Providence and the Music of Creation

God’s being and actions are one.

This is essentially the teaching of the Church on the topic of the Divine Energies. When I read discussions about the Divine Energies – things seem to get lost in the twists and turns of medieval metaphysics or pass into the territory of seeing the “Uncreated Light.” Both approaches are unhelpful for me, and both obscure something that should be far more transparent.

Some of the obscurity comes from the use of the word “energies.” It is the literal Greek term, but it conjures up some pretty problematic images in a post-Einstein world. When I first read about the Divine Energies, my mind wandered over to some vision of God sending out rays and beams of radiating light, etc. The focus on the Uncreated Light in the Transfiguration probably helped nurture that reading. It is also misleading.

Another simple term for “energies” is “actions” or “doings.” The root of the Greek word simply means “doing.” Indeed, it is most often translated as “deed” or “work.” “Workings” would be another accurate way of rendering “energies.” Understanding this points us towards the heart of the Church’s proclamation. Who God is, and what God does, are not two separate things. “God acting” is God. His actions are not a means of hiding Himself – they are the means of His self-revelation. Indeed, this is the heart of the Church’s teaching on the Energies. The Church says that God can be fully known in His energies but cannot be known in His essence.

We cannot pierce beneath the veil and see or comprehend the very essence (ousia) of God. He is God, “ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible…” However, He can be known (and participated in) in His energies, His actions. It is this that St. Paul references:

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead… (Rom 1:20)

But how do we encounter God’s actions? Are we looking for Him to part the waters or move the Sun backwards?

Abp. Alexander Golitzin paraphrases Dionysius the Areopagite: “Providence is God so far as the creature is concerned.” And, “All things share somehow in Providence as their universal source and cause: ‘the divine Providence is in all things and no one of the things which are is without it.’”

Much of what Dionysius says about Providence is under the heading of the Divine Names. God’s creating, sustaining, working towards goodness, nurture, love, etc., and all the names by which He makes Himself known (Ancient of Days, King of Kings, etc.) are His Providence. And it is in these actions (names) that He makes Himself known to us.

I will now come down from the clouds and get quite practical. We live in the midst of the Providence of God. That we exist, and how we exist are His Providence. Everything around us reflects the working of His good will towards our well-being and salvation. St. Paul describes this:

the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth– in Him. (Eph. 1:9-10)

Of course, we encounter any number of difficulties and hardships, things that seem to work the opposite of our well-being and salvation. Those actions of human freedom are not considered God’s Providence. But even with these things, God’s Providential working makes our well-being and salvation possible, such that St. Paul can say, “For those who love God and are called according to His purpose, all things work together for good.”

So, in every direction and every way, we encounter God’s Divine Energies, His working things together on behalf of all and for all. There is a path towards “seeing” these actions (energies): the practice of continual thanksgiving for all things. It is the giving of thanks that reveals to the heart the hidden work of God. It is a practice that silences the passions and, as an expression of our human energies, unites us with the very Providence for which we give thanks.

In Holy Baptism, when the candidate responds, “I do unite myself to Christ,” there is an agreement: my life is His and His life is mine. It says that God’s good will, manifest supremely and definitively in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, is my will as well. We confess that our lives, together with their purpose and meaning, are revealed in the good will of God as it unfolds.

This is hard. When what unfolds is pleasing, the giving of thanks is easy, almost meaningless: anyone would agree to their own pleasure. When circumstances run counter to our own wishes or pleasure, the giving of thanks becomes increasingly difficult (and provokes the passions within us). The difficulty and contradiction obscure and hide the good will that is at work.

Here it is useful to understand human energies. Though, unlike God, we cannot now make the identification between our being and our energies, our life and our actions, they are, nonetheless, potentially so. This comes when our actions, our energies, reflect and act in union with our being, that is, when we act in accordance with our true nature. In many ways, this is the heart of Orthodox moral teaching. Those things that we are commanded to do, are, in fact, the truth of our nature and being. St. Gregory of Nyssa stated this most profoundly when he observed that human beings are “mud, that has been commanded to become a god.”

All of the commandments of Christ are just so. “Be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).


But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. (Lk. 6:35-36)

When our actions are in true agreement with that which we are created to be, there is a wholeness and a harmony in our existence. We are transformed, for our being and our actions are themselves in agreement with the very actions (Energies) of God. It is in this transformation that we come to see ourselves as we truly are and to know God as He truly is.

The most fundamental action that we can offer towards Divine Providence (and thus towards the Divine Energies) is to give thanks, always, everywhere and for all things – or give thanks as much as our heart allows. As we offer thanks, from the heart, we unite ourselves with the gracious Providence of God. In doing this, our “doing” is indeed the energies of our existence, and they rightly express the true heart of each of us. For we were created to give thanks: it is the substance of our priesthood. We are all created to be priests of creation before God, through giving voice to the thanks that is rendered by all creation.

It must be understood that our energies are not just a mental concept (a thought). They are the true efforts, the union of mind, body and soul, acting in concert. Extended towards the truth they share and participate in that truth. Our “yes” to God and His actions sounds in harmony with the “yes” of all creation as it groans in travail. Indeed, the travail of creation (Romans 8:22) is precisely its own eager longing for the final “yes” of humanity to God.

St. Gregory of Nyssa said, “Man is a musical composition, a wonderfully written hymn to powerful creative activity” (PG 44, 441 B). Indeed, he discusses the activity of singing, offering praise as a path to union with God.

Gregory likens the whole of the original creation to a dance and chorus, which looked to the one choirmaster, interpreting his song in harmony. Yet sin introduced disharmony, and removed human beings from this chorus. Only through Jesus Christ, and after trials of purifying hardship, are human persons restored to the chorus and the dance.1

This “purifying hardship” is, for me, an apt description of the initial contradictions we encounter in perceiving Divine Providence. St. Joseph the Patriarch endured terrible hardships: betrayal by his brothers, exile, slavery, false accusation. But in the final confrontation with his brothers, after his life has been used for the salvation of Egypt as well as his own family he says:

But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. (Gen. 50:20)

This very confession of faith has about it the mystery and paradox of Pascha itself. For the whole of our existence is the Lord’s Pascha, written into our lives, the world, and everything around us. Christ Himself, and His disciples, we are told, sang a psalm as they went from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane. It represents Christ’s own song to the Father, the hymn of His Pascha. It would have been Psalm 118, the last of the Passover Psalms. No doubt, creation sang with Him:

O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.
Let Israel now say, “His mercy endures forever.”

In the mystery and misery of this day – remember to sing.

Footnotes for this article


About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



, , ,



99 responses to “Providence and the Music of Creation”

  1. James Isaac Avatar
    James Isaac

    Wow. Maybe it’s just where I’m at, but this article should be required reading for all!

    No, on second thought it really should be. Thank you Father Stephen, and Glory to God for and in all things indeed.

  2. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    I haven’t written here in a while.. I have an underlying presupposition that theology and the imagination are meant to work together. Theology creates the conceptual framework for the imagination to work properly. A right imagination (not to mean imaginary) makes the practical application of theology possible. Therefore, if I’m right, and I assume you would agree, that God doesn’t mean for us to believe opposites which would destroy/confuse our obedience and faith by introducing doubt, that this issue of Energies/Essence works in the following way imaginatively.

    When someone sees God’s Essence as determining His actions, you wonder if God has any freedom because it looks like He is determined by something outside of Himself. If who God is and what God does are absolutely identical, imaginatively, when you think about it long enough, it seems that pantheism or monism are on the table potentially and that free will is an illusion. It would pave the way for actus purus and imaginatively run into divine impassibility where God no longer imaginatively can identify with the human being because the emotional life of God – if there even is one in that view – and our life would be so non-analogous that the connection would be lost. As a Calvinist, who also believes very much of the content of the post, and I’m not trying to associate you, not at all, I used to wonder if God could even have a genuine thought because if Essence and will/action are the same, could you ever even think. I think in part this is why Calvinism barely skates by on pantheism. Since God’s Essence and Will are identical, there is no freedom for God or for the Creation. This is why in my opinion, every religion outside Orthodoxy must negate free will in some crucial area. They provide a “fix” by basically stating it’s a mystery, and maybe Orthodox falls back on mystery here as well, but it does so with less dissonance. And the reason for the less dissonance, is not a complete fallback on mystery, but a different epistemology. If God is to be known by the entirety of the person in an empirical reality, if that is God’s goal for us to know Him in the empirical sense and not only is a subjective sense; in the empirical and not just the “about” sense then any confusion of this goal in the imagination will produce a piety that will largely exclude direct experience in favor of subjectivity.

    Now, I’m not defending the imagination at the expense of Tradition. Imaginatively open-theism or process theology may work for some people and they both would look heretical I would think to most of Church history. My point is, if we want to direct people to experience – and here the question comes up – do we believe it is possible and really, normal for God to desire this for us in this life before our departure, is this our telos…. if so, then Tradition seems to tell us that there is a distinction between who God is and what God does without explaining it very much, but upholding the truth of the freedom of God and the individual and that there is movement, personal interaction that is real, God thinks, God feels, God does things He might not have done otherwise, God knows things that never happened, God loves us freely and He means it, on and on the imagination is freed up and invigorated to live in the reality of God. I don’t know how you can avoid strict determinism without a distinction. And many Christians are fine with strict determinism but I don’t think we are. Now, you could respond with “fixes” for my imagination such as compatibilist notions of free will, but they are for me, after trying to embrace them for years as a Calvinist, a bit of a mental nightmare. Just saying God is free and we have freedom when God doesn’t look that free, and by extension we don’t look that free when God knows the future and is the only real will potentate in the universe – I don’t think it helps – but giving a distinction does. It’s the difference between a computer with preloaded software and a person.

    As for Providence, I think the same effect comes into play. The clockwork view or the interactive view. It’s really the difference between a personal God and a non-personal God because even when the Holy Trinity is invoked to put back in personality, and you think yes, but they are all tri-personally determined, it makes no difference. My concern – and I hope you see it – is that people, especially and foremost myself, take the remedies to a bad imagination that the Church has given us so that we pursue God wholeheartedly. It’s quite hard to think what seems a non-personal God is worth (in a pragmatic way) pursuing, effort, etc. But if this God means to reveal Himself to me in freedom and love and there is a path to go there, I might just want to get on that path. If the path doesn’t exist, and if God cannot be known empirically because He is to be known through another epistemology that is subjective, then so be it, but I don’t think that is the true alternative.

    God bless you Father,
    Matthew Lyon

  3. Allen Avatar

    I have said for many years the verse “All things work together for good” was my biggest struggle when in the evangelical world. When rooted in modernism and the American dream, it doesn’t match my life. But, when I read these kinds of articles, I am greatly helped.

  4. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’m probably the wrong guy to ask these questions of. I am ill-equipped in Western-style metaphysics, and things that seem like road blocks to some don’t bother me at all.

    God is free – He is not constrained by His essence. Indeed, since we cannot know God in His essence (that is a dogma of the Orthodox faith), speculating about it – including imaginitively is sort of a non-starter. If His essence and His energies are not One – then we could not know Him at all. But we can indeed know Him in His energies in a knowledge that is a true participation.

    But, I generally won’t touch Calvin with a ten-foot pole. It’s just foreign to me.

  5. James Isaac Avatar
    James Isaac


    As a former Lutheran and unofficial president of the over-thinking society, my advice is to jettison all that speculative metaphysics with (what was in my case at least) all need for control which these ideological frameworks seem to provide. Seek (and keep seeking) God through the actual practices of prayer, fasting, etc prescribed by the Church. You will not be disappointed. 🙂

  6. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Ahhhhhh. Relief from some old baggage left from my New Age days. Literally like a weight being lifted from my chest. About time I think.
    Thank you Father Stephen

  7. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Matthew, what you are describing is not that far from some of the New Age explanations–some of that stuff that just got lifted from me. The reality is both far more simple and far more profound.
    Forgive me but my reaction to Calvin has always been “Oh hell no”.

    Our will is free to the extent we obey which we can do at any time

  8. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    My strongest suggestion in this matter is not to think too much – with or without the imagination – and to work at communion with God. It is possible to know without understanding. I know my wife, but I would never claim to understand her. She’s a wonderful mystery. That, I suspect, is true of every person you ever meet.

  9. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Indeed Father as I age things start dropping away if only because I do not have the energy to keep hold of them. You have met my wife–a lovely mystery indeed from whom I learn something new each day. Even the aches anf pains I have occasionally been thankful for–just because “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

  10. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    What I like about this article, among the many good things that it does, is that it describes the ‘foundation’ of the Orthodox tradition on Providence and the work of Providence in our lives. And I appreciate the exemplar you use for how we “know” about a person, that is regarding your relationship with your wife, which provides us with guidance on the limitations on what we can claim we know.

    The Lord in His Providence has been with me all my life, yet what can I claim that I know but that He has brought me back to Him.

    On the side, I’m chastened by the fact that I’m frequently impatient with ‘blog bravado’, where a speaker enters a conversation to challenge you (I mean to say you, Father, specifically). Sometimes I think the challenge is all about getting attention for one thing or another (or maybe it’s the male domination thing), not so much about learning about the Orthodox tradition. When it happens, I usually bristle.

    St Paul says love is patient. Ouch.

  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Apparently, it’s all providential. 🙂

    I am a terrible debater – it is not how I think in the least. I do fine with questions – in that questions ask you to go deeper or wider, etc. But, I am never able to argue very well. I once would have thought that was not true – but as years have gone by – I see clearly that it is not my vocation or gift.

    I’m also highly doubtful that arguing anything ever moves our understanding forward. Oftentimes, what is going on is that I am answering a question that is not the question of the person who wants to argue (essentially, all my questions are my own questions). Thus, I can say to someone, “I found this to be helpful to me as I asked these questions.

    I’m particularly bad with questions that come from Calvinism or a Reformed direction in that none of my questions are from that direction at all.

    But, that’s how it is.

  12. Thom Bales Avatar
    Thom Bales

    Thanks Father Stephen.

  13. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Of course the Orthodox faith is not about debate is it? It is simply living the Truth.
    Is that not why a great deal of our theology is apophatic. Such living and Truth seeking resists the manta of both “Progress” and predestination.
    Also it is not usually a good thing for pastors or preachers to argue.

    But in case someone wants to argue the only acceptable premise is the Cross, the Grave and the great and glorious third day Resurrection. Everything else is vanity.
    I would say the Providence id living in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection.

    It has only taken my whole adult life for that to begin to sink in..
    I am just a little obtuse and stubborn.

    Oh, Dee, some of the most intense people in search of an argument I have known have been women. But, your overall point is apt.

  14. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, it makes me so sad to hear your story of your mother being called “pagan”. Many Native American spiritual practices fit well in Orthodoxy — not so well with much of Protestantism, especially Calvinist types.

    May our Lord forgive.

  15. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    The tenaciousness that some who are now baptized or chrismated Orthodox cling hard and intentionally to their prior theology, then press such theology onto others within Orthodoxy, begs the question for me that the weakness (for want of better words) lies with you.

    Rather, I put the problem at the feet of the catechist, who doesn’t first question the inquirer why they want to enter Orthodoxy. Too frequently I hear a story how the inquirer is unhappy with women in their various functions (such as clergy) in their former church. Such a report comes from men, typically. My own catechist priest said to me that if I’m entering the Church to get away from another church, then I’m attempting to enter Orthodoxy for the wrong reasons. I found his words then and now to be very wise. The emphasis on this alone, I believe, needs to be the first step of discernment on the part of the catechist. And the answer of the inquirer and the subsequent response of the catechist needs to be taken very seriously.

  16. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Your statement about argumentative women made me laugh. Yes, I should talk! : )

  17. Theodore Avatar

    Thank you for this post Fr. Last week my wife and I were made aware of a difficult bullying situation towards my six year old son at school, and this post is a good reminder to, in the midst of figuring out what to do, join St. John Chrysostom’s triumphant final words, “Glory to God for all things.”

  18. David Avatar


    In my case you might say I cling to my old theology in certain ways, and perhaps it is willful or deliberate, but I would also contend that it is very nuanced and messy. I spent the first 25 years of my life attending every church service possible in a fundamentalist Baptist context. I soaked it up, I went to their colleges and seminaries, I mastered the theological construct. Then most of the next 10 years were spent equally immersed in Reformed evangelicalism. That was, believe it or not, utterly necessary to allow me to consider sacramental realities and move toward the Church. I became Reformed as the first step of my repentance:)

    Now, by a miracle, I am a fledgling Orthodox, very new in the faith. Certain areas of theology I have had to set aside and just not think of them. As far as I can see in my own heart, I am completely willing to jettison and repent of any error, but I have a large family and many responsibilities, and I don’t have the time to study all these things yet. I went to our priest’s catechetical classes and accepted all that was taught. I pray, attend, and commune, but I have to leave it to God that these back-burner issues will be dealt with at the right time.

