Providence and the Good God

How do you see the world? Is it deeply troubled, teetering on the brink of disaster? Are dark forces lurking, quietly undermining even the possibility of doing good?

There is much talk, here and there, about the nature of the “Orthodox mind.” Whether it is discussed under the heading of “acquiring an Orthodox phronema” (which can be very off-putting for some), or simply coming to understand what constitutes an Orthodox worldview, the conversation is important. St. Paul says this:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2)

This apostolic admonition makes it clear that there is a gulf between us and the “world.” St. John uses even stronger language:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17).

Obviously, St. John and St. Paul have a common meaning for “world” in these passages. That meaning is not the same as the use of the word in St. John’s gospel, “For God so loved the world.” That “world” is a collective that describes the whole of creation. The other use is a term meant to describe the collective “mind” of sin and death that permeates so much of the culture around us – that is – how people think and behave when their life is alienated from the commandments of Christ.

Both apostles, however, are not governed by this concern, nor is it their take on how to see what is going on. Both men lived in the first century. We probably have more information about what was going on around them (2,000 years later) than they did themselves. News was largely word-of-mouth and only occasional. What the Roman army was doing here or there might very well have been unknown. They did not have a “big picture” in our modern sense of the phrase. St. Paul urges prayer for the emperor and even defends the authority of the emperor, with no particular foresight that the very authority he defended would, in the end, demand his head. (Even had he known, he would have said the same thing).

What we find in both, however, is clear evidence of the “mind of Christ” (an “Orthodox phronema”). Later theology would come to describe that phronema under the heading of “providence.” St. Paul writes:

“…we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Rom. 8:28)

That peaceful confidence is echoed throughout his writings. He can say:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.(Romans 8:31–39)

This same unbounded confidence is echoed throughout the Orthodox tradition. The Morning Prayer of the Elders of Optina gives a good example. It reads, in part:

O Lord, grant that I may meet all that this coming day brings to me with spiritual tranquility. Grant that I may fully surrender myself to Thy holy Will.

At every hour of this day, direct and support me in all things. Whatsoever news may reach me in the course of the day, teach me to accept it with a calm soul and the firm conviction that all is subject to Thy holy Will.

Though neither St. Paul nor St. John could see the “big picture” of their current events, their larger picture (the true big picture) was governed by one thing – they knew that God is good and that He is at work in all things, everywhere, and at all times, for our good. This is true despite every action and form of evil. What our adversary means for our destruction, God means for our good (as we see in the Biblical story of Joseph the Patriarch).

This is the foundation of an Orthodox mind. Without it, there will be little faith, much anxiety, and a spiritual life that is tossed “to and fro” from every side. Christ told His disciples that they would be persecuted. He told them, however, to give no thought to what they might say when that moment came, promising that words would be given them at that time. (Matt. 10:19) He rebuffed their every effort to get from Him information about “when,” “where,” and “how.”

I agree with the observation that we live in troubled times. In point of fact, the Church has always lived in troubled times. There have been no ideal centuries for Orthodoxy. “Holy Byzantium” and “Holy Russia” are far more products of our imagination than of actual history. Emperors and Tsars have been among our greatest persecutors. However, the “times” in which we live is not a concern of the Orthodox mind. Even atheists are capable of worrying about the state of the world.

Do you believe that “all is subject to Thy holy will?” Do you believe that God is good? Do you believe that He is working in all things both for your good and the good of the whole world? That primary goodness is the “sacrament” of which the world is the manifestation. Each day and every moment of the day, we are invited to eat and drink the goodness of God with which He feeds us. This is the heart of an Orthodox mind. St. Paul again gives this commandment:

Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit,speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,(Eph 5:17–20)

Acquiring this mind is not easy at first. It requires prayer and fasting (including fasting from worldly news and worries). It requires that we guard our hearts from temptation. It requires the slow and patient understanding that can only come from “theoria,” the contemplation of the goodness of God in all things.

Jesus, like Jonah, was asleep in the boat during the storm. That is the mind of Christ.

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.



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98 responses to “Providence and the Good God”

  1. Lupo Avatar

    Thank you for this, Father. You counsel fasting from news and worries. But if we live in one of “those times” — Russia in 1917, Germany in 1931 — don’t we have a spiritual obligation to remain aware of what is happening? You have the “harmless as doves” part — what about the “wise as serpents” part? Solzhenitsyn wondered why no one resisted when the KGB came to arrest their neighbors. Look at Australia. This is happening now, and on a global scale. It cannot be right not to know and not to watch and not to cry out. Please pray for me.

  2. Leah Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    I have been reading your blog for sometime now and find your posts very encouraging and instructive in my journey as an Orthodox Christian. As an adult convert, I often think about wanting to acquire more of an Orthodox worldview. I greatly appreciate this post! Thank you for clearly pointing the way.

  3. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The “wise as serpents” does not refer to being “worldly wise.” Wisdom is a godly matter. The modern mind is filled with the delusion of personal power – all of us think we are in management and can make the events of the world turn out as we want them to. Actually, Hitler was freely elected by deluded people in Germany, who thought that his fascism was a way to control what they thought was “evil.” The Bolsheviks were indeed resisted in 1917 and 1918. There was a civil war in Russia that lasted for several years. They were not popularly elected. Of course, Solzhenitsyn can speak about resisting the “knock at the door,” but prior to his own arrest and sentence to the Gulag, he was a Communist himself and had wandered away from God.

    As it is, today, despite all the terrible attrocities, etc., the Church in Russia is again free, growing, and, flourishing after a manner – not because it finally turned out that it learned how to resist, but because God providentially delivered it (to the surprise of all).

    First, you need to acquire the Spirit of peace. All of these present troubles will pass – or they will grow worse for a time. Even if they grow worse, God will be working our good in all things. There are no “but what it’s” in that. At present, I see and hear many whose hearts are full of fear, as though there were no God (and their fear is somehow excused by them in the name of God). This is delusion.

    Fast. Pray. Keep the commandments. Spend time daily contemplating the goodness of God in all things. For all the attention people are paying to the book of Revelation these days, they forget to read to the end. It all works out just fine. That was the point of the book. The antichrist has always been among us (1John 2:18).

  4. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Lupo, I have a lot of empathy for you. It seems so logical. But logic is only as good as its premise. The premise for doing as you suggest and I am often tempted is the lie that I can actually do anything to make things “better” by acting externally.
    That in fact differs little from the Nietzchean Will to Power. A temptation that is, I believe, at the core of modernity.
    “Of my own self, I can do nothing” John 5:30, is the truth.
    I have been taking great comfort in the words of Hamlet “If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it is not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all.”

    The Christian Way of confessing one’s sins, prayer, fasting and almsgiving in worship and thanksgiving that Father Stephan teaches is the opposite of the triumph of the will that the world tempts us to and creates readiness. The Christian way is Life, abundant life even in the midst of seeming death, doom and destruction.

    Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.

    May He, The Risen Lord, bless and keep you and guide you into all goodness by His Mercy

  5. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    An additional reflection:

    I should comment that Solzhenitsyn would not be human had he not wondered if some form of resistance would have been effective. I do not consider that pondering to be his finest moment, however. Providence is simply the Cross-through-history. It is also, in my experience, that thing that is most avoided by Christians. We have, by and large, become modernists and want to compete on the battlefield of history for our preferred outcomes. Atheists do the same – and it makes us like them more every day.

  6. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    I don’t really know what is coming, but what seems to be a gradual push towards a dictatorial one world government is not beyond the bounds of the probable. However it may or may not turn out, to focus too much on what we cannot do, or think we can do if only enough of us do something about it doesn’t really help us.
    There are many problems in the world and it is easy to see them and to become fearful and worried about it all, or alternatively to take the moral high ground and think ourselves to be above it all and somehow righteous in our anger and judgement.
    It can be a shock to realise how helpless we really are in the face of such machinations, when we have been led to believe that we live in freedom loving democracies and that we have a voice that will be listened to.
    I can only reiterate what Fr. Stephen says; a small life of prayer, repentance and keeping Christ’s commandments where you are.
    I too give in to worry and fear at times. It’s difficult to avoid, but it does no good at all, inner peace becomes nonexistent, prayer almost impossible at times and even losing sleep and feeds frustration and anger.

  7. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Andrew, Lupo, et al
    I think Lupo’s questions actually go to the heart of the matter and reveal a tension between the Orthodox faith and modernity. Modernity is the culture into which we have all been born – we imbibe with our mother’s milk and breathe it in all the time. It infects our worldview in ways we fail to understand. At the very heart of modernity is the belief that man is the center of all things. He is the engine of history, and, thus, the master of his own destiny. Because we believe this, we imagine ourselves duty bound to be forces for the good. We must vote! We must take action. Etc.

    Oddly, no Christian voted for over 1500 years. It has done little good over the past 500 years (or not much better than the monarchs who went before us). Democracies practiced racial slavery, gave us Nazi Germany, and, in America have given us a nation that in over 200 years has only had 17 years in which it was not at war. The myth of democracy is that it is more peaceful.

    The simple plain fact of the gospel is that God is in charge of the outcome of history. To believe otherwise is either atheism, secularism, or really bad theology. What should we do? Why not just do what Christ commanded us to do? Why all of this concern over how the world is being run. There is nothing that any government is doing that prevents us from doing good or keeping the commandments of Christ. Even if they kill us – well – so be it. That’s what we signed up for.

    This is the simple gospel. All of the other stuff does not work, has not worked, and will not work.

    Do we believe in God? That is the question that is at stake in this. If an apocalyptic end is drawing near – it cannot be happening without the good will of God. Get over it and get back to living the Christian life – keep the commandments. Do the next good thing.

    Christ said, “Take no thought for tomorrow…more than that comes of evil.”

  8. Lupo Avatar

    Thank you, Father, and thank you all. There is much food for thought here. Particularly your admonition to contemplate and give thanks for the beauty of God in all things. I pray as I can; in these days it is often St Paul’s “groanings too deep for words.”

    However, the idea of righteous physical resistance to evil is not alien to Orthodoxy. St Dimitri Donskoy, St Alexander Nevsky, St Lazar of Serbia… there have been many warriors who have fought evil on the battlefield. Were they faithless? Were the soldiers of the White Army faithless? The hierarchs of the Russian Church blessed them. But they anathematized Tolstoy and his pacifism.

    “Better a praiseworthy war than a peace which separates us from God,” I think St John Chrysostom said, though I cannot place the quotation. This is not modernism.

  9. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Thank you Fr. Stephen, what you have said reinforces what Jesus said, ‘apart from me you can do nothing.’ I cannot generate inner peace, and certainly cannot transform myself, never mind thinking about transforming anything beyond me that is the world.

  10. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    you raise a fair point about warrior saints. I have struggled with coming to terms with just war theories and have not reached a definitive conclusion on the matter.
    Take the emperor Constantine for example, who is regarded as equal to the Apostles by Orthodoxy. In the West Constantine is a bit of a hot potato. Some Christians regard him as a bringer of peace and a force for good in his conversation to Christianity and making it the official religion of the empire. Other view him as mercenary and using Christianity as a means to his own ends and doubt that he inwardly converted to Christianity.
    I don’t know the truth of the matter, but I do find it puzzling that Christ said that His Kingdom is not of this world and supposedly Constantine sees the Chi Rho in the sky and is told to conquer with this sign?

  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I appreciate you raising the question of warrior saints, etc. I have several thoughts:

    First, warrior saints are rare exceptions, not the norm, nor are they the basis for theological teaching. The taking of a human life is a sin. Even the accidental taking of a human life is enough to suspend a priest for a time from serving in the altar. There is no canon law that I know of that blesses the taking of human life.

    Soldiers can be blessed as they go to war (I have done that service myself). However, they are not being blessed to kill. There is not a blessing for sin. Indeed, my primary prayer for a soldier going to war is for his safety, that he be able to avoid sin if at all possible (including taking a life if possible).

    There are unusual circumstances in which we fight. Traditional Orthodox practice has always seen it primarily in terms of self-defense. The saints whom you name were protectors, not agressors, and there were other factors in their canonization other than their fighting. None of them that I know of were canonized because they were soldiers. We have no concept of a “holy war” in Orthodoxy, and it has historically been rejected. Thus, we have no “crusaders” or crusades like the Latins of old, who saw their “holy wars” as a way to obtain forgiveness of sins. The idea is an affront to the gospel.

    Tolstoy was anathematized, last I knew, for his rejection of a variety of dogmas – but I do not know that his pacifism was one of them.

