for their intercession and protection. Nevertheless she has found a greater confidence and peace in God and Jesus Christ since being received 8nto the Church. She even manages to mostly stay awake when I start waxing theological. Not so when we were first married. I could cause a great slumber to come over her with theology talk. I don’t think she missed much.

    Theology without the encounter with God, even otherwise sound theology can be unhelpful.

    So,if something does not help, wait, pray and seek guidance. Tend your animals in Thanksgiving and you will learn much.

  14. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Theological conversation I find stimulating. I do dive deep, as far as I am able. And I trust that when and if I encounter ‘bad theology’, by the grace of God, I will ‘wake up’ and see. That is a lot of trust. Who else do I trust? Certainly, not myself….
    Yet in some areas, there is much that goes over my head. Usually, over time, going elsewhere, I receive some enlightenment that satisfies. Yes, prayerfully. And thankfully. Which is usually ‘in time’. Far from perfect, here….

  15. Byron Avatar

    You see where I’m going…if Orthodoxy is meant to embrace every tribe nation and tongue, this particular ‘school of speech’, then, is limited in its usefulness.

    My immediate thought, upon reading this, was to consider the fullness of the faith. There are many (most, perhaps) who possess the faith, but not the fullness of it. Orthodoxy often refers to the Cappadocians, I think, because out of their considerations Saints are made. The track record is good, so we can rely on them. But that does not mean there is no one else.

    There are many Saints in the world and true Saints always point beyond themselves. “Glory to God” is probably the most important thing for which to look, I expect!

  16. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Well thank you Byron! Fullness of faith …. that was one of my questions, about fullness of faith. I hear what you are saying about the regard the Cappadocians hold. It is for good reason. But for myself, if I had stayed only with them, I’d be floundering in questions.
    I like your point about the Saints too…yes, there are many. And it is God who gives the increase. All glory to Him!

  17. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    When the subject comes up, I tell people that the Orthodox Church has theological writings, but they don’t exist as “sytematic theology” – you can’t find a row of many volumes on a shelf to which one can go and look up topics, or rules. What we DO have, though, is about three dozen books that guide our worship, and in those are all the final expressions of our theology. If a theological thought hasn’t made its way into our expression of worship as found in THOSE books, then it’s opinion and we are allowed to take it – holding onto it lightly – or leave it. This is a very different way of dealing with theology than in my experience as a “low-church” Protestant (church split-inducing argumentation), and with my (limited) exposure to most of academic theology of all stripes (boring point/counterpoint that goes around in circles or off on wild tangents).

    What the Fathers did was interpret Scripture (what we call “the Old Testament”) in terms of Pascha, help us understand the Gospels and the writings of the New Testament, and expound on what the Church says she believes in the words of her Liturgy and prayer services. Orthodox have theology; it is a seamless garment that weaves the same types of threads into the design in different ways – or a symphony that echoes themes throughout its movements – in a manner that I never encountered before. I’m a “big picture” kind of thinker, and having all the loose ends connected (including seeing the continuity between what we know of Judaism in Christ’s day and the Church and her theology and worship from very early on) is exciting for me! But it’s not just dry intellectualizing; it’s all about how to live as a human being with a telos, encountering Christ in his glory in Pascha, and responding in gratitude and worship.

    One could say that the range of theological topics in Orthodoxy is limited; but the depth of theological thought on those topics is nearly limitless in terms of how the Fathers and theologians examine their different facets, and how everything is connected to everything else seen through the lens of Pascha. I’ve been a thinker all my life, and I resonate with the thought of some Fathers and theologians more than others; those are the ones who satisfy my intellectualizing and then help me get out of my head and onto my knees – and when I listen to or read the ones that catch my imagination, I’m never, ever bored. I go back and listen and read again and again, and they help me to prayer again and again.

    From nearly the beginning of his blog, Fr Stephen has been one of those helping me to think and to pray, and I’m so grateful for that.


  18. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Very well said, Dana. Thank you.

  19. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    There are a limited number of theologians whose writings and labors formed the foundation of the doctrinal teaching of the 7 Great Councils. As such, their works are a touchstone of Orthodoxy, the sort of stuff that can be quoted and settle an argument. They are not exhaustive in what they wrote (there’s more to be said), but, taken together, they can be seen as definitive in our understanding.

    St. Athanasius, the Cappadocians, St. Maximus the Confessor, St. Theodore the Studite, are among the leading names (there are certainly others). Their language and work at refining our understanding of certain terms simply cannot ever be overlooked. We cannot actually speak about the Trinity, in the Church’s understanding, for example, without reference to them. The same is true of Christology. St. Gregory of Nyssa, for example, was described as the “Father of Fathers” in the texts of the 7th Council.

    They are only a handful – and, I think, wide reading outside of them is good. But they remain essential in a manner that cannot be said of many others. I assume, for example, that it was not an accident that God chose the Jews. Hebrew and Jewish understandings are important for understanding the faith. In the same way, the Hellenism of these Fathers is no accident – it’s not just cultural baggage. They borrowed from Greek/Platonic understanding and vocabulary, married it to what had gone before, and eventually found a theological grammar sufficient for the expression of the fullness of the faith.

    That the West, for example, came to be somewhat alienated from Hellenism is a source of many eventual errors in its theological development.

    Having said all that, I’ll quickly note that their works are often not very readable. To our ears, they can be boring and laborious. I would much rather read, say, Florovsky, than any of the Cappadocians. But Florovsky would have said that I should still be careful to read them, and work with them, and press deeply into their phronema.

    Just some thoughts in the conversation.

  20. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    “They borrowed from Greek/Platonic understanding and vocabulary, married it to what had gone before, and eventually found a theological grammar sufficient for the expression of the fullness of the faith.”
    Father…I wish I could say this and mean it like you do.
    Sufficient for the fullness of the faith. Yes.
    Sufficient for all ‘ears’…apparently not.
    Are we to expect Platonic understanding and vocabulary to be understood and accepted by all?
    I don’t see how …
    Why do you say it is not a cultural thing?

  21. Dino Avatar

    I would add to what Father said that the books of the Church (which generally remain unchanged) , a handful of books read/chanted by the clergy and chanters, also contain very precise theological Roadmarks….

  22. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Theology without experience is the Devil’s playground. Experience of am encounter with the living God in prayer, worship through some sort of Road to Damascus moment or embodied in a person: friend, teacher or stranger. Without proper theology experience alone can become a spiritual psych ward.

    My Dad was a theologian, though he never would have thought so. His life was lived in response to his own encounter with the Divine personal presence in all things that he had on the high plains of eastern New Mexico as a pioneer with his dad, mother and brothers 1905-1917. From him and my mother I learned that God is painfully real and fills all things especially other people. I needed to find Him.

    In 1968 I came to know that Jesus Christ is who He says He is: Incarnate Son of God(though that description came later). My journey from there to being received by the Church in 1987 was a theological buffet of mostly spoiled but appealing junk food or worse. Nevertheless I was continually led back to that person I met in 1968 and gradually began to realize who he is.

    The time since being received into the Church has been largely spent recovering and cleaning out the junk (old and new) in the rooms of my soul by the continuing mercy of the person I met in 1968.

    Four touch points have emerged: God is real and present personally in all things; Jesus Christ is both God and Man (human).

    There is an identifiable Spirit that is discreetly different that interpenetrates us brings us to knowledge of God, ourselves and each other in love.

    Only the Orthodox Church has the fullness of the revelation of God and therefore what it means to be fully human.

    Jesus calls me to remberance of Him daily and continues to reveal Himself to me in worship, prayer and other people. I forget all to easily but confession/repentance not only brings me back to rememberance but leads me deeper into Him who IS. He led me here.

    Being a contrarian I have learned a lot by experience of and study of heresy. First as the junk and poison from 1968-1987 but then as a therapy in the safety of the Church so I could identify wrong beliefs and clean them from my soul. My own brand of apophatic theology.

    On The Incarnation by St. Anthanasius is a touchstone for me as well as remberance of Holy Scripture.

    His mercy endures forever, alleluia!

  23. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The reason I say it is not a cultural thing – is that I do not think their words to be “relative” in that sense. These days, to speak of something’s cultural context is also a way of minimizing it’s truth. I think they have done something different. The “expression” of that truth certainly has a cultural context – but what they sought to express is universal.

    That being said, not all ears will be able to hear their words easily. They will need translating. Thus, I write about a “One-Storey Universe” in order to give an easy analogy by which to process what they have said. CS Lewis did it in children’s stories. Old Professor Diggory mused, “It’s all there in Plato…” But not once did he need to invoke Platonic language to help them understand.

    What they have given us is a language, forged in the fire of centuries, that can be employed with a measure of accuracy for discussing these revealed matters. Not everyone will engage in that conversation, nor should they. Most of us will be better off with stories and metaphors. But the “boiler plate” of their language remains and serves as a corrective and touchstone for those of us who are telling the stories and creating the metaphors.

  24. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Father Stephen,
    You should know how much I appreciate your explanation. These things can keep me up at night! So thank you for taking my concerns seriously in taking time to address my ‘quandary’.

