How Powerless Are You Willing to Be?

“My spiritual efforts don’t do anything, they merely bring me to the place where I know I can’t do anything, to the place where I am utterly naked before God!” -Fr. Silviu Bunta

Sometimes I run across a quote that strikes my heart so deeply that I’m surprised it wasn’t me who said it. The quote above is from Fr. Silviu Bunta, Associate Professor of Old Testament at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, in a retreat talk he was giving at St. Athanasius Orthodox Church in Nicholasville, KY. During the same weekend, I was in Loveland, CO, doing a series of talks on the place of shame in the spiritual life. The nakedness that comes with our shame (from Genesis forward) is a theme that is accompanied by God’s continuing efforts to “clothe” us (from Genesis forward). Our nakedness does not reveal us as “evil.” It reveals us to be who and what we are. Strangely, the mere fact of our being is something that is accompanied by shame. Much of what we name as “civilization” is little more than our collective efforts to clothe ourselves in the various masks that disguise reality, giving us, instead, a culture of make-believe, including a culture of make-believe spirituality.

Several years ago, I wrote an article in which I suggested that moral improvement is largely make-believe. Nothing has changed my mind on the topic. Instead, I am ever more deeply convinced that the path described by Fr. Silviu is quite accurate. It is our moral failings, faced honestly and with humility, that allow us to see the truth of our helplessness and of our utter dependence on God. St. Sophrony described this as “bearing a little shame.” Among the greatest errors of modernity’s false ideas, is the notion of our self-sufficiency and our moral competence. Those same errors convince us that we are able to do for the world what it refuses to do for itself. Every new crisis brings a chorus of voices that demand action while ignoring the fact that each new crisis is a recurring indictment of our own incompetence and moral failure.

Attending to the evil within my own heart (as well as attending to the good) is castigated by some as “Quietism.” There are, instead, impassioned proposals that call us to action (write your congressman and save the world). Moral sentiments and moral actions come to us with the promise of their effectiveness. If enough of us act, we will change the world. This is not true now nor has it ever been. To say this, I know, runs counter to the religion of modernity. To believe that moral sentiment and actions will, in fact, change the world is to subscribe to the secular imagination. It suggests (repeatedly) that politics can save us.

Nothing can be more dangerous in this world than a “moralized” state. When the political project is to make the world moral, then there are no limits to the exercise of power. (How can there be too much good?) In our moralized modern states, we see increasing pressure to silence dissenting voices as threats to the moral order. That state which sees itself as holding a “moral” role has begun to see itself in the place of God. God alone is good (not the state).

The tradition of the faith reminds us, as is espoused by Dostoevsky’s Elder Zossima, that each of us is responsible for the sins of all. Solzhenitsyn said the same thing by noting that the line between good and evil runs in each individual heart rather than between groups of people. There are no “moral” people and “immoral” people. We are each of us guilty for everyone and everything (so says Elder Zossima).

This reality creates a deep burden for the human soul. There is a certain freedom (though it be false) found in being able to shift the blame to others and put them forward as scapegoats. We imagine that making the world a better place can be achieved by fixing the goats (or getting rid of them). At its deepest level, such thinking is nothing more than envy, the “evil eye,” and it is the source of every murder, both individually and collectively.

What about evil in the world? What should we do?

Turn the question around and place it before Christ. Ask Him the question. Is Jesus a Quietist? Did He refuse to make a difference in the world? A common evil of His day could be found quite nearby – that of a Roman Soldier forcing local citizens (including women and children) to carry his military pack. This was a practice loathed by Jewish zealots. Christ’s commandment(!) was, “If someone forces you to go a mile with them, go two miles with them.” (Matt. 5:41) The “extra mile” is not a bit of extra effort we do for a friend, it is a radical act of non-violence in the face of unjust oppression.

Why would Jesus have said such a thing? Is Jesus a pacifist? I think that would be the wrong conclusion. There is no acceptance of evil in His teaching, nor is there a command of non-violence that trumps all others. Christ does not enjoin us to be passive in the face of the unjust demand. Rather, the command to go the “extra mile” is the radical application of the Cross in a situation of practical injustice.

The Cross should not be seen as an event of divine payment, an arrangement that clears the way for us go to heaven. Nor should the Cross be reduced to a mere willingness to suffer patiently. The Cross is the way of life and is constantly set forth to us throughout the New Testament. It is the singular mark of a Christian: “Those who would be my disciples must take up their cross and follow me.”