    There are other areas where I probably actively live in my old theology as a default, because I don’t know better and I don’t have something to put in its place yet. It’s who I am, and some of the true piety woven into my experience of it is why I was able to recognize Christ in the Church (Oh this is the One I was taught to look for; at last I see Him clearly!). I haven’t read enough or cycled enough through the church year and her services to see all of the incongruities and the places where I still cling to shadows. I imagine this will take my whole lifetime to peel away the layers of bad thinking and the wrong feelings and wrong ideas (even idolatrous) that come from that. I am on the road to repent of all of it, but only a little at a time, as the Lord allows, and I fear I will get to the end of my life and still be a hardened fundamentalist Baptist in the far reaches of my heart.

    Now I have to teach my children somehow out of the poverty of my Frankenstein theology. Will they be scarred? May God protect them. What if I were decades from now made a teacher or priest in the church? Is that alarming? I guess it should be, but I have to think there are many convert priests that must in some way be in the same place as me. They are probably not willfully choosing to be 90% Orthodox and 30% fill-in-the-blank, but that’s what they are, and sometimes I think I even hear them express both parts in the same homily (hence the 120%!). But, per Fr. Stephen’s rules, I speak of no particular priest, and certainly not my own!

    That’s just my experience. Since I’m addressing you, Sister in the Lord, I must also express my gratitude to you. I have appreciated your thoughts as I’ve lurked on this blog over the years. In our origins I think you and I must be polar opposites, so your impressions of the world and faith have often shed light in areas where I am completely ignorant and I am grateful.

    Here we ex-Prots stand in the Church, adorned in the only tattered rags we have, awaiting the merciful judgment of the Lord. May He shine His light on us and expunge every last shred of dark delusion from our hearts.

    With warm love in Christ,

  19. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear David what a beautiful response. Thank you!

  20. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    David, at least you had a theology. I came in with, as mentioned, New Age nonesense (mostly). What I did have was Jesus Christ. He will take care of the rest, at least He has for me. Not all at once. But He takes what we give Him and pours more in.

  21. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Everyone who responded to me…

    “Essence and energy are not identical.” Cyril of Alexandria

    It’s not speculative metaphysics, the Essence Energies distinction removes speculation as it entails direct knowledge of God – instead of – speculation. That’s my point, I don’t want to live in speculation, I want to follow a path to theoria. Some want to brush away theoria but St. Paul puts knowledge (not understanding) of God, which is what makes prophecy possible (this week’s Epistle reading, through the beginning of 14, and Ephesians 4), first in the order of gifts to acquire with love, selfless love. This is where I get frustrated because for Orthodox the theophanies in the OT are always encounters with Christ and this is what makes a prophet a prophet – they saw, they had empirical knowledge that was not speculative, for us, this is what makes for a true theologian. St. Paul wants us to become true theologians. St. Paul regularly refers to his Damascus road one on One with Christ as the basis for respecting his ministry. The Canon of the NT’s criteria was eyewitness or close relation to a ‘seeing-witness’. This is where Transfiguration should logically come in – and the hymn we sing – …”as much as they were able to bear” – this knowledge of Christ. Seeing is theology. If you destroy seeing as the basis, you don’t have people seeking actual vision, you get them thinking a bunch. Some people just aren’t sold on theosis. If theosis is defined in a way that a Protestant, a Catholic, and an Orthodox Christian all agree on it, then the Orthodox Christian changed something. We will need a new way to make Saints, to ensure the Fathers weren’t speculating, a new criterion for Canon, etc. Why do we trust the Fathers? Because they were smart? No, they had knowledge of God empirically. I know you were trying to encourage me, so thank you.

    The only reason I responded is because you have in Orthodoxy the distinction between Energies and Essence and while some wish to eliminate the possibility or necessity of direct experience by combining the two, Essence and Energy into one thing, because it would imply extreme exclusivity in terms of salvation, we still have the distinction. It has everything to do with free will for God and for us.

    As for Calvinism, I’m not sure what the issue was, but Calvinism’s view of God also has God and His actions being simultaneously one, therefore it borders on pantheism. Look up sermons on Joseph in Reformed literature or sermons and they will focus entirely on the predetermined end that “they planned, but God planned”, God won out because – He always wins – His will is the only real will. No matter what God wins. This makes for a difficult theodicy and makes evil almost necessary to know God is good. Orthodoxy counters determinism with the Essence/Energies distinction. Would you really want people who think, to think, that all of their choices ultimately don’t matter? This is the route of the Universalists I know, make the will so ignorant that it never can will anything with any degree of certainty. The issue of free will should be of utmost importance to an Orthodox Christian. What if Genesis 1:1 said, “In the beginning God had to create the heavens and the earth?” I think it would make for a different piety. What if it said, “God had to so love the world that He gave His only begotten Son?”

    “And if we may reckon that the Cause of our existence did not come to the creation of man out of necessity but by benevolent choice, once more we say that we have seen God in this way too, arriving at an understanding of his goodness, not of his being…He who is by nature invisible becomes visible in his operations, being seen in certain cases by the properties he possesses.” Gregory of Nyssa

    I think more consideration should go into understanding someone’s concerns than assuming you can evaluate their motives well.

    The only reason I ever interact with Fr. Freeman, which is usually to give praise – I hope that’s true, is to caution against possible liabilities. I understand that the average person has no idea how many presuppositions they have about God that influence the narrative they tell themselves. But to deny that collapsing God’s will and Essence into the same thing has any imaginative consequences is naïve. Again, imagination is how God communicates with us in large part. If in your imagination you believed Christ to be God but not man, in the end, this will play out in the story you live in, in your imagination. Imagination does not mean imaginary.

    Dee, thank you for analyzing me, I, whether people can pick up on it or not from a blog, I believe I have legitimate theological concerns and though it is Fr. Freeman’s blog, I care about the readers though maybe I shouldn’t. Being a former Calvinist, and caring that Reformed Christians enter the Church, collapsing energy/essence into one thing could very well ruin the new imagination of free will, ascetical path to love, the future as movement of/in the Kingdom where God really loves you eternally and in real time, etc. If I went back to making what God is and what God does identical, and I was consistent – there’s the real problem with me, consistency, that or I’m very dull, then I would sacrifice quite a bit.

    I could have written this: ignore the distinction between God’s actions and HIs Essence and you are in the realm of pantheism, Calvinism, monism – a whole list of deterministic thinking where becoming fatalistic is only avoided by saying, “I don’t know, it’s a mystery.” That’s much shorter, but a lot more aggressive – I could have written that and been a jerk with my male domination issues, but I tried to explain why it may be harmful for some but that was brushed away with blog bravado. Anyone who knows me knows, this is me, all of the time. I believe the distinction to be a crucial element for anyone who thinks about free will. If God’s will and Essence are the same, then God’s will is necessary, not free and the same goes for you. Now pile on some Augustinian free will and you’ll understand why they believe in Original Sin and Guilt, and why the Reformed have Total Depravity: Essence/nature determines will. If your will is dead and useless and only loves sinning in Adam then all of your actions are guess what? Evil. No big deal right? That won’t affect your relationship with God. If you want to put Pashca front and center, then death, not depravity has to be there firmly in your imagination. If you ruin that by excluding freedom either by denying the E/E distinction or with Original Sin and Guilt, you’ll need the Calvinist God to rescue you. The denial of the EE distinction and Original Sin and Guilt go hand in hand, they create each other. If you just had Original Sin and Guilt you’d get the same theology. If you just had a denial, you’d likely still get Original Sin and Guilt. No big deal right? Yes, big deal. One will run a path to theoria, one will make theoria, selfless love, ascetical paths to love, your life.

    At the end of this, why did I spend the time right? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I care, or maybe I just waste a lot of my time. Pray for me either way.

    Fr. Freeman, I’m pretty sure you remember me enough to know that debate is not something I’m interested in, but in salvation. God bless you Father!

  22. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Mathew I wasn’t analyzing you nor taking your writing in consideration in my writing above. In all honesty, I saw your comment and the word Calvin popped out of it as I glanced over it. But I didn’t proceed to read your comment. Rather my comment(s) was a hold over from the previous comment stream on another article, relating to that content.

    Nevertheless, I sincerely apologize for the offensiveness you find in my writing. Father encourages kindness, which is a cup we should all drink from, IMO.

    I do grow weary of the combativeness in these exchanges (not referencing you at this point) with Fr Stephen. Father Stephen is a priest with both theological and pastoral training. Sometimes I just don’t see the respect given to him that someone in his shoes should receive as an Orthodox priest. For me there is no such things as ‘nice’ combativeness, if the objective appears to be one-upmanship. We Orthodox might consider representing the Church in our behavior on this blog. And I know I often fail at this.

  23. Robert J Moyer Avatar
    Robert J Moyer

    I have a tough enough time obeying Christ, let alone understanding. Anything. Seems to me we learn by doing. The possibility of understanding might follow the doing, eventually. And it may never be attainable.

    I do so benefit from reading your words Father, and feel pulled towards Orthodoxy. Thank you.

  24. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’ve always had peaceful interactions with you. Sorry if this got a bit bumpy. I really do not follow the metaphysical points you’re making – perhaps that’s my lack of knowledge in that area.

    But, much of this is just not familiar ground for me. Sorry.

    The dogma of the Church, from the Palamite Councils, holds that God’s essence and His energies are “One,” not “the Same thing,” but, One. In His energies He can be known and participated. In His essence He is not known nor participated. That little bit is, dogmatically, what I know of the matter.

    I love Cyril, but he’s not the place to go for Chalcedonian theology, or, Palamite. But, I will quickly get lost if you want to go into the finer points. It’s just not my area. I’d be more than willing to think out loud together, as it were. Just go slowly.

  25. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    I just bought this wonderful book today and the very first letter offered thoughts that seem quite apropos to the message of your post, Fr. Stephen.


    No matter where one lives on the earth, trials must be endured. It often seems that we are tried by men, but without the permission of Providence, none of them could touch us.

    So, while undergoing trials, let us submit ourselves to the will of the Creator and consider ourselves deserving of our sorrows. If we do this, we shall find rest… By submitting ourselves to the will of God and chiding ourselves, we gain patience…

    When we become very despondent and begin to complain about our trials, there is a danger of becoming an atheist… and so becoming one with those who take up arms against God’s Providence… [giving] in to the resulting sin of grumbling, cowardice, and fury.

    I only achieve peace when I submit myself completely to the will of God. When I forget to glorify the Lord for all His good deeds and give myself to His holy will and Providence, then a storm rises and the soul finds itself again in danger of drowning in the waves of cowardice and fear…

    Those who inherited the Heavenly Kingdom… earned this with many sorrows. Let us set aside… our wish to find peace on this earth prematurely as it were, in order to receive it in time, that is, upon our death. Let us prepare the heart, with gratitude and praise, understanding that grief comes from the hand of God.

    +Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov, Harbour For Our Hope: On Aquiring Peace Amidst Our Suffering, p. 1-2.

  26. Robert Fortuin Avatar
    Robert Fortuin

    Thank you Fr Freeman. As a point of clarification and to affirm and agree with your position, as you know the classical Christian and Eastern Orthodox insistence on the identity of God’s action with God’s being has never been seen as an impingement, not even remotely, upon God’s free intentionality and power (freedom to will and do) – for to do as God wills is to be who God is. There is no impediment, no constraint, no unrealized potentiality for God to be and do who He is. If He were not so perfectly free and able He would not be nor would He deserve to be called “God” in the Christian and scriptural sense – perhaps a lesser god, but not the “I AM” as revealed in the Old and New Testaments and by Jesus.

    Confusion about these matters sets in through errors of modality – to put plainly: to apply creaturely modes of being (and doing) to God. However, God is not a creature, meaning His mode of being and doing is unlike ours. Our mode is analogous to His, with similarities, but also with infinite dissimilarities between God and us. What do these dissimilarities mean? Let’s take one of the virtues: goodness. While the creature participates in goodness, and obtains it partially, in measure, and over time (we may even lose it) – God however does not obtain, nor participate, nor decrease or increase in goodness. Rather, classical Christianity insists that God IS goodness and the good as such, perfectly good without any potential remaining (without potential to become better, to increase in goodness). The same is confessed about all God’s perfections and the transcedentals – power, wisdom, beauty, truth, freedom, and so forth. God is perfect – and really this is a confession which affirms that God is pure action – fully actualized, completely perfect. What this also means is that there is no determination in God (for such would be a constraint or denote imperfection) – God (or His essence) does not determine His actions, for He is His actions.

    In the creature to be and to do is not identical – for we are coming into being, and can do otherwise as we do. Identity of being and doing for the creature would indeed be a constraint to our growth, our actualization towards perfection. But this is not so for God who doesn’t grow, but simply is.

    These are important points of Orthodox theology as you will agree, but one must always trust in God’s goodness, and walk in the ways of the NT commandments to love God and neighbor. Fret not about these things if these are too lofty to understand. God is the good, the true and the beautiful, and all shall be well.

  27. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I think you’ve written a good elaboration, Robert, in my opinion, for what it’s worth. (I trust Father will correct me as needed)

    At risk of opening a can of worms from a previous stream, your logical construction (and Father’s description) of God’s workings in earthly life demonstrate that God is not constrained to our notions of processional geometry either. Please forgive my euphemism.

    Thank you for this.

  28. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, that is funny. I needed a laugh this morning. I would also say that neither is God constrained by any picture we paint of Him.
    “God created man in His own image. Man, being a gentleman, returned the favor”

    Also, I learned long ago that nothing anyone says about me or my thought is worth sacrificing my peace over. The World does enough that already. Why should I assist?

    We are not shadows, by God’s grace but only love gives us substance. So:
    “Gentles, do not reprehend, If you pardon, we will mend. “

  29. Jordan Burdge Avatar
    Jordan Burdge

    We have a natural, conditioned response to painful feelings, to turn away from them however we can. I am learning that this only makes them worse. So I am also learning to accept those feelings, which in my concrete experience means feeling the physical texture of those feelings much more intimately. I am learning the therapeutic benefit of this. This article though casts another light on that movement, towards having greater “contact” with the world, rather than trying to preserve myself from that contact by holing myself up inside my mind. I am reminded of a quote from Irenaeus of Lyons which is something like “why are you trying to become god, when you haven’t yet become a human?” The essence/energy equivalency only helps this reframe. God became man, touched the earth, experienced the physicality, so why should we think that there will be any other way? Irenaeus goes on to talk about how Jesus became mud so that he could finish the project of creation, that is being formed by the Father. We will need to do the same.

  30. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    As years have gone by, I have found thoughts of providence to be very helpful, particularly in dealing with painful things, including memories. I have no theories of providence beyond the goodness of God. Becoming human, I think, will ultimately find us having become “gods.” But it is important to focus on just becoming truly human.

  31. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Robert/Father Freeman, Dee

    Dee, I’m sorry to have confused myself as a target. I was the only one challenging so it made sense to me that I was the target.

    Father, Robert, thank you for taking the time here but I still wonder if actus purus makes for a one-will Potentate. I am not implying that God has potential, in that He lacks something we could offer – that’s rightly absurd. If you applied actus purus to the Trinity you lose the distinction between the Persons and end up with a monad. Because the eternal generation of the Son and procession of the Holy Spirit would be part of the pure act, and you could not distinguish the Son from the Father. This is where Father, saying something is One, and saying that means no distinction exists, could get dangerous quickly. Father, I have a serious heart for my Reformed friends and Evangelical Christians and I fully believe in that sphere, the Reformed, you must be able to undo presuppositions because they are more trained in their theology than most. And Evangelicals wouldn’t exist without the Reformed but sort of imagine that they popped into existence apart from history. So, the roots of their presuppositions need challenged because that is how they are persuaded. So, when it seems like a core doctrine of theirs is being upheld by Orthodoxy, we lose persuasion and the contrast is lost but the comparison remains with what they will see as inconsistency. Not all will be using heady terminology but will be persuaded by Biblical continuity in Orthodoxy. This means, when God says He grieves, He means it. When Christ suffers, God suffers and that experience is known to the Trinity because they are One. This doesn’t mean change in God or a lack of something. There is a way to talk about potentiality where God has all maximal potentiality in Himself I think, tenatively. Potentiality in this way is not something you lack but something else. Human potential is always a good thing. But if God is only “actualized full potential” then all of His actions, arguably the Son and Spirit, creation, and all attributes/energies are equivalent, and we’re back into deterministic Monism. I believe the Fathers saw this and responded, which is why St. Palamas regarded atheism to be the result of denying the EE distinction. Because if you can on one hand never get to the Essence of God because it is unknowable, but you have already identified what God does with His Essence then you can never know God and pragmatically that’s a deal killer. Because empiricism is the method of the West, you can only know God through sensory data, but if God is already said to be unknowable in His Essence then sensory data gives no data only grabs onto after effects from actus purus. This is why St. Palamas stands his ground. One view destroys the possibility of knowledge, the Orthodox view makes knowledge (also the basis for the Prophet in the OT and the New) real and necessary to acquire. Sensory data when EE is collapsed only notices the effects of Creation but can never connect to the Creator because the Creator’s transcendence makes immanence only possible by seeing the after effects, but it’s not really immanence, it’s more like deism and from there, a deist and an atheist are two peas in a pod. Which is why you get campaigns from people like Dawkins’ saying in effect, “Relax, there’s probably no god.” But we could add on, “Relax, there’s no god you can know.” And as soon as we start talking about actus purus Divine Impassibility pops up. Does God have any emotion life whatsoever? My contention is that these ideas, taught in seminaries, brought to the imagination of the clergy, will likely influence the content and presuppositions brought to the laity. This is why I say, for the imagination to work rightly, there should not be numerous conflicts brought in that introduce doubt. All of these topics affect what everyone agrees is most important – Pascha. Classical theologians will speak of Christ’s humanity having an emotional life but that it was not communicated to the divine part of Christ. To me, this speaks of Christ as having two persons instead of two natures, and from there, the assumption that real life as a human cannot be experienced or known by God, either in Christ or in the Persons of the Trinity – again, this makes for an impersonal God and ruins in my opinion that Christ as One person, and that He really could assume what was necessary to heal humanity. Protecting the Creator/Creature distinction is good, but it doesn’t have to come at the expense of denying our Christology. Really, all of this is about Christology, and Christology is all about soteriology, and if soteriology is confused/ruined, then the path to salvation is like sitting at a green light with a stalled motor. It is the difference of starting with Revelation, the experience of the Prophet, Jesus being the proto-Prophet, or with speculation. If God cannot be known we cannot do anything but speculate.