    What I see at present, frankly, is lots of people who are caught up in their fear, without trust in God, who find enemies everywhere, including within the Church. I do not see the fruit of righteousness but something quite different. Keep the commandments of Christ. If we are pressed into any kind of resistance, it should be with great reluctance, realizing how great the temptation to sin is in such situations.

    I humbly suggest that living a faithful Christian life in the parish and in the family, with love for neighbor and enemy and generosity towards all, faithful towards Christ and trusting in His providence, is the most subversive possible lifestyle. God upholds the universe through the prayers of His saints. King David, the man of war, was not allowed to build the Temple of God.

    I have seen far more damage done to brothers and sisters in Christ in the name of resisting present dangers than any great push-back and success against the present darkness. It is not violence that we need – it is holiness. “The anger of man does not work the righteousness of God” St. James says.

    If, again, something arises in which some sort of force needs to be used, God will make it clear. But it is not the normative Orthodox life. The lives of the saints should not be abused to say what the Church has not said. The counsel I’ve offered, particularly regarding the providence of God, represents the mind of the Church. I hear very little of it these days.

    It is little wonder that modernity has produced endless wars – all of them in the name of some “greater good.” Though Orthodoxy does not profess a pure pacifism, it is far closer to that than it is to the holy wars of the West or the endless wars of modern states. Acquire the Spirit of peace. St. Seraphim is, by far, closer to the model of the Orthodox life.

    Cherry-picking quotes from the Fathers to justify war (much less the taking of human life) coupled with warrior saints is a case of “special pleading” rather than an effort to hear the gospel. We should be careful. That kind of reasoning can be used to justify anything – particularly these dangerous passions of our present time.

    You’re free to disagree with me, of course, but I simply cannot accept the reasoning you’re offering as representing the teaching of the Church.

    As to modernity – I’ve written at length about it – its nature and its sources. The desire to control the outcome of history is modernity pure and simple. Even if we are pressed and have to take up arms, we are no where given the promise of victory (cf. St. Lazar of Serbia). The desire for victory and the willingness to do anything to achieve it is evil and is quite in tune with modernity. If we fight, the battle is the Lord’s, and its outcome belongs to Him alone. That is our faith.

    For me, the front lines in the present distress is my own heart. There is a fierce battle being waged there. I believe that whatever outcome God has for us, our prayers and our war against the passions, will be, by His grace, of use to Him. I seek to be content with His will and to give thanks always for all things.

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    St. Constantine was canonized because he was an instrument that brought an end to Christian persecution, as well as his role in assembling the Nicene Council. I think that his warfare does not constitute an item of his canonization. Being a saint does not entail the approval of everything in our biography. The canonization of saints is sometimes an odd thing – God is wonderful in His saints. Orthodoxy often allows for some fairly paradoxical things. As I noted to Lupo, the taking of human life is, under Orthodox canons, a sin. A soldier returning from war, having taken life, is, under the canons, to undergo a period of penance that can last up to 3 years before being admitted to communion. It says nothing about the circumstances of the killing. There are no canons that make provision for a “just war.” War, at best, is an “economy” – a terrible failure of human love that may be allowed for defensive purposes of justice. Wars of agression are generally not part of Orthodox history. While pacifism, strictly speaking, is not the precise teaching of the Church, it is closer to that teaching than any of the various teachings that justify war. War is a sin – even in the most justified circumstances. Like divorce and remarriage – it may be allowed. But it is never commanded.

  13. Steve Gage Avatar
    Steve Gage

    Dear Father Stephen,

    You wrote, “For me, the front lines in the present distress is my own heart. There is a fierce battle being waged there. ”

    And boy oh boy, is it fierce! I am beset by so many differing voices from so many sides, not only from the wider world, but from people I admire and respect and love. My heart is not quite broken, but it is tired and sore from the battle. The best I can do these days is simply trust in Providence, and to Love. And I get by day to day.

  14. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Amen Fr. Stephen! I was received into the Church 35 years ago. Only now do I feel I might be becoming Orthodox.

    I can testify to the good in Fr. Stephen’s words. Trying to follow them has brought, by the Grace of Jesus Christ, a deepening joy into my life. A joy that is, indeed, in the midst of a constant battle that is only won when I repent.
    Remember Mt 4:17: “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

    Even knowing that reality a tiny bit, the battle rages continuously. I try to remember John 16:33: “These things I have spoken to you that you might have peace. In the world you will have tribulation but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”

  15. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Thank you Fr. Stephen for your reply. There is indeed much that seems paradoxical in Orthodoxy; it takes some getting used to and I have to remind myself often to not expect nice compact answers to everything that fit in neatly with my limited understanding.
    What I don’t know, I don’t know and in many cases in this life I will never know. The western mindset is really an obstacle and has the annoying craving to think that at some level everything can be explained.
    Reading your articles and listening to your podcasts has really been an eye opener and is helping me to come to terms with paradox; internally uncomfortable at times, but worth the struggle. To put it in a nutshell, if I do not know Christ, everything else is to no avail. He knows me, but I know Him not as I should.

  16. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Steve Gage, may the good Lord grant you mercy and relief in your suffering.

  17. Steve Gage Avatar
    Steve Gage

    Andrew Roberts,
    Thank you! The only relief is in that direction…

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Steve, et al
    I have been watching the building up of the passions across the landscape of Orthodoxy even before the pandemic. There are serious trials and temptations that abound in the Church’s life. All of them, oddly, seem more important than issues surrounding what various entities are doing with the pandemic. Our adversary is crafty and seeks to devour us. I told someone recently that the adversary will gladly whisper “pro-life” stuff to you as long as those thoughts will lead to bondage to the passions. He is a liar, a thief, and a cheat, and needs not be consistent. It is why our guidance needs to be in the depths of the heart – almost everything out there can be perverted to lure us towards bondage.

    My writing has, by and large, been a place of refuge. The agony of my soul is generally not displayed here. But I suffer the same turmoil as anyone else. It is presently the case that even the monastics on the Holy Mountain are not in agreement about many of the present matters. That suggests just how difficult the battle is – and the great caution believers should have before leaping into the fray in any manner other than trying to acquire the Spirit of peace and the quieting of the passions.

    I brought up the example of the Soviet Union’s fall earlier because it points to providence – and a providence no one saw coming. No one. It was, undoubtedly, the single most surprising thing in my lifetime. America spilled a lot of blood over the problem of Communism. But when it fell, not a shot was fired. It just fell.

    I think that China will likely fall as well. It is abusing its citizens at present. It’s fall would not be unpopular. I was in grad school with a professor from Beijing. I remember him saying to me that he had never met a Marxist until he came to Duke. We laughed. Tyrants are the least steady thing in history. It’s an extremely precarious position – and its lack of safety ultimately makes it undesirable. It is as I’ve said about the gender stuff in our present culture – you always lose when you argue with gravity. Tyrants fall. People want to be happy – that’s part of the “gravity” of our world.

    I’m not a poly-anna nor am I naive (far from it). But I daily meditate on the goodness of God and His providential care for all things. It is the tyrants who should fear. The outcome of history is in the hands of God. The apostles warn us of a terrible end of history – a time of the greatest testing. If we are entering that time – then we should be of very good cheer – it would mean that it’s all drawing to a close.

    I suspect that we are not there yet. But Christians, even when we take care, should primarily do so by arming themselves with a solid grounding in the providence of God. One of my reading projects in the time of this pandemic has been to read books on terrible centuries. Our present distress is but a slight momentary affliction when compared to many things in the past. Also seeing how God resolved those things in the past has been an encouragement.

    I encourage anyone to give thanks for all things, and study deeply to become acquainted with God’s providence. You cannot know Him without it. He is a good God and He loves mankind.

  19. Steve Gage Avatar
    Steve Gage

    Dear Father Stephen,

    “My writing has, by and large, been a place of refuge. ”

    And your writing has been a place of refuge for me. It is hard for me to articulate what your writings have done for me, meant for me. So I will just say a big thank you.

    I am learning to thank God for all things, at all times. It is not a huge stretch for me – I am not ‘of the world’ very much any more, and live on my little piece of land in the country where I can see the Glory of God all the time. I am older now, and beginning, finally, to understand some things.

    These are indeed passionate times in the world, and it can be hard not to fall into that morass, especially when one has hyper-political neighbors. You can hardly talk about the weather without it turning political. I find myself saying “whaddya say we talk about something else” a lot. Another good one, as you know, is “Well, I don’t know about that.”

    Thank you, Father, for your writing here! It makes a difference…

  20. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Steve, thank you. I should emphasize that I understand just how troubled people are over many things. This is particularly true for those who have children. I’m not saying we should ignore what goes on around us, nor to be silent in the face of things that are wrong. But the providence of God is greater than our fears. For many, the culture boat has already sailed with their children on board. There is little to do but pray and weep and wait on the goodness of God for their return. Because these things, such as the culture wars, are ultimately matters of the heart, there is no violence than is effective. It is for the Church to become light so that it can be found in the darkness. Being solidly grounded in the providence of God is not doing nothing. It is professing the Cross in the face of manifest evil.

    If you find a means of action, it is all the more important to be grounded in the providence of God. Actions often fail, and we need to remember that the goodness of God triumphs even through our failures.

  21. Síochána Arandomhan Avatar

    I too really appreciate this blog and the comment discussions; it’s helped me see an alternative to constant conflict and anxiety and the need to try to control outcomes.

  22. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Yes! There really is an alternative.

  23. Michelle Avatar

    Yes, thank you Fr. Stephen, for this blog and the others like it. Through them, I have been able to make peace with the political and Covid madness going on around me, and currently, I am grappling with the application of it as I watch my foster children (and my own family) suffer for the mistakes of their parents and an inept, inflexible, and sometimes heartless system. It is so easy to let my passions rise up and take over as I witness it, but your words remind of God’s providence and the beauty of the Cross even in the midst of it all.

  24. Lupo Avatar

    Thank you for sharng your heart, Father. There is deep, maybe decisive wisdom in what you say.

    But I am not sure. We have both often read the 21st chapter of St Luke’s Gospel. “Those who are in the city itself must leave it.” I am not engaging in Protestant proof-texting. Whether or not this is that time, that time will come — the Lord told us. And he did not say to wait in Jerusalem for the soldiers to come and kill us, or wait for them to inject us with abortion-tainted experimental gene therapies. This is actually happening in Australia now, today. It can happen here. It is not true that the only thing we have to do is wait, watch, and pray. There will come a time when other action is commanded. It is also in the Gospel.

    With respect, I am not a young man, and I am an educated man. I have also read a great deal of history. And I can say confidently that what is happening today, in its global scope and depth, is qualitatively unlike even the worst demonic outbursts of the past. To me, whether or not a spiritual teacher discerns the signs of the times is becoming a litmus test. And I say this with a very heavy heart, with an agonized heart. I have three children. I did not want them to see such times.

    I am certain that God is working for good in all things, even in these things. Yet he does not will them. He does not will death: Wisdom 1:13 — “God did not make death, and takes no pleasure in the destruction of any living thing.” He permits it because his creation is free, because it must be free if it is to return to Him in love; as Sergius Bulgakov daringly says in “Bride of the Lamb” (and perhaps you will call me a heretic now) “even God cannot, in some sense, penetrate the ontic kernel of creation, creaturely freedom.” Yet his will — for our salvation — will be done. What he asks of us in this struggle, is another question. He tells us that at times, other things in addition to prayer and fasting will be asked.

    Father, in my bones, I know that these are such times. I cannot turn away from what is happening — the advent of a gnostic, transhumanist, global biofascist digital panopticon and terror state. I wish that I were exaggerating. I have always been the one to quell my friends’ apocalyptic fears. But not today. Today it seems that all the things they feared are becoming real.

    Prayer, yes; submission to the will of God, yes. But that submission now, today, my conscience tells me, does not consist of quietism.

  25. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    You are not alone and I understand your thinking in this. Time will reveal the nature of things. I believe that apocalypticism does not serve us well. I am not advocating Quietism as that pejorative term is used in the West. Hesychasm, however, is a term of distinction in the Orthodox faith.

    What you will find difficult is not finding others to agree with you and be stirred up by the various dangers in which we live. The difficulty will be in gaining the hearts of children and others who are being swept up in false ideas fostered in modernity’s dark mind. So where do you run? We “flee Jerusalem” for where? Chat rooms of opinion on the internet? Political parties?