    Thinking aloud…
    The Fathers’ expression was cultural, it came from a ‘place’; their message, universal, ‘for all who would…’.
    We can rest assured of its universal message in that they were led by the Holy Spirit. Thus, they are our ‘Holy’ Fathers, (I think we miss this point sometimes…)

    Yes Father, their words certainly need translating. So as we learn from our teachers/leaders/pastors/educators/authors (thank You God!) through their ‘translations’, this enables us, when we do read their works, to better absorb these truths.

    That said, I am one of those who do better with stories and metaphors.
    Volumes have been written. It is a joy to keep learning of the riches God has given us.

    Thank you Father Stephen! Now I can ‘breathe’ 🙂

  25. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Ok now…
    Michael Bauman! We all have different experiences. And they are authentic because they are real. Just as I am convinced of the Faith, so are you. But I do not know all. God forbid if I think I do. I will not insist that others should know based on *my* personal experience. I *will* insist that God is real, revealed in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Each person has to come to know Him in the manner that He reveals Himself to them.

    As for heresy, there is no way I will make a final statement on such a controversial issue. When that subject come up, you can count on endless divisive banter. It may not start out that way, but it will end up as such.
    There are clear heresies, and there are some that are not so clear. And I know what the Church says about this. I have no argument with that. However, that does not keep me from the desire to understand some of these so-call ‘outliers’. They have a legitimate voice.
    God is very patient with me. I pray that I can understand these schisms the way that He does, and be at peace with them. I really want to know. So I pursue. There will be a time when I am satisfied, by God’s grace, having exhausted the ‘search’. That time has not yet come.
    One thing that I mull over is this: would those who are in schism have been able to maintain their cultural identity if they would’ve submitted to the ruling Christian empire of the day? God allowed these schisms to happen. We may never know why. We probably won’t. But that doesn’t stop me from wondering….

    And p.s. I am not in the devils playground. I trust that God and His holy angels ‘keep’ me.

  26. Sinnika Avatar

    ” Orthodox have theology; it is a seamless garment that weaves the same types of threads into the design in different ways…”

    Dana, thank you for this beautiful sentence, it explains into one picture, what would otherwise need many words.

    The Orthodox call St John the Apostle ‘The Theologian’. So if you have a theologian, surely you must also have theology?

  27. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think that the statement “the Orthodox do not do theology” is an incorrect remembrance of what some say. It is said that “The Orthodox do not do systematic theology” (something popular among Protestants and Catholics). That is true in an academic sense. We don’t have to “do” systematic theology because Orthodoxy is a fully-formed and complete systematic theology – but on a profound level. You could read a biology text book that was the most complete treatment on the subject of trees. It would be a great book. It would not, however, be a tree. We do not have to “do” theology in that systematic sense, because Orthodoxy is what theology looks like – it is an organic presentation of theology.

    Orthodoxy is what systematic theology wishes itself to be, but will never be.

  28. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    “Orthodoxy is what systematic theology wishes itself to be…_
    Bravo! That also allows for each person’s experience and learning to be brought into it and transformed because of the living presence of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Theology is not a separate discipline, it is the life of the Church.

  29. Karen Avatar

    I suspect that there is no “natural” evil (e.g., the necessity of carnivores), that is not ultimately traceable back to the corruption of the will of God’s rational creation (i.e., the demons and humans). I have seen presentation of evidence the current pandemic is the result of an up-reglulated lab-created virus–one that could not have occurred in nature. Whether released intentionally as bioweapon or by accident is another question, but the fact that official sources cannot offer any definitive explanation of how the virus came to have its present structure is telling if what I have heard from these other sources about its construction and its connection via research paper trail to certain biolabs both here in the US and in Wuhan is accurate. Though our genes are certainly affected by the fall into corruption, I suspect the diseases that afflict us are far more often the result of a failure to live in proper harmony with the rest of creation (i.e., epigenetic), such that our lifestyle turns on or off gene expression in ways detrimental to our collective health and that of our planet. As a Christian, I find suspect the secular inclination in modern medicine to blame the defectiveness of nature itself (e.g., blaming our genes) and, by implication, nature’s Creator, for disease and natural catastrophe.

  30. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar


    With love:

    I am so not inclined to conspiracy theories. I have, myself, read a refutation of this narrative, and have little use for such things, forgive me. That conspiracy theories are as popular among us Orthodox kind of troubles me. I have pretty much never seen anything good come out of conspiracy theories, but much evil. So, I prefer not to lend credence to such things.

    Plagues have been with us for a very long time – even before the advent of laboratories. I find no need to think differently about this.

    “The world’s a dangerous place. A man’s lucky to get out of it alive.” WC Fields

    Honestly, creation is subject to futility. That means germs, disease, genetics, the whole catastrophe. And it is this whole catastrope that God is saving. As far as I can see, I’m as much a catastrophe as is the rest of this. I appreciate the open-eyed reality of Ivan Karamazov. He didn’t come to the right conclusion, but Dostoevsky doesn’t fault him for his stating of the evidence.

  31. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    When I was studying history one of my professors debunked conspiracy theories by saying they were easy to assume almost impossible to prove. However the best comment I ever heard on the subject was by Chuck Colson, convicted Watergate conspirator commenting on the popular idea that the Ressurection of Jesus was a conspiracy of lies pulled off by His disciples. Mr Colson, who became Christian in jail, said this: “We were the 12 most powerful men in the world and we couldn’t keep a secret. How could the powerless disciples do it?”

    That the Ressurection of our Lord was considered a conspiracy should also give us pause.

    The more I read the real conspiracy seems to be keeping us in a state of fear. That is the way of the world. Even if real, there is nothing I can do anyway that is any different. I take precautions, try to stay healthy but I have also taken to singing songs such as “Rejoice in the Lord Always”, “The Ode to Joy”. If I really feel the need, I sing “Lord God of Hosts” Another just came to me: “‘Tis a Gift to Be Simple”. So many others available.
    “There is Balm in Gilead” etc, etc, etc.
    My wife routinely calls on the angels for help and protection and they seem to respond to her–not so much to me so I sing.

    Sing for joy’s sake and your spirit will be lifted up. Many martyrs sang songs of joy and Thanksgiving on the way to certain bodily death.

    Or if I am really in a mood: “What matter wounds to the body of a knight errant, for each time he falls he shall rise again crying Woe to the Wicked!”

    The life of Christ in this world has a certain Quixotic quality to it or there would not be Fools For Christ.

    Fear is easy. Joy is a gift. Reach out to Jesus and ask for it.

  32. Karen Avatar

    I appreciate the gentle pushback on conspiracy “theory.” I’m actually agnostic about the case in question. The one refutation article I saw did not mention either of the individuals I saw interviewed (whose identities and professional credentials and academic associations were disclosed) offering conclusions based on their own exploration of the scientific data being presented by the CDC and/or published research from recent years from various bio research labs and those associated with these. Perhaps these were proxies for some kind of disinformation agents, but, if so, I wonder why not mention them by name and point out the flaws in their original research or reasoning in refuting? Time will tell.

    Regardless, I wouldn’t want my essential point of noticing the secular human tendency to want to blame God/nature for the existence of sickness and evil over our own collective (on some level willful) failure to live in harmony with God and creation to be overshadowed by questionable opinions.

    Plagues have indeed been with us since before labs. So have war, greed, oppression, idolatry, occultism, ignorance (among other things, of proper hygiene and sanitation) famine, and all the other ills of “advanced” human civilizations in rebellion against God, which have tended to leave the masses highly vulnerable to such things, and are also ways we have failed to live in harmony with God, each other and creation.

  33. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I understand. The whole mess, our freedom, rebellion, creation, etc., are a very convoluted mess – no less susceptible to easy comprehension than that tree I mentioned earlier. It’s a big, mess, as large as the universe. But, at work in the big, messy universe is the providence of God. So, I don’t worry too much about all the terrible things that are happening. Whatever evil is intended for us, God intends us for our good. That, for me, is proven in the resurrection.

  34. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Father…reading the end of your comment to Karen, something clicked. I remember a while back I asked why you respond “Christ is Risen” to our many adversities. I think the post (or comment) may have been in reference to the need to forgive all…we forgive because Christ is Risen. I didn’t understand why that response. You said to be patient, the coin would begin to drop. I think somewhere along the line it may have begun.

    Michael…today on my walk, with thoughts abound, a song came to me, and I began to sing. It moved me to tears of gladness. You are right about singing. Especially if it is about Jesus. The song was an old hymn we used to sing in my former church…
    “I see the Lord, I see the Lord, He is high and lifted up, and His train fills the temple, He is high and lifted up, and His train fills the temple.
    The angels cried Holy! The angels cried Holy! The angels cried Holy is the Lord!
    I see the Lord….and His eyes are like the fire, and His face is like the lightening, and His eyes are like the fire, and His face is like the lightening.
    The angels cried Holy!…..The angels cried Holy is the Lord!”

    It was one of those that you couldn’t help but stand in praise. Such holiness…such majesty…
    I long for that Day…

    Oh, and yes Father…
    Christ is Risen!

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I know the song…

  36. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Oh you do Father?!!! I’m so glad! It is a good one!

  37. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Paula, that is a beautiful song. There are so many.

  38. Ioana Avatar

    It seems to me that every time someone says “I don’t know” these days, God smiles.

  39. Ioana Avatar

    But then again… I don’t know if He does. 🙂

  40. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Saying, “I don’t know,” is often to shortest route to wisdom.