    God bless you all,
    Matthew Lyon

  32. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Isn’t truly human, and gods, the same thing? The Holy Spirit and the humanity of someone fully joined is the true human right? Adam was never, at least in the Biblical account, truly human and chose deification by means of the serpent, “you will become like the gods”… but it was a lie and besides that, we define gods and “the gods” differently when deification is part of the topic. Not trying to be snarky or nit-picking.

  33. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    Last and I’ll be done.. Do you think it’s also helpful, when thinking about Providence, to see God as interactive, like Chesterton, “It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun.; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon.” But also, that in this interaction, He is also from eternity and it real time, with real intentionality and personal investment and interest, working on our behalf… I know you do I guess, and maybe I am reacting to the weakness of my former imagination, but there is a clock-work view of Providence where everything is done, and we will be brought to our determined end – which is how many read Joseph. And there is a view where God is acting, reacting, influenced by prayers and those in His company/family, that is in my opinion more fulfilling. Many if not most Americans believe in fate and relish in it, but the “I am working as my Father is working” (Jn 5:17) puts the personal God back in place. I get how both work, I could have fallen down the stairs and believed God meant that for my good as a Calvinist. Now, I tend to think of pain as both , I need to be awake, but also as coming not from predetermined choices of God, but also from other free will agents whose decisions also do not trace back to the will of God. Isn’t God’s will more general than specific? He will have a deified humanity. He will redeem man from death. He will move the world towards the goal He has for it. But not every detail in the progression is part of the progression, it may be a set-back. I have had a fairly difficult time distinguishing the Orthodox view of Providence from other Christian traditions. And this is confusing I think because, freedom is real in Orthodoxy. Regardless, your admonition to be grateful is taken to heart. The Psalm Jesus sings on the way to His arrest, is also the basis for the well known children’s hymn, “This is the day, this is the day that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made. We will rejoice, we will rejoice and be glad in it, and be glad in it….” Now, if you haven’t heard that song, I doubt the tune would be so upbeat in Jesus’s styling, but still, it’s an amazing thought that this would have been on His lips at such a time. For the joy set before him….

  34. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I do not mean by “One” to collapse the energies and the essence into one and the same thing. Rather, that God is one. He is essence (God as He is in Himself to Himself and beyond all knowing and participation) and He is energies (Gad as He is in making Himself known). And, the energies are “uncreated,” that is, they are truly God. Palamas’ point is that in seeing the Divine Energies as the Uncreated Light, we truly see God, even though we do not see or know His essence.

    As for the rest of all your comment – it is more than I can manage to respond to it. It’s simply categories that I tend not to spend much time in. I’m extremely ill-suited to address the world of Reform theology and thought – it has always seemed alien to me. Perhaps that is unfortunate, but it’s simply a conversation I’m unable to have at any depth.

    My friend, Fr. Aiden Kimel (Eclectic Orthodoxy), loves this stuff – but I’ve never been able to follow it.

    I found it interesting (for the purposes of this post) to have paid attention to St. Dionysius’ use of the Divine Energies, in which he primarily treats them under the heading of Providence, as a way of thinking about all of this. I found it helpful.

    What I can say is that God is not one thing and His actions something, somehow, removed. His actions are not an “effect” but, as the Divine Energies, they are truly God. We know Him in these – and it is possible in these to truly know Him. Though, I think that knowledge is in the form of participation and not in the form of rational understanding and thought.

    Absolutely, God can be known.

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Orthodoxy would view God’s providence as true interaction and participation in God and God participating in creation. Never is it clockwork. And in everything, He works together for our good and the good of all things – ultimately in union with Him.

    I have found giving thanks always and for all things to be a gateway into that participation – for communion with God (true communion) is itself a gift. As I give myself to Him in the giving of thanks, I begin to know that He has given Himself to me as well, in all things. This communion is joy unspeakable. Of course, in the tragedies that surround us, we have difficulty with thanks – but, even there, it is possible.

    I love the Akathis Hymn: Glory to God for All Things – including the fact that its setting is in the Soviet Gulag.

  36. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes. I think they are the same thing: truly human and gods.

  37. Robert Fortuin Avatar
    Robert Fortuin

    These are not unimportant topics and concerns you bring up Matthew, but all in good time and fashion. Not all things are profitable for our souls at all time – part of our creaturely fragmentation. I would not worry about these matters for now and immerse yourself in the Paschal promise and triumph, which is God’s beautiful Providence for us.

  38. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I hear the earnestness and I believe a tone of sorrow regarding your former theology. And I’m empathetic because I’ve been in your shoes but concerning different issues about how Orthodoxy is presented by particular a priest, who I cannot name following Father Stephen’s rules.

    I think what Robert and Fr Stephen say to you needs time for brewing (like tea). Please give it time— sometimes we need to sit with God and wait.

    But if this is truly a pressure on your heart, please note that the things that unsettle you derive from what you are engaged with in your mind. You probably know this. The way forward is through the heart.

    Father has mentioned the other blog (Fr. Aiden Kimel (Eclectic Orthodoxy) and it is a good place to go more deeply into metaphysics. I’ve been there and I’ve subscribed to that blog and know that Robert participates there. Perhaps that is the place to go into these depths.

    Nevertheless I’ll say your questions are indeed good and probing questions. And stimulate responses from Fr Stephen that help us all.

    Thank you dear brother in Christ.

  39. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    I understand better now, the usage of Dionysius and the connection to Providence. In this light, Providence is fully and intensely personal. Thanks for your comments!

  40. Drewster2000 Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    The way you portray God’s essence vs. His energies makes sense to me. For me that’s because I see it mirrored in ourselves. Only for us they are not in harmony. Cue St. Paul talking about doing the things he does not wish to do and vice versa.

    In fact this even relates back to guilt and shame for me. Both my essence and energies are corrupt and in need of healing, but because of my broken essence I say “I am bad” (shame) and because of the twisted energies coming out of it, I DO bad (guilt).

    Of course my true essence is being redeemed and I’m not bad at core. Bad of course might carry too many historically poor connotations. Another word then. But basically shame is linked to my essence while guilt would apply to my energies/actions.

    Just a thought.

  41. Anonymo Avatar

    Thankyou Father for this post. You might not have a gift for debating, but maybe thats because you have a gift for speaking to the heart? And thanks for mentioning Fr. Aiden Kimel (Eclectic Orthodoxy), I am certain I will find great value in his blog, having read his about page. Of late I have been doing some reflecting on God’s providence in my life. It has paradoxically both humbled me (for who can fathom it) and assured me of God’s goodness. From stories, I have an ‘image’ or archetype in my imagination (in the sense Matthew uses) of an elderly woman who is profoundly grateful for God for all things, and sees God’s providence in all things. I can only aspire to such a childlike faith. Nevertheless I can attest that it is my experience that upon being grateful to God and in giving thanks, one comes to appreciate the providence of God in a deeper way.

    Matthew I found your comments to be very valuable. As a former Calvinist myself I believe I understood all or almost all of what you said, and praise God, I agree with it! I have some reflections of my own that I would like to share in response.

    When you said the following, “If God is to be known by the entirety of the person in an empirical reality, if that is God’s goal for us to know Him in the empirical sense and not only is a subjective sense; in the empirical and not just the “about” sense then any confusion of this goal in the imagination will produce a piety that will largely exclude direct experience in favor of subjectivity. ” I was initially confused because I would have used empirical/objective in place of subjective and vice-versa. I see objective/empirical to mean something in language (the about sense) that can be rationally assessed by outside parties, while subjective refers to a an inner experience that in this case is very true (direct knowledge of God)! I think these words are generally used in a variety of sometimes obfuscating ways.

    When I read the first sentence of the post, “God’s being and actions are one.” I reminded myself that Orthodoxy has a mystical side, and that there is likely going to be some language barriers created by the differing Orthodox and Calvinistic mindsets. That is also why I think it is important for converts to seriously consider their previous theology in the light of Orthodox truth. One cannot merely consciously abandon their past theology, and build up on Orthodox understanding from scratch because explicit unrevised or implicit or unconscious understandings will influence their perception of Orthodox theology. As such I found some of the comments in reply to yours to be a bit dismissing albeit without malicious intention. I think I have good analogy, consider someone who has experienced trauma of whatever kind, and them being told in many small ways by the culture and others to let go of the past, move on with their life etc. This would be not only be unhelpful but if listened to would significantly slow down the healing process. The wounds from erroneous theology must be addressed with patience and care and not dismissed. On the other hand I do recognise the wisdom in quieting the mind and focusing on the living out the Orthodox faith.

    I read Robert Futuin’s comment and it appeared to me he was promoting something like the divine simplicity of Augustine, Aquinas, down to the Calvinists. He seemed to say God’s actions and his being are identical, which is in opposition to Father Freeman who clarified that God is one, with both his essence and energies interacting as part of the whole of who God is? The essence-energy distinction is the ‘remedy’ to the idea of God as a one-will Potentate as Matthew was trying to explicate to the readers.

    “I think more consideration should go into understanding someone’s concerns than assuming you can evaluate their motives well.” I very much agree with this, it is also a pet peeve of mine when others spend their time assessing others motives, rather than the ideas or arguments presented. Also I found the comment about blog bravado to be odd, I have found that certain people often those who are agreeable don’t realise that whatever combativeness appears is usually not directed at any person but instead in a forthright endeavour to get the a better understanding of the truth. Likewise if anyone ‘challenges’ Fr. Freeman it is likely not because they don’t respect his expertise or authority but the opposite in that they respect his opinion and as such would like to hear him address their concern. The Bible calls us not to be quick to judge and instead to be discerning.

    Matthew I very much agree with this: “My concern – and I hope you see it – is that people, especially and foremost myself, take the remedies to a bad imagination that the Church has given us so that we pursue God wholeheartedly. It’s quite hard to think what seems a non-personal God is worth (in a pragmatic way) pursuing, effort, etc. But if this God means to reveal Himself to me in freedom and love and there is a path to go there, I might just want to get on that path.”

    And this: “Being a former Calvinist, and caring that Reformed Christians enter the Church, collapsing energy/essence into one thing could very well ruin the new imagination of free will, ascetical path to love, the future as movement of/in the Kingdom where God really loves you eternally and in real time, etc.”

    And as such I now hold to open theism as part of my understanding of God’s providence which in time will change when I more fully understand Orthodox theology. Understanding that freedom of God and man is an essential part of Orthodoxy drew my heart to it, compared to the coldness and callousness of the Calvinistic conception (did you like that alliteration?). Might I recommend reading some of Greg Boyd’s work on, here is just a tidbit about his view of God’s providence:

    7. ReThink Providence
    The dominant image of God within Christendom after Augustine (fifth century) has been that of an all-controlling deity. The church has therefore tended to espouse a “blueprint worldview” in which it was assumed that every event that comes to pass conforms to a meticulous “blueprint” God designed before the creation of the world. In this view, God wills (or at least allows) every particular event for a specific good reason—including each and every evil thing that transpires in the world.

    In contrast to this, Paul declares that, while “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, to those who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Cor 1:18, emphasis added). When God displays his omnipotent power, Paul is saying, it looks like him allowing himself to be crucified out of love for the enemies who are crucifying him! This means that the power that God relies on to accomplish his objectives is world history is the power of his self-sacrificial love, not the power of coercion, let alone the power of violence. Self-sacrificial is the greatest power there is, for while coercion may control another’s behavior, only this kind of power can transform hearts.

    Hence, as every church father prior to Augustine believed, we at ReKnew hold that “God is a God of persuasion, not coercion,” as Irenaeus (second century) put it. While God remains in control of the big picture, we believe God has given humans and angels free will, which means we have a degree of “say-so” over what comes to pass. We can either use that “say-so” to further God’s purposes or to resist them. As such, we believe all evil is the result of the misuse of created free wills, whether human or angelic. In place of the “blueprint worldview,” therefore, we advocate a “warfare worldview” in which the creation is viewed as a battlefield between God and Satan, along with all created human and angelic agents who align themselves with one or the other.

    Moreover, since creation includes free agents who have the power to resolve possible courses of actions into actual events, we believe the future is partly comprised of possibilities rather than exclusively as a domain of pre-settled facts. And since the all-knowing God knows all of reality, exactly like it is, God knows the future as partly comprised of possibilities rather than exclusively as a domain of pre-settled facts. Yet, because God is infinitely intelligent and can anticipate future possibilities as effectively as pre-settled certainties, we don’t believe God loses any providential advantage by virtue of anticipating possibilities rather than pre-settled facts.

    Hence, whatever possible event ends up being actualized, we can say that God had an eternally prepared plan in place as to how he would respond to that possible event in case that event came to pass. And because God can anticipate possible events as perfectly as pre-settled events, the plan God has to respond to every possible event is just as perfect as it would have been had the event been a pre-settled fact. So while we don’t believe everything happens for a good purpose, we believe everything happens with a good purpose—namely, the eternally prepared good purpose God had in place in case any given possible event came to be actualized.

  42. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    This is Father Stephen’s blog, and what is here or not here is his decision. He is an Orthodox priest and pastor. That fact is not an invitation to say what you will–again that’s just my opinion for what it’s worth.

    I’m not sure about the site recommendation. Father is a better judge on such things than I.

  43. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    That is the site recommendation you referenced is the one I’m questioning.

    On the other hand, Fr Aidan’s is a wonderful blog. I do highly recommend it.

  44. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I do not know anything about “Open Theism,” other than it being novel and speculative, an exercise in imagination. Orthodoxy has always found such exercises to be fertile ground for producing heresy. I see that you view it as provisional – something that will disappear as you enter Orthodoxy. I would prefer that such things not appear on the blog. I will leave it for Matthew to see – but will remove it in a day or so.

    I would encourage you to find a local priest, if possible, and make your contact with Orthodoxy as flesh-and-blood as possible. The internet can provide help – but it is also a very dangerous place. In my life, I generally find that it is only the most concrete things that make for sanity. I write, post, answer comments and such (I rarely read any other blog) but mostly do these things in small spurts, then return to more mundane things quickly – like painting a wall (that was yesterday’s project) or other such vital activities.

    Right now I’m working assiduously at not paying attention to the news (and it’s a frightful battle). My wife came into the room yesterday and asked me what I was doing. I smiled and said, “Watching the paint dry.” And that was actually what I was doing!

    A short word on providence – always, if possible, let it nurture gratitude and wonder.

  45. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Theology is potent and therefore dangerous. He can heal and strengthen OR poison-even kill the soul. That is why it is best imbibed by a sure and experienced hand.
    My observation over the years based on comments here and on a few other blogs is that those coming from the Reformed Tradition seem both the most hungry for it and, sometimes, obsessed by it.
    My brain can only take theology, even the good stuff, in small doses.

    Here is a small dose: the icon of Jesus rescuing Peter as Peter sinks because of his distraction by the storm.

    Find rhe icon and look at it. Really look at it.

    I am doing that as I am writing.

    Theology, even sometimes the good stuff can be a distraction, but the Person of Jesus Christ never is. He will come if you call out in sincere longing.

    Not the belief but the real Incarnate Person.

    The one theological work that has been of supreme value to me is “On the Incarnation” by St. Athanasius.