    We do not know the times nor do we know what is in the mind of God regarding the present moment. We have the commandments of Christ. As for vaccine fears, we have a blessing to receive it. I would that our medical world avoided the use of fetal cell lines in the development and testing of drugs. However, it is a practice that is rather ubiquitous, and we make do with what is presently available. I am a priest who abides under the authority of my hierarchs. Their guidance and blessing are clear. I do not run around the internet looking for contradictory opinions and choose my favorites. That becomes madness.

    No doubt, some will find my words to be unhelpful and look for more apocalyptic advice. It is as it is. At present I see no good fruit coming from that direction. I stand by what I have written, God help me.

    It has been my practice over the past year not to post comments that run into the apocalyptic direction on our current distress. I have made an exception in this because I think your thoughts and questions were very pertinent to the article itself. I will not, however be changing my policy on the topic of apocalypticism. There are plenty of places where such conversations can be found. It would soon swallow everything else here if I went down that path.

    As to the heart and what it tells us….There is a huge distinction between the heart and the passions. I believe that apocalypticism is rooted in the passions and I’ve yet to have a conversation with anyone on it that left me with any other impression. In contrast, I find that the struggle to walk in quiet confidence in the Providence of God to be the same struggle as that if daily walking free of the passions.

    For what it’s worth…. I think that government mandates are foolish and wrong though not surprising. I do not support them. Nonetheless, I do not think that complying with a vaccine requirement is a sin, much less an embracing of the antichrist. It is the toleration of an ill advised requirement. The problem with apocalyptic thinking is the raising of all things to a fever pitch and the worst possible thing imaginable. I have never seen such an approach yield good fruit.

    Thanks to all of you for your patience with me.

  26. Lupo Avatar

    Thank you so much, Father. Please pray for me. God prosper you and you family.

  27. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I will pray for you and thank you for your prayers as well. I believe that many of the government examples of over-reach will be rebuked and fail, slowly. Tyranny is the most ephemeral of all forms of existence. In the meantime, God preserve us and keep us by His grace.

  28. Seraphima Avatar

    I value this blog a lot, too. Father, I appreciate your suggestions about how to live, as they are profoundly rooted in the teachings, and help us find some modicum of peace and a way to move about in the world. I also see the great temptation of falling into the passions when finding a response to things that are going on around us, and regularly fall into them when reading the news for all kinds of reasons. I can’t help thinking of the Christian response to Hitler both in the run up to that regime and in the winding down of it. (I hope I can speak of older times without being too political.) Many good Christians resisted with writing, journalism, private responses, and many lost their lives because of it in the beginning. As the evil progressed, more good Christians attempted to deal with the leader of the evil, and all failed, I believe around thirty times. I have wondered all my life about what to make of that, as far as God allowing the successive failures to try to deal with a great evil. It eventually took the massive actions of a large portion of the citizens of the world to bring this evil to heel. I think that may be the lesson – it is all the small, and sometimes large, actions of all of us taken together that bring about the defeat of evil that has gotten well ahead of us. That is why I am heartened by your teaching, Father, about the meaningfulness of small things, prayer, small acts of love. Everything has its effect. If the majority of the people in the world were doing this, whether or not out of a Christian belief, a lot of things would look different. I do think that individual tyrants inevitably fall, but tyranny remains in some area of the planet really all the time, it just seems to move around as to where it appears. It seems to be part of the human condition and likely will never go away. . . . I spent some time in public life, too, earlier in life, and took actions that I believed then and now to be in furtherance of the “good”; but the subject matter was controversial then, less so now, but the consequences appear to have been “good” overall and I don’t regret it. In the end, who knows whether a particular action is worthy of pursuit as to its ultimate consequences. I felt I was in the right place spiritually when doing that work (environmental in nature), and would not have done it had I not understood that the path was where I was supposed to be. Too many doors opened in serendipitous ways for it to be the wrong path. Some of us are called to take action, and have the skills to do so faithfully. I don’t believe that is true of a lot of us, however, despite our desire to take actions — it is too easy to be taken in by passions and go off on a tangent from the spiritual path we are supposed to be on and too easy to run forging ahead in the grip of a strong passion without regard to the effects on others; but for some of us the path does include an active life for a time. I say that speaking as a contemplative not liking to be out there active from the personal stand point, a real trial. The older I get, the clearer it becomes when I am off of my path. I am presently not clear what, if any, actions would be appropriate for me in the present circumstances given my apparent path in life, so I am secluded by choice as well as by the pandemic. I don’t know whether I’ll ever move out of that, being old. I do spend time reflecting on my passionate responses to things, because reflection helps me see whether I am responding in righteous anger over an injustice or affront to the Truth, or whether I am responding out of my own biases that may have little to do with God — it’s not really clear some, even most of the time, but it is important to identify what the Truth is in a situation, and that is part of my spiritual education, so I content myself with these reflections for the foreseeable future. If nothing else, living in this time is a great classroom for seeing all kinds of expressions of passions, sins, inhumanity, as well as the goodness in humanity, and it is a good thing to be able to see human nature more clearly and become wiser through watching what is going on around us, if only to avoid falling into those traps oneself. I don’t think the contemplative quiet life is ineffectual or not responsive to larger trends; the important thing to me is to live in the Spirit, try to find inner peace (affecting the peacefulness of others), be watchful of oneself and what is going on around, try to understand both, and be ready to take an action when clearly called by God to do so in line with the teachings, if the occasion ever arises. Without the contemplation/reflection, it is hard to know whether an action is in the Spirit or not, so I am loathe to get out there on anything now unless it is really, really clear it is in the Spirit as I know the Spirit, clearly a limited understanding. I am clear that I am not supposed to be out there with activity at this time, so I am following that understanding. I will keep my private acts of justice, goodness, or whatever, such as they may be, going when the opportunity arises, and keep my creative life going as much as possible and see what develops. If a project develops organically, then perhaps I would pursue it. Thanks, all for the lively discussion.

  29. shannon Avatar

    Fr. Stephen
    I must thank you for all you have written. Especially your comment replies at 5:11 and 7:16 pm yesterday and the above 10:22 today. The only pity is that your readership is not several orders of magnitude higher than it is. There are Orthodox clerics out there, as I’m sure you are aware, who are embracing the machinations of modernity to “fix” a suffering world, even with the blessing of patriarchs. I hope the Orthodox faithful do not follow them into these unfruitful (potentially damaging) diversions, the like of which have plagued the Roman church far too often. Would to God all clergy had your mindset, and saw the battleground as our own hearts, every day, and not in trying to force others to do “what is right”, a strategy God Himself has never employed.
    May the Father of all mercy preserve your steps, breath, mind, and hands (a mercy to us all more than yourself).
    shannon g

  30. Steve Gage Avatar
    Steve Gage

    Father Stephen, thank you for your reply – it’s given me much to meditate on. I am 66 years old, I’ve been wrestling with these things all my life, and yet I sometimes feel like a child. I’m beginning to feel that I don’t have a lot more decades left to kick the can down the road…

  31. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thank you Shannon. It is important, I think, to consider the fact that we have been appointed by God to live in this particular time in these particular days. Our trials (which rage on the left and the right, above us and below us) are unique to us and our time, but they are not unique in their ferocity and such.

    I think that the great temptation of Modernity is the hubris that we can “fix” the world. How can we fix the world when we cannot fix ourselves? When has anyone ever successfully fixed the world? No leader, no war, no political movement, no religious movement, has ever fixed the world. The world, complete with the evil that we encounter in it, is God’s. If fixing it were such a moral duty, why has God not done anything about it. As Seraphima noted, there were over 30 failed attempts at eliminating Hitler.

    Some of this turns on the question of the so-called “problem of evil.” St. Paul said, “Overcome evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:21) The question then becomes, “What is the good that I can do?” I have encouraged people to measure the “good” by the commandments of Christ and to “do the next good thing.”

    Modernity’s media empire has convinced all of us that we are in management. We know how to run economies, how to general in wartime, how to battle a pandemic, how to run the Church, etc. Everybody is an expert (or tempted to be one). We read the papers or wqtch the news, computer, etc., and want to fix it. At the same time, we don’t do the good that is at hand – the next good thing. Our opinions and passions distract us from our prayers, from our alms, from our repentance. We cannot bring about good things through evil actions. That is one of the modern temptations – “utilitarianism” – the belief that the ends justifies the means.

    There is, I think, a more excellent way. First, God is at work in all things doing good, and invites us to unite ourselves to Him and do good. The outcome of the good we do is often a mystery. We cannot know whether what we do will in any way “fix” the world. That has not been given to us. Christ consistently points us to the good that can be done in the day – to take no thought for the morrow.

    The world is a dangerous place, but in the hands of a good God.

  32. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Next week I turn 68. I may have another 20 years if I outlive my father. But likely less. It begins to change how you think. Providence is best seen in the rear-view mirror. I’m trying to make it my windshield view.

  33. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Shannon, great comment. Thank you. It is a great temptation to “fix” things and other people. Unfortunately what often goes unfixed is closer than hands and feet. I am the one who needs the fixing.
    These days I spend most of my time in one medical office or another as my wife and I face various medical challenges. We are confronted with the reality that all flesh perishes… and the works of the flesh. That includes all of our machinations and desire to control everybody else.
    My wife and I have each experienced the wonderful mercy of God in the death of our previous spouse. His mercy endures forever. There is great strength in that as well.

    As Fr. Stephen says: “Do the next good thing”.
    I was led to read John 14 this morning.
    Verse 1: “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God. Believe also in me ”
    Matthew 5 has been a great help to me of late as well.
    Indeed, as I contemplate the difference between the the path of repentance and the path of the will, more and more Scripture comes to mind that I must study.
    The path of repentance, prayer and virtue is not quietism either. Unseen warfare is still a battle that has consequences in the seen world.

    Still I empathize with Lupo–deeply.

    Forgive me, a sinner and may His mercy be abundant in your life.

  34. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I’m grateful also that you are not tempted by political machinations and fear mongering.

    Among the reasons we have experienced so much death resulting from congested hospitals recently where I live is due to such proliferation of misinformation about the vaccine , hurtful propaganda for political gain and strife. I wonder whether mandates would had been needed if there had been no political appropriation of a societal need to protect itself against a pandemic. Without political involvement and propaganda I believe people would have simply done what they thought best for their health.

    Regarding our Orthodox Church, I’m grateful for our hierarchs and priests. May God grant us a steady heart and mind in Christ in the face such storms of unrest wrought by political and economic powers.

    Dear Father you do not stand alone. Christ is with you. There are many who take courage and are grateful for the voice of peace, Hesychasm and encouragement in your writing. I’m grateful to God for all things. And indeed these are difficult words. But without faith in God, I have only despair and fear. And that is not the Life of Christ.

  35. Joseph Barabbas Theophorus Avatar

    I think many of the ideas presented here are very helpful, especially the warning against the apocalypticism of modernity. Christian apocalypticism (and prophecy in general) is about revealing the truth of things, love, and Christ Himself. Modern apocalypticism (which is a form of marketing) is about “revealing” the untruth, the passions, the fears. It is hard to think of something so opposite Christian prophecy as modern apocalypticism.

    As to some earlier lines of conversation about the canons, that is something I’ve made an area of study and had the blessing to deal with more and more over the years, to the point of being explicitly called upon by both priest and bishop. One of the most important things I’ve learned is not to use the canons in a modernistic way, namely to “manage” sin. This is one of the ideas behind some of the greatest spiritual abuses. The canons are rather about corporate Church discipline. There was a bishop over a millennium ago, now a saint, who attempted to make the canons about sin—and private sins at that. That attempt failed, and, while he remains a saint, his canons were rejected by every Ecumenical Council since him and, AFAIK, never confirmed in any local council either. Yet they’ve found their way into historical compilations of canons (eg, The Rudder) without such an explicit warning about their rejection, which has done much harm. Thus, I’ve found it is best to not even *think* about “canon” and “sin” in the same sentence.

    As to canon law regarding killing in war, much of that traces to St Basil’s 13th canon. And that is one of the weakest canons we have, in terms of its forcefulness. It opens with a brazen admission that the saints and Fathers up to St Basil’s time did not consider such killing as murder. It continues with him thinking, him explicitly calling it assumption, that it had to do with defensive fighting, but this is never really made the basis of the canon nor unpacked further. And the period of penance is not even certain: he “might” refuse communion (and nothing else) for a short few years, “perhaps”. This is not a statement of sure theology [in the sense we often mean] but more akin to St Augustine’s thinking out loud about subjects he has already claimed he’s unsure of. I don’t want to go any further than that here and try to hash out “the” Orthodox position, but I wanted to point out the levels and layers of nuance—and again provide the disclaimer that the presence or absence of a canon (eg, the canon about having a treasurer) on a given matter is wholly tangential to it being or not being sinful. That is simply the wrong place to try to definitively answer the “sin” question.