What is the Cross? The Cross is ironically described as the “Weapon of Peace,” in Orthodox hymns. Though it may appear passive to outside observers, it is the most singularly “offensive” action of power available to us. The Cross triumphs even over death. The Cross is our self-emptying union with the Crucified Christ in which we offer ourselves “on behalf of all and for all.” It is both prayer as well as the inner shaping of our outward responses. When cursed, we bless. When struck, we turn the cheek. These are not symbolic actions, but actions of supreme spiritual power that diffuse the poison begotten in the evil actions of others. These are actions that “atone,” in that they cause an “at-one-ment,” a “union,” between a situation and God. Goodness in anything can only come about through union with God, in that He alone is the source of goodness.

Hesychasm (the way of silence and prayer), is not Western Quietism (just do nothing). It is, however, the very heart of the Orthodox spiritual life in that it is the interior union with the active life of the Cross. Those who imagine (or accuse) such a thing to be a passive way of life only demonstrate that it is a stranger to them. It was a commonplace in the desert fathers to observe that God preserved the world through the life and prayers of but a few righteous ones. They served as the “righteous in the midst of Sodom.” Today’s anti-Hesychasts imagine that the world is preserved by those with armies, social workers, and nuclear weapons married to their “moral” commitments.

O God, save Thy people!
And bless Thine inheritance.
Grant victories to the Orthodox people
Over their adversaries.
And by virtue of Thy Cross,
Preserve Thy habitation.

At the end of the day, we learn that “we can do nothing.” However, in union with Christ, we can do all things. By His Cross, through which we gather into ourselves the whole world, good and evil, righteous and unrighteous, offering ourselves “on behalf of all and for all,” we take refuge in the only life that gives life. No moral project, no matter how well intended, can do the same. God give us the grace to embrace such weakness.

Image: Christ Crucified, Viktor Vasnetsov

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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95 responses to “How Powerless Are You Willing to Be?”

  1. James Isaac Avatar
    James Isaac

    Glory to God for His wonderfully “foolish” Way, the Way of the Cross. And glory to Him for your blessed words, Father Stephen!

  2. David Burkett Avatar
    David Burkett

    ‘In our moralized modern states, we see increasing pressure to silence dissenting voices as threats to the moral order. That state which sees itself as holding a “moral” role has begun to see itself in the place of God. ”

    Russia sees itself as having a moral role to invade Ukraine to, according to Patriarch Kirill, free Ukrainians from the West’s violations of the law of God. Russia also silences dissenting voices to the point of death at times. This is as much orthodoxy as it is modernity. Simply, I don’t see the divide you repeatedly articulate between modernity and orthodoxy. They can be described differently, but the same things are done in their names.

  3. Byron Avatar


    Doing something “in their name” is not the same as doing something in obedience to them. The U.S. and Russia–indeed, all the nations of the world–act as you say (in one form or another). But it is wrong to conflate Orthodoxy with any nation, regardless of how closely any State appears to hold it (for whatever reason).

    As Father points out regularly, the divide is in our hearts. We are governed by such nations because our hearts are no purer than the hearts that cry out for and willingly go to war. In this sense, we refuse to be “naked before God”, denying ourselves and seeking Him through His cross.

  4. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    If Russia were acting as an “Orthodox” state, your point would be well-made. It is, however, simply behaving as a modern state, using an ideology that is dressed up as “Orthodoxy” to justify an thoroughly modern action. It is a great sadness to my heart (in that I have a deep love for Russia and the Orthodoxy that continues to flourish there). When Orthodoxy becomes confused with a “morality” or “moral vision,” then it becomes as much a tool of modernity as America’s many slogans of “democracy,” etc.

    Traditionally, Orthodox states (if there can even be such a thing) have, from time-to-time, acted in self-defense. I cannot begin to see the present conflict as self-defense. This is not the way of the Cross.

    As a last note – I have never even suggested that Russia and Orthodoxy are synonymous. At present, the percentage of actual, practicing Orthodox Christians in Russia is quite small. Building Churches, seminaries, monasteries, etc., is a very good thing. In time, such works might yield great fruit. They do not, however, constitute the creation of an Orthodox state. I really do not think there are any “Orthodox states” in our present time.

    I do not mean to discuss any pro’s and con’s of the present war. There are no pro’s for war.

  5. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    David, I have lived my life in series of moral state crusades. Each one brought nothing but death, destruction and disillusionment. The state (pick any) “builds” through decimation and destruction. Nietzche was one of the few honest moral philosophers, IMO.

    Putin and the Russian state are not acting in an Orthodox manner any more than the US. Once the human will achieves the paramount place, being rightly a Christ bearer and witness to Him is nearly impossible.