    Or you can watch paint dry.
    This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

  46. hélène d. Avatar
    hélène d.

    Thank you P.Stephen for this post ! There is a lot to meditate on what you have written… Essential points that you have already touched upon elsewhere, but which are presented here with another light, (perhaps another colors…) and I will also remain in front of the text, so that it does its work of deepening, that it dries up what is badly oriented in me, and gives me to live in fullness what is the truth of our Faith…
    There is a deep joy in receiving this and feeling on the right path, body, soul, spirit, in the same breath.
    In your writing, you have the gift of depth and lightness, which is truly a joy.

  47. Andrew in BG Avatar
    Andrew in BG

    Fr Stephen,

    I have been thinking that a word we could use which really captures it accurately is “outworkings”. It has the disadvantage of being a less common or easy word than either “actions” or “energies”, and certainly less familiar, but it does seem to me to be the most direct. A dictionary entry defines “outworking” this way: The process by which something is carried out or accomplished; the act or results of developing something.

    So, to wit, the outworkings of God are also God, not a creation. The outworkings are one with God’s essence, yet not the same as the essence. We experience God in His outworkings but never directly in His essence.

    This is the “Palamite theology” (that is, Patristic and Orthodox theology) that other Christian groups, even the so-called Oriental “Orthodox”, criticize or take exception to. I accept it in good faith.

  48. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Anyonymo, Father, Michael, whomever else,

    I think that open theism provides an imagination for freedom that is right for us but at the same time does not need dogmatization, doesn’t need to be considered true. I know Boyd and he leans heavily on the Eastern tradition. Fr. Freeman and Boyd would make for a great Podcast! Father Freeman, I don’t think you need to take down the comment necessarily, that’s just my opinion. Open theism is a conceptual way of upholding free will by stating that the future is by ‘nature’ unknowable. So, God moves and there is pushback, and there is movement, but like the parable of the mustard seed, the tree is going to grow, the baby is going to be born after the birth pangs. I believe that we could hold it not as a dogma, or a speculation, but as a sort of pacifier for our brains. We could on one hand reap the benefit of seeing the world in this way, as it is extremely Biblical, very Orthodox in many ways, as it is fully a Christus Victor mentality, and reject that the future is unknowable. For Western Christians really this was their fix for Calvinism, yet because Orthodoxy doesn’t spill tons of ink on predestination because we’re already busy with repenting, fighting the passions and demons, etc. – the ‘active’ view of Providence is already in place. If anything, I think Orthodoxy should be welcoming to Open Theists while saying, “Yeah, but you’re going to have to ditch the title/definitions.” It will be a reassuring thing that there is a historic Christian Tradition that isn’t muddied/quicksand-ed on the issue of free will.

    As for me and being probably a little over zealous from a Reformed background, it’s really this, and only Reformed Christians will understand it well – because soteriology based in Augustine is front and center, loud, in your face, and you realize it is the basis for just about everything a Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical – and then – the reactionaries, the Universalists, New Age, Unitarians – you see something other people typically don’t see. It’s one thing to grow up Methodist/Episcopal and call the Reformed the Frozen Chosen, it’s quite another to glory in the doctrines of Grace/Calvinism and then realize if you pull this one/two presuppositions out from underneath you, the EE distinction and Original Sin and Guilt, you undo Western Christianity and what you have left after the system is gone, is the Bible more or less at face value, death, sin, Satan, interactive God, personal God – and it is the difference of starting with Revelation as primary – but with the distinction that this Revelation occurs not starting with the Bible, but with the Prophet, in vision, like Tabor, and the Community in which they are to be heard, then we move to Persons, then Essence and when we get there we say nothing. Revelation within the intended Community (the Jews or Christians) forms the starting presuppositions not philosophy. Start with the presuppositions of scholastic theology/Classical apologetics and you arrive at the Persons only after having embraced Greek philosophy which is entirely at odds for the most part with Judaism/Second Temple period/early Church/Orthodox mindset of Persons—> Operations —> Essence —– versus —– Essence—>Attributes—>Persons. It’s backwards. One starts with man, one starts with God revealed. This is why we start with Christ. He is our starting point, square One. Once you see this, you can’t un-see it. Most Christians grow up never knowing why they believe what they do or where their beliefs originated or foolishly think a modern denomination lays claim to the early Church and even then their theology is largely interior and not well defined. “I feel like God is this…etc..” For people who were Reformed, it is worlds away from subjective Christianity, the difference is you think what you believe is Biblical, logically insurmountable, self-evident to all except the willful sinner, etc. So, I would be surprised for a Reformed convert not to be zealous, though, I have to say, for months I could just pray without thinking constantly about numerous theological topics after we started attending an Orthodox Church. And that is sort of my goal in writing some of these things for that crowd, they might just get to take a break and pray. That’s probably what I should get busy at as well!

  49. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    When I said EE distinction I mean, the denial of or ignorance of…

  50. Joseph Barabbas Theophorus Avatar

    2 quick notes while my C++ homework is compiling…on a tablet!

    First, open theism is heretical, full stop; it runs afoul of numerous conciliar definitions and even the Creed itself, depending on how deeply you follow “before all ages”. It is very problematic not just in its terminology but in its claims, including that God experiences time at all (and linearly at that), that there is something beyond His omniscience, and in its necessary /shrug when it comes to the question of the eternity of the Incarnation (ie, the divine/human union). Different strains try to fudge these in different ways from time to time but it just isn’t compatible with classical Christianity. Pr Stephen was right to be concerned about it; having studied and debated this years ago when I was first learning about Orthodoxy, I can confirm it is a non-starter and a dead end.

    Second, the use of “freedom” and “free will” mean very different things in Orthodoxy, and most contemporary English-language *Orthodox*(!) material on it just muddies the waters. Unless you have St Maximos by your bedside in parallel Greek and English (/cough), it is very difficult to understand what is going on when and what it all means. One better way to look at reality is as partaking (or acceptance, or even thanksgiving). Whether or not something is predetermined is almost beside the point in this view. Rather, we only have two options: to partake (which I call, personally and idiosyncratically, “choice” in the singular) or not to (which is sin, death, nothingness). Evey moment we either make “choice” or we do not. It isn’t a matter of choosing between options, weighing results, or picking. It is just making “choice”: the only choice there is.

    Looking at it this way has solved any of the dilemmas for me, freed me from the need to worry about what is *not* given to me at each moment, and also interestingly solved the question of freedom in the same way that Orthodoxy’s synergy solves the questions posed by Pelagianism while avoiding the opposite extreme. It doesn’t answer all of the “freedom”-related questions but rather shows [most of] them to be kind of meaningless. It’s the Orthodox “both/and” answer, simply applied to “free will” more generally and not just “original sin” narrowly (another misunderstood term, to the point we had to cut our losses redefine it in American Orthodoxy under the term “ancestral curse”!). Interestingly, you can find these same Orthodox ideas in St Augustine, but it is terribly difficult for us to read him as he actually wrote—we just have too much baggage.

  51. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Well put. I understood and followed every word of it and echo your warnings. By the way, I do keep a bi-lingual copy of Maximus in my study. I read Greek, but I read it even better with the English on the opposite page (cough). Linearity in the godhead. No way!

  52. Anonymo Avatar

    Thanks to all who replied to my comment. Wonder and gratitude, as you say Father should be our response to providence of God, and I think in turn these produce the humility I mentioned. There is nothing quite like wonder, except its counterpart of horror both which make one feel small, but in the case of the former it is uplifting and joyous. For me wonder and joy seems to occur together, and I think these are what I have most experienced in response to coming to Orthodox theology and teaching.

    Thankyou again Matthew for your comments, it is great to hear from someone with more knowledge or experience who has been through similar things. I would say Reformed go from Soteriology -> Christology -> Trinitarian theology while Orthodox go the reverse. Hence one starts with the revelation of God, the other with the salvation of man. One need only look at the ecumenical councils which are sidelined or ignored by the Reformed.

    Matthew you say, “the difference is you think what you believe is Biblical, logically insurmountable, self-evident to all except the willful sinner”. I had already engaged with the respective apologetical methods of classical and presuppositional approach prior to discovering Orthodoxy. And I disliked and found problematic the presuppositional approach. I see myself as already rebelling against the reformed system by engaging in the world of classical apologetics. Though there was the late R.C Sproul who was one of the rare notable Reformed theologian to be in favour of the classical approach. I now see my entrance into the world of classical apologetics as a ‘necessary’ sidepath to allay my intellectual doubts, but now I am content to continue on the narrow path outlined by the Church. If I could manage to believe in the God of Calvinism (I could not fully at least) then comparatively it is just too easy to believe in the God of Orthodoxy. It is both a curse and a gift to go from darkness to light!

  53. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you Joseph! Your finesse made me smile. I need one of those bilingual books on St Maximus!! Thanks for mentioning it. I’m in a Greek Orthodox parish and trying to pick up Greek. (lots of coughs) Glad I’m not going to be graded on it.

  54. Ben Avatar

    Dear Matthew,
    I appreciate your concern. Coming from an evangelical background (the type that likes to imagine it, as you said, “sprang from nowhere” after 1400-1700 years of spiritual darkness following the early chuch…but really is an amalgam of pentecostal and anabaptist/mennonite roots) my angst is more of the “am I obedient/surrendered enough” type than the “am I predestined (Reform)” variety. Nonetheless, you are right to point out that without Reform theology, to some extent, I wouldn’t be here.

    I don’t think I can add much beyond what Joseph, Robert, and Father have said, but as a graduate philosophy student and theology nerd, I can’t help but think that there is still a lingering modern misinterpretation of classical Western theology going on when these and related anxieties surface. (I am no stranger at all to “Western” soteriological anxieties, though again, for me they are usually more along the line of ‘how saintly is saintly enough’, ever since I left one and done sinners-prayer soteriology). Work has been done to show that the ‘Greek = Personalism, Latin = Essentialism and ne’er the twain shall meet’ myth is both philosophically untrue, and historically inaccurate. St. Palamas, as far as I know, never condemned the Latin west wholesale, and I think even drew on St. Aquinas (could be wrong), who in turn heavily drew on St. Maximus (I’m definitely NOT wrong there!). As Joseph helpfully pointed out, St. Augustine probably did not have in mind (or heart) a deterministic God – that is also a modern misreading. For all the sins of the Reformed, the Catholics, and the modern post Kantian Cartesian West, the Orthodox are unfortunately not blameless in the matter, it seems. Much 19th-early 20th century Orthodox theology was strongly reactionary to the modern Christian West and cast it in as “essentialist” and impersonal, distinctionless, ‘E/E – less’ terms as possible, leading to the false impression that Medieval theology did not have a proper theology of the Divine persons or of immanence. (This is perhaps true of some nominalist trends that started in the middle ages…but even those are a mixed bag). These modern Orthodox (often those who studied in Western Europe I was told) thereby tended towards a false “eastern essentialsim” themselves, falsely teaching that Palamas taught an absolute distinction between energies and essences, which is hogwash too. (Father, correct me if I’m wrong in any of this!) David Bentley Hart, for all his problematic cantankerousness, has done some good work in pointing this stuff out (His article “the Myth of Schism” is a great read).

    I do comparative Chinese philosophy, reading mostly English postmodern or pragmaticist commentators on ancient Chinese philosophy (grew up in China…long story), so take the following with the grain of salt, which Father recently put so well, that the responses (even in a friendly discussion like this) I give are usually answers to my own quesitons, vs authentic responses to yours…

    …What seems to me, then, to be at play in much of the philosophy I work with is a modern, or postmodern sort of inversion of terms. I am no expert (I could refer you to a couple open-minded thomist friends who are), but I believe that the modern world particularly gets Aristotle’s “potentiality” and “actuality” somewhat backwards. In our exaltation of the mechanistic world and of the human ‘individual’ and their ‘free-will,’ “potentiality” comes to mean something like ‘possibility,’ while “act” or “actuality” or “pure act (God)” comes to mean something like necessity or the removal of all but one of a given number of possibilities. This makes “potential” sound much more pleasing to our modern ear: of course I would choose limitless possibility over one single necessity or a the irrevocability of a final outcome! Aristotle’s (and I think much of the ancient Church’s) use of the terms, at least in their valence, seems to me to be the reverse. “Potentiality” is actually the more limited term of the two – what is potential is the ‘not-yet’ side of something, the aspect which is coming to be and therefore has no power, no reality, of its own but relies on the limitless power of the actual–true reality, we could perhaps call it–to come into being. Therefore, it is a Reformed or Modern or (what is more likely) Nominalist reading to say that humans – who are ‘possibilities” – have emotions, experience history and multiplicity, and can choose between different outcomes while God – who is ‘necessity’ – cannot. In reality, I surmise, the reverse is true. As Father has so often pointed out, before (if there is such a thing as before) full deification US creatures are the ones with very limited capacity to discern and make free choices, with a very very distorted idea of what our true self is really feeling, and with a very finite capacity to actually be present to our feelings and the reality of our movement through time, as it were. While I’m not saying God ‘moves through time,’ I surmise that in His eternal tripersonal perichoreisis of love, his ‘pure actuality,’ He experiences all of the full nuances and realities of true love, emotion, even passion in a sense–every possible goodness ‘HAS ALWAYS BEEN’ actual, in a sense, in God. As Joseph would tell you, it is backwards to think that God made us, gave us free will, and then had to respond and suffer in reaction to all of the terrible (and some wonderful) things we did with that free will. Rather, God has always ‘suffered’ or ‘moved’ in the Father’s eternal outpouring of love for the Son returning in the Spirit in overabundant joy and beauty and surrender and so on (“potency” lines up more with what is static and finite in Aristotle ; “pure act” is, for Aristotle, pure dynamism). Creation, ‘what is seen,’ is itself an outpouring of this love, and it is WE creatures who react to the dynamisms of the Holy Trinity. In so doing, through the incarnation death and resurrection of Christ, we gradually grow out of innocence, ignorance, and concupiscense into our true selves hid with Christ in God. In a sense, ‘we only emote (towards God, self, and other) Because he first emoted (towards us),’ we only suffer because he is (unfallen) suffering, we only move because he is motion, we can only experience possibilities because of the actuality of His eternal experience of Himself. Joseph (and Father, throughought his blog ‘career’) already put this much better than I can: our experience of time and of chance and of choice is really only a small window, or fortetaste, or opportunity to accept the much vaster ‘experience’ if I may say so of the life of God. And ALL of our experience–of which the cold, objectifying intellectualizing IS A PART — has the potential to know and partake of the life of Christ. What stops it is less the impassibility of God–that is his changelessness as I understand it–than our own PASSABILITY. Our changing, finite minds are too filled with clutter to really respond and open up to the experience of the uncreated life of the resurrected Christ in us most of the time. It is precisely our impassioned passability that prevents us from entering true awareness of what we are experiencing. Thanks be to God, He has always been drawing us from nonbeing, immaturity, into being and nepsis/awareness. (As Father says, often in hindsight…and even then, ‘through a glass, darkly’).

    This may be why, in terms of E / E, I always found it, as you do, to be an answer to how God can be known, but it never occured to me to that it was directly related to the question of free will (probably because I am not well read on Palamas et. al., to be honest). In fact I have always heard or thought of the problem the other way around. If there was some absolute, impenetrable disconnection between the deeds and the being, the energies and the essence, of God, I would be scared in THAT case that WE WOULD HAVE NO FREE WILL, because that would make God, in my mind, a voluntaristic despot. It would leave God’s actions untethered from his being, making his being completely inscrutable and his actions seemingly purposeless, capricious. I believe you yourself pointed out that the unity of E / E is what lets us truly know God. Now I do NOT want to deny the importance of an E / E distinction, but I see its importance more as guarding God from being implicated in our immaturity and blunders rather than guarding our free will from his omniscience. But that is probably just because you have made further connections than I have.

    Sorry for the wordiness and again, not sure if any of this will help you. Maybe it what it does more is to show why for me, predestination and free will have not been the key anxiety points. My worry is more that I have not accepted, given thanks, or suffered participation in Christ’s sufferings enough. Father’s writings have been a continued comfort for me here over the years. Sometimes my vices or ‘character defects’ take his writings as an excuse to be ‘passive’ in the modern sense of lazy…but I’m grateful to Fr. Stephen and to God for the subtle sense of ‘presence’ that this blog has helped to foster in me, a sense that what is important (theosis?) is both largely beyond my control and also going on despite my best efforts to slow it down…and yet my efforts are not irrelevant to it.

    On that note, let me say hi to all here. I am a long time, mostly-hidden friend of the blog. (There are at least two Bens who rarely comment and both of us have mentioned Eastern Philosophy if my memory serves correctly…Ill just say that I’m the other one, haha).