    I believe the issue with St David and the temple has come up before, and the fact that St Solomon killed, too. Thus, it cannot be *killing* [in general] that prevented St David from its construction, though the *murder* of Uriah likely played a significant role. We can note also that the second temple’s construction (called “greater” than the first in Haggai: 2.9) had the walls of Jerusalem as “phase 1” of the project, and that all kinds of people participated in its construction. The king at the time was Darius, a Persian military leader!

    For the idea of “exceptions”, I may have provided one of my favorite statements before: “There are no exceptions—only wrong rules!”. The Virgin birth, the Incarnation, the Resurrection: all of these are “exceptional” from the point of view of the world—and even from the perspective of Church history. And yet it is precisely these things on which every rule hangs, upon which true history is itself built. I think it is very fair to say that we do not understand how an “exception” fits into the larger pattern, to our current [limited] “mental model” of God and creation, and maybe to avoid thinking too hard about it until we’re ready. But to take “exception” to mean a temporary change in Who God Is—which I think most people would be tempted towards, given our modern understanding of the word—would be spiritually ruinous.

    And to end on St Constantine and some of the similar saints, there is more going on with them than being “instruments”. Pharaoh was the instrument of the Israelites leaving Egypt, but he is in no way considered a saint. There is much more holy mystery with the saints, and with all the other issues I noted above. I don’t think they’ll be solved in a single blog post, but hopefully we can remember some of the patristic thought on these and appreciate the depth of what really happened—and continues to happen. I think the statement “To believe otherwise is either atheism, secularism, or really bad theology.” is really the crux of most of these issues: do we trust God—and thus get on with the important stuff, like loving our neighbor—or do we not?

  36. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thank you for the encomium on the canons. All I know is how I was trained and taught. Killing is a sin – even when circumstances seem to offer no alternative. That, I think, is obvious. My experience tells me that discussions about modernity are really popular until the rubber meets the road. Indeed, do we trust God – and thus get on with the important stuff, like loving our neighbor – or do we not?

  37. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, my personal experience with the dances of the Native American Tribes in the Plains, the heart beat of the drum and chant; plus my study of those dances in Theater History, particularly the book: “The Dancing Gods” enhanced my life and led to me to look for a personal, incarnate God who filled all the earth as Creator, Sustainer and Life-giver and my own soul as well with Whom I could communicate. As much as I find scientific discovery fascinating, it does not give me God, or joy or lessen my fears.
    Fear, no matter the reason or the cause is not of God. It is easy to fall prey to fear, but I like to remember: “God is with us! Understand and submit yourselves all ye Nations for God is with us!”
    That enables me to say; This is day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

    I am alive and continue in my body only by God’s mercy.
    Forgive me.

  38. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    JBT, thank you.

  39. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I can’t help but bring the Seminole culture into my science research endeavors and with it, my life in Christ. Science is being used for political purposes, I have no doubt about that. However, science was the first language Christ used to reach me. And He still speaks to me in that language because it is a language I know and He has used it to save me.

    Some of my Native American students (generalizing their tribal affiliations) speak of a “two-eyed” approach in their research endeavors. That was once my approach also in my youth. But as I grow deeper into the waters of the Holy Trinity, it seems that I’m developing a “one-eyed” approach–God willing, that of Christ. I’m seeking ways to explain this, theologically, and have found the writings of both Father Stephen and Father John Behr helpful (and a few Saints such as St Maximus (–I hope I can still be saved! : ) ). I try not to read more than I pray.

  40. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, politics used to be described as “The art of the possible”. Now it is nothing but an appeal to and manipulation of base passions–regardless of “party”. It is the propagation of ideology as ‘salvific truth’ Humanity suffers on every level. Especially human integrity.

  41. Lupo Avatar

    Father, and brothers and sisters, forgive me, but before we say that all apocalypticism is Protestantism, sectarianism, and modernism, we should reflect that there have been many saints of modern times — St Lavrentii of Chernigov and St Paisios the Athonite immediately come to mind — who spoke about the apocalyptic nature of our times. Many living elders of the Holy Mountain as well. These are not voices to forget, silence, or denigrate.

  42. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Lupo no one has silenced you nor them. But I for one certainly disagree with your perceptions.

  43. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I appreciate your caveat. However, the apocalyptic warnings of even those holy men are not without question or concern in various places within Orthodoxy. Indeed, St. Pophryios cautioned St. Paisios about it. (cf. I question it because I believe it is questionable. No one gets a pass from appropriate scrutiny. In the troubled waters of Orthodoxy these days, I suspect I am putting myself up for scrutiny and even a fair amount of judgment if not condemnation for raising such questions.

    There is, on the one hand, the saints. There is, on the other, what we know of them based on someone’s else writings or reports. I have watched interviews (videos) of young men with St. Paisios. He did everything he could to avoid their pressing apocalyptic questions – while the only thing they wanted from him was a prophesy or something similar. The trafficing in these sorts of reports is highly questionable for me. Again, it is lack of genuine fruit that I see in such traffic that concerns me.

    I spent 3 years among Protestant Charismatics back in the day – a couple of those years in a commune. Oddly, I’ve seen all this behavior before. It is pious, after a fashion. I offer no judgment towards the saints. If they were around to have a conversation with about it all, it might be interesting. But the world of hearsay, of slander, of gossip is quite active these days. Thus, again, I counsel people to keep the commandments of Christ and do the next good thing. These reports have not come looking for us – they have been sought after, sifted, and marketed by those who have their own reasons for their actions. Some of them I know – and I do not find them to be good faith actors.

    The word in Scripture is “be sober, be vigilant.” You can’t be vigilant if you are not first sober. My word is about sobriety. People are drunk on worries, imaginings, and rumors. They latch on to information without discernment – often preferring any purported information that supports their worries while ignoring anything to the contrary. I see it all the time.

    Be cautious about these things. Be sober. And in our sobriety we should remain vigilant.

    I do not want to engage in argument about these things, much less to drag the saints into an argument. However, there are many questions and considerations that are excluded (such as the information in the video that I linked). My point is found in my article, and I have sought to answer questions related to the article. Beyond that, I would like us not to belabor these points.

    If someone feels drawn to an apocalyptic approach – then so be it. I would encourage them to avoid the passions as much as possible and to be patience. That word of patience is repeated over and over in the New Testament. If my words are of help to any, well and good. If they distract or seem to be in error, then forgive me and remember me in your prayers.

  44. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, in a sober state I have a great difficulty with the celebration
    of The Sacraments and apocalyptic thinking co-existing. Not just the Divine Liturgy, but all of them–at least the way they are celebrated in the Orthodox Church. Am I wrong?

  45. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Father, I believe that is a very helpful link you provided. Thank you for including it and the follow up of your own reflections.

  46. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Jonestown comes to mind when thinking about worries about the times and the near future. People can become so afraid and confused that they can become a prey to false prophets and messengers of immanent doom. There is no doubt that we are going through the birth pangs, but the end? Even the Lord Himself refused to give a precise answer as to when.

  47. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    A distinction could be drawn between apocalyptic thinking and Orthodox eschatology. It seems interesting that apocalyptic thought differs with Protestant apocalyptic thought only in arguing about little details (Protestants would never include Constantinople in their end-time calculations, for example, or thoughts about the “Last Emperor” which come up in some Orthodox apocalyptic speculation). Orthodox eschatology, on the other hand, finds no counter-part in the most common forms of Protestantism. That eschatology recognizes that Christ Himself is the End, and that wherever He is, the End is present. Thus, the Liturgy is the “meal at the End of the world,” and so on.

    Nonetheless, Christian tradition from Christ forward, does teach that history has a consummation and that it occurs in a terrible reign of evil. But every statement concerning that end of history seems to be surrounded with words that tell us the take heart and not worry.

    There is a terrible phenomenon called the “self-fulfilling prophecy,” where our worries and expectations themselves become the cause of the very things we fear. I simply cannot find any Scriptures that support a fearful existence nor anything in the Tradition that encourages us not to be firmly grounded in our confidence and trust in the providence of the good God.

  48. Salaam Avatar

    Father, thank you.

    I don’t judge those who do, but I happen to have never had unhealthy apocalypticism as a passion. For me, every day is a hard enough battle to be worried about the end of the world. In fact, I would welcome it, as I think all Orthodox should.

    But is not the spiritual purpose of apocalyptic thought bringing people to repentance? Is it the case that perhaps today, for most of us infected by modernity, this medicine of apocalyptic thought does not work or brings about an undesired effect?

    About Solzhenitsyn, I would guess that by resistance he meant cleansing our hearts with repentance so that we have the spiritual means to be brave enough to refuse to cooperate with evil. In line with his saying about the line between good and evil passing through each of our hearts. So first a repentant heart. If a repentant, holy heart wars against the Crusaders, the lesson is that first we must repent and become holy. Nothing further, I think.

  49. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Your observation on the proper effect of an apocalyptic understand (repentance) seems true. However, it doesn’t seem to be what I am encountering. Instead, it’s more like the exposition of a conspiracy – in which an apocalyptic narrative is used to explain the actions of governments, drug comapanies, clergy, etc. That the narrative also seems to encourage a certain political allegiance is suspect (for me).

    If we take a collection of data points from the world, then posit that they are all connected by a secret evil, then it won’t take long before a narrative can be seen to connect them. Everything that confirms that narrative then becomes yet another point of data – while everything that does not confirm the narrative is excluded. In that manner, we cannot help but see the truth of the narrative.

    My own rejection of this is, first off, that the apocalyptic narrative is the wrong story for interpreting the world (including present events). The Cross, the Crucified God, is that narrative which has been given to us to which every other story must be subservient. It is the story of providence, but of a providence that suffers, and in its suffering, heals and saves the world. The work of the good God must be told through the Cross. We do not speak of a world without suffering – but of a world in which the suffering has become God’s suffering, and His suffering has become our salvation.

    It is interesting to me that Christ gives us His commandments in clear, unmistakeable language. Forgive your enemies. Share what you have. Do not lie, etc. Clear, simple, to the point.

    Why would God wrap everything in multivalent symbols and hidden figures, arming all sorts of men and women with weapons easily twisted to misuse and such? Revelations is many things – it is not – I think – a road map for Armageddon nor any such thing. What we have in Christianity is a nasty, and consistent history of its interpreters being wrong. Again, and again, and again. When anyone starts in on that, alarm bells should go off.

    As I provided in a comment link, some saints have themselves been attracted to that, while others have rebuked them. At present, I have yet to see anyone speaking of repentance – mostly just a fear that somebody out there is up to something and that we are being led astray, etc.

    Very quickly in these matters, I sought the guidance of my Archbishop, and the counsel of my brother priests. I have not sought the rumors or whispers – particularly of priests who frequently turn out to be not acting by any authority other than their own opinions. I am Orthodox. I have a bishop and a synod. I know no other to live that is not madness for me. I have been urged by unsolicited advice to read this or that to watch this or that to beware this or that. None of this has come from the authority that I obey. Indeed, quite the opposite.

    That’s not to say that I think things are being done well (by various authorities). Some of them are behaving quite badly. Most of the ones behaving badly were doing so long before the pandemic, so I’m not surprised that they are doing so now. I will keep writing about the general failings of modernity, particularly as they effect what should be the Orthodox mind. Those observations are not about a conspiracy (other than the common madness created by false cultural ideas).

    There are bad people out there. There have always been some. So, we live with bit of caution (like hiking and looking out for poison ivy). But we live with faith in a good God and confidence in His providence – which nothing can possible overcome.

  50. Dan Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    I have not read through all of the comments yet; however, your words remind me of something from St. Isaac. I apologize for the length of this post.

    “By this the sons of God are set apart from the rest of mankind: they live in afflictions, but the world rejoices in luxury and ease. For it is not God’s good pleasure that those whom He loves should live in ease while they are in the flesh. He wishes them rather, so long as they are in this life, to abide in affliction, in oppression, in weariness, in poverty, in nakedness, isolation, want, sickness, degradation, buffetings, contrition of heart, bodily hardship, renunciation of relatives, and sorrowful thought. He wishes them to possess an aspect differing from all creation, a habitation unlike that of the rest of men, and to live in a solitary and quiet dwelling, unknown to the sight of men and bereft of any sign of the gladdening things of this life; mourning is found within [their dwelling], and cheerfulness far from it; distresses press frequently upon it; nor do they fully have the body’s needs as do the rest of men; their bedding is the ground; their faces are consumed with fasting; their knees are feeble with weakness; the normal functioning of their internal organs has been ruined by use foreign to the customs of men; they weep, but the world laughs; they are somber, but the world is joyous; they fast, but the world lives in pleasure. The whole creation is quiet in a sweet sleep, but they keep vigil in prayer. They toil by day, and by night they compel themselves to ascetic struggles in straitness and weariness. The saints live a bitter life in the world, in a lowly body, in a straitened soul, in hardships on all sides.”