  41. Karen Avatar

    Indeed, Father, and amen to the truth that God is far bigger than our mess! That truly is our hope and this is my Anchor in the midst of the storm. I so often sinfully succumb to anxiety and worry, especially when storms come to rage around me. I’m like St. Peter taking my eyes off Christ and sinking in the waves after walking on water for a split second! Nevertheless, the Lord has never let me drown.

    This present forced seclusion to our homes is a powerful incentive (as some of our hierarchs and Priests have suggested) to redouble our efforts of prayer in the home, apart from which our gathering together is likely to be without fruitfulness for us. The Matushka of our Associate Priest shared this beautiful reflection on today’s Scriptural texts, to which I will offer a link:

  42. Byron Avatar

    Saying, “I don’t know,” is often to shortest route to wisdom.

    I believe someone mentioned previously a group of nuns who would respond to any attempt to discuss “current events” with them with, “I don’t know about that.”

    It requires humility to not respond. It requires a great deal of humility to respond “I don’t know” and leave it alone! The times I’ve tried it, I’ve not been up to it.

  43. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    So, is it a “choice” if the will or going beyond choice by saying in humility “I do not know”; thy will be done?
    The truths of which I am most sure have largely been revealed to me almost in spite of myself. I have sought them but have been surprised by the answers. I would not have “chosen” them I don’t think.

  44. Ioana Avatar

    Maybe it is the shortest route to wisdom because it is the truth. We do not know. In a way, humility is synonymous with the truth. Could that be right?

  45. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Ioana….I think you’re on to something. Several posts ago in “Everybody’s an Expert” Father Stephen said this:
    “There is a shame in not-knowing. The willingness to bear that shame is the root of humility. The path of true humility is a means of grace, without which it is impossible to know anything.
    Then ends with the ‘stamp’ of scripture:
    “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. James 4:6”

    Those words were like a siren in my ears!

  46. Andrey Avatar

    Father, you made a distinction between natural and gnomic will. You said that the gnomic will is like choosing and it’s unnatural. Going off that, what type of will did Adam and Eve have? It would seem that Eve chose to eat the fruit – she examined it and came to the conclusion that she should eat it.

  47. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I would assume (following Maximus’ reasoning) that the “choice” she made is evidence that a “rupture” had occurred within her at that point. She no longer acts in accordance with her nature, but after a “fase” good, misperceived in that “gnomic” process. There is a loss of fundamental integrity. She is already factured.

    What I appreciate about Maximus’ treatment of the natural will and the gnomic will are the nuance treatment of human freedom that they entail. When people speak of freedom, they generally mean an unfettered exercise of the gnomic will. On the whole, we see that only leading to death. Maximus forces us to look much more closely and deeply at our experience.

    It also suggests that without the acquisition of virtue, we will often make bad choices.

  48. Ziton Avatar

    I have wondered about the Eve story too. It seems to me that poor Eve’s main problem was that she simply did not have the resources (especially perceptiveness, knowledge) to deal with the serpent. She listens to it in trusting innocence, even repeating back to it the instructions she was originally given. Then the serpent twists it, cleverly. First it plants the seed of disatisfaction, which is almost always the start of the trouble. It then offers and alternate view of satisfaction elsewhere. It is only then that Eve sees the fruit as desirable. Then Ah!, she makes her “choice”. (I really have a problem with people blaming her, actually, I just see it as a kind of inevitability, and her as the victim in all of this.) The main reason why the temptation process works because she is not able to see what is going on in her own mind. It’s the master template for how delusion takes hold. I even like the idea that the setting for the story is a garden, not only with its flowers and fruit, but with all those lush tendrils of whatever all busily doing their thing. In fact, as I have been reflecting on Father’s (useful) explanation of terms and framework, the image I have kept on coming back to re evil is just the wheat and tares parable and “an enemy did this”. I know my field is filled with tares all over the place, and seeds which are no doubt under the soil and waiting their turn to sprout.

    Can I get rid of them. Yes, fostering the virtues, especially humility – which often means willing to be quite suspicious of one’s own motives, and a general suspicion of my generally deluded state – is a key. Lots of non-Christians, maybe especially the Buddha was very good on ideas on this too. But the long term project has to be the final smashing of delusion and the delusional machinery itself. As I have gone on in life I have increasingly come to the conclusion that while self work is worthwhile, at the end the mechanism itself is likely only really capable of destruction by Christ’s death and resurrection and we will find out how all that plays out at harvest time.

  49. Isaac Avatar

    I’ve long been interested in the Orthodox view of the fall, because, growing up Mormon, I was taught a very non-traditional interpretation that also creates interesting questions. In Mormonism Eve’s fall is cast as a desire for necessary growth, the act of an innocent desiring maturity. (And some independence, but I don’t want to get sidetracked.)

    I’ve heard multiple times in Orthodoxy that Adam and Eve were in some ways like children, which Ziton also alludes to. In that case, why were they cast of the garden? Why create a being capable of making choices with such terrible consequences that are simultaneously uncapable of reasoning about them?

    If Adam and Eve did not have a gnomic will, how could they truly cause a rupture within themselves?

    I read once that Genesis really starts the history of sin with Cain, saying that he is the father of sinners. Perhaps this is simply because Adam immediately seeks God?

    I’m curious how the Orthodox consider the action of Adam/Eve, and how culpable they were for their sin.

  50. Ziton Avatar

    Isaac, my goodness, what large questions! (Good for you.) I’ll leave to better qualified people on this blog to answer with more definitive answers. These are just some personal things, in case they are of assistance.

    First, I have found the big Biblical story (and this one, and Cain and Abel are among those) to have just been gifts that have kept on giving. There is not just one interpretation, there are layers.

    I don’t know anything much about Mormonism, but what you have said is, from what I can tell, at least part of the story. The Tradition tells us God has indeed created creatures who cannot sin, and cannot but do his will. They’re called angels. We humans are something different, and the fracturing within us, and suffering, is part of Providence, and presumably what makes us special to God. Getting kicked out of the garden is not their biggest problem, that one was the one actual lie the serpent told – that they wouldn’t die. The how and why of how humanity’s (and our individual) journey of that is part of the great mystery that is Pascha. Remember that leaving the garden is not the end of the story : with Pascha Adam and Eve do get raised up – dragged up, actually. Just check any Anastatis (Resurrection) icon (also called “The Harrowing of Hades” in the West).

    Which brings me to the second point, which as that these stories – as great as they are (and their depth psychological perfection in their own right is to me one of the most telling things in their favor as Truth), they cannot just be read just by themselves or as having a simple moral. The Christian view sees them as part of a resonating whole, and in light of Christ’s story. So, for example, Eve is both Eve in her own right, but also an ancestor and a contrast with Mary the Bearer of God. While both are innocent, and in a sense naive, Mary (who has also had the benefit of the history of the Chosen People, whether or not that consciously comes to the fore) deals with her (almost as tricky in its own way) encounter with Gabriel in a much more productive way, and thereby the Christ, the Truth, the Way is able to born in her and not just to and for her, but for us all. Mary and Eve are two sides of a coin, one barely minted, the other resplendent. This story sets up loads of that sort of thing throughout our Scriptural stories, chewing on which is all part of the story of our salvation.

    Re Cain and Abel, yes that is where sin really kicks in. While Eve’s interaction with the snake may have opened the door – and tellingly brought shame and division into our world (psychic at the very least – shame is a big Father Stephen theme) as its main, but bad consequence – it was to my mind kind of innocent in its way. Cain, however, after experiencing what is at worst a case of mild rejection (shame now linked with resentment), gets specific prompts from the Lord (ask yourself why you are angry (oh introspection!), and be careful because sin is knocking outside your door). But he, having no virtues, ignores, and the consequence is terrible fratricidal violence, of which we are all the inheritors. It too is a huge and psychological perfect story.

    Summary: these stories need to be dwelt on for years. They will keep in growing. Good luck and Godspeed!

  51. Sinnika Avatar

    “I have wondered about the Eve story too. It seems to me that poor Eve’s main problem was that she simply did not have the resources (especially perceptiveness, knowledge) to deal with the serpent.”

    Ziton, I find your thinking very interesting and important.

    As a woman, like Eve, I feel some men excuse their dominant behaviour towards women because of her, blaming all women for Adam’s fall, and consequently, women can’t be trusted. I have always wondered about Adam’s part in this, why did he listen to Eve, when he knew they were told not to eat of the fruit of that tree? Perhaps she did not tell him where she got the fruit from, and if so, perhaps we can’t be trusted? But, if he knew it was forbidden fruit, he is equally to blame.

    As you say, there are so many layers in this story.

  52. Ziton Avatar

    Indeed, Sinnika. Another way to look at that though is to ask who heralded the truly momentous movements in the development of the human soul. The snake visited Eve, not Adam and not, I suspect, because she was the softer touch, something else is at work. Adam if anything is in my book more culpable, because he just went off Eve’s sayso, whereas she was the one who got the full serpent treatment. While the Angel Gabriel visited both Zacharias (first) then Mary, it was of course Mary who listened deeply, said yes, and became the fulcrum on which all of Creation turned. And who was it to whom Jesus first appeared in the Garden? Not the men. There is all that superficial activity of busy and self-important and far more often than not confused (if over active) men. Then there is Mary and Martha, the woman at the well, the Syrophoenician woman (a smart one!) and so many others not to mention all those mothers in the OT who are the ones who often seem to be the ones who get their sons the top jobs. So there is this whole female axis on which so much of the Biblical narratives turn sort of under the surface, but if one looks and ponders closely, the women’s roles maybe while fewer in number and less showy often turn out to be the truly critical ones … I hope that helps.