  55. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    You wrote: Work has been done to show that the ‘Greek = Personalism, Latin = Essentialism and ne’er the twain shall meet’ myth is both philosophically untrue, and historically inaccurate. St. Palamas, as far as I know, never condemned the Latin west wholesale, and I think even drew on St. Aquinas (could be wrong), who in turn heavily drew on St. Maximus (I’m definitely NOT wrong there!).

    I’m reading a source such as John Meyendorff on Palamas. He indicates (pgs 202 “A Study of Gregory Palamas) that it was/is the western writers trained in the scholastic tradition of the west who held condemning views of Palamas, and who failed to read Palamas within his context. Palamas, according to Meyendorff, held the Greek Fathers as is only doctrinal authority. And Meyendorff claims that Palamas’ adversaries held in common an essentialist philosophy as the foundation of their theology. (pg 204) He writes more about the Palamas interpretation of Dyonisius to be different from the ‘Thomist’ interpretation, while both exegesis floated around east and west. I haven’t found a reference to connect Aquinas and Palamas, yet.

    May I ask your source(s)? I’d like to stay up to date if there is more recent or authoritative Orthodox literature on Palamas’ theology.

  56. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Oh my! You philosophy students make me work…

    I tend to think of DBH as an “outlier.” He is, as you say, “cantankerous,” but also seems to need to know more than everyone. I think it effects his judgment. He pushes small points and distinctions in a manner that, I think, makes him overlook the larger points. I recall an article he did years back in which he ridiculed fans of Dostoevsky – noting (correctly) how much greater Tolstoy was as a writer. In particular, I remember him ridiculing a woman who had converted to Orthodoxy from the Episcopal Church and citing Dostoevsky. It was a very snobbish treatment on his part. I use the example because, although Tolstoy is the greater novelist (I’ll grant it), I never heard of anyone converting after reading him. Dostoevsky, on the other hand, for all of his flaws, had changed many, many lives. To be immune to that – to such a degree that it can be ridiculed – says something frightful to me about the heart. I don’t think I’ve ever read him the same.

    The same is true, I think, of the rediscovery of Palamas within the Orthodox world, something that largely must be attributed to the emigres in Paris, such as Lossky and Meyendorff. To that must be added Staniloae in Romania. I was reading a travel account of several Anglican clergy on Mt. Athos in the 19th century – highly educated, and sympathetic to the Orthodox. One of them brought up Palamas (and he thought that the Orthodox had been terribly wrong on the essence-energies stuff in which he was following Catholic polemics). The monks (leaders) he brought it up with had no idea what he was talking about. They knew the name of Palamas, but nothing of what he taught and nothing about Palamism. That would have been a typical Orthodox response at the time.

    Florovsky and the emigres, not without their own flaws, must be credited with a revival of Orthodox thought unparalleled in almost all of Orthodox history. What I do not find in DBH is any of that “flavor.” Instead, I often find him picking at it – like picking at Dostoevsky and lack of precision (or something) among those who love him.

    Thus, though I’ve read him, and continue to do so, I do not recommend him for people (except in unusual cases). I think my friend Fr. Aidan Kimel and I would disagree about this. There is also the matter of discretion. Should we say everything we know or think? Not always. DBH, for example, dismisses the reticence of the Fathers to speak openly and dogmatically about the apokatastasis. His insistence in the other direction is, I think, doing harm and creating problems that are unnecessary. It’s all too much like the theological polemics of Protestantism for me. So, I avoid it. My problems are not in what I know and don’t know – they are in my heart and always have been. I encourage you to cultivate the heart above all else.

    Also, read Dostoevsky…

  57. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Wow! We each come to God in such different ways. I knew a man, Anthony Gythiel who was an RC monk at one point and saw many of his brothers killed by the Mau Mau in Kenya. Left monasticism, became a history, a translator for Pelikan. He read himself into Orthodox belief in the library of a Benedictine Abby in NE Kansas. He hated Agustine (not too strong a word) for what Agustine did to the the Christian conception of time. (Prof Gythiel was another historian that rejected the linear BTW.)

    Then there is my wife. Her father was an abusive. He would beat her. She took to hiding in the back of a closet. It was her “safe place”. Age 7 while there this beautiful man with incredibly warm eyes, sitting on a big golden chair would come to her and comfort her. She intuitively knew who He was.
    As an adult she was Episcopal, RC (she met Mary there), Evangelical, etc. When I met her she was a member of the United Methodist American Indian Mission congregation in town.
    Everywhere she went, she kept looking for that man with with warm brown eyes in the big gold chair who she called “my Jesus”. Then she came to her first Orthodox service and she saw Him…her Jesus.

    She talks to Him all the time.

  58. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Just a note: there is an incredible amount of theology in the icon of the Risen Christ Enthroned but, apparently it also is the way He is.

  59. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman, Ben, Joseph, Anyonymo, etc..,

    First, thank you all for contributing. My empathy towards Open Theism is not an acceptance of it. My concern, though I’m not a priest and likely never will be, is pastoral, for the lay person, myself included. I think there is a way of saying to someone who struggles (this isn’t everyone) with what they think is a fatalistic view of predestination, very simply, “What if the future was unknowable?” “Would that free up your mind to pray, fast, etc.?” And if the person responded, “Yes,” then you could say, “Imagine it’s like that when the conflict arises in your brain, but know God’s relationship to time, and foreknowledge works with us, it doesn’t make us robots. God is moving with us on the path to Life. Christ is in our midst” Most people will never be able to write or understand what Ben wrote though others like us can appreciate it. My concerns are controlled in a sense by the conviction that dogma is a fence to guard the path to eternal life and that heresy is often nothing more than an imaginative block/literal road block on that path, where instead of the narrow road, you may literally drive/walk right off the mountain. So, removing conceptual difficulties, not by trading on dogma, but giving imaginative help alongside dogma, it seems very pastoral. Keep in mind where I’m coming from again… When someone needs a philosophical defense of compatibilism, or St. Maximus in two languages to quiet their brain, and they need quiet to live by faith, I think there is the possibility at least of correcting the imagination without sacrificing dogma by appealing to imagination. That said, I’m not advocating Open Theism in any way, but I’m sympathetic to those who see it as a fix because by and large, they have no other fix. Pragmatically, and that’s not my goal, to be pragmatic, I assume Open Theism has done much good for those who have embraced at the laity level. This is where I think, the resources Orthodoxy already has dogmatically, can come to people and let them settle down, pray, worship, etc. When someone embraces Calvinism initially, as a choice, the initial effects, pragmatically, are good. Humility is the result. Yes, at the expense of an Orthodox view of God, but they are humbled and God is God, we aren’t, He is really self-sufficient, He is no Santa Claus, etc. There are positives. So, as Orthodox, it seem to me, we take the positives, embrace the non-Orthodox around that ‘positive’ experience of repentance and humility, identify with it, and then move into a different conception of God. Same thing with the Open Theists only the transfer for them into Orthodoxy will likely be much easier. The Open Theist crowd already has a lot in common with Orthodoxy thanks to Boyd who leans on the Eastern Church. It doesn’t mean endorsement, I’m thinking in terms of engagement/evangelism, not borrowing so much. And I’m mainly thinking of converts not cradle Orthodox. I see no reason to bring these issues up to cradle Orthodox intentionally unless they are interested in knowing their own faith better in contrast.

    But, this whole topic of EE ties into Open Theism and Open Theism is a free will issue. I’m not accusing Catholics or Protestants of believing that God is determined by Who He is. But I am saying that once God actions are equivalent with His person, it looks as if God has no freedom. It seems again that the reason for this is somewhat the difference between presuppositional apologetics versus Classical apologetics. Presuppositional apologetics is not wrong so much as it doesn’t start in the right place. By starting with Scripture/Canon instead of the Prophet in the Community, the starting place is wrong. If the Reformed framed it this way I think it’s very feasible, but they cannot do that because it would cause a revision of Sola Scriptura that would turn into the Orthodox view. They cannot have had a Catholic, “according to the whole” view because it would have never served their ends. But regardless of the denial of the EE distinction and what seems to me as a result to be the negation of freedom for God and man (pantheism, monism, Calvinism, etc.) the effect of Original Sin and Guilt, instant damnability in Adam for all, would do the same. This means that the view of, nature determines will in totality plays out either way, with or without the EE distinction if you keep OS/OG. I have found, and I mean to provoke some thought on this, that Orthodox spend so little time on OS/OG that it ruins the explanatory power for our apologetic. I have read so many introductory books on Orthodoxy that barely mention it. But as for Augustine, sometimes I mean to say Augustinian and say Augustine instead, that is my fault. I have no reason to believe that theosis is possible, likely, meaningful with OS/OG, an original perfection to man, determinism + compatibilism=viable freedom, etc. And I don’t believe I’m the only one with this problem. We are often much quicker to jump on the Calvinist while letting Catholicism have a pass (not realizing that you can convert to Catholicism from being Reformed without having to give up practically anything), and Evangelicals have kept for the most part a Calvinistic scheme. I’m not saying this so that we can become more polemic, I’m saying it for the sake of theosis, for salvation. And what is the difference between the East and West, theosis. While St. Maximus to my knowledge was not an OT scholar, he picks up on the difference between passions related to the fact that we have death in us, the reality that we are dying and the survival mechanisms that are in place as a result, and passions that are ‘moral’ in nature. It is not a blamable passion to desire our own health or security. It is blamable when in search of security it comes at someone else’s expense or turns our faith from God to moths and rust. But as soon as nature is corrupted, determining the will, start with Essence and arrive at person, start with OS/OG and arrive just shy of human-demon. I’m going down another rabbit trail, but I hope the connection is evident. Again, theosis is destroyed as the narrow path. I have no speculation about what happens to those who are not purified, illumined, glorified. I have to hope on mercy because I’m going to need it. So, I think for those, like Fr. Freeman, there is a way to uphold theosis in this way, without having to turn it into a heaven/hell situation. It seems that there is a desire among some to deny that Tabor experience is meant to be had by us because so few of us have had it, nor do we see it as a possibility, and from there we deduct that if this is criterion then God is going to be just as bad as the electing God of Calvin. But, I think there is a way to uphold theosis without having to say much more than that this is our intended destination – ruling and reigning with Christ in His family having been cured from selfish love and having acquired selfless love in the Holy Spirit. That was more than I planned, but the point is, no EE, no theosis.

    As for St. Palamas… I think any consideration of whether knowledge is possible directly impacts freedom because how can someone make a free decision unless knowledge is possible. To me, Palamas combats agnosticism as much as he does determinism. If God is free, we have the possibility of freedom. If God is constrained, much more likely we are as well. If God is knowable, freedom is possible. If God is unknowable, knowledge is impossible, freedom is impossible. All you have left is a determined agnosticism which is what I think he was warning against. I think often that one of the most effective, persuasive arguments for the existence of God is the impossibility of knowledge without God. Lewis, the presuppositionalists, Plantinga with his EAAN, many others, all employ it in some way and subjectively it has an impact. But make knowledge of God impossible and the argument is lost. But back to the pastoral, if someone is infected with the idea that God is either unknowable or that He is determined or that everything is fated and by extension so are we, the job of the Christian is to remove the road blocks. Sometimes this will be with detailed philosophical information, but if our starting point for epistemology was grounded in the Revelation of Christ, known in the OT by the Prophets, and the presupposition that God’s actions and His person are United but separate, as the Trinity is One with distinction, so on, then a method of treatment I think is bound to be applied that will be helpful. I guess I am thinking of these things in terms of Orthodox therapy. That sort of just hit me. I always have a few hopes going. One, that I would be less distracted from acquiring selfless love, two, that others already in the Church would fully embrace the faith by losing their ‘block’ and pursue theosis versus succumbing to nominal Christianity with an Orthodox twist, and three, that we use our resources from Tradition to gather other sheep so that they too will be saved.

    But as soon as I say ‘saved” I’m back to, theosis. Theosis is impossible without direct knowledge of God. If there is a denial that the person of Christ was present to the prophet in the OT, again, theosis is confused. The basis for theosis is the encounter. Again, this is the criteria for Canon. Tabor, Moses – the God seer, all empirical manifestations of Christ, last with Paul who bases his ministry on this. So far, epistemology (I think more in line with many Reformed than others), soteriology, Christology, the Trinity, Scripture, theosis, are all affected by the EE distinction but I assume there are more. This is getting long… let me make a short list.

    1) If God is determined by His Essence (or if it seems that way, or if you need philosophical rigor to explain why that isn’t true – I’m making that claim, presupposing that it shouldn’t be necessary) then Creation is necessary and we are quasi/actually-equivalent with the Divine and we have pantheism. Or, Creation is determined and you have monergism bordering on pantheism. Or, you have monism bordering on pantheism.
    2) If God is determined by His Essence then Christ and the Holy Spirit are determined and the distinction is lost..
    3) If God is …. and the Essence is unknowable, there is no ground for epistemology only agnosticism, Deism, atheism. If God’s Essence was knowable, pantheism again.
    4) If God is unknowable in His Essence, unknowable in His energies, but only in the effects of Actus Purus then theosis is out or needs redefined.

    I’m sure I’m wading out of the kiddie pool, but first, I’m trying to state the imaginative difficulty. Kids eventually ask questions like this, “Why did God create us?” and adults eventually ask, “What’s God doing all day?” My grandmother actually said that to me the other day and I responded, “Ruling and reigning and interceding on our behalf with His father, the Holy Spirit, and all the Saints.” Once someone asks enough questions, at some point, without the EE distinction – not separation – boom, you’ve got a full blown crises in the mind and only some, maybe more than I think, will be able to dissuade their doubts that keep them from either, ever pursuing theosis as a real possibility – even though it’s right there all over the Bible, or from knowing if you can know anything. Both are blocks. To me, Tradition and apologetics is really most often removing blocks. I think the Fathers fought for the Faith so that we could be saved, not so that we could alone have right dogma. And I hate (I didn’t get this from anyone here) when people automatically divide dogma and salvation into two different things and make people like me an upholder of dogma instead of seeing dogma and salvation are something like best friends. Theosis is the Gospel. Confuse the Gospel, and what do you get? You get at best, the hopefulness that God will be merciful, but you won’t have people struggling to be Saints. Better people, sure. Nice, sure. There is no part of Orthodoxy theology that isn’t intensely practical.

    Regarding EE as being freedom upholding by hiding it from omniscience, that’s not what I meant at all. I think I explained that above.. When I talk about predestination, free will – I’m not so much talking about my personal anxiety, I’m talking about what keeps people from pursuing theosis. I’m sure there’s parts of this that would get nit-picked by someone smarter than I, but I firmly believe most of the content sticks.

  60. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    That said, I’m not advocating Open Theism in any way, but I’m sympathetic to those who see it as a fix because by and large, they have no other fix.

    Matthew I have several concerns with this statement, and the subsequent words of appreciation for reform theology as beneficial.

    I don’t agree.

    You’re advocating for a website to be put on this blog because you think it will help people or provide them a fix?

    Again I don’t agree whatsoever.

    Your insistence rather than conciliatory is argumentative. Does that fix people?

    Where does your attention to what Fr Stephen has written come into play here? I don’t see your engagement with what Father is writing on the place of the heart. It seems to me you’re too dismissive of his words in action and call out someone else when you think that they are dismissing you.

  61. Ben Avatar

    Dee, Father,
    Thanks for engaging my confused philosophical ramblings! Yes, cultivating the heart (and perhaps reading Dostoyevsky) should be priorities for me 🙂 . I will admit that historical theology is not my expertise (nothing is, really), so most of what I say comes from Youtube lectures by various theologians, conversations with theologically-informed friends and professors, my own mind (yikes) and yes David Bentley Hart. Fr. John Behr and this blog, along with DBH, constitute my top 3 ‘professional’ sources for orthodox theology, which is more or less scary depending on who you ask. I agree that DBH can be problematic and I think Father expressed this very well. Nevertheless, Hart has played a role in showing me that one can be Christian (and Orthodox) and yet be open to discovering that the divisions between churches and religions are often mischaracterized, even by the well-meaning. The thomist friends I mentioned have helped me to see that, again despite modern misreadings, there is much healthy and helpful ‘o’rthodox thought in the Catholic Middle Ages. I am not quite as much of a universalist as Hart, but perhaps (even) more of a pluralist (given my study of non-western philosophies). I attend an Anglican parish in Canada, but my ‘road’ into sacramental Christianity was a dear childhood friend who converted to orthodoxy at St. Herman’s Parish in Langley, BC. (Father Stephen, I believe you know Father Lawrence in Langley, and perhaps even Father Justin in Vancouver…they do not know me very well but they have a special place in my heart. Our small Anic parish hosted Fr. John Behr for a night of discussion when he came out to Regent college last summer, and Fr. Justin along with a couple of his parishioners attended. Our fledgling student ministry has cooperated a couple times with the fledgling Orthodox student ministry at the University of British Columbia). I attended my friend’s baptism…for me, however, it wasn’t a miraculous ‘aha’ moment of attending liturgy and ‘falling in love’ but rather a slow growth of coming to appreciate high-church, church-history, tradition, and a more mystical prayer life if I can call it that. This blog, and lectures by Fr. Behr, were close behind my friend’s conversion in the process of leading me into sacramental faith after a period of agnosticism following my evangelical upbringing. I have often said in (partial) jest that if I wasn’t married to someone who is currently more comfortable in Anglicanism, I would probably be Orthodox (already). 🙂 Nevertheless, it has been important for me to discover areas in which Catholics and Anglicans (and all sorts of other people) and Orthodox are perhaps more in harmony than one would suspect if one were to go off ‘popular opinion’ alone. (I have attended Catholic and Orthodox parishes as well.) Pluralism or attempts at a ‘via-media’ won’t save us but they are a sort of personality trait for me, for better and worse…but false dichotomies won’t save either 😉 In a way, I do hope to ‘settle’ more as God leads.