    And why is this?

    “God knows that two joys cannot abide in one man simultaneously; and because it is impossible for those who live in bodily ease to hold firmly to His love, He restrains His servants from ease and its enjoyment. May Christ our Savior, Whose love vanquishes every bodily death, manifest in us the power of His love! Amen.”

    Pray for me that these words may take root in my heart, so as not to accuse me for paying mere lip service to them. I likewise will pray for everyone here. Thank you for your words, they are always a good word.

  51. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Fr. Stephen, is it because of false interpretation and the madness of a misguided response to the book of Revelation, one of the reasons it’s not read in Orthodox Liturgy?

  52. Bill Atkin Avatar
    Bill Atkin

    Here’s a question I have long struggled with: why trust? Trust, at least where I am from, is earned by action and not simply given. If, for example, a schoolteacher were to lock his pupils in a room with a rabid animal, he would not be considered trustworthy ever again, however much he might insist (from jail) that it was for their own good. Looking at the world I find it very difficult not to apply the same standard to God. What provocation could we possibly have given that he would find this state of affairs remotely acceptable, even for a moment?

  53. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Historically, the reason it is not read in the Eastern Church is that it was largely unknown in the East and not accepted as part of the Canon in the East (that is, it was not regularly appointed to be read). It was known in the West, and was popular in Rome (as I recall). It was on the strength of that fact that it was included in the Canon that was, more or less, approved at Nicaea. The Canon was much less of a “legal” or forensic decision as it was simply a reflection of what was widely enough read and accepted that there could be said to be a consensus on its acceptability.

    But, I would be loathe, as an Orthodox Christian, to make too much doctrinal use of Revelations, except where it seems to reflect things that are otherwise grounded. One tradition in Judaism was that a man should be “over 40” before he was allowed to read Ezekiel. I don’t think that it solves much (old men can fall into error, too) – but the caveat is of note. Apocalyptic speculation has a very bad history in the Church. As far as I can see, it has never been put to good use.

  54. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I don’t think evil, itself, has a rational explanation, because it is inherently irrational. But why is evil allowed? I only start such questions (this is my personal take – and I’ve seen plenty of the suffering and evil of the world – so it’s a very important question to me, as well) – I only start such questions when standing in front of the Crucified Jesus. It is with Him that I have that conversation and not with “God” as I might imagine Him, distant, removed, making decisions that don’t concern Him, but only us.

    It’s more than I can write about in a small space – but what answers I have from that conversation is that it is about love – the full nature of love. I don’t think that the answer can be found very well from outside of that – only from the inside.

    I think trust was important for me in that conversation (and remains so). The suffering and death of Jesus (and there’s ever so much more to it than just the Cross we speak about) enabled me to trust that there was a conversation worth having with Him. He has skin in the game. This is not something separate from Him. So, on that basis, I began conversations. I’m now 68 years old and have been an active believer for about 53 years. The conversation has ranged everywhere from needless deaths, terrible cruelty, the grave of my son, the graves of many others. And the conversation continues.

    I’ll think how I might say more. But not tonight.

  55. Laurie Marvin Avatar
    Laurie Marvin

    Hi, Father Stephen. I have a question- even if we believe in Gods providence or want to believe in it, I find it emotionally very difficult to do so. I struggle with anxiety, and when I am on a plane (don’t like flying), neither logical thoughts (very few planes ever crash) or thoughts about God’s providence seem to help me. I wonder if this a faith issue i.e do I really believe God is in control? Or is this just some biological quirk that I have?

    I don’t know how Jesus or Jonah were able to match their emotions with the reality of Gods goodness, in the face of terrible events or evil. Perhaps I would be given a special grace, but but my experience has often been more of overwhelming fear than perfect confidence or faithful witness. I doubt I am the only one. Do you have any suggestions for this? Thanks.

  56. Jennifer Avatar

    I’ve been reading your blog for 4-5 years now and your comments that you reply to people. During the pandemic, I also started listening to the recordings of your podcast. It has all brought me a great deal of comfort and encouragement. I wanted to let you know I am very thankful for you and this work.

  57. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Thank you Fr. Stephen.

  58. Jp Esnouf Avatar
    Jp Esnouf

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen.

    After reading this post and most of the comment section, it has dawned on me, I have somehow lost sight of (forgotten) the True Big Picture, that God is good and that He is at work in all things, everywhere, and at all times, for our good.

    When I read your reply to Bill it dawned on me, I have not been standing in front of the Crucified Jesus. I have only attempted conversation with “God” as I might imagine Him, distant, removed, making decisions that don’t concern Him, but only us.

    I recently started reading The Enlargement Of The Heart by Archimandrite Zacharias in the Theology of St. Silouan the Athonite and Elder Sophrony of Essex. It is a slow read for me, the words written carry a heavenly or otherworldy weight (reality), but at the same time much lighter than all the worldly (fleshy) weight I carry in my heart. I hope I make sense. Anyway, I offer two quotes that I wrote down:

    “Remember Job, when he put the question: “What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? And that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him? (Job 7:17). He then gives the answer which in the Greek version of the Septuagint, is extremely beautiful: man holds God’s attention, because he can be (katenteuktes Theou) an ‘accuser of God”, that is, someone who can stand before His face and even quarrel with Him; not in a bad spirit, but in order to go deeper into the love of God, and fathom His judgments (Job7:20 Lxx). This calling is incomprehensible, great and wondrous. (pg.27,28,)”


    “To live a Christian life is impossible; all one can do is ‘die daily’ [1 Cor.15:31] in Christ, like St. Paul” (Elder Sophrony).

    Lord have mercy. Pray for me.

  59. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I understand what you’re saying. I was afflicted with an anxiety/panic disorder from age 19 until age 58. Some years were worse than others. I found ways to carve out a living space – mostly by avoiding situations that set the panic off. I could not fly. I did lots of things to try and improve it. Therapy, prayer, etc. In short, about 10 years back I simply hit a wall – a whole combination of things – that made it impossible to keep going like that. I got major help (nothing terribly new, though I went into hospital for a week). But, I got connected with therapists who had a better handle on the physical side of anxiety – I learned a few techniques – and in some group settings – I learned about shame and began to explore that reality in my life. Apparently, it was the sweet spot. I have been panic free for 10 years (I fly a lot now). But, meditations on providence have been extremely helpful.

    I share that to say that it can happen. Anxiety/panic doesn’t have to be permanent. I had not known that. Why didn’t those earlier therapists help? Most of them didn’t deal with anxiety at all – they missed the boat. Also, I avoided talking about shame issues (even though I didn’t know I was doing it). I just didn’t know there was a connection. There is.

    Anxiety is not your fault (not this kind of anxiety). The right thing to do is to get help – and I wish I knew the formula for how to find the right/best person for that help. I will remember you in my prayers.

  60. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar
  61. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    This image and passage concerning Job is a favorite of Fr. Zacharias, as it was of St. Sophrony.

  62. Salaam Avatar

    Thank you, Father.

    Am I correct that what you’re saying, then, that the unhealthy ‘apocalyticism’ and conspiracy mindset we see today is a result of modernity? Because modernity has given us orders of magnitude greater ‘data points’ and access to a big picture, though utterly distorted. This tempts us to make false connections and assumptions to create a conspiracy, which drives us to completely the opposite direction of repentance. Is this a fair assessment?

    As you say, in ancient times, this would have been impossible. I am not or a historian nor well read, but I would guess that conspiracy in the ancient world would only occur in individuals ill to some extent with paranoia, and thus would not occur to groups of people, as it is now. It would be a rare occurence. But today, as the number of data points are increasing exponentially, the temptation to conspiracy increases.

    I also agree that there are people in authority behaving rather badly. But that’s obvious, and for me there’s no need for conspiracy theories to see it!

    A small comment on St Paisios… I have been reading about him very little at a time for a few years, and I just read in the past year in one of the official books about him his comments on the Greek id card. For me, if this 0.001% of what he taught is taken in context of the rest of what he taught, and of course more importantly, who he was, it can be understood properly. If someone tells me a thousand times to repent and his 1001st comment is to be careful of government control, I would understand it in the proper context, especially had I repented! I would also assume here that there is a specific Greek context that most of us do not understand. Perhaps the population, new to modernity and looking at modernity as saviour, had and has a naive outlook on government and bureaucracy as being benevolent by nature. I don’t know, but there is a context.

  63. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    In general (first paragraph) that is a good summary. There were certainly rumors and such in antiquity. Often they ended in riots and somebody being killed. Lots of that. But modernity has given us these over-arching theories of history (Marxism is a good example) as well as lots of “data points.” But, think about it, Let’s say the world has 50 trillion data points on any given day (obvious way too few). But your news cycle gives you less than a hundred, and is refining and pushing those other there. Conspiracies are exceedingly reductive and thus, absurd.

    The goodness of God (providence) is the Christian theory of history, plain and simple.

    Your example viz. St. Paisios is to the point. Conspiracies (and apocalypticism) tend to cherry-pick what the narrative considers to be important. It’s a bad habit. We ought to daily be nurturing our souls on the Providence of the good God. This is so abundantly clear in the Fathers that it shouldn’t have to be stated.

    When we were first getting lots of post-Soviet Russians in our area, young people (men mostly) would show up at Church. They would say they were afraid of getting their social security card (or some such thing), fearful of the antichrist. Their grandmothers (they said) told them to go to the Church and ask the priest.

    The identity card thing was like an urban legend spread around in certain circles. Sometimes a number is just a number.

  64. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Everything is interconnected. By the mercy and life of God. That interconnection goes all the way back to the moment if Creation and extends…
    As tempting as they are the only real “conspiracy” is of The Evil One which has the paradoxical effect of throwing us right back into the Mercy of God that endures forever.
    For the first time in my life Jesus’ instruction to “turn the other cheek” is beginning to make sense.

  65. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    It’s all a great mystery in many ways. The problem of evil, suffering and death, etc being allowed by a good and loving God, what a conundrum, but not one that is meant to be, nor can be solved.
    The demons, even though they have rebelled against God, still have to obey. Jesus commands them to be silent, they obey and be silent; Jesus casts them out, again they have to obey and leave the people they have possessed. They know the truth of who Jesus is-‘the Holy One of God.’
    We on the other hand want answers and if we are that way inclined and do not get what is a supposedly rational and provable answer, end up rejecting out of hand anything that doesn’t fit in with our view of reality.
    The Cross for many of us is still a stumbling block and folly.

  66. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    This is why I only think about all of this while gazing at the Crucified Christ. In a sense, instead of looking at the Cross, we look at the “problem” of evil (from which there will be no answers). St. Maximus said, “He who understands the mystery of the Cross understands the mystery of all things.” So, that’s where I try to start and finish.

    Also, we tend to leave out the whole of creation when we ponder these things. It’s not just us, but the whole of creation, including the whole angelic realm which is profoundly more than we imagine. Take, for example, Christ and the Gadarene demoniac. Jesus had mercy on the demons and gave them what they asked for. The pigs didn’t like it and ran off a cliff. But, Jesus permitted it. That is so far above my “pay grade” of understanding, but it’s the sort of thing that is not considered.

    Again, our modern habits are those of managers. We want enough information so that we can approve the system of management for the universe, then we will think of getting on board. I’m trying very hard to quit thinking like that. I can see some of the outlines of the “problem.” But I see that God is infinitely committed to us – evidenced by the Cross. Thus, when I pray, I tend to say, “Jesus I have no idea about heaven or hell. But, when I die, just don’t leave me alone.” I trust that if He is with me, then it will be ok. What I see in the Cross is the love of God and the goodness of God. It is a “sufficient” data point for my life. I am ignorant of so much, and I am beginning to think that this is ok.