  53. Sinnika Avatar

    Thank you for reminding me of the role women have played since the Fall ( I find it confusing when you Americans talk about ‘fall’ because to you it could also be a season Autumn, though, the context gives the meaning away, but it would be so much easier if you called the first one – Fall, and the other -autumn).

    God created woman as Adam’s helper, we are in this together, but why are there so many men who hates and abuse women?

  54. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    One of the ‘$64,000 questions’, Sinnika.
    It makes for very very hardened hearts in many women. And a very defensive wall… That God forbid somebody threatens.
    That’s why we cry out to God and pray ‘for the life of the world’. Even every Divine Liturgy.
    Father said it is a very big mess.
    It is…

    I may sound like an “Eeyore” (a doom and gloom character), but I am not.

  55. Sinnika Avatar

    Thank you Paula,
    This blog is God-scent ( no, i got the spelling right!), it means a lot to have Fr Stephen and all of you who comment and support each other. Glory to God for that.

    It is interesting, though, how comments one makes look and sound so different to what one thought of at the time writing it, perhaps it is lack of practising.

  56. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Yes Sinnika! This blog is a ‘scent’ from God…as the insence, we offer each other to God in prayer. He is indeed our anchor.

    Fr Stephen is a good man.
    This blog, part of that Anchor.

    Sinnika…I agree that a comment can sound different when one goes back and reads it. And I think you are right in that it takes practice to convey that which is on our mind.
    When I read people’s comments, as well as my own, I need to remind myself that what is said is only a small part of the image of who we are. And not to assume too much about another person, except of course to assume ‘the best’ in their intention. That too takes practice!

    I think it is helpful to remember that the integrity of our soul is in the midst of healing. So we may sound one way at a certain time, and a completely different way at another. Quite inconsistent. I think women are especially famous in the outward demonstration of this 🙂 . It is hard to hide!

    Sinnika, I am thankful you are here and I love that the spacial distance between us all is of no regard when it comes to our union in the Spirit. It is a wonderful thing!

  57. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    All (on the topic of Eve and the “fall”),
    I think it is very misleading to read the story of Adam and Eve in our simple sort of historical-narrative manner. In that manner, we imagine ourselves to be reading a novel or watching a movie and we wonder about the characters’ motives and thoughts, engage in a bit of “what-if” and such. It makes for very poor theology.

    To my mind, the story should be read much more in the manner of how we view an icon. As the fathers declared, “Icons do with color what Scripture does with words.” Like icons, the purpose of the story in Scripture is doctrine, dogmatic, and revelatory. It is not written in the manner of historical narrative to be imagined like a novel or a movie.

    That being the case, we should look at the text and the mysteries within the text, rather than imagining characters (sort of writing ourselves into the story in the modern manner). It is useless to wonder what is going on in Eve’s mind – and we have little to nothing in the text to base that on. Also, we have no experience ourselves of an existence not shaped in the context of the gnomic will.

    What we have in the story is that temptation comes into the Garden as something of an invader. We don’t even have the back-story of the serpent. Eve does not experience the disintegration of the will except in the face of that temptation. It was an assault (she was tempted), and she was overcome. St. Paul places much more responsibility on Adam, in that Adam was not tempted by the serpent – he simply followed where she had gone.

    We are also told of a rupture between the man and the woman that continues to this day. That rupture, in the text, honestly describes the tendency of the man to lord it over the woman. It’s not natural, it’s fallen. Again, it is best not to psychologize these things. They are iconic representations of what is true – and remains true.

    This story cannot be rightly read apart from Mary the Mother of God. The defeat of Eve is balanced by the victory of Mary. The gospel without Mary is a truncated, dessicated version that ends up being less than Christian. To understand the mystery of Eve, it is necessary to enter into the mystery of the Mother of God – and never apart from her. Nor can we rightly think of Adam except in the mystery of the Second Adam.

    Our culture was shaped in a forge of anti-Marianism (nurutured in the delusions of Protestant polemics). We are devoid of the mystery of Woman that are bound up in her. It means that many or most women have not had access to contemplating the fullness of that image, and so are not able to think correctly about the nature of their existence. It also means that many or most men have not had access to contemplating the fullness of their own image. These missing parts manifest their absence in so many ways – probably nowhere as clearly as in modern discussions of male/female relations.

    It’s a very large topic.

  58. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I’ll engage briefly at this point given where the conversation is between Paula and Sinnaka, concerning how comments are read.

    I’m one of those readers who sincerely appreciate Fr Stephen’s ministry in his writing and talks. They are always edifying. And I’m here, actually to learn, rather than to pontificate. But sometimes there are topics raised here that I can speak to, because of my own long experience in the field under consideration.

    Orthodox Theology, for me, is not one of those fields of long experience. One of the earlier comments I made in this stream may have been easily misinterpreted because I made an aside to say ‘if there is such a thing’ regarding Orthodox theology. What ‘theology’ is, and how it works, I will dare to say is not something that is easily conveyed through the experience, the standards and principles of what has been done with ‘christian theology’ in the western cultures. Through long experience as a person who has been inflicted by the barbs of it, I have found western theology, better described as ideology, clothed in the sheep’s clothing as ‘the words of God’, as ‘theology’, to be rather abhorrent.

    If Orthodox theology is not the same as this, I’ll dare say we in the west, should take some measure of circumspection about what we think we “know” from the scriptures, or from ‘the Fathers’ and how they are interpreted.

    The story of “Adam and Eve” is one I know well, but only through the dense and blinding veil of western theology. Recently I heard another version of it through an Orthodox teacher, one that actually sounds like it came from the Holy Spirit.

    Eve and the New Eve, the Theotokos, is a topic that can easily get obfuscated by cultural coloration.

  59. Byron Avatar

    God created woman as Adam’s helper, we are in this together, but why are there so many men who hates and abuse women?

    As an aside, men who hate (or anyone who suffers that violence in their heart) will find something to hate. There are those who hate and abuse women, and those who hate and abuse each other, and many more…. They (we) hate because of our brokenness before God. It manifests itself in many ways, all of which are destructive.

  60. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Father… thanks so much for your comment above. It is an invaluable reminder you give us to look at the story of Adam and Eve as we would icons. Looking at scripture that way takes time…it is like re-training the mind to see the reality of symbolic representation. It is like spiritual deprogramming, for lack of better word.

    I picture in my mind (as if I were there) Christ during His crucifixion, right before He gave Himself up, looking upon His Mother and St John – now, also having in mind what you said about Eve, the iconic representation, and the mystery of the Mother of God –
    and saying…
    ““Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” ”

    I am unable to relate in words what I see in my heart, but I see what you are saying. Even if only in part.

    Dee…thank you…yes, I did misinterpret your comment about Orthodox theology. And thanks for picking up on that via the conversation on misreading comments. Easy to do.

    Byron… Your point is well taken. Even so, that “something to hate” is even more profound when that “something” is that which is ‘bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh’.

  61. Isaac Avatar

    Fr Stephen,

    Thank you for your reply.

    “That being the case, we should look at the text and the mysteries within the text, rather than imagining characters (sort of writing ourselves into the story in the modern manner). It is useless to wonder what is going on in Eve’s mind – and we have little to nothing in the text to base that on.”

    I agree with you here ,and think this is especially important when reading the early chapters on Genesis. Is it fair to say that, at least in those cases, the text IS the revelation, and that theorizing beyond the text is not particularly helpful, and may indeed be harmful. (I think here especially of some of the animated Bible videos on YouTube my wife likes to show our children. I’m not a fan of them, precisely because they introduce so much beyond the text itself, especially imaginatory elements.)

    What do you think of Paul’s usage of this story in his epistles? For example in 1 Tim 2 Paul uses this story as justification for not allowing a woman to have authority over a man. Does this fall into the trap of reading more into the story than one should, or is it a reasonable extrapolation of the consequences pronounced by God in Gen 3:16? (See also 1 Cor 11:7-12.)

    My main question that I hoped to raise in my first comment was more about mankind’s fall in general, rather than about Adam/Eve specifically. As I said in Mormonism, the tradition in which I was raised, the fall is cast as something positive, or at a minimum necessary: that God wanted us to have a mortal experience specifically to have us grow in our capacity to be like Him. I see some elements of this in Orthodox theology, but I have a difficult time pinning it down. Sometimes I see the Orthodox write about Adam/Eve and the fall purely as tragedy: our separation from God, leading to death, something which was never supposed to be, and from which God has spent thousands of years attempting to rescue us. (The plan/history of salvation and all that.)

    On the other hand, at times I see elements that remind me of Mormonism: that due to the fall we can be raised to a higher state than otherwise possible, felix culpa, etc. Is there a way of harmonizing them? Is it two legitimate but unharmonizable views of the fall? I fear even asking it in this way, but … what is the “Orthodox position” on this? Was the fall purely tragic? An opportunity for humans? A mix of both?