    I would also be curious to hear more of what you meant, Father, by “The same is true, I think, of the rediscovery of Palamas within the Orthodox world, something that largely must be attributed to the emigres in Paris.” When you say “the same,” do you mean that DBH also picks them apart too much? Or did you (perhaps also) mean that Florovsky et al went a bit overboard in how they rehabilitated Palamas? I have heard things to both effect. It is interesting that you credit them with a “revival of Orthodox thought unparalleled in almost all of Orthodox history.” Forgive me, but ‘revival’ and ‘unparalleled in…Orthodox history’ are phrases that seem uncharacteristic of your writing…

    Finally and more importantly, Father, in attending to the heart, do you have any concerns with just focusing on the breath? I find a serenity and an ability to be virtuous or less self-imposing through meditation that cataphatic prayer doesn’t always bring me, but I was raised with a deep suspicion of ‘buddhist/pagan/demonic’ meditation that is hard to shake…

  62. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    I think you read too much appreciation into my comments. You know, I don’t know how many Universalists within Orthodoxy I have come across, and yet, while I totally disagree, we have more common ground than me and a Mormon. I never advocated for another website. My sympathy is not towards the theology so much as it is towards the person. They found a way out of worse thinking that may lead them to Orthodoxy. I’m familiar enough to know that this crowd, and the Arminians in general, would love a way to uphold free will, sovereignty, responsibility, and not get bogged down with these things. I am definitely not suggesting, nor did I, that Open Theism be regarded by Orthodoxy as fully compatible, promotable, etc. But for those in that crowd, like Anoynmo, I get it. Say he’s asked to recant his belief in Open Theism? How much will he get to retain, a lot actually. How much will the Calvinist retain? Not much really. But they will not recant their repentance, their humility, it will just deepen. Does that make more sense? I’m about as polemical as you can get, although, I’ve never been seen that way by my friends or fellow Christians who I know directly. My appreciation is more than there is a point of contact we can identify with. If we have nothing at all in common, no point of contact.

    As for Father’s article, I was wrong for having a flag go up in my mind that he was equating the two. And my comments, hopefully, will show how far off track from delighting in God’s care for us, in His Energies, you can get if you have many obstacles. I don’t have these anymore. I just have regular old sinning. I’m sure my baggage remains to some degree, but I’m aware of it and catch it more often than not. Never was my intent to hijack the conversation, but not everyone took it that way.

    God bless you…

  63. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes, I think DBH both picks 20th century Orthodox thinkers apart (more than I would like). I agree that he provides some correctives for those who over-magnify our differences (say, with scholasticism, etc.). I think, though, that a difference between DBH and the emigres were their “churchliness” which clearly informed their thought far more than academic precision, per se. I think that Florovsky’s neo-patristic synthesis, which, though critical of the slavophile movement in Russia, nonetheless was a fruit of that very important movement. There was, indeed, a “Western Captivity” in place for Orthodox thought (witness the ignorance of 19th century Athonites viz. Palamas). It is the awakening from this captivity which must largely be credited to 19th century Russians – who began asking questions that had been unasked for too long. I think the exile of those intellectual leaders and their work was probably deeply aided by their forced contact with the West – not from a distance – but face-to-face.

    Orthodox thought is continuing this re-awakening in many ways and across many fronts. It is mission-minded more than in a very long time. It began to find a voice that allowed it to speak critically of the West (critical is not the same as condemning). It also has a greater self-consciousness now than it has for quite a while. If we add to that the spiritual renewal that began with St. Paisius Velichkovsky (translator of the Philokalia into Russian and reviver of Hesychasm in Russian Orthodoxy) and that has continued in the renewal of cenobitic monasticism, it is easy to say that these men have been part of a vangard of Orthodox revival. They were not the only forces – but they are truly important far beyond what most people realize.

    On prayer – the breath can be helpful – if it’s helpful. If it distracts, ignore it. Meditation – theoria – that pays attention to providence with gratitude is quite helpful in finding serenity. I tend not to recommend going too deep into the Jesus Prayer (10-20 minutes is sufficient) without a good confessor/guide.

  64. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    “Regular, old sinning.” Now that’s something I well understand!

  65. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    “Your insistence rather than conciliatory is argumentative. Does that fix people?”
    I missed this at first…

    It’s argumentative here, it seems that way, it doesn’t play out that way in conversation. When I talk about Orthodoxy I talk about in contrast to my former beliefs, usually the other person holds those beliefs, and I talk about the ways in which our mutually/once held theology lets us down. I talk with the utmost excitement about Orthodoxy theology in conversation with non-Orthodox. So, I can’t fix anyone, I’m quite sure of that, but I do want to have them come into the hospital of the Church. To do so, more than just throw us in a myriad of possible choices, I want to make them consider therapy is what they need by having them reconsider salvation as therapy versus vaccinations. That’s the short of it. But I know from experience, that whether the person is persuaded or not, they don’t doubt my motives, that I love them and I love Christ in His Church. It’s much easier to look like a jerk on a blog I suppose.

  66. Ben Avatar

    (Father, if my mentioning names of other priests — I was doing it to praise not critique them — is against the rules, please pardon and let me know!)

    Thanks for the responses to others and myself. Your words about theosis being something we hope and trust Christ for, beyond a ‘heaven and hell’ scenario, and even when many or most of us don’t experience full illumination, were comforting.

    I don’t have too much more to say on the E/E subject (because I don’t know much). Father’s treatment seems orthodox to me, and I also appreciate your concern for those of us afflicted by modern/Reformed definitions of free will, compatibilism, etc. However, I will say I don’t think I fully follow your points 1) and 2). God certainly isn’t ‘determined’ by anything, but he also IS his essence, in some sense. I don’t think this makes creation necessary because I don’t think we have reason to believe that God’s essence necessitates creation. His essence is not ‘deterministic.’ Neither is God ‘determined’ by his energies because they aren’t deteministic either. To say that God is revealed in the son to be a tri-unity does not ‘limit’ God. God is revealed in his actions, but not limited by them and vice versa…but we also, as you point out, believe that God’s actions are consistent with his person. Again I am open to an important distinction between energies and essences; I don’t think we are disagreeing on anything fundamental. I also appreciate your pastoral concern, but I am not sure that a fundamental harmony/union of essence and energies in God gives rise to any type of determinism except perhaps in a nominalist/modern context.

    Finally, I also agree that OS/OG causes lots of problems. I think I gathered from what you are saying that you find an ‘original perfection in man’ problematic, which I think I agree with. What I have learned from Fr. John Behr, among others, is that the Eden narrative read Christologically doesn’t need to imply ‘perfection’ in originary humanity. Rather, where God said “let there be” for the rest of creation, he said “let us make” for humanity, implying an ongoing project not completed until Christ’s “it is finished” on the cross (the Theotokos’ “let it be” was foundational here as well). This means that while sin was not created, humanity was not ‘finished’ from its inception in space-time. Rather, we are ignorant and immature, needing to grow and learn. Suffering is a crucial part in the growth and learning of Children. Eliminating the possibility thereof limits growth in experience and knowledge of our need for Christ. So knowledge is possible despite our ‘ancestral curse’ of the disease of sin and death, but it is limited. It is limited not by God’s essence or energies or their union or their distinction, but by the fact that we are still in the process of coming from nonbeing into being, of growth. Our ignorance is more like that of children–children are not limited because their parent’s essence has ‘predetermined’ every choice they will make, but because their lack of experience and self-control means a lack of understanding.

    I am probably just preaching to the choir here…I think this is stuff you know already and your concerns go beyond it. I hope what I’ve said doesn’t obscure or distract from helpful discussion of your concerns.


  67. Ben Avatar

    (actually, I should say that our creaturely knowledge is also ENABLED by the process of growth into Being with all its blunders. In Christ, the blunders become opportunities to learn of our need for him–similarly to how in Christ, the Law of Moses becomes a teacher of our need for His redemption and glorification–the only thing there really is to know!)

  68. Robert Fortuin Avatar
    Robert Fortuin

    Well some people have their energies worked out, perhaps they have exhausted God’s energies too 🙂

    Just a short word about cantankerousness – I must snicker a bit. By objecting to it, one has marginalized the vast majority of patristic writings, from our all favorite saints no less! St Chrysostom, St Athanasius, St Basil, St Gregory of Nyssa, and so forth and so on. Cantankerous the whole lot! But I get it, it goes against our modern sensibilities. Best to focus on content then and not get distracted.

    As one doesn’t go to the baker to get a haircut, one shouldn’t look to DBH for pastoral guidance. He’s a theologian with an astute mind, a critical thinker, a philosopher. That said, there is a time and place for things indeed, not all things are profitable at all times. No easy read for sure, but dismissal comes at one’s impoverishment, as for instance the setting aside of Dostoevsky would have similar deleterious effect on one’s spiritual imagination. He’s been a deep well of inspiration for me over the years.

  69. Drewster2000 Avatar

    Forgive me, but this particular thread makes me wonder about the need for putting a character or word limit on comments. Besides not having the time to even read a response that is several pages long, I think they push the boundaries for the intended purpose of the comment section, which I had understood to be an opportunity to have fairly brief exchanges – sometimes longish but fairly focused on one point and short enough that others get a chance to respond.

    Besides commanding a large amount of the available attention, I think one of the most likely dangers of going on too long is that responders have to do everything – read & digest the essay, decide if they have a response, and then formulate it – in what is sometimes a ridiculously short amount of time before the conversation moves on. And since most cannot, they won’t do their homework and will give hurried replies and arguments that don’t do justice to the original piece. Then egos and emotions come into play. Or everyone just ignores work that should actually be given its due.

    The larger and more high quality the comment posted, the more rigor it deserves. But it might not be suited for this particular blog, a site which averages around 70 responses per post and at least 1 post per week. Somehow it seems like a scenic route is needed alongside the regular comment highway in order to allow for picture-taking and leisurely picnics – for the benefit of both crowds.

    Just a thought.

  70. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Robert context is everything. You mention the Fathers, and some lost their lives in their arguments.

    I suppose you enjoy the fireworks but at whose expense?

    Drewster I agree.

    And thank you Matthew for your willingness to reflect a little in your writing . It does take the pressure off.

  71. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


    You are right. The problem for me is that I don’t know how to be short. Rarely do these issues make their way to the average lay person. I think that they don’t need explanation for the most part, the Christian story just needs told according to the mind of the Church while being very sensitive and alert to the fact that the imaginations of those in the Church, especially converts, and increasingly so Americanized-Orthodox, are susceptible to confusion due to syncretic blending with other Christians and baggage never checked at the door of the Church. I really wish more parishes had catechumens recant their heresies. They might get rid of them early on versus bring them into the Church. The Gospel is a story, a true story, that is no distorted in most of Christianity that if we countered with the Church’s story often, regularly, intentionally, that would by and large have the effect of putting theosis into place and we would see it happening among ourselves. But blend in some Protestant this, Catholic this, Social Justice this, whatever -and the Church is being steered versus steering us. You’re right though, I need a different outlet, I do, I know it. This is not my main outlet, I hadn’t been here in weeks. I don’t have one really. God bless..

  72. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


    I don’t know how to explain it much better. If will and Essence are the same then you don’t get to will anything, you just ‘are’ – everything is will – from here you won’t know what is good or evil, true or false, you have a busted epistemology, determinism, pantheism. You’ll need election in Calvin and Augustine and others. They need election to even have a working epistemology. The “noetic” effects of the fall are such that the mind is never trustworthy, so the Holy Spirit must overcome this in the Elect. Evangelism is mainly provoking the Holy Spirit to act in this way on the mind/will of the unbeliever and it will only work if they are already chosen. All of unbelieving thought is inherently man’s guilty knowledge of God which does nothing more than render man worthy of judgment in Adam. In pantheism, you’ll need to become one with the divinity where you and the god no longer have any distinction. The Creator/creature distinction combats pantheism, but, if the creature is the Will, and the Will is the Creator, all is Will. If God is pure will (that’s how I see Actus Purus in part), what is His will and what isn’t? There would be no distinction. Most people don’t realize pantheism is deterministic. If you read Augustine, Anselm, Duns Scotus, Aquinas you realize they are just as deterministic as any Calvinist. While Catholics believe in freedom on paper, it’s contradicted by their theology and especially in the reason for baptism. There is a dual election in Catholicism, some are elected to baptism, some to final salvation (many Reformed have a similar view minus any ecclesiology tied to their soteriology as they have to explain how the baptized can live an ungodly life). But baptism is a completely monergistic act that removes the stain of Adam which would otherwise result in hell or limbo. I see little substantive difference between Reformation soteriology and Catholic soteriology. Maybe that’s because I do think the Reformers were more logical, that’s possible, but if you read their own luminaries, fitting anything like freedom in is imaginatively/conceptually a mess in my opinion. That doesn’t mean people don’t go on living with contradictions and making it work. It has been a challenge to combat pantheism in Christianity for a very long time, into today. I wonder if the Arian controversy was practically a defense of pantheism on the part of the Arians. The ‘spark of divinity’ people talk about with gladness is pantheistic. This is why Palamas, I really think, sees the implications for denying that you can know God in His Energies. He gets where this all leads. Deny you can know God’s Essence and at the same time say the Essence is beyond knowing and you can’t know God. All names, ascriptions, doings of God, in the Bible turn into anthropomorphisms and instead of the Bible/Tradition being revelatory, they are subjected to philosophy first, and the Persons of God are reduced to math riddles. People proudly defend Divine Impassibility who are Sola Scripturists which make me confused because which comes first again, Revelation or abstract philosophy projected onto God? Thanks!

  73. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think this account of the will is problematic. The will, in the understanding of the Fathers, is always a matter of the “essence,” in some sense. But I get the feeling that you’re thinking of the will as “decision” or some such thing. The “will” does not describe an act, per se, but the very direction of being. When we say, “God is not willing that any should perish,” we are essentially saying that “God is love.” He wills good for us – and not just as a decision. His “energies” are always consistent with His will – they always are for our good and the well-being and sustenance of His creation.

    It is possible to get too tied up in the philosophical aspects of all of this – which was typical of scholasticism. You never see that much sweat when reading the Cappadocians or St. John of Damascus. And frankly, I wouldn’t read much outside of them in these matters. St. Augustine, for example, simply did not know the writings of the Greek Fathers sufficiently – and gives us way more speculation than was necessary. The developments in the West – often spurred through its debates with Islamic scholasticism just created yet more abstraction.

  74. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, your comment above I can comprehend — thank you.

  75. Anonymo Avatar

    Father, I think your partly using the word will as synonymous with nature. God’s will is informed and restricted by his nature, but nevertheless is distinct from it. I think this is a proper philosophical distinction to make correct me if I am wrong or if I misinterpreted you. Also it may be possible that Orthodox haven’t parsed out the will of God in the way me and Matthew are as we are coming from a Calvinist background.

    I read a post by Robin Philips on the Euthyphro dilemma which makes such a distinction. Here is a summary of the solution to the infamous question: ‘If we were to express the problem in terms of the classic Euthyphro dilemma, we could say that it is false that an action is good purely because God wills it, while it is also false that God wills an action because it is good, at least where goodness is conceived as something external to God himself. This is because neither the goodness of an action nor the will of God are related to each other as efficient cause and effect: rather both are effects of the same common cause: God’s own nature.’

    Matthew, I also have been ‘outletting’ some of my thoughts here in recent weeks. I too find it hard to be both concise, precise and unvague. Unlike you I tend to prefer short and vague over long and precise. If you want, I would be happy to be an outlet for your thoughts in regards to Orthodoxy and Calvinism or other matters. Father Freeman could give your email to me if you didn’t want it posted on this public site. God bless you, whether or not I hear from you again.

  76. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I cannot find it helpful to say that “God’s will is informed and restricted by his nature.” And, even that it’s intelligible to say that His will is distinct from His nature. These are philosophical constructs – not matters of revelation. They might be useful for us in speaking – but when we push them back into the godhead and speak as if we know what we’re talking about – then we’ve become madmen.