  67. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Thank you Fr. Stephen,
    I am only at the beginning stages of getting on board with letting things be; paradox is fine, so is mystery; enter in and don’t try to work it out. The rational mind is handy for many things and in matters of faith too. It’s good to question sometimes. The rational mind can in a way lead us to Christ, but it cannot put us in communion with Him. There is a big difference to knowing things about Him and actually knowing Him.
    The Gadarene demoniac; how many time I had heard or read that passage of Scripture before I actually realised that Jesus had actually granted the demons their request. It blew my mind somewhat. I have no understanding in regards to this either.
    I think if we’re not careful and engage in the management mentality that you talk about, we can get caught up in and too focused on what we think God should be doing and being blind to what He is doing; much of which we can’t know anyway.
    I remember talking to a drug addict some years ago when I was involved in some voluntary work. He told me about a conversation he’d had with a young Evangelical woman. She had told him that God was really a pussycat and if you push Him he will do what you want. So the young man’s plan was to confront God and to tell Him that if He didn’t take his drug addiction away, he would not believe in Him. I tried to caution him against such an action, but he paid little attention to what I had to say. I don’t know how it turned out because I didn’t see him again.
    There are many imaginary gods being preached out there.

  68. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman
    Ignorant is a fascinating word. Often it is used in a pejorative and insulting way but as the link above indicates, it need not be. In fact, each of us is ignorant of much. Even in the midst of great blessing. Part of faith for me is realizing that even as I am ignorant, Jesus is not.
    The Cross reveals that, I think.

  69. Byron Avatar

    “Remember Job, when he put the question: “What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? And that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him? (Job 7:17). He then gives the answer which in the Greek version of the Septuagint, is extremely beautiful: man holds God’s attention, because he can be (katenteuktes Theou) an ‘accuser of God”, that is, someone who can stand before His face and even quarrel with Him; not in a bad spirit, but in order to go deeper into the love of God, and fathom His judgments (Job7:20 Lxx). This calling is incomprehensible, great and wondrous. (pg.27,28,)”

    This is quite a wonderful statement! Many thanks.

    As to the problem of evil, when I am asked how God could allow “such-and-such”, I typically just say, “Because He allows us” and let it be. While that can be taken very negatively, there is a great deal of positive encounter in it as well (our salvation is in that comment, to an extent). Father, I very much appreciate your comment at 7:52pm. It says so much more, better.

  70. Luke Nieuwsmsa Avatar
    Luke Nieuwsmsa

    I know you touched briefly on St. Constantine, but it seems to bear mentioning that *many* of the Saints of ancient Israel and the Orthodox countries of the past were warriors who risked or gave their lives to defend their country from barbarous invaders. The Scriptures have several prominent examples (Abraham and Lot, Joshua, King Josiah, the Macabees to name a few), and the Prologue of Ochrid contains a good number of their stories. It seems that the impulse to defend the land that we belong to and the people who belong to it is not a sinful thing. Yes, there are no holy wars. But there are times when it is an act of love of the local – those you have grown up with – to defend them from the pillaging foe — or even to fight physically for the honor of God, such as St Nestor the Martyr, commemorated today on the Old Calendar, who slew a blasphemous gladiator with the blessing of St Demetrios and then died in further testimony to God’s glory.
    But one thing that makes our American times different than theirs is that we are not facing a clear foe who struts around blaspheming God and attacking Christian cities and burning their churches. We are facing something completely different – the ever more powerful hideous strength of Lewis’s novel, spiritual hosts of darkness that have pulled many hapless people into their ranks, among them well-meaning Christians of all stripes. The strident, conservative crowds that I frequent imagine that we are in a new 1776 constantly — but there is no Lord Cornwallis to target, no red-coats in our streets. There is instead the slow strangling of Big Tech’s secularism, materialism, and creeping liberalism that overshadows all boundaries, city walls, high towers, even the doors of our bedrooms. Many good people from many backgrounds have participated in it, perhaps without even realizing it. All of our political parties certainly have partaken at one point or another in American greediness, American power, American amorality, and much superficial Christianity to boot while slowly but surely ushering in this disintegrating ‘progress’ of liberalism. How else could abortion have lasted so long in this country, for example? Why are we so up in arms over the vaccines when the potential number of victims is a drop in the bucket compared to the daily infanticide within our own borders? Abortion is only one manifestation of the corruption, and exploitation, at work. The power we are facing cannot be answered with any human weaponry.
    Your blog has consistently pointed towards the one truly effective answer… each person seeking his own union with God through prayer and the life of the Church, through deeds of love and mercy, seeking the true City that is to come.
    There may come a point where good Orthodox Christians need to physically defend their homes and loved ones, and I don’t think our collective Orthodox history requires us to feel ashamed to do so if that grisly duty beckons. But by far, the greater need of the hour is to be founding more monasteries, and to seek to model the ‘angelic life’ in our parishes and in our own homes.

  71. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It is key, I think, that we immerse ourselves in what is at hand, the “next good thing,” the local, etc. This is not a strategy of letting anyone get away with anything, or not resisting, it is what resistance looks like. Modernity is always suggesting that we look at the “big picture” that we concern ourselves with being concerned. You are right – seek union with God through prayer and keeping the commandments. Be the answer by living the answer. Learning to give thanks for all things (even the terrible Crosses that we must bear) shakes hell to its very foundations.

  72. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman, Lupo, others,

    I think, once we have been convinced that Christus Victor is true, and it is, we may start ignoring the reality that Christ’s victory was won through suffering. Christus Victor should reinforce this more than any other view, but I think the imagination gets skewed. All subsequent victories, are won along the same pattern, as again, we were told. Imaginatively we are more like the Jews in Jesus’s day wishing for God or Messiah to conquer on their behalf. But they weren’t all wrong for this, and we pray for it regularly every Lent/Pascha, it’s that this view ignores participative suffering as the means to conquering (and explains how some military endeavors, could be both willingness to suffer, without some idea that we will usher in the Kingdom). I think the picture of a soldier, whose enemy is trying to break him, is more the imagination of Christian spiritual warfare, than, a person holding a rocket launcher. I don’t know the root cause lies solely in modernity, but goes way back to Messianic expectations demanded, when it is again, God’s prerogative determining the when, where, etc. Revelation 6:11, where the martyrs ask a similar question as the disciples (but are not rebuked), “How long…,” very reminiscent or even quoting David, is answered by, “A little longer…,” until the suffering conquerors, those who were not broken, those who held fast their confession, come to a completion/close.

    We are opposed to suffering, and if we could/did suffer death/loss as aggressors in physical warfare, we would think that the Kingdom was advanced. Neither form the picture in Scripture. Salvation really is, “of the Lord.” You can only defeat death by death by operating in hope of Resurrection, not forcing the Kingdom.

    I was thinking about Jesus’s questions to Peter, “Do you love me.” I don’t know that there is real significance that Peter uses the word phileo, and Jesus, agapao, until Jesus changes to phileo the third time. But it got me wondering, since Peter was ready to go to war, and Jesus tells him “those who live by the sword, die by the sword” in an obvious criticism, and later, Peter was unwilling to suffer to the point of denial, his breaking point, the obvious 3 fold denial then 3 fold affirmation, when in Revelation 12:11 it says, “they did not agapao their lives even unto death”, if there is a connection. I know there is Biblically, but I wonder at the word usage, if it reinforces this. What is tentatively suggested to me (though I could surely be wrong) is that there is some acknowledgment that Peter loves Jesus enough to fight and die and bring the Kingdom, but that maybe, he was not yet willing to suffer unjustly for righteousness’ sake as the next verses in John, describe to Peter, his end. I don’t know, and either way the truth is there. The disciples, us, if we want to resist, will have to suffer. Paul/Hebrews 12 goes so far as to say, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of the shedding of blood” in verse 4, but 3 says, “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” And 5 says, “Have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son?”

    We, many of us it seems, myself, get stuck in vs. 3, forgetting what came before or after vs. 3, so to speak. It’s not that God is unaware of how frustrating life is, how hard life is. We don’t believe how good God is, and we don’t take in, that loyalty to the point of the shedding of blood, is basic Christianity. If Christ was not loyal to the shedding of blood, we would have no Pascha to celebrate. And in another sense, if our loyalty falls short, we will have no Resurrection to celebrate, if we do love our lives here to the point that we will let the world, break us.

  73. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thank you. Yes, Christ does not suffer “instead of us.” That is some of the faulty reasoning of the “substitutionary” notion of atonement. We are saved, not by substitution, but by union. We are united with His death/suffering, and He is united to ours. Our life and His life are one life. And that life is cruciform.

  74. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    Though that “instead of us” may not be our imagination, the Christ Conqueror is, but, He conquers through suffering. In union with His life and death, we conquer in the exact same way. I’ve started to see the Gospels and the Calendar, connectedly, as a pattern of life. I know this is obvious, but the Gospels start either with Incarnation (deification) and an Egypt setting or John the Baptist. Exodus either way, as Baptism is properly Exodus out of the domain of the world, into the family of God. Then the desert to face down demons and Satan. Finally to suffer at the hands of evil men and demons. All to conquer them. All planned. Our union at Baptism, unites us to this “real world” that the Gospels and Calendar put forth, that is not passing away. But, our imagination, when we are pressed, goes into fight or flight, where God calls us to fight, by, suffering. Peter fights, then “flights”. What should he have done. Suffered with Christ.

  75. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    I guess, it’s easy to identify with Peter cutting of the ear of a soldier, and it’s easy to identify with Peter denying Christ, but it’s not easy to think, if we were Peter, that we should have been crucified with Him. Yet, all along, our view of the atonement, should correct this, provided the emphasis on conquering death by death, include our own, due to union. I mean, in the end, it’s all right there in the Bible either way for people who don’t get bogged down in theological debate. But, now that I’m thinking about it, views of the atonement, or bad Bible reading, will give you a Messiah who does everything and you do nothing, or the union will mean, union with Christ’s sacrifice, without you participating except by imputation, etc. Oh my, always comes back around to my criticisms of Original Sin and Total Depravity. Don’t feel any need to comment back on that.

  76. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Forgive me, but can you say what you’ve been reading viz. Christus Victor? Originally, the phrase comes from the work of Gustav Aulen, a Swedish Lutheran theologian whose book, by that title, was an excellent exposition of 4 different models of the atonement. His seminal contribution was to argue persuasively that Christus Victor (Christ the Conqueror) was a full, true, theory of the atonement and not just a metaphor.

    The imagery of Christus Victor (such as “trampling down death by death”) had always been quite strong in Eastern Orthodox liturgical and theological texts. However, the West, long dominated by the theories of substitutionary atonement (of one sort or another), actually held that the Eastern Church either (a) had no doctrine of the atonement (this is actually stated in the classical Western history of doctrine text by JND Kelly) or (b) had only a very primitive, undeveloped doctrine of the atonement. Aulen argued that this was wrong, and further argued that the Christus Victor model was strongly represented in Luther’s teaching (there insued a famously debate with German Lutherans).

    I first encountered Aulen’s work back in the 70’s when I was in seminary and was fascinated by it. I did a term paper for a class in Moral Theology in which I theorized that one’s atonement doctrine ultimately determined the character of one’s moral theology. Working backward, I asked, “What would a moral theology look like if it were based in the Christus Victor model of the atonement?”

    Interestingly, the result led to years of reading and study, which I eventually carried with me to the doctoral program at Duke. While there, it became clear to me that there was such a thing as a moral theology rooted in the Christus Victor atonement – and that such a theology was nothing other than Eastern Orthodox Christianity. That kind of exploded in my hand/head. It became one of the keys for understanding and working in Orthodox Fathers.

    I think that Aulen was correct, to a degree. What was lacking in his work, I think, was a full development of the place of union/communion. In my writing at the time, I began to describe the whole matter of Christus Victor under the heading of the “Divine Solidarity.” But, these days, I just use the more classic “union/communion.” In that sense, I think it is possible to overdo the precise details of the Christus Victor imagery. It is not just “what” Christ did for us on the Cross, it is primarily and above all that what He did, He did in union with us (and we in Him). This ties up everything together: the sacraments, the atonement, the Incarnation, etc.

    What can seem to a Westerner like an amazing “discovery” would have been by the Eastern Church Fathers as: “But of course. What else were you thinking?”

  77. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    “…in which I theorized that one’s atonement doctrine ultimately determined the character of one’s moral theology.”