    Thank you for taking the time to help me suss this out.

    P.S. How is formatting done in these comments? Is there a guide someone can point me to? I’ve seen others using italics, etc., and have been unable to figure that out.

  62. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’ll admit that I am loathe to say anything good about Mormonism. So I won’t.

    However, we believe that God, in His providence, is working our good, always and in all things. Orthodoxy would not see the fall as necessary to some greater good. Good has no need of evil.

    Nonetheless, what we see is the exceeding goodness of God such that even our fall is not wasted, but, through His condescension, made the occasion through which we might ultimately be saved.

    The Mormon idea of God, and of man’s salvation has nothing in common with Orthodox Christianity as far as I can tell – being rather a strange, American myth of modernity written into the Bible – a self-improvement story on a cosmic level, which ends with a bizarre paganism.

    I recognize many Mormons as good people, who seek to do good. But, it is also a religious organization that could only have been created in America (19th century to boot). It was one of many cults birthed in that century – and many of the “denominations” that were less than cultish, nonetheless changed the face of Protestantism into what it has become today.

    America’s religions are sort of smiley-faced versions so it’s hard to ever use really harsh language about them and not sound over-the-top. But, modernity is the Beast-with-a-Smiley-Face. Still the Beast, however.

  63. Isaac Avatar

    Fr Stephen,

    I fully understand you. I don’t have the same issues with saying good things about Mormonism, partly because I lived it for 35 years and know first-hand that it contains a lot that is good: strong families, commitment to doing what’s right (as they teach and perceive), self sacrifice and service, scripture study (though mostly non-Christian scripture), strong emphasis on worship and devotion at home, etc. Those are all cultural things that I think many Orthodox people could benefit from. Doctrinally I agree with you that Mormonism a strange blend of 19th-century Protestantism, second-great-awaking religious fervor, strange innovations from Joseph Smith, and a lot of misreadings of the KJV.

    Nonetheless, they produce many very good people, and they produced me. As you’ve mentioned before, you received the advice to never speak badly of your previous experience, and I try to do the same, recognizing what was good and appreciating it.

    “However, we believe that God, in His providence, is working our good, always and in all things. Orthodoxy would not see the fall as necessary to some greater good. Good has no need of evil. Nonetheless, what we see is the exceeding goodness of God such that even our fall is not wasted, but, through His condescension, made the occasion through which we might ultimately be saved.”

    I think that’s a nice way to to put it, and wraps up my questions rather nicely. It does indeed “harmonize” the various views of it that I put forward earlier. There is a tragic element, as there always is to human sin, but also a real sense that God’s goodness pervades even this, has redeemed it, and will use it to further his ends. Not that it was necessary, but that it is the process through which we are saved.

    Thank you again.

  64. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I’m glad you have something positive to say about your former background.

    As do I, which was primarily science from the perspective of Seminole spirituality. By some degrees as it was expressed in my heart and work, a different animal from Protestantism.

    However I have shown a negative stance regarding Protestantism for good reasons which will likely look like denomination bashing. I’m not apologizing for this stance, but will be saying this, finding “good people” who espouse this theology, doesn’t mean all of a sudden I should think them bad. Nevertheless the influences of Protestantism has deep veins and tentacles within this society. And I have no good words for it whatsoever. I’m not bashing a former life lived in it because I’ve never lived in it nor believed in it, but was abused by it. Nevertheless I still find my hapless thinking influenced by it, because this culture is infused with it.

    I will do my best, likely for the rest of my life, to expunge from my mind and my heart its influences.

  65. Isaac Avatar

    Dee, your comment has crystallized a question I’ve had about Orthodoxy for some time. You said:

    “Nevertheless the influences of Protestantism has deep veins and tentacles within this society. And I have no good words for it whatsoever.”

    I have lived most of my life in Utah, where the influences of Mormonism has deep veins and tentacles and … I’ll admit that I have many good words for it. We’ve got a hard-working, educated, moral society, and one in which I genuinely enjoy living. The neighborhoods are filled with good families and many children.

    Anyway, my question is this: what does a good Orthodox society look like? Are there specific examples (in history) of a society largely informed by Orthodoxy that today we think, “They largely had it right, I would have loved to live in that society?” I have never been to an Orthodox country, but largely they don’t seem like appealing places to live. Much of that is cultural, of course — as an American I’m obliged to think I live in the best place in the world and everywhere else is worse. 🙂

    But it’s something that has bothered me: why is it that heretical forms of “Christianity” are sometimes so good at producing good societies? Why are the Orthodox not so good at it? I see the attrition experienced by many cradle-Orthodox, in the USA and elsewhere, and it troubles me. I see societies that are more informed by Orthodoxy than any other, and they don’t seem like desirable places to me.

    Is this just my prejudice? Or is something else going on here? How do the Orthodox view these societies, or think about this question?

    (And sorry for spamming so many questions, the discussion keeps taking turns that interest me.)

  66. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    There have been, and still are, numerous societies in which Orthodoxy permeated the people and culture. A difficulty in making comparisons is the simple effect that Protestantism’s modernity has produced in material affluence. That affluence covers so much. There is also a sense (from modernity) that religious ideas should serve the purpose of improvement (and so justify their existence).

    If, on the other hand, the instrument of measure were some way of talking and measuring the presence of God in all things, and such, it would stack up quite differently.

    I’ll give an example. American modern culture is supremely practical, and we are able to do good in very helpful, practical ways. In contrast, I’ve known of instances in Russian culture in which individuals could be supremely unpractical and make gestures of generosity and sacrifice that were simply unumaginable.

    When Reagan met with Gorbachev back in the 80’s, in Iceland, during their nuclear armaments discussion, Gorbachev actually proposed the complete elimnation of nuclear weapons. Reagan was completely unprepared for such a thought and cancelled the meetings.When I heard about that I almost wept. But one thing I new for sure: Gorbachev was serious. He was making a crazy suggestion, so crazy that only a Russian would make it. Reagan was certain that there was some trick involved.

    To a degree, Gorbachev made the same crazy decision when he allowed the collapse of the Soviet system in favor of an undefined free future.

    His offer, to my mind, has beren the only sane suggestion since nuclear weapons were invented.

  67. Nikolaos Avatar


    “It seems to me that poor Eve’s main problem was that she simply did not have the resources (especially perceptiveness, knowledge) to deal with the serpent.”

    The rupture is not created by lack of resources. It is created by lack of love and gratitude to God who is the source of life. Everyone, even a Saint can make a mistake. The tragedy was the lack of repentance and restoration of love. Adam blames Eve and she blames the serpent, which is God’s creation, so ultimately it is all God’s fault. A simple heartfelt “forgive us” would have sufficed to a God like ours.

  68. Sue Avatar

    Hello to all! For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Sue, a regular reader here and infrequent commenter. I am a Catholic interested in learning more about Eastern Orthodoxy. I deeply appreciate Fr. Stephen and this blog. I am interested in Isaac’s questions about the Fall of man and about Orthodoxy.

    Concerning the Fall of Man, many years ago, while studying the Book of Job, I learned that it is the oldest book in the Bible. That struck me as significant—that the oldest story we have about God isn’t Genesis.

    I began to wonder about the opening dialogue in Job between God and Satan. Before the Fall of man there was another fall, as evidenced by the Serpent in the Garden. In Job, Satan challenges God, which God allows and accepts. The object of Satan’s challenge is a man’s (Job’s) faith.

    I took a long time working my way through Job. I had a lot of questions. My biggest one was: why are we here??? At the same time, I came across an oft forgotten, rather difficult verse in another part of the Bible that suddenly illumined things for me (1 Corinthians 11:10, St. Paul’s explanation of why women should cover their heads in worship). My question suddenly had an answer: Why are we here? For God’s glory. And because of the angels.

    My understanding of angels is:
    Angels are created spirit beings with freewill (like humans). When Satan (an angel) rebelled against God and was cast out of heaven to earth, he took a third of the vast multitude of angels with him (Revelation 12: 3-9). Angels, whether fallen or not, are not bound to temporality as we are. They are timeless, unseen Realities.

    Hebrews 1:1-14:
    “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’? Or again, ‘I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son’. . .Are they not all ministering spirits sent to serve, for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?”

    Christ–God Incarnate–came to save us all and make us eternal sons of the living God. As His children, we are called to live holy lives (Matthew 5:1-12). I do not fully understand it, but I think that our faith is an example to the angels. The angels are ever watching and witnessing our faith (or lack of it). It could be that we may be as great an influence on them as they are on us. Like humans, angels are free to do the will of God or not. The obedient ones protect us and assist us in doing God’s will, and the fallen ones lead us into danger and impede us. Therefore, everything we do in this life matters: the way we act, the thoughts we think, whether we complain or smile, how we react to adversity and suffering, how we react to blessing is all important . . . because we are God’s children, and the angels are watching.

    God also made humankind to demonstrate His love and to transform all of creation through Christ the “Son of Man” ( Love Incarnate). As St. Paul said, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

    What I want to know, Father Stephen, is whether my thinking here is outside of Orthodoxy.

    Thank you! And may God bless everyone with his protection and peace.

  69. Ziton Avatar

    Fr Stephen, thank you for your extended further thoughts, even if maybe I don’t fully get what you are saying. I shall ponder further, but this is where I am at. I hope I don’t annoy you any further!