    One of the flaws of scholasticism is that it engages in this stuff as if it knew what it was talking about. There’s a reason that such conversations do not form a normal part of the Orthodox diet – or readings in the Fathers of any great merit.

    I do not mean to be dismissive of you personally – but this kind of conversation should be called out.

  77. hélène d. Avatar
    hélène d.

    P.Stephen, your last two comments clearly express what I think and feel deeply, but which I am unable to formulate.
    This is very much appreciated by me…

  78. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Father Freeman,

    I’m describing scholastic theology as I understand it. I’m trying to make the point that Orthodoxy, starting with Revelation/Tradition versus philosophy doesn’t have the conceptual difficulties present in other Christian circles. I know the Reformed/Catholics/others do not believe in pantheism, but I’m saying it’s implied by equating the will of God with Who God is. And your comment is exactly what I mean. If we took that verse, “God is not willing..” we take it to mean what you said, God is love. But if you read it as a Calvinist and I don’t see why we couldn’t ask of someone else starting with similar presuppositions (Catholics, others who deny the EE or believe in OS/OG) why they also do not read it in a Reformed way, that it would read effectively as “God is not willing that the Elect should perish”. But when I say Will (equated with Person) here, versus this use which means I think, more of a real unchanging disposition, if God’s will is identical to who He is, then the Calvinist reading has some logic. How can God’s will, if it is also God’s person, will for something that will not take place? That’s like God willing against Himself. It goes against the nature of God. But if will is not identified with Essence as an exact equivalent identity, then God can will/desire and possibly only receive in part His desire. This is the exact reason Calvinists think of the damned as contrast providers so that we can know God’s glory. They, and evil itself, is almost entirely necessary so that we would know God’s attribute of justice and mercy, the Elect praising God for His mercy apart from anything they would or could have done, while glorying in God’s damnation of the vessels made for dishonorable use. I’m just representing their position. But, if you stopped equating Will with Essence, then freedom is open again. God’s Will and His Actions could be two (or more) different things, and I think we have to say that they are otherwise God actually desires the unbeliever to stay in unbelief. Otherwise God would have to force everyone into submission, or everyone is already submitting to His Will/decisions which makes Him the author of evil. I don’t mean, and surely no Orthodox means, that God’s Essence and Will or Essence and Energies are two unrelated things, then we would introduce a fourth person or maybe even a fifth or sixth person into the Trinity…

    I’m convinced most of these issues are cleared up once the Divine Council worldview of the Bible, early Christianity, into the Fathers is put in place but I don’t want to bring another big topic into play. Fr. De Young has been covering this information quite well. When you add other free will imagers into the company/Council of the Trinity, and they are given some degree of willing to exercise, like Adam, like us, like the Saints, the multiplicity of wills – just the fact that God answers our prayers – God’s Will and other wills are quite interactive. I know no other reason why we would pray to Saints or to the Theotokos than that they actually have the capacity to will with us and to intercede in this way. But I can feel a possible objection coming…. they always will according to the will of God. But back to the will example above, the will is not determinative in this sense (unless the person is a Universalist, and if so, I have to wonder if this issue of EE would be at stake. I’ve never thought about until now, but I know this is a common verse for Universalists. I don’t have time to think about it, but I wonder, I’m assuming there’s some denial because ultimately God would not be getting what He wants/Wills and that would seem like a denial of Himself/His Person… I can hear the verse next, “He cannot deny Himself”) but a set disposition grounded in the goodness of God.

    There are now multiple imagers, willing in this disposition, but quite possibly not in the same way but still according to the same will/disposition of selfless love, that would be employed if God alone controlled the wills of each image. But then, could we really image God if we were controlled? I think of it like buying a car. I know that’s really good:) But if I want to buy a car, I could pray about it, or I could search the best I could, make the best decision possible, and buy the car, thanking God for it. I could have been granted a thousand different answers to my prayer in thousands of different cars all practically answering my need for transportation. If a Saint received a prayer for something, it could likewise, through their own capacity of thought, be “interceded for” in numerous ways, and in ways that are equally good, but with the difference that in some way it is original to them but it must be brought to God for ‘approval’. Synergy. I think there are many examples of what I’m talking about in the OT that run right into the NT mindset.

    Anyway, thanks for hanging in there with me. I do pay attention to what you say Father.

  79. Anonymo Avatar

    Thankyou Father for calling me out. Am I right then, in saying, that Orthodox are discouraged from speculating beyond what the Fathers, Saints and Orthodox Church have revealed to us? However I do see a necessary tension in that one must generally be able to interpret the ideas in a manner understandable to oneself. We might not have to make ‘philosophical’ distinctions but surely we must tentatively make theological ones along our path to greater knowledge and wisdom.

  80. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I will try to be helpful. I’ve not read Fr. De Young on this topic. Perhaps he is better informed than I am. But, here goes.

    When we speak of essence, we speak of nature. The terms are interchangeable. The will is always an aspect of the nature. Of course, in human beings, there is also the “gnomic will” – which is something of a fragmented aspect of our will as a result of the fall. In Christ, there are two natures (Divine and human). So, too, there are, and must be two wills (Divine and human). However, there is no gnomic will in Christ because He is not fallen. All of that is in St. Maximus.

    As to God. There is only one nature – God – though there are three persons. There are not three wills, but one will. Also, we should not speak in a manner that implies some separation between God’s nature and God’s will. He would not will against His nature. Who would the subject of that willing be? It is an aburdity to even think such a thing.

    However, there is a distinction made between God’s will and God’s providence. God’s providence, which is expressive of His will, is sometimes described as His “permissive will” – (synchoresis). St. John of Damascus speaks of this in his exposition of the Orthodox Faith. He is drawing from Nemesius, with slight alterations.

    This is simply a way of speaking about how God’s will interacts with our freedom. He “allows” us freedom, and yet, it does not change His will.

    It is best, I think, when thinking about the will of God to simply focus on the fact that He unfailingly wills good for us – indeed, our salvation and that of the whole world. Many times, people start focusing on details, “Is it God’s will for me to major in chemistry?” etc. I tell people not to think about such questions – but to act as they know best. God does not have a single track for our lives – at least not anything we can discern and use to guide our lives. It’s madness to even think like that.

    Also, do not inject the category of person into this. That language is incorrect in this topic.

    God does not will the damnation of anyone or anything. That, the Orthodox Church has declared as heresy. Calvinist who hold to double-edged predestination are holding to a formal heresy. I think it is blasphemous to speak of God as creating anyone with the purpose of their damnation in mind. That is not the true and living God nor would such a God be worthy of our love and worship. This is the Orthodox faith.

    That, in God’s permissive will (synchoresis – providence), some might abuse their freedom and refuse His love is not a manifestation of God’s will, but a manifestation of their rebellion. Whether such a rebellion is eternal is above my pay grade. I do not know such things. I do know the will of God – it is utterly and always for our good.

    It is healthy, and more people need to learn this, to live with things you don’t know. We should practice humility in these matters. It’s good for the soul. Orthodoxy consistently urges us towards this. We are frequently rebuked for hiding behind the word “mystery.” It is a wonderful place to dwell, however. We would know so much more if we could learn to know so much less.

  81. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    In a book I have enjoyed, Pilgrimage to Dzhvari, a woman is talking with the abbot of a monastery. She’s intellectual, Russian, and a recent convert of sorts. She asks a question about St. Maximus the Confessor, and the abbot says, “You’ve read Maximus? How can you be saved?” He then told her that she should read no more in a day than she prayed. It was somewhat comical, but not far from the truth.

    St. Paul says, “All things are lawful, but not all things are expedient.” We can think and speculate til the “cows come home” as we say here in the South, but if it is of no benefit, or causes trouble, why do it? The point of our lives – our lives – is to know God. To know Him, not think him, or think about Him, or think about theology, or ponder deep things. The point is to actually, truly know Him.

    It also happens to be the case that we cannot know God without truly knowing ourselves – (the true self, or our actual soul). This often takes the better part of a lifetime.

    When reading – it is best to read good literature, truly good literature. There’s more insight into the soul in a Dostoevsky novel than in almost any 2 dozen books of the Fathers. And, if you will, the reason the Fathers are so good is that they lived their lives – they had lived their Dostoevsky and their writing is its fruit.

    I recommend that people read a little, pray as they are able, go to services, and do some practical things that bring them into contact with serving other who are suffering. And to do everything in a small measure. The internet is a very dangerous place – too much knowledge, too much debate, and the haunt of diseased personalities who are living out their disease rather than getting help.

    Avoid arguments – always.

    Print out a copy of Fr. Thomas Hopko’s 55 Maxims. Post them somewhere that you’ll see frequently and become familiar with them. They are the fruit of the life of a very good, very wise priest. A spiritual father of many priests.

    Things that are holy should largely be kept secret – that’s the instinct of Scripture, and of the Orthodox Church. We don’t hide them and a wrong way – but, as St. Paul said, “We speak wisdom among the wise.”

    I will say this small piece of wisdom: the deepest mysteries of the faith are probably best known if the Theotokos tells them to you. Talking about energies, essence, the will, etc., – that’s all child’s play and mostly just silliness. It doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what is truly deep and wonderful.

    God is a good God and loves us. He will not make secrets known to us that we are not ready to know and to properly honor them.

    Beware of false teachers. There’s tons of them out there.

  82. James Isaac Avatar
    James Isaac

    Just came across this quote and thought of this thread:

    “God is Love. Whoever sought to define him would be like a blind person trying to count the grains of sand on the sea shore.”
    St John Climacus The Ladder of Divine Ascent, 30th step, 2(6), p. 167

  83. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    Thank you. I already agree with you. When I play out a scenario I often do from the perspective of the other and it may sound like it were my own. I need to dig in deeper with St. Maximus.

  84. Drewster2000 Avatar


    I hear you concerning catching wrong ideas early so that they don’t enter the church, but I would parallel this to catching bad habits and influences early so that they don’t become passions in our lives. And how successful are most of us at that?

    I think God doesn’t use tight security as His main defense. The parable of the wheat and the tares. You pluck the obvious tares when you see them, but the rest are allowed to remain until either a) you can deal with each of them properly or b) the very end when God will do the sorting.

    Heresies are bad, but so are passions. The message isn’t that we shouldn’t deal with them, but rather that we shouldn’t think more of our ability to do so than is reality. We do the best we can and things sneak by us anyway, whether we’re talking about our lives or the church. This state of affairs doesn’t hamper God in any way. He uses all things for good for those that love Him. As Fr. Stephen said, our job is to know Him. And to know Him is to love Him.

  85. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    I think I’ve been misunderstood, that’s likely my fault. I get the impression that many people who respond think I’m very anxious, I don’t know? That’s not it. I might be over-something, but not really over anxious. In my experience so far after 4 years in Orthodoxy, and likely consuming more that most would have interest, I’ve come to believe that theosis is not embraced by all. I’m not sure what all of the reasons are: the disconnect between the monastic life and the parish, the implication that those without illumination might go to hell by some, the assumption that theosis is too extraordinary to be possible, the loss of the supernatural worldview of the Bible and the early Church, the lack of a real catechumenate in many parts of Orthodoxy, a blending of Orthodoxy and other Christian traditions for ecumenical reasons or by mistake, a false impression that all that divides Orthodoxy is the filioque and the papacy, the downplaying of Orthodox distinctiveness to appear less polemical, negotiations with heresy: I don’t know, these are guesses/hypotheses. I really desire someone to lead me and my family in theosis versus being good until I die. I’m not saying anything about my priest, I’m just stating the desire. I think the reason theosis is not front and center sometimes, our ‘meta-narrative’, is because of one or more of these issues. I will not provide examples but I have them. The EE distinction plays into all of this because it informs presuppositions we are not usually aware of. But what can I do? Not much. But I’ll keep trying to sell people on theosis.

  86. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Last, I’m very convinced that you will not make the kind of progress you want to with your passions if you don’t know how to address them properly due to heresy. Quick example, if I had a sort of monergistic soteriology, it would be quite confusing as to why God did not take away my passion with my conversion, with my faith. I would eventually be forced to either question my conversion, make peace with my sin because “God understands”, look for other vaccination moments, downplay the sinfulness of sin, redefine God’s mercy to mean permission, or often last, and only because it’s pragmatically necessary, go to therapy. Maybe it’s a AA type of thing, or some other less intensive therapy, but often this is the last resort. The irony and the sadness is that for Orthodoxy it should have been first. Meaning, Orthodoxy is already therapy when it is operating according to Its own principles. The passion you had when you converted that is still there is not necessarily a great surprise because faith was the beginning of a fight. You renounce the devil, renounce lies, etc. are grafted into the Olive Tree, on and on.. Now, mix Orthodoxy and monergism, or the left overs from it, and where are you now. In the same place except you pray to Saints now, believe in priests, etc. I’m not minimizing these things, or saying they don’t provide grace and love from God, it’s just, you may still have a picture of what salvation is, that it isn’t, and from there we remain unchanged. Tell me if you think that makes sense.

  87. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Theosis is obviously a matter of dogmatic teaching – not up for question or denial. But, you might be running into something else, and would probably encounter it from me as well. Largely the work of Fr. John Romanides, the handy three-fold “purification/illumination/theosis” popularized by Met. Hierotheos Vlachos, sort of turned this into a “thing” – virtually an Orthodox gimmick that over-rode everything else in theology. It became the utter be-all of Orthodoxy – particularly among a number of converts as well as others who think that Romanides hung the moon. It became, frankly, nearly cult-like in certain quarters.

    I’ve run across this any number of times – where people imagine that Orthodoxy has some sort of theosis-producing process that only needs to be applied and you get “gods.” The trio is not false – they are certainly part of the tradition – and theosis is certainly synonymous with salvation. But, it’s a lot like the Jesus Prayer. People read the Way of a Pilgrim, get a prayer rope and think that in a few months they’ll have self-acting prayer and bouts of ecstasy.

    These are very misleading attitudes and understandings – and it is not surprising to find healthy priests who try to put people off such a path. “Theosis” is not a proper topic of conversation when someone is not anywhere far along with purification. Mired in the passions – we want to jump into the end-game. It’s an invitation to be deluded and to find some self-appointed guru who will offer to get you there. It’s dangerous – spiritually. Read St. Ignatius’ Brianchininov’s The Arena for a good treatment of sobriety. In many Russian monasteries, it’s required reading for monks during Great Lent.

    Here’s a secret: the further along you “progress” in the spiritual life – the more certain you are that you are making no progress whatsoever but that you are headed in the other direction. I think most saints are pretty startled to discover that they are saints – if they even have a glimpse of it in this life. Indeed, to glimpse such a thing would be death to many souls. God protects us. Think of this account of the saints:

    The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
    and no torment shall touch them.
    They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
    and their passing away was thought an affliction
    and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
    But they are in peace.
    For if to others, indeed, they seem punished,
    yet is their hope full of immortality;
    chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
    because God tried them
    and found them worthy of himself.
    As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
    and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
    In the time of their judgment they shall shine
    and dart about as sparks through stubble;
    they shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
    and the LORD shall be their King forever.
    Wisdom 3:1ff

    “The time of their judgement” is, generally, when they stand before God after their death. Then, their “theosis” is revealed. The tradition is quite clear, saints do not spend much time thinking or reading about theosis. You just don’t find it in the tradition. It’s true – but, sadly – it has become a sort of “trope” in our day and time. Too much “book-reading Orthodoxy” and not enough contact with the real thing.

    I’m still a babe. But I had 20 years of pastoral experience before I converted, all of which was guided by Orthodox reading. I’ve had 22 more years as an Orthodox priest, with a lot less reading. A lot more services. A lot more confessions, both made and those I’ve heard. I’ve know at least 2 saints. They would have (and did) speak about much more lowly things. One spoke mostly about love and was amazingly generous to all. The other spoke about shame and its importance in the spiritual life.

    I don’t have an ecumenical bone in my body. Honestly. But I can guarantee you that giving any thought to the problems of Catholics won’t help my salvaton one whit. Ultimately, what is distinctive about Orthodoxy is its life. The doctrine is the fence – it’s the road between the fences we want to walk. If you spend too much time trying to walk on the fence you’ll only fall off eventually.

    Finally, one reason “theosis” is not front-and-center, our metanarrative is because we would look silly. Speaking about theosis when we’re mired in sin. You do not achieve theosis – it is not something we acquire. Whatever of it that there may be that is aided by our synergistic efforts – it is only aided by repentance. True repentance that actually faces the true shame of our lives.

    If you were good until you die – you would have done more than about 99 percent of others. “Good” is a fiercely powerful term. When theosis is fulfilled – then – and only then – could we say “good.” Jesus Himself would not allow the term to be applied to Him. And He was Theosis itself.

    Matthew – God give you grace! But, be careful of all this.