    I couldn’t agree with you more. And this is why, my interest, in finding where soteriology goes wrong, is what it is – it shapes the entirety of your imagination, personally, culturally, etc. One’s atonement doctrine is interwoven with an overall soteriology. For example, if you believed in PSA, you should have been logically, already a determinist, presupposing either than man lost his freedom in Adam/or that it only functions in a negative way after falling. PSA is what it is, because of an Original Perfection. Again, if you have a person that is totally irreformable, unless God overrides their will, what is the other option? Destruction or damnation. Add on that sin now, has already taken on a legal character. But what justice, legally, can you administer to someone who offends/breaks the law, of an infinitely good God? The law, being associated with God, who He is, the broken law is an infinite offense and can only be retributed with an infinite punishment. But man cannot logically tolerate an infinite punishment without destruction, so, logically, man must be immortally punished. All are born this way in Adam. How to get out? Election. How to get chosen? You have no effect on this, whatsoever. Why? You now live in an ongoing opposition to God that you chose with Adam and you do not want to stop opposing God, it’s now your nature, who you are. So, for Christ to save you, you must be Elect, and Christ must suffer in your place the full weight of the wrath of God, only He can as God, and give you His righteousness. The Reformers are right, if this is the situation, you really do need imputation, but they are wrong.

    Now, put in non-perfect Adam falling and death coming into the world and the missing Satan, none of this follows. All the soteriological logic in Catholic and Reformed theology is seen to be based on a lie. That’s saying nothing of believers in those traditions, it’s just what it is. And I don’t care who is to blame, it is what it is. Last week I was doing a study of the word soter and aiomai, almost always interchangeable for healing or saving from sin.

    Adam and theosis, is actually plain once the presuppositions are corrected. Christ becoming obedient, sitting at the Right Hand, is corollary to what Adam didn’t do. Christ being tempted yet rebuking Satan, what Adam didn’t do. Christ, through obedience, becoming the True Human, becomes, perfects, is perfected, as the God-man, the Divinized Human. On and on. Christ therefore, since He comes to undo death, to make powerless the Devil, to forgive sinners, does not suffer in order to absorb the wrath of God. It doesn’t follow. It’s actually, anti-the logic of the Bible.

    Really, it was through realizing, that because of Original Sin and Guilt, PSA is necessary. It is logically necessary. If man is evil in Adam after the fall, and was in a state of perfection before the fall, what can you do with a totally evil person? Either punish them, or elect them and punish Christ. Then, when you read back that logic on the OT, you distort the entire picture. When you start with death, instead of OS/OG, you realize, especially after someone like me, trained in defending Calvinism, the whole story plays out very differently. It’s almost impossible to imagine how death and Satan are really in the way of salvation with OS/OG. Again, I guess, my road to Orthodoxy began with the accusation from Orthodoxy about the status of OS/OG, and then it led to my own research into alternative views, and in the end, with all the theological study I have done, it was really in part, just believing what was there all along. We take such long detours because of bad presuppositions. And I guess, when other Orthodox Christians help others see some of these things, the normal expectation that it’s going to be 5 years before you start getting a feel for being Orthodox, you realize, no, there’s a faster method, not for being a Saint or getting healthy, but for having the imagination to get started. And, I’m guessing, this will my zeal for a very long time. It hasn’t let up yet. I’m just at the part where I have the imagination and all I feel I can do, as I am not healed, is help others have the right imagination, where they want to start, that’s my hope.

    So, after this, and it was a long haul, I won’t give a bibliography, I started reading the OT without those presuppositions. Satan and the gods came alive, sacred space, union, death, the whole world we now appreciate as Orthodox Christian, and a different set of problem that Christ would necessarily, have to do something about.

    I have held this view for 5 plus years now, that actively rooting out OS/OG from your imagination, and replacing it with death, Satan, the need for restoration, puts all the pieces together in the most generic form. Fear of death and the ways Satan messes with me, to fear death, to manipulate and manage death or some very sad utopian vision which ends in death, is the main cause of my depravity, this and the disconnect between my mind and will or body. I was in union, with the world. Baptism breaks this union, puts me in union with Christ and His Body. Chrismation with Baptism, is the beginning of deification. Sacraments support or build up/renew/invigorate faithfulness in love. The logic starts to become clear.

    Sorry for repeating myself, I went back to edit, start adding, then it’s too much to redo at the moment.

  78. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    My guess is, that without an Original Perfection, or Original Sin, you wouldn’t get a view of the law, the OT law, that was “legal”, but, ascetical. So, when people respond to posts like this and say, “Yes, the Orthodox don’t have the legal view….” I want to say back, which came first, a legal vision, or, Original Perfection/Sin, which necessitates a legal vision?

  79. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think the legal view came before the doctrine of original sin – and that the legal view came out of Latin culture. Historically, however, it’s also the case that you don’t have to get the entire Calvinist package. As “logical” as it may be – history and theology do not always follow a logical track. What you do get, for example, in the Augustinian discussion world (which stretches primarily through Caesarius of Arles and into Western medieval thought) is a dominance of the legal metaphor as the “grammar” of theology.

    An example of that grammar: it’s not unusual in various Western writers to speak of the Incarnation in legal terms – that, since a man had sinned, only a man could pay for it. It might make a nice homeletical turn of expression, but it is disastrous when it is raised to the level of grammar.

  80. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    This may be true, I’m not sure, but, if you think about it, once you assume OS/OG, and an Original Perfection, the question, of what was man supposed to do in the Garden, how would he maintain or keep his estate in Eden, the answer is, by keeping the Commandment, and this makes the first command given to man, a legal obligation. Assuming OS/OG, whether or not you’ve already presupposed legal categories, necessitates or reinforces legal categories. If man was not perfect, legal categories, do not follow in the same way. Instead, they would rightly be ascetical pathways to something else. They would be seen as reinforcements of love, especially after Christ reveals that the Law (this was already revealed of course) was to love God preeminently and neighbor as yourself. The Reformed mainly see the Law as exposing depravity or restraining depravity. But if you did keep the Law, you would love God and neighbor fearlessly. I agree that history and logic are not the same thing, but, imaginatively, in the average person, the effects of cognitive dissonance in religious/theological practice are debilitating.

    If legal categories did truly precede Augustinian theology, then it would reinforce to me, a Pagan precedent to such thinking, a very non-Jewish way of thinking.

    Once I drew the attention somehow of some higher ranking Jehovah’s Witnesses, my assumption was/is, due to the fact that co-workers and roaming evangelists, up and quit working with no notice, and an intentional rotation of various JWs would come to my door every week, after me engaging them. 4 guys got out of a giant black Chevy Suburban outside our house. It looked like a government vehicle. I told them, if man was evil (using the standard Biblical Calvinist quotations), and if man should be punished since his crimes were infinitely bad against the infinitely Good God, then there was no way an angel could tolerate the punishment due man, or else they would have been destroyed. They never came back, until a few years later someone new was in the neighborhood. By now I had been studying Orthodoxy. I asked him, “What New Testament do you read, is it the same as everyone else’s?” He confirmed, yes. Then I asked, “What about the OT?” Yes again. Then I told him that St. Athanasius in his Festal Letter, through Providence of course, named the NT books and that that list had stuck ever since, that St. Athanasius fought tooth and nail against Arius and that they were a modern rehashing of Arianism. Then I told him the OT they read is due mainly to Luther thinking the LXX was inferior, not knowing the Masoretic text was an intentional editing due to Christian apologists. In the end I said, you depend in part on people who fought your theology for the NT, and for Luther for your OT. That guy came back every week for months and almost invited me to his wedding and if I remember correctly brought his fiancé by once. I’ve never seen him again. While I was talking to him I kept realizing that I was in the same boat practically. The people God entrusted the OT and NT to, wouldn’t have agreed with me about hardly anything.

    Anyway, again, just for thought, if “legal” is necessary, and then PSA, due to soteriology, then either the soteriology is, I say this with more trepidation and no glee, Pagan, or, it was made to fit Pagan expectations apologetically.

  81. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The development of theology did not follow a logical road (and it’s mostly just Calvinists who tend to think that it does). Mostly, things develop for a number of reasons, often quite complex. A large cultural divide existed between Hellenistic thought and Roman thought. They overlapped, but mostly politically. Roman thought was quite legal in how it saw the world (not necessarily a pagan issue, just cultural). It was certainly easy for such a culture to pick up “Law” out of the OT and read it as being a dominant way of reading and seeing things. If, prior to Augustine, you read Tertullian (probably the most prolific writer prior to Augustine in Latin West) you get a “legal” flavor. It’s just there.

    In the Hellenistic East, there is a much stronger influence of Philosophical speculation (Plato and Stoicism, primarily). Eastern theology tended (and not absolutely) to think in ontological terms – categories of being, etc. The moral life in such a setting was about the acquisition of the virtues rather than just keeping the Law. Thus, there is a notion of “development” for the one who must do the moral thing. In Augustine, you get a stronger sense that morality is a matter of the will (or is discussed in those terms).

    Augustine really has no particular following in the Eastern Church, partly because he just wasn’t interesting to them. Not worth translating, etc. If you sit down and read Augustine’s Confessions, there’s nothing even similar to it in the East.

    If I might make a suggestion – don’t think so much in terms of causation – as in – “here is where there was a wrong turn.” History is never that clear (not in reality). There are complexities. We can make generalizations – but pressing things with logical “if this…then this…and then this…etc.” does a violence to history that tends to be reductionist (and therefore, inaccurate).

    It is sufficient, I think, to see broad sweeps of cultures.

    Also, though there is this tendency (particularly in Reform thought) to start with Adam and Eve and work the problem forward – that actually makes for bad theology (particularly from an Orthodox perspective – one of my complaints about Romanides, btw). Orthodox thought does not begin with Adam and Eve and then move forward. It begins with Pascha and works backwards and forwards. Frankly, that allows you to read Genesis in a variety of ways (which is typical in the Fathers). There is a greater freedom. The same is true of the whole OT.

    Just my two cents. Maybe 2 drachmas.

  82. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Ah, Father “causation”. It is a big rock to chew especially in historical terms. Only ideologies are sure of it.
    My wife and I, for fun, were looking at how she and I got together. In fact we found out rather quickly that it is impossible to trace. It depends on which “past” we decide to create.

  83. Dino Avatar

    There’s many fascinating truths in Father’s insights regarding Greek ‘thought’ and its theological repercussions.
    It vividly resonates with me as a Greek.
    The classic example (a slightly different analytical angle) is that if you take (at the risk of sounding like a trite joke) a westerner, a Greek and a Jew (or even a far easterner), and present them with “something” (take anything,… from a bicycle to a deity), the three respective ‘approaches’ would distinctively be:
    for the Greek: “what is it’s raison d’etre?” (ontological), the “Logos” of the thing becoming a requirement in this mindset;
    for the Westerner: “what is its utility?” (of the bike or the deity etc) {“Is there a legal description of the even of how we use it” ? being related to this mindset} ;
    and the Eastern/Jew question would instinctively be “where did it come from?” Who is its father /forefathers?
    A mindset that looks back to origins for a variety of good reasons.
    From St John the Evangelist to the Cappadicians and beyond, the Greek ontological approach has taken precedence in a very obvious WAY in theology (as it should) no wonder Greek was the language of the Gospel, making the fusion with the other approaches a fusion with significant yet clearly secondary mindsets.

  84. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    No doubt, my Calvinist past has shaped my thinking. But, there is the question, of, do cultures exist without a prior theological imagination? Interestingly enough, a little word/phrase like filioque can imaginatively subordinate the Holy Spirit, imply doctrinal development, implies Sabellianism/modalism, and much, much more, culturally, politically, funneling/filtering down to the ordinary person. In one sense, if the filioque never existed, and if it is true that Charlemagne used it as a wedge – which is certainly possible – there may never have been a schism, yet, you’d still have to deal with other theological baggage. If the, and maybe I’m getting too rational here, filioque logically demands a unilateral enforcer, and subsequent developments necessitate an arbiter of truth for the salvation of man, in one sense, the filioque demands the Papacy as, at the time, the Eastern churches could not be depended upon conciliar-ly, since they already rejected it. They needed Big Brother to set them straight. Now, regardless of if I am right about that, either way, the fact that culturally a few words could change an empire, I think it’s good to ask what gave the culture its imagination rather than to think of cultures existing apart form such ideas and only conditioned by basic necessities of life apart from a theological imagination.

    So, I have a bigger project to do yes, but, I think historians, or the recipients of history, have often neglected the role of the theological imagination, resulting in cultural consequences. Again, maybe I’m just being too logical/causation seeking? It’s hard for me to accept that anything like a vacuum theologically can ever exist, as it seems to directly contradict Scripture and Tradition.