    I agree that it is very unhelpful to start over-speculating or adding too much into what are iconic stories. I had to stop reading Jordan Peterson’s (problematic) 12 Rules For Life book because his version of the Cain and Abel story became cringe-makingly awful. He essentially rewrote it with his own version of what was going on inside Cain’s head. And all of the motives he attributed to Cain were, of course,tendentiously designed to support his propositions.

    My off-the-cuff micro exegesis (perhaps a bad idea!) on the Adam and Eve story was not intended to be that. No doubt I do bad theology. But in this case I (still) think it is simply the case on a straightforward reading/viewing/whatever that Eve does (iconically) start off as innocent and guileless. From there the story-icon does have as, almost its central feature, a rather sophisticated conversation(s) with a snake, in which the snake does did do the things I mentioned: it sows the seeds of disatisfaction, it offers a (false) alternative, and it is only after that that Eve sees the fruit as desirable. That is an interesting sequence, and I think the icon is inviting us to ponder it. Even if the snake is an ‘invader’ (but, as you say, we don’t know its backstory) , it is still interesting to think about why such an invasion was successful on a newly minted creature dwelling in a proto-Paradise. Frankly, “she was tempted, and she was overcome” seems a bit of a cop out. There has to be more to it.

    And the story does seem to provide a template for the way temptation and sin work, at least one that I have found works. And indeed that sequence (disatisfaction, alternative, attraction) comes up over and over again in the Bible. Surely we are being invited to think carefully about all of this in its details? Surely they are not just ‘color’? An icon does need to be ‘read’, which is the relevant Orthodox verb, is it not? Not just “looked at”.

    I found this observation very interesting : “we have no experience ourselves of an existence not shaped in the context of the gnomic will”. True. But this has led me to a further question re the story that is of direct relevance to your article: at what point in the story do you think Eve’s actions stop being “natural” and start taking on a “gnomic” character? (This is, after all the origin story for the origins of the wayward human will …) E.g. was it when she saw the fruit as desirable? When she reached out for it? Or maybe even earlier, when she started talking to the snake? Or was it (as is normally taken to be “the Fall”) only after she had actually eaten of it, and division occurred? Thinking about this as a worked example would at the least be helpful for semantically in understanding the “natural” vs “gnomic” distinction. But then there is a deeper question raised by this “will” stuff, to wit: when did “the Fall” actually occur? If we see the gnomic will as the key point, then there must at least be an argument to say that at least as soon as she actually saw the fruit as desirable, the rest was inevitable. That was when the fissure, the fracture became apparent. Unless of course she had an ability to resist. Which, as I said, given the dynamic of the story, she just didn’t. (Nikoloas, while I get where you are coming from, I just can’t see – treating this story with integrity – we can know that she was even capable of things like love and gratitude, let alone repentance which requires introspection, and in any event she had nothing to repent of until her gnomic will led her astray.)

    I accept that talking about the “resources” she did not have was perhaps a little sloppy. It’s just that it is hard (for a gnomic will anyway) to resist temptation if it can’t notice what is happening first, and then ideas on how to deal with it. And it is on that score that the contrast with the Cain story becomes clearer. Cain has clearly gone gnomic. After he experiences his rejection, he does have the Lord (let’s call it a voice for now) suggest introspection and temperance. Eve’s story does not record her having any such assistance. The fact that Cain’s rejection by the Lord turns into the murder of his brother is exactly, Byron, the thing you are getting at – wounds not dealt with properly get channeled into violence against someone, usually a someone who is less powerful.

  70. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Have you heard this expression, “Well, there goes the neighborhood!”?

    I don’t know where it was first spoken, but I’ve heard it enough times in the context of American culture to ascribe to it a certain meaning.

    What typically constitutes a ‘neighborhood’ in the US is a kind of monoculture, or monoethnicity, or mono-economic class. Some neighborhoods exhibit a cultural exclusivity, racially, economically, etc. that shows a positive ‘evaluation’ by economic and Protestant standards or ‘goodness’ standards. Neighborhoods that do not exhibit such often have been ascribed to “the other side of the tracks”, and usually have negative ascription such has poverty, or ethnic diversity, broken families, single parent families, etc.

    Whether you point to the first description of neighborhood, or to the second, either one appears to me to exhibit a culturally inflicted illness (albeit different illnesses with the same etiology).

    I agree with Fr Stephen, that what one uses as the unit of measure to compare cultures suggests in itself that whatever we choose as a unit of measure will be informed by a form of bias. If our unit of measure to compare cultures will end up with bias, what bias shall we use that is acceptable as a ‘Christian bias’?

    “And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Matt: 19:24) If this verse was chosen as the ‘benchmark’ to measure cultures (or neighborhoods) my interpretation is that those ‘who fall on the “wrong side of the tracks’”, (i.e. the impoverished, broken neighborhoods) might more readily enter the kingdom of God.

    I mention this only as one possible unit of measure to compare cultures and/or neighborhoods.

  71. Isaac Avatar


    A thought I had while reading your insightful comment: I agree with you that Eve (and Adam) come across as innocent, almost childlike, in the narrative in Genesis. And perhaps Eve really did lack a sophisticated deliberative capacity—certainly not enough to match wits with the snake.

    But perhaps the issue (or one of the issues) is precisely her (and Adam’s—not trying to pile on Eve here) unwillingness to simply trust God at this stage of her development. In spite of her innocence, the commandment, assurance, and warning from God (“in the day you eat of it, surely you will die”) was not enough for her. She was deceived, in the words of Paul, but even if that deception included her being outmatched and confused, she clearly failed to value the goodness of what was right in front of her—communion with God—and instead valued her own appraisal of the situation above God’s simple commands and benevolence.

    This matches our experience, sadly: people often suffer from choosing poorly, even when they cannot fully grasp the significance of their choices. Especially the young struggle with this, and maintaining trust in elders and tradition is particularly important during the transition to adulthood, when the capacity for choice is high, but the ability to discern is low.

    How this applies to us, I don’t know. For example, in my own situation, I have lost the faith of my childhood (Mormonism) when it has been the only tradition and safety I’ve known. In many ways I worry that I’m being Eve: mistrusting what I should trust, being enticed by what I should not. My wife remains a committed Mormon. My young children are still learning, but definitely respond more spiritually to their confident Mormon mother than their searching father. (To be very clear, I love my wife dearly and admire her greatly. Disagreeing on this has been difficult precisely because we love each other so much.)

    How does one tell the difference? This is a question I struggle with greatly: how does one decide when it’s appropriate to break faith with your tradition? How do you ensure you aren’t simply being Eve—dissastisfied, deceived, enticed—and instead are acting rightly? It’s a hard thing to leave the faith of your youth. But it must be sometimes the right thing to reject what you’ve been offered for something greater. What is the way to tell?

    (I have my own thoughts, but would love to hear from others.)

  72. Isaac Avatar


    You are very correct that I am simply biased toward what I’m familiar with. I recognize that what I basically ask is, “Why aren’t other churches as good at building Mormon communities as Mormons are??” (Which, when put that way, does reveal how absurd and biased it is.)

    Even so, there are some ideals that overlap that do worry me when it comes to Orthodox community, based on my own observations. Families and children are important to the Orthodox, but at least in America they don’t seem particularly strong when it comes to family formation. (I see many people struggling to find a spouse.) Catechizing the young is important, but it seems many Orthodox youth are catechized poorly and many leave the faith. Nearly all of the strongest families I observe are converts.

    It’s mostly something the needles the back of my mind. I recognize my biases, and know that I need to struggle to see beyond them, but I still worry a little about whether Orthodoxy really results in the type of multigenerational faithfulness that I long for.

  73. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think it is not possible to find the precise moment of the “fall” in the sense of the fragmentation of the will. When St. Maximus was writing about this, he almost gives the impression of the fall being barely less than instantaeous with their creation. I don’t think he’s considering it in purely historical terms, however. It’s simply not possible to tell.

    We know the most through “reverse engineering” (to use a contemporary phrase). How is this split and fragmentation healed? That comes in the long life of grace and ascetical practice and the acquisition of the virtues. Part of the wholeness of a saint is their “naturalness.” I have met one or two possible candidates for sainthood. In both cases, there was a sort of “largeness” about their being but not any strong sense of ego. They had nothing of the “stain-glass” personality of someone whose piety is pretend or the result of trying to “be holy.” They were simply themselves, but were truly themselves in a manner that you almost never encounter.

    This can also be seen sometimes in children. We’re “fallen” – but, according to Orthodox thought, we’re not exactly born that way. The “fall” is not so much within us as it simply that we are born into a world of mortality – subject to death. It is in that death-dealing context that our brokenness is “forged.” The innocence of a child is corrupted, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly and brutally.

    The common treatment of Adam and Eve in Orthodoxy is extremely sympathetic. Note, we honor them as saints rather than as the “first sinners.” St. Irenaeus describes them as adolescents – as innocent and naive. And it is in that sense that they are seen less as the cause of all our troubles than as the two unfortunate human beings who had to be first and were at that particular place and time. All of us would have done the same.

    In the same manner, the Theotokos is an adolescent, understood to have been no more than 13 or 14 years old. She served among the virgins in the Temple, according to Tradition, but had to leave upon reaching puberty. It is in her leaving that the older man, Joseph, agreed to be bethrothed to her, himself being an older widower with children (James, etc.).