  88. Anonymo Avatar

    Happy Birthday Father! We are only 4 days apart!! If you would be so kind as to post an article on the 14th then that would surely be a birthday present I might never forget! Thank-you for guiding me to the straight and narrow path. I still am adjusting to the Orthodox de-emphasis on theology and emphasis on spirituality. Salvation as knowing God or theosis is yet to sink in to me. In the past I talked to friends about reading spiritual books, and they metaphorically raised their eyebrows as if to ask what is the point. One of the only ‘spiritual’ books I have read is the classic, confessions of Saint Augustine. That book rubbed off on me some of his profound love and praise for God. I have been watching the LOTR trilogy and it has come alive to me due to my new Orthodox understanding. I also have come to greater appreciate the little snippets of wisdom from Gandalf and the hobbits. Do you consider LOTR good literature :0 ?

    “Avoid arguments – always.” I plan to avoid engaging in apologetical debates despite the fact I have ‘considerable’ experience and knowledge in that respect. I will be happy to answer questions and guide others to Orthodoxy, but I think for my own sanity and spiritual health I will like you say avoid arguments like the plague.

    I have already put the 55 maxims in a place I frequent, but now I will make sure to revise or meditate on them on a weekly if not daily basis. I recognise the great wisdom in some of them if only because I did the opposite for so long to my own detriment.

    I very much sympathise with this, despite my own deep thirst for truth and wisdom:’Things that are holy should largely be kept secret – that’s the instinct of Scripture, and of the Orthodox Church. We don’t hide them and a wrong way – but, as St. Paul said, “We speak wisdom among the wise.”’ I understand the foolishness of giving wisdom or holy things without discretion. As Matthew 7:6 says: “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

    I have moved on from any people that may be considered false teachers. Do you know anything about Roosh V?, I am finding his new-spirited faith journey illustrated on his blog to be inspiring and educational.

  89. Anonymo Avatar

    I am currently reading the spiritual classic The Imitation of Christ, apparently the second most widely-read spiritual book after the Bible! I hope to meditate on it deeply.

  90. Drewster2000 Avatar


    I don’t think of you as anxious, but perhaps that impression comes from your earnest seeking after theosis and combining that with a concern about doctrine and heresies. If I linked my salvation so closely to what everyone was doing and teaching, I would definitely be anxious.

    I agree with Fr. Stephen’s caution about the word theosis. This seems to be the case of Western minds latching onto Eastern ideas and making them into gimmicky tools. 3 easy steps. No God required. And I think might be the crux of your current soreness of heart. Theosis isn’t something you can achieve. Rather it and the other 2 steps are things you say yes to, things you turn to God and lay yourself open to. He is the orchestra conductor who decides what songs to perform and which section plays what when. Your only job is to use your instrument according to the music in front of you. I’m sorry if this analogy breaks down too easily.

    Also, I will admit your example of monergistic soteriology made me smile. I don’t have a clue what that is. You’d have to point it out and even then I might not recognize it! (grin) But perhaps that relates to the point here: Most of us are blind men trying to claim the ability to see better by cleaning our glasses. Most of us don’t even really know what good looks like. “If you who are evil give good gifts to your children…”

    Sort out my heresies first? I’m lucky not to break the golden rule an hour after I awake. St. Theophan advised that “the best course is to look down at your own two feet and decide which one to put forward next.” This is the good news. Managing your life isn’t your responsibility, including pulling yourself up by your boot straps by putting yourself through the purification/illumination/theosis cycle.

    What we’ve all been asked to do is much more basic: live our lives. And you can’t manage AND live a life at the same time. You can’t be in an experience AND sitting at the side observing it at the same time. Trying to do so ruins both.

    You have a true zeal to go further up and deeper in. Forgive me, but no one knows how long that will last. Things like zeal come and go. It’s not a tragedy; it’s just the way it is. I suggest thinking of it as a window of opportunity to establish some wonderful habits in your life that will do well by you in your old age if you persist: prayer, good works, doing unto others, care for your body, soul and spirit.

    I hope this helps.

  91. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Drewster, Matthew
    I’ve hung around a few monasteries, visited Mt. Athos (indeed, one of my good friends was an Athonite monk, dying some years back on the Holy Mountain). My confessor is an abbot. The most important thing that can be established in a monastic life is a “rhythm.” There’s the rhythm of the services, the meals, whatever obedience is given. Most of the obediences are boring (making incense, cooking, tending the garden, etc. – menial tasks). Very little reading is done – an hour or so a day. Extra prayers are said in the cell (the cell rule). But it’ll be the same tomorrow, and so on, til you die.

    The nature of a human being’s inner life is that it is “slow,” moving at the same pace as the physical life, mostly. You don’t notice yourself growing – though – eventually the face staring back at you in the morning will be that of an old person. We cannot turn one hair of our head white or black – nor can we (of ourselves) make many inner changes either. Life is lived – not changed. If we experienced life as change (or at the pace of noticeable change) then we would likely be crazy – in some sort of diagnosable form. Oddly, “stability” is one of the four vows in monasticism.

    When a monk goes looking for a monastery (which my friend had to do after his first monastery fell into schism) – what he goes looking for is a place where he can die – or, better yet, a place where he can bear to live until he dies. That is like a marriage.

    Theosis is like the crowns in marriage. We put them on a couple, but then take them off and put them on the altar. They’ll get them back when they’ve finished the race – not before. They are “laid up in the Kingdom.” Our theosis is very like that. It is given to us in our Baptism, and we then live on the “earnest of our inheritance” (the “downpayment”). To be steadfast, patient, enduring til the end, etc., these are the virtues mentioned in the Scriptures for us. That’s what we want in this life – and need. That’s where the purification, illumination, and theosis occur. But mostly, it’s imperceptible.

  92. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    That’s one of the most helpful things I’ve read from you. Thank you.

  93. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    I didn’t see your other response earlier. I know I am deeply influence by Father Romanides and Met. Hierotheos Vlachos. But I’ve never understood him or people who have followed him closely to have thought of theosis as a neat, tidy, simple thing. I very much appreciate your comments. I think there is some middle ground that hasn’t been explored fully. I understand your concern with Fr. Romanides. I also understand the concern that if we eliminate the possibility of theosis articulated by him and others then we may lose something very precious or crucial. In my experience those who have held negative views of Fr. Romanides have never read him. I have read all of his articles published online, Empirical Dogmatics, Ancestral Sin, The Science of Spiritual Medicine, Perry Robinson’s comments, Joseph Farrell in God , History, and Dialectic, James Kelly has written semi-extensively, John Sanidopoulus at, whoever I can, and have emailed both Kelly and Sanidopoulous with questions they have been kind to answer. But the questions have never been about finding a guru, I was usually asking them to answer a criticism of mine or if I understood him correctly. It’s just interesting to me, Lossky’s influence, his mother’s connection to St. Paisios, he doesn’t strike me as the nut many make him out to be.

    I really understand and am encouraged by what you’re saying. I think fidelity, simple fidelity in the long run is what matters to God. That doesn’t sound that dramatic but I think we know it is because it is so difficult. So, in the example of the monastery, and what may seem mundane monotony, and even in many of your admonitions to what seem quite ordinary things, it seems to me what is going on is fidelity. I am mired in my own sins so I have no false impression that tomorrow I’ll be some great blessing to the world. I do wonder though what difference, good or bad, it would make if priests believed in theosis like Romanides believed is taught in Orthodoxy. But, because I have a new – and it is new – understanding of human destiny, a good dissonance is created that annoys my complacency. I may not make the progress I wish to, but I believe it’s possible and don’t rule it out. It may be so miniscule that I never notice it, but if I ruled it out, I rule out I think, Orthodox anthropology. I think many people don’t become Saints because they think it’s impossible already. This doesn’t mean we maintain a state of introspection that affirms us, likely it will never affirm us, but that we don’t rule out change – yes, not flux that would confuse our own existence, but that we don’t rule out that God may grant us vision in this life, and if possible, we should seek it. When I say theosis I mean struggle. What would we be if helped each other struggle? Struggle is the ‘guts’ of fidelity. I think an atmosphere where you know struggle matters, whether you can measure it or not, makes a difference. Sometimes the only proof I have that I believe is that I struggle. Where I think “theosis” comes front and center is this view of the Christian life as one of ongoing fidelity, the Church as the Ark versus the Church as a hospice. Where you actively root out death in you. Where the Church brings awareness to our fear of death and the resulting passions we engage in versus soothing our consciences alone. The warfare mentality of Baptism, moving kingdoms, fighting to keep my faith – yes, we may end up farther along more aware of our failure than ever, but, if this was not your mind coming in to the Church or formed while in it, then struggle turns to atrophy, and atrophy makes for a community of hospice patients. This is all I really mean and I think you would agree in part, with the added possibility that struggle for virtue, and with reliance on the Grace of God, He may desire us to know Him in vision, before we depart this life. I see your point, but I also see the others’. I don’t think they are mutually incompatible.

    While I speak positively about Fr. Romanides, it was really more, much more, the realization that the OT speaks to theosis that moved me into Orthodoxy. I don’t believe the Fathers read it into the OT, I believe they kept continuity with Judaism. When you combine OT scholarship that is cognizant of the, for the lack of a better word, supernatural worldview of the Bible, with Romanides, Orthodox theology, the liturgical readings, the Baptismal liturgy, Second Temple theology, etc. I think a picture comes together that explains much of Orthodox thinking. The Fathers are tracking along a continuum. But that continuum traces the prophet to Christ, and in the NT, the apostle to Christ, the believer to Christ,

    For example, I think often that the reason many of us despise fasting is because the connection to warfare is missing, and the connection to the catechumen. In some Churches, catechumen means merely you have a desire to continue attending classes, you are there for the entire service, there is no division. So, the catechumen is Baptized, Chrismated, received and no one knows they were never Orthodox. When the change is made, it is not significant to anyone except the person. Yet the reason for fasting during Lent is largely connected to the catechumen, and to our own baptism/exodus. Just the fact alone that Baptism and Exodus and Pasha are all interrelated, along with all of the theology of Baptism from the NT, again, movement from kingdom to Kingdom, shows, the fighting nature of salvation. I’ve said too much, but if you’re in a hospice you likely don’t fight for your life, or for someone else’s, you just accept fatality and wait things out. To me, theosis, both in the fight for fidelity sense, and the seek vision/prophecy, are both powerful antidotes to stoic/fatalistic/static existence. Yes, the differences in us may be less that desired, less than God deserves … I always connect this verse to theosis, Hebrews 6:10 For God is not unjust, so as to forget your work and the love which you demonstrated for his name by having served the saints, and continuing to serve them. 11 And we desire each one of you to demonstrate the same diligence for the full assurance of your hope until the end, 12 in order that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who inherit the promises through faith and patience. I mean, this verse portrays struggle, as really worth it, not optional, that God would actually be bad not to show that He remembers.

    As a Reformed Christian, when I would read this, immediate confusion. How could God be unjust by forgetting my worthless behavior for Him? That sounded very just, if God cared nothing for my filthy-rag righteousness. But now, it makes a difference to me. I’m not accusing everyone of having the same intellectual difficulties I used to have, but in some sense, and maybe I do this for apologetical reasons, I think, why don’t they have these difficulties when I believe many of them should. That may be some of me being projected, but I think it’s more that they don’t see the inconsistency in their soteriology. Remove the theosis blocker and now God is back to who He always was in Scripture, The God who desires all to be saved and “calls all to salvation through the promise of blessing to come.”

    Sorry for the length.

  94. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think most of your concerns are, more or less, on target. Over time, I’ve seen that a lot of what “grates” on me from Fr. Romanides is largely cultural, particularly in that I frequently hear his themes within other contemporary Greek Orthodox writings. It has largely been the polemics that his work has fueled – most among young converts – that makes me wary or that makes lots of priests start issuing caveats. It simply has an ability to be abused. It is far more ideological than other Orthodox treatments – and tends to put itself forward as the only right way to understand everything.

    But, theosis, as I noted, is real and is a matter of dogma. It is the fidelity and stability that our consumerist personalities tend not to want. We want too much, too soon, and are thus easily fooled. But, my warnings and concerns are not meant to be denials. It’s just harder and slower than people want to hear.

    But because it’s real – it’s author is God. My life and thought have always been grounded in the parish. And, I’ve largely been a missionary. In that, I’ve paid attention to “what works” and what seems to lead people to trouble. I’m also very soft-harded, and think a great deal about people who have been abused and injured by the world around them – including the religious world. So, I model my writing after how I pastor. Love is above everything, and grace abounds. If it’s possible for souls to find some stability and the fidelity to stay the course – then the work of theosis will simply take place. America’s history is strewn with revivals – failed revivals with outlandish promises and false prophets.

    We’re going to need healthy parishes and true hospitals for souls if we are to survive the coming hard years that will soon be upon us. Sanity will be a precious commodity. I pray God gives us all the grace needed to become a fruitful vine.

  95. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Just another quick thought viz. Romanides. A problem with his work – and I’m astounded that you’ve read so much of it – is that it tends to be reductionist. For example, he’ll find a particular fault with Augustine (the “eph ho” passage in Romans) and make virtually the rest of Western history turn on it. Much of his work has this quality – reducing things to a single point, then making that point the center of everything that follows. It’s lousy scholarship and easily discounted because it simply fails to read and think broadly. It’s as if he’s looking for the “one single thing” that would solve everything – when such a search is flawed in the beginning with its assumptions. I read him – and quite a bit of him – but I also read critiques, here and there, and saw certain weaknesses. No one thinker is ever a good guide. We do well to read broadly.

    Romanides teacher was Fr. Georges Florovsky. It’s a pity he wasn’t as broad as Florovsky – and that he did not try to follow that example. Interestingly, Florovsky was also the teacher of Zizioulas. Zizioulas has also tended to be reductionist, but with a different hobby horse. It’s all a bit of a puzzle to me.

  96. Mark Northey Avatar
    Mark Northey

    Christ is in our midst!

    Perhaps I’m responding to your comments too late for you to see this.
    Rarely though do I ‘hear’ from someone on this blog so close to home- I attended both Fr Lawrence’s and Fr Justin’s parishes while living in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. With dear friends and family out that way I still regularly visit there throughout the year. So, I’m wondering, maybe we can correspond and eventually connect when I’m next down that way? (Happens often).
    Usually though I attend Fr Matthew Francis’s “Holy Apostles” in Chilliwack, or Fr Michael Gillis’ “Holy Nativity” in Langley, when down there. I especially recommend the latter to you, for your next Orthodox Liturgy. (He also has a pastorally insightful blog, “Praying in the Rain”).

    I doubt you are more pluralist than Hart- or than I am. However there is an Orthodox way of thinking about these things that you might find refreshing or at least intriguing. I also have a great deal more love and sympathy for Hart’s work (and his rather belligerent persona) than Fr Stephen. Though with Father Stephen’s share here for the source of his coolness toward Hart, I certainly sympathize with his critique. And boy, Hart does his own insightful and brilliant work a lot of damage through his idysyncratic faults. So few people care to hear him properly, given the tone of his voice so to speak.

    My point though, is that you and I might have a lot to talk about (I bummed off Regent College’s library and free lectures while attending UBC also 😉
    I would be happy to share with you, for example, the “shape” of my pluralism, in an Orthodox iteration. For starters, my conversion began with a lecture by Fr Tom Hopko (at Trinity, in Langley btw), in which he reconciled God’s saving action outside both the visible church and conscious visible belief structure (e.g. how a muslim might be saved, say), with the reality that salvation is not only in Christ alone, but through baptism in the Church alone. His capacity to reconcile this seeming contradiction- not as some weirdo theological eccentric but quoting saints and Fathers through all of Orthodox Church history- is what set me on my own path to study and then convert to Orthodox Christianity.

    If you’re at all interested in conversation about this or any other topic related to Christ and his Church, please contact me: man[or]they[at]gmail[dot]com

    In Christ’s love;
    -Mark Basil

  97. Mark Northey Avatar
    Mark Northey

    my email is actually: manorthey[all one word][at]gmail[dot]com.
    bleh. Sorry for such personal cluttering in the comments.

  98. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Actually it is a joy to see you popping in.

  99. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    Thank you again, and for the time you’ve spent. I appreciate it.

Leave a Reply

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

Subscribe to blog via email

Support the work

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

Latest Comments

  1. I listened to Bishop Alexander’s 2016 OCAMPR talk, Father, because I learned of him from you. It was really wonderful.…

  2. I was aware of something during Liturgy this past Sunday. I was struggling with focus–constantly distracted by one thought or…

  3. Regarding shame, I’d like to add to the above, that in our “outcome-minded” mindset, I will often see such difficulties…

  4. Just another note on “worthy.” Today I was reading in Matthew 10, which finishes with these striking verses (striking esp.…

  5. “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’. The sins of others that I see often remain unacknowledged and…

Read my books

Everywhere Present by Stephen Freeman

Listen to my podcast