    But this is what I mean, how did the East reject legal categories? If it was just cultural conditioning, now culture is a standard of truth apart from, or in respect to how analogous it is to the Biblical mindset. Once I asked a priest why would we go through Mary or anyone else to get to Christ, this is my early questions phase. He replied that it was a cultural norm for Jews and other Middle Easterners, to, in humility, go through/via the mother to make request for someone else. Now, in the NT there is something like this in the imagination already of people which is very evident even among non-Jews who want Jesus to do something for them. But, the answer I was given was completely illogical to me, as it assumed a cultural norm was equivalent to revealed patterns of worship, piety, etc. Now, I can pray to Mary with a completely different basis rooted in the fact that the Theotokos, is a perfected Saint ruling with Christ in His Council, among the Saints, which rejects the OS/OG paradigm, which had confused the whole matter from the beginning. This all relates to how it practically works itself out.

    Romanides, just spelled out the problems well. After, if you just read Scripture with a little help from the Fathers, as a soteriological picture, you don’t wind up with PSA, you wind up with Christus Victor. And in union with Christ’s victory, through suffering, we are integrated as family into, an ongoing project. So, I tried to bring it full circle. Which view of the atonement, will make for a truly moral person, or will encourage it best? Calvinists and other determinists are fully encouraged by Providence as their next splinter was predestined for their good. Our rationale for comfort is different, it is based in God’s commitment to man, not to some men, who, by means of PSA and Election, and all that is required in between, make it safely to shore. Our imagination of Providence, comes from, God’s commitment/loyalty/righteousness/goodness.

    Thanks for engaging me Father!
    Matthew Lyon

  85. Joseph Barabbas Theophorus Avatar

    Matthew Lyon,

    I don’t think there are “theological vacuums”, but will concur with Pr Stephen that it is far more complex than generic idea A inevitably leading to generic idea B . Your particular experiences, and the traditions and history behind them, are unique. So even the idea of “legal” means something to you that it does not mean to me, and vice versa.

    To give a non-theological example, I’m finishing up a first draft on a civil law project that has been *long* in the making; it goes out to more LE, military, etc experts this week for review. In short, it is a legal system that encapsulates everything—and I mean *everything*—in a mere 42 tiny laws. It takes care of the boundaries of the crime, the sentencing, and damages in a grand total of *2* pages—most of it whitespace! And it completely ignores questions of intent—that is simply immaterial given the way I designed it. Thus, questions of moral guilt, state of mind, sin, and the rest don’t even enter into the picture. There is no emotional punitivity, no “we’re going to really hurt the really bad people!”, and no exception for the unprovable “well he was trying to do good” and similar. There’s also no exception for civil servants: no two-tier system! Those things just aren’t present.

    I bring that up because it is a strict legal system, very concise and very clear. Yet it has next to none of the baggage you are associating with the word “legal”. So even if you say a culture has a “legal” view of salvation, that is not enough. You have to ask: “What legal view?”.

  86. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes. I’ve contended for a long time that you cannot speak of the “Law” (Torah) in the manner of the Psalms, for example, and mean by it what was latter meant by Western theological usage. Torah has a hypostatic character (some kind of ontology) in some of the Psalms. In the most common Western usage, “law” is nothing more than rules and only has reality as it is enforced. Thus, in the PSA, God is our enemy, because He is the enforcer of the law that condemns us. It’s so strange.

  87. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Punishment for breaking the law? Maimonides, stated that the fear factor was used as a way to get people to behave themselves.
    The famous atheist Richard Dawkins came to the conclusion that religion did have a use after all; to get people to behave themselves.

  88. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


    Our own government, at least at one time and in specific instances, based ideas of justice and morality upon a Western theological framework. Legal would have been associated with moral to an extent. Legal today, means nothing of the sort, as there is essentially no teleology to man, there is also no support for man, legally, in pursuing a destiny aligning with, the previous framework. So, in short, even today’s legal, while distancing itself from theological underpinnings, is in some ways, inextricably linked to the former. Respect for the individual who now has no teleological past or future, based solely on their freedom to express an identity rooted in a preferential psychological expression, is legally enforced by and large, without acknowledging, the absolute necessity of a prior, theological need imaginatively, for things like Image of God/Incarnation/ideals. So, whatever you’re doing, even when you think bias is gone or the vacuum is in effect, it’s impossible for that to actually be the case. When you add on, that for an Orthodox Christian, heresy derives from the demonic, that Christ’s Kingdom and this world are actually at odds, bias is always, always there.

    I remember a school in Georgia I believe, wanting to teach comparative religion to high schoolers so they hired an agnostic former college professor, this to eliminate bias. I just laughed.

    Yes, you have to identify what someone means by legal, but the preceding law, or its foundations/presuppositions, tell you something, maybe a lot, about, the morphology of the imagination.

  89. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Matthew, “Bias is always there.” That was one of the first warnings I was given when I first started studying history years ago. Bias should be expected, even embraced in a certain sense.

  90. SW Avatar

    Fr Stephen, I recently read something about St. Isaac the Syrian, about him coming from a Syriac and/or Hebrew world and mindset that differed from a Hellenistic one and a Roman one. Maybe it’s what Dino elaborated on in his joke example. In the somewhat little I’ve read of his homilies, there is such a love that comes across even when he writes very challenging things. His words draw me to God and to seeing my weaknesses so that God can heal me. It’s very different from some exhortations to obey God that I’ve come across in other places. Do you think this is related to him having a Syriac or Hebrew mind?

  91. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I suspect that it’s a bit of a mistake to use a broad brush to paint a cultural picture in which a Syriac mind and Hebrew mind are lumped together. They are both “Semitic” and share a number of linguistic commonalities. But the Syriac/Arabic communities and cultures are broader than anything we would encompass by a reading of the Old Testament and then drawing conclusions. It is a very rich area of Christian thought – one that is being increasingly explored.

  92. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Michael, Fr. Freeman,

    Realizing bias, not only in history, but in theology, is the first step to evaluating presuppositions. Most people think, when they read the Bible via the Reformers or through an Augustinian lens, that they are just reading the Bible. Bible and interpretation becomes one thing. This would not be all bad if the Augustinian framework was true. Realizing though, that there is a false soteriology there, a false anthropology, a false Christology in many ways, will lead an honest person into Orthodoxy I believe, or, the person will be essentially an ecumenicist personally/theologically. Many cannot stomach the idea of questioning theirs or others’ religious experience, the validity thereof, so a morphology takes place. Underneath though is still the presupposition of development, and that is largely based on, historically, the filioque. The interplay of filioque with an anthropology that identifies person/will/nature being essentially identical, how this relates to Christology, and so on, all form an imagination in which, after becoming the theological imagination, is overwhelmingly hard to question, in fact, it’s easier just to abandon it instead of questioning it. This may be overly simplistic, but I think that American theology is basically Calvinism or Calvinism modified. History points in this direction in a major way, as almost all religious groups who colonized America, carried with them a Calvinist soteriology with few exceptions. Eventually free will debates ensued, or were already in the works, and groups identified themselves in part along whether or not free will was real, and the impact this had on the already existing soteriology. You get Baptists who were Calvinistic (London Baptist Confession), then Baptists who reacted, like Free Will Baptists, etc. You get controversy over the role or place of revival, etc. I’m being short here. Later though, when Higher Criticism comes into play, you get more so, a full rejection of the Augustinian system in the institutions that were once bastions of Calvinist orthodoxy. It was easier, to reject the system outright, than to re-evaluate soteriology along Patristic lines. The Augustinian system actually led to the suspicion or assertion, that all Fathers and Councils, who did not embrace the soteriology of Augustine, interpreted by the Reformed, were likely erroneous, or, were not worth the time. It’s very much like, how Fundamentalists are the easiest people to turn into atheists, they basically see no other option. But the “liberal” mainline churches, in many cases have proven to be, little better than if a group of atheists operated a social gathering. Satan and death were largely never a major focus of soteriology, so, reevaluating the fall along these lines, as Satan had already been de-mythologized, and death already seen as natural, what to do with the old gospel and the soteriology? Throw it out. What to replace it with? Often social concerns along a view of love and altruism disconnected from Scriptural logic.

    The more I think about these things, the more I realize the detractors of Romanides, they may be right in areas of what theosis means now, what requirements are on people before the afterlife in terms of how Romanides lays these out, but they are not right in ignoring the issues he calls attention to; E/E distinction, selfish happiness in God as ideal, death, Satan, OS/OG, etc. I have real issue with Romanides’ assertion that there is no analogy whatsoever between God and the created. I understand that the criticism goes where his thought has played out most, in the practical endeavor for theosis. If that was set aside, at least initially or altogether, the issues he calls attention to would be realized to be very real. After, someone could develop and criticize his work having delved into the problems.

    Again, and I can say this had I never read any Romanides, PSA needs Original Perfection. If someone did arrive at it without it, and I don’t believe they would, if they had without it, it wouldn’t have lived on so long. Substitution may live on, as there are ways that this is true, but, not the vengeance of God infinitely poured out on Christ for the sake of the Elect. Oddly enough, since some Orthodox adopt PSA, if you look at denominations who did divert from Calvinism, usually PSA goes out, as, if Christ suffered the wrath of God for the whole world, universalism is entailed, or, Christ suffers and the non-believer suffers, there is then a double payment for sin. Now, they also, may continue to be inconsistent, as are some Orthodox, but, it should go out the window.

    If it were me, trying to argue against an Orthodox Christian who believed in PSA, my tactic would be to try and figure out how the person avoids Calvinism or an Augustinianism that differs much.

  93. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Matthew, I was blessed to come to the Church largely free of the type of theological bias you describe. My historical study of Calvinism made it unattractive to me. What theology I did have before the Church was Trinitarian, Sacramental and (for lack of a better word) experiential, i.e. practicing the living presence of God.
    I became Orthodox because Mary and Jesus greeted me and welcomed me home the moment I walked in the door.
    Understanding(base level) the Incarnational elements of Trinitarian-Sacramental worship. As I have grown in the Church, by God’s Grace, the critical nature of repentance has also been shown to me.
    I have met remarkable people along the way who have demonstrated the reality of Jesus within us and the ontological reality of genuine submission to His Grace. Even if their theology was not pristine. In addition to our host, Fr. Moses Berry, whom I have known for 48 years, has been instrumental in helping me to be human. He reminded me today of when we first met: I was an aide in a men’s aid house in the Fillmore district of San Francisco. He came one day to help out and found me using a blow torch to kill bed bugs in the metal springs of the cot beds on which our homeless guests slept.
    My first encounter with the mercy of God in a practical way. Repentance is not much different just allowing Our Lord to do it internally.
    Bias just is, there is no avoiding it. But there is a clear difference between bias and experiential truth. Only the Orthodox Church has the living and historical witness to the fullness of The Truth.
    Please include Fr. Moses and Mat. Magdelena in your prayers. He is in prolonged bodily suffering from the effects of uncontrolled diabetes to which he has lost one leg and his kidneys and his remaining leg is dying.
    Still he gives genuine glory to God.

  94. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


    I agree with you. I gave up on my theological past because it was indefensible eventually. I knew I couldn’t say I believed these things. I had done enough homework and prayer and wrestling that we left our former church and when we ended up at our parish, it very much felt like a last hope. After a short time though, I found I could pray and focus on living like a Christian, without being bogged down, for the first time in a long time. Now I realize repentance/healing/love is the goal of life with, for the most part, many fewer mental blocks to pursuing this. People assume persons like me are just intellectual, it’s really that you have to dismantle the false intellectual structure, to see Christianity. It’s not that we are anti-intellectual by any means, but that the intellect is often employed in situations of heresy historically. A poet and an apologist aren’t at odds, though people tend to think they would be. I think most converts would find that becoming Orthodox was more a deconstruction than adding to what they already believed, though this is true as well, initially though, the addition, feels like demolition, at least for me.

  95. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Matthew, there was a lot of deconstruction in my experience, if not demolition, and it never seems to cease, at least for me.

  96. Byron Avatar

    To be quite honest, one of the first things I found necessary when I converted to Orthodoxy was to stop overthinking things, stop trying to find answers, stop “constructing”…. I had to do a lot of just absorbing the Divine Liturgy and learning to really pray (an endeavor I am still attempting)….

  97. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    I think that too much theological overthinking in Western Christianity, is partly due to the reformation and counter reformation, (both sides in this period would also have been well versed in scholasticism), thus causing a split in Europe and at times even had brother killing brother. The reverberations of this can still be felt today. It didn’t take long in historical terms, after the schism between East and West, for Western Christianity to begin the process of a continued fragmentation.

    Of course we need to use our reason and intellect. For example; ‘repent and believe the Good News,’ raises the question; what is this Good News? And a host of other questions the deeper we go. But ultimately, we are dealing with mystery.

  98. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Under thinking isn’t too clever either. Finding the balance between what we can know and can’t know; that’s the tricky part.

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