    It might be her youth that explains why she was having a bit of an extended time of “bethrothal” without yet being married. We don’t know how long that time would have lasted, but it seems Joseph was in no hurry. It is during that bethrothal period that the angel Gabriel comes to Mary at the Annunciation. But, she is an adolescent like our first parents.

    As a confessor, I have watched and guarded the souls of children through the years. Children “learn” to sin. It does not come naturally to us. But it is around the time of early adolescence that you begin to see the fragmentation of the will – the glimmers of an inner turmoil and uncertainty. Along with it comes shame – the adolescent now begins to feel naked and the need to hide. They become two people – the public and the private.

    Now, all of that is generalized. When I see such behaviors developing in the soul of a pre-adolescent, I become concerned. Something is happening to cause that early onset of disintegrating sin. Usually it is some for of abuse – bullying, etc. These days the early access and temptation of pornography is a common culprit. Many times, a child is simply picking up and internalizing the confused signals of a parent who is conflicted within themselves.

    As a confessor, you’re largely helpless in these matters. But, you pray, and if God shows you something, you try to help. Most importantly (and this is hard and rare) you try to create a safe place within confession where the public and the private can be reconciled. The more we hide from the inner brokenness of the soul, the harder it will be to recover the wholeness that is our original integrity.

    For adults, all of our ascesis, prayers, etc., are ultimately acquiring virtue – and virtue is best defined as the acquisition of the wholeness of our nature. The person of true virtue does the right thing for the right reason in the right way and does it “naturally.” They do it as naturally as they walk.

    The commandments of Christ are themselves a description of virtue. They are not laws that force us – but they simply describe the behavior of a soul that has found the truth of its being and its wholeness in Christ. So, it is good that we practice the commandments. When a person has lost the use of their legs, when they are being treated, they are made to walk – with help. Perhaps with braces and such equipment and the assistance of therapists, etc. Slowly, the legs “relearn” what it is to be legs. During that period, a person has to “think” about walking in a manner that a healthy person never does. If they are healed, there will come a time when their walking will again be without inner deliberation.

    I hope all of that is of some help in thinking about these things.

  74. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Interesting thoughts. I would not describe them as “unOrthodox” but would say that it’s simply not something I’ve read about in that way within Orthodoxy. If angels were so central to our story, we would have been told much more about them, I suspect. There have been, from time to time, within the tradition, far more speculation about the angels. Most of that remains in dusty, unused tomes, in that it did not prove to be useful.

    They are our helpers, however, and our guardian angel is surely our closest ally. It is best, however, always to concentrate on Christ Himself (and His Mother).

  75. Sue Avatar

    Thank you, Father Stephen. Your words are always helpful!

  76. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Father… your answer to Ziton was extraordinarily helpful. The way you describe Adam and Eve’s character as adolescent, that Theotokos Mary was adolescent at the time of Her visitation, and tying it into the experience of our early adolescence…I have never heard it put in a way that reflects upon our ‘first parents’ and then to Mary’s virtue as the way to salvation. This comparison I think is a very accurate reflection of our lives (you say it is ‘general’…I take your word for it).

    Sometimes I think we can get ‘stuck’ at that young adolescent age.

    I recall you saying that when we cry out to Jesus it is like as if He takes our cast down face in His hands, and raises it up to where our eyes connect. And there we see Grace. There we begin to heal.
    Oh! that hits deep…..

    Yes Father, here psychological analysis falls short. It can be helpful, but we require ‘soul fixing’….

    It is so very tragic to live a vicious cycle of shame > hurt/anger > shaming .
    Very few – so very rare, that children have such a confessor that knows what to do and how to react.

    Thank you once again, Father.

  77. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    “Most importantly (and this is hard and rare) you try to create a safe place within confession where the public and the private can be reconciled.”
    Father, I think this is another way of saying “to behold His face”…

    I like your analogy of the healing of the broken legs. It reminds me of the Psalms that say ‘my bones are broken’…
    “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.”

  78. Sinnika Avatar

    “I found this observation very interesting : “we have no experience ourselves of an existence not shaped in the context of the gnomic will”. True. But this has led me to a further question re the story that is of direct relevance to your article: at what point in the story do you think Eve’s actions stop being “natural” and start taking on a “gnomic” character? (This is, after all the origin story for the origins of the wayward human will …)”

    Ziton, I agree with you , it is an interesting question. If one tries to do what Fr Stephen says and always refer to Mary, Mother of God, then one can ask if the Second Eve went from “gnomic” will to “natural” will, or perhaps, by the grace of God, her will was always natural? How else could she had said, “Yes, be it done unto Thy Will”.

    Also, I came across something I thought was relevant for this discussion.
    ;…one holy Elder says: “If we remove temptations from our lives, no one will be saved!” The Lord doesn’t send us temptations. He allows them for our own good. Temptations are unpleasant for us, but they help move us forward. Without them, a person cannot become spiritual. Thanks to them, we stand up to fight against evil, against sin, and we begin to pray. Temptation awaken us from sleep. Elder Paisios says that temptations are necessary to cultivate a good mind. …..Man is not created for hatred. Remember that our enemy is our benefactor. He who does us harm causes us to turn to God.”

    If one looks at the serpent as a benefactor for mankind, maybe God’s plan was for man to move forward and the temptation was part of His plan to cultivate a spiritual mind in man.
    Because, He made man in His own Image, but the Likeness was not fully developed and needed to be awakened. It is obvious that Adam and Eve did not yet know evil, and were an easy prey for the tempter. But, after falling into the trap and realising the consequences, they would be better prepared to fight sin and evil, which already must have existed because of Satan.

    The Second Adam, Christ, in a way, became the fruit that tempted the serpent. Who took a bite, and then! Death – that was introduced by the temptation of Eve – was put to death by the Death of Christ, the First Fruit of The Theotokos.

    Well, I think I managed to pull it together, it makes sense now. But, no doubt, looking at it once I have pressed the button, I will regret it.

  79. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    That was good, Sinnika. I really like the way you “pull it together”. Where you say “But, no doubt, looking at it once I have pressed the button, I will regret it.” – are you referring to now the knowing ‘of good and evil’, that is to say, the consequences of our sins and our responsibility for them? And if so, is this where repentance comes to the fore? Or am I reading too much into the last of your comment?

  80. Isaac Avatar


    Your comment perfectly illustrates what I mentioned in my first comment, that at times within Orthodox thought I see two strains regarding the fall that seem irreconcilable: first the fall as complete tragedy, rupture from God and the entrance of death; the second the fall as opportunity, increasing our ability to grow in the image and likeness of God. It was in this context that Fr Stephen said in an earlier comment, reconciling the two views:

    “However, we believe that God, in His providence, is working our good, always and in all things. Orthodoxy would not see the fall as necessary to some greater good. Good has no need of evil. Nonetheless, what we see is the exceeding goodness of God such that even our fall is not wasted, but, through His condescension, made the occasion through which we might ultimately be saved.”

    You say that our likeness was not fully developed or awakened, but does that imply this awakening could only happen in a fallen world such as this? If so, it seems we’re making the fall into a necessity.

    Temptation and struggle may be necessary now, but that doesn’t seem the same as claiming they were necessary from the start.

  81. Sinnika Avatar

    Paula AZ.
    Sorry if I was unclear, what i meant was, once I had pressed the keyboard button to send my comment, I will regret it – “it” being the comment I just wrote, I am not sure if this clarify things, English is only my second language, although I try to check my writing before I send anything, often when I look back at what I wrote somehow it doesn’t seem as obvious as when I wrote it.

  82. Sinnika Avatar

    This was just some thoughts I had, I hope Fr Stephen will straighten it out for us.

    God is good, of that I am sure.

  83. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Sinnika….oh I was definitely reading too much into the last of your comment! Nothing to do with your English! Your English is better than mine, and that with English as my only language 🙂

    Thanks Sinnika.

  84. Byron Avatar

    If one tries to do what Fr Stephen says and always refer to Mary, Mother of God, then one can ask if the Second Eve went from “gnomic” will to “natural” will, or perhaps, by the grace of God, her will was always natural? How else could she had said, “Yes, be it done unto Thy Will”.

    My understanding is that the gnomic will is a limitation, not a full impediment or wall “between” us and the natural will. As Father mentioned above in his illustration of a Saint, they grow close to God and do the right things both rightly and naturally because of this. That Mary could, and did, answer in the manner that she did is a reflection of her closeness to God.

  85. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The Tradition never looks at the serpent as a benefactor of mankind – indeed, he is seen as a personification of the devil. What we see is that God brings about good within us and within the world despite the evil that we do. We do not grow or learn by being tempted. We might indeed grow by resisting temptation, but evil is in no way necessary for the well-being and growth of the good.

    Isaac said that “temptation and struggle may be necessary now, but they were not from the start.” Sort of. They happen now, but not by necessity. God is never the author of evil is essentially the principle involved.

  86. Isaac Avatar

    Fr Stephen,

    Thanks for the correction. How does this apply to the necessity of suffering and taking up our cross? Is it simply that it is necessary to accept suffering, but was not cosmically necessary prior to the fall?

  87. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Father Stephen and Ziton,
    I wish to highlight a few features of our conversation concerning our interpretation and pedagogical use of the “Adam and Eve” story.

    My intention is to help to unveil the workings of modernity, even in the very formulation of our questions concerning stories such as this. Ironically I have some history regarding this story from a “Seminole spirituality” perspective. I will not make any claims to the ‘superiority’ of this perspective. On the contrary I’m using it only for the purpose of attempting to put a mirror of reflection in front of our eyes to see what we do.

    (Aside, Father, I sincerely appreciate your presentation of this story, and I’m hoping that this effort augments and is not a distraction from your helpful comment).

    This is a true story about a female anthropologist’s research into Seminole ‘cosmology’ stories. However I’m going to make the description brief. She related that she sought the story from an ‘elder’ who was also a ‘shaman’, and required the help of a translator who introduced her to the elder. She posed her question similar to this: “how did the world begin?”. His answer entailed what appeared to her to be the ‘Genesis story’, complete with “Adam an Eve”. She said to the translator that what she really wanted was the “Seminole story”, and the translator conveyed her request to the elder, and then the elder again responded through the translator that ‘this was a Seminole story’. Then she reported that it seemed to her that the Seminole people no longer had memory of their own cosmology.

    When I first read this article I had to laugh. One reason that I laughed was that the elder ended the story with this phrase: “And that’s how we got corn”. That phrase in itself told me a story, but was utterly missed in meaning to the anthropologist. It was a phrase that my mother used to gently say to me when I was a child and blithering away on some childish story, to be quiet, ‘enough’. The story teller in my mother’s culture had a pedagogical purpose, the story that was told can be modified in such a way to the benefit the hearers. The story had to be constructed in such a way that the hearers would understand the message and the lesson. Hence, the elder, the story teller, was telling a story that was appropriate to his role as story teller. He was speaking to a Caucasian woman of western culture, and telling her the story that she asked to be told.

    She described it as ‘not a Seminole’ story. And I found that her certitude on that subject ironic, because at the time, it was likely that the story had circulated in the culture for about 500 years.

    I will relay now a ‘different’ perspective on the Adam and Eve story. One that I haven’t heard myself through Protestant or Orthodox sources. The question that prompts this path is this: Why did the serpent approach Eve and not Adam? The answer I’ve heard goes something like this, she was the weakest of the two, or the ‘most innocent’ and more easily corrupted. Another version was that Adam was to be her protector and had abdicated that role, allowing her to be subjected.

    I don’t think that a Seminole (of the traditional culture) wouldn’t have given this answer. I believe that the lesson would have been that she, Eve, was the “spiritual seat”, the “spiritual heart” of the couple, and she was the ‘critical’ thread to unravel the word as it was created to be. This version doesn’t convey a weakness she had, but a ‘power’. Topple her and the world goes down.

    Pair this with the new Eve, the Theotokos. She is described as more honorable, more glorious than all the angels. She restores the ‘spiritual seat’ (if it could be called that in the Seminole culture). It’s curious that we of the western culture are captured by our imaginings of angels and almost ignore the most glorious person who lived on earth (outside of Christ himself), who is higher than all the angels. If a Seminole were told the story of the Theotokos, it would be a profound experience, one for which my mother told me in her prophesy, I would eventually come to understand. Ironically, she was right.

    I’ll admit this version will seem provocative. If any good comes from being provocative, is that I might encourage that we might go more deeply into our understanding of the Theotokos. I’ve heard it said that she is the ‘bridge to Christ’.

    A last set of questions: What prompts us to seek answers to these questions? Are we willing to go deeper within ourselves to find what might lurk in the darkness there? So it is then, I ask myself why do I ask the question, ‘why did the serpent first approach Eve and not Adam?’

    What answer am I seeking?

  88. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes, I think that says it well. To an extent, inasmuch as death has entered into the world, we learn in Christ that love would freely enter death for the sake of others. It does so freely, not by necessity. Love is not a compulsion but an act of freedom. I take up my Cross, not for the sake of the Cross, but for the sake of knowing Christ who took up the Cross. I don’t mean to sound too subtle in all of this. Forgive me.

  89. Byron Avatar

    Very wonderful, Dee. Many thanks for this!

  90. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    wonderful! I think the whole conversation is justified by reading your comment. And I think the intuition regarding the woman is, somehow, spot on. The great weakness and tragedy of much modern feminism is that it takes a sort of flimsy masculinity as the model for the modern woman. “Why can’t women be priests?” someone asks. And when I start responding with some observations about the Theotokos, they get impatient and thinking I’m avoiding the question or using some meek little virgin girl as a substitute for real power.

    We are fools who wouldn’t recognize real power if we saw it. No human being in all of history embodied more power than Mary on that day in Nazareth. All of creation held its breath, waiting for her response. The devil was absent that day for his fallen mind had become distorted with thoughts of a different kind of power that could not see the truth of things.

    But, now, I have a new way to respond to questions: “And that is how we got corn.”

  91. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I was hoping it would be helpful. I’m relieved.

    Yes, Father, I did have a good laugh on that one about ‘how we got corn’. Needless to say it was said enough to me that it stuck in my memory!!

  92. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Oh man…..can we take a long pause?!!!
    Dee…that just about did it….

    Yeah Father…the corn!

  93. Sue Avatar

    I’m printing off your comment to keep forever, Dee of St. Hermans. Thank you for sharing your unique insight!

  94. Dino Avatar

    Slightly beside the original point, but I’ve heard that the reason the serpent tempted Eve first is because he detected that, Woman looks to have a greater sway over Man than the spiritual world (both good as well as evil – himself-) does.
    This sort of implies the reverse too: that Man looks as if he has a lesser sway upon Woman than the spiritual world (both good as well as evil) has.
    Of course this ‘fall’ would have to be expressed personally, by the specific hypostases of one Adam and one Eve as they would have to go against their natural will (general to all humanity) in their personal (gnomic) expression of it, in order to turn from their previous eucharistic mode to the suggested exploitative one.
    Of course, it is only inside of a ‘consecrational’ thankfulness for one another [and everything] (a thankfulness towards God), that both man and woman remain “within the sacramental” (since sacrament is always thankfulness and consecrational offering back to God) and within a paradisial mode.
    This might be a natural tendency (will) for humanity in general but it needs to also be personally expressed (gnomicaly) too.
    Perhaps this explains why those whose mind is unceasingly fastened upon God start to emulate the Theotokos in their acceptance of everything as a gift.

  95. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, you gave an answer I have been looking for a long time. I never quite came to it myself but intuitively know it is correct because it fits so well with everything else I have learned. Of course it took a woman to show it to me. Thank you.

  96. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Also Dee, it gives yet another reason to cherish my God loving wife.

  97. Greg Avatar

    Seems like Gregory of Nyssa’s Catechetical Oration (and On the Soul and Resurrection) would be a good starting point for these themes.

  98. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Looks like you might have bit the corn, Justin!

  99. Ziton Avatar

    Thank you Father again for that detailed reply. As Paula says, I have not hear things things put that way before.

    In particular I found that first comment “When St. Maximus was writing about this, he almost gives the impression of the fall being barely less than instantaeous with their creation.” very interesting. It’s not quite that they were created “fallen”, but almost if not quite from the start subject to “Fracture” (my preferred word for all of this). It has almost think we may be created as something like glass : originally beautiful and pure, but also very prone to cracks appearing … (Yes, that’s probably idle metaphorical speculation, so now I’ll stop).

    I presume that one corollary of the not quite knowing when the problem starts, is that its not always obvious when an intentional behaviour is “natural” or “gnomic” as it manifests in a person? It seems to fit with your discussion of the way children grow up. I have to say, though, that I was surprised that you think it is as late as teenagerhood that fracturedness kicks in. Pretty much all children in my experience learn to lie from an early age (even if they are not very good at it, and feel shame when caught out). Your experience as a confessor no doubt counts for more, but from what I have seen, they start practising fracturedness as soon as that sense of self appears. Hypostatic gnomic wills seem very evident at 3 year old birthday parties “The sauce! I want the sauce! over the mad scramble and reaching for stuff” 🙂

    I really liked this paragraph, which is being filed away for posterity: “The common treatment of Adam and Eve in Orthodoxy is extremely sympathetic. Note, we honor them as saints rather than as the “first sinners.” St. Irenaeus describes them as adolescents – as innocent and naive. And it is in that sense that they are seen less as the cause of all our troubles than as the two unfortunate human beings who had to be first and were at that particular place and time. All of us would have done the same.” That is exactly the way I feel about their situation.

    I also liked your last paragraph. The healing process we are all engaged in is almost one in which we are retraining our gnomic wills to learn to become more natural, given our hypostatic circumstances. That is a large thought to chew on.

    Which is all a long “thank you”. It is indeed very helpful.

  100. Ziton Avatar


    I too want to thank you for you marvelous story. I rather fear you may have created a future in joke in the group around “corn” however. 🙂

    As you may have been able to tell from my response to Sinnika on March 30, 2020 at 7:33 I too may be a corn eater …

    It does give one cause for pause in thinking about lots of claims made by anthropologists about peoples from around the world. I think I shall be much more circumspect about those, which is another valuable lesson.

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  1. Greetings, Father Stephen, Thank you so much for this reflection and all of the tremendous amount of work you have…

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