    Read the lives of the saints and passion bearers who suffered under the Communist yoke. George Calciu is one that comes to mind. St. Luke, the Blessed Surgeon fulfills the “extra mile” example. A surgeon and a bishop of the Ukraine. He was imprisoned by the Soviets for not properly treating Soviet soldiers and was sentenced to a prison camp where he was required to treat Soviet soldiers and he did so. Well.

    All of the wars of the last one hundred and 60 years have been launched as moral causes.

  6. Nikolaos Avatar

    I hope we discern that this is not just a war between 2 states, and time will tell if this is in accordance to God’s will.

  7. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    May God preserve us in the truth and protect the lives of all. I have little to no interest in speculations and thoughts of global conflicts. Life is best lived quite small where the commandments of Christ are not obscured by grand speculations. The commandments of Christ are not obscure for us. God help us.

  8. Santosh John Samuel Avatar
    Santosh John Samuel

    God bless you Father with many more years of beautiful writing.

  9. Nina McDonald Avatar
    Nina McDonald

    Fr Freeman–loved the post…so spot on.
    However—you write:” At present, the percentage of actual, practicing Orthodox Christians in Russia is quite small. ”
    How did you come to this conclusion? Honest question.
    Thank you

  10. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I have a friend and fellow parishioner who is quite intelligent but not in a typical way. He se3ms to live out of his car and often wears the same clothes that are quite shabby. The parish tends to be quite stylish and has a lot if influential people who are members. My friend sticks out. Yet he drives about an hour away to pick up another member of our parish who can no longer drive due to a series of heart attacks. One day I was talking with him about wanting to teach my God-daughter some basic archery but I did not have a bow for her. He went out to his car and pulled a starter bow out of his jammed back seat and some arrows too. It is a great gear to learn the basics on.
    I wish sometimes I could be as powerless as he– but not very hard.

  11. Janine Avatar

    Father, thank you both for this blog post and also for your reply to David. I am almost afraid to admit, and I do so reluctantly, that the things you have said here are about the only things that make sense to me. I have been afraid to admit the same to myself, because of the “No Man’s Land” in which I am afraid I always wind up. At least you discern between a stated ideology used to hold a state together and true faith. The first is something that has been done since time immemorial, the second is, as we know, rare and invaluable for us all, as you say in reference to the Desert Monks.

    While one may condemn a state for using religion for its own purposes, we may also see ideology /morality used the same way. I just want to say, “A pox on both their houses.” I hope that didn’t get too political.

    Michael Bauman, amazing story, thank you.

  12. Janine Avatar

    PS Probably I should be praying for all instead of wishing a pox on anyone, eh?

  13. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes, you should. “They know not what they do,” is the word from the Cross.

  14. ebru Avatar

    I can’t take my eyes off from the nails that are crushing our Lord’s hands. They are so monstrously huge. I hate them and my impulse is to get them out.
    But I can’t. I can only cry with the angels and bow my head like they do.

    I wish I could spend every moment of my life carrying this impression in my heart.
    and stay away from so many frivolities.

    God bless!

  15. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    To stand naked before God is also to know His unfathomable Mercy which is also of the Cross.

  16. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Will you delete my previous post, I corrected this one.

    Fr. Freeman,
    I think you should send this post to your Reformed brother (?). I was asking myself if I do the things you mentioned here as it relates to the common accusation I bring against Reformed/Augustinian theology (and I do conflate the two as I believe its proper to do so). But after wondering, do I think there is some sort of progress available by re-informing the Christian imagination, I realize I really just agree that progress for a Christian is what you’ve mentioned – and it’s realizing our moral incompetency while realizing our total contingency on God. I was looking at the Icon of the Creation of Adam the other day in liturgy and was imagining what it might have been like for Adam to have realized he was created by Christ. Of course, I have no idea, but I would think, something like the effect of shame would have been there. What I mean is, shame is often the realization of what we are not or the realization of what we should be and the burden of it. I think there is a real connection between shame (the experience, not shame over moral failures because we are evil) and contingency. Where Reformed and Catholic theology go wrong I think, is an under emphasis on contingency and an over emphasis on failure morally, as it relates to shame and as it relates to shame’s role in the life of a Christian, or a yet-to-be Christian.

    Reformed theology has assumed (and I know Calvinists don’t have a ton of numbers, but they have influenced the bulk of Christians in America as Evangelicals grew out of theological debates in which they had a major role in shaping the imagination) that everyone is works-righteous, that they do not “submit to God’s righteousness” and instead try and establish a righteousness of their own, apart from faith in Christ, to justify them and to save them. The overlap here with your concern, is almost exact, but it’s based on something entirely different. There is something called 2K theology among the Reformed, or 2 Kingdom theology, which calls for entire withdrawal almost from government, activism, etc. – as Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world but it is also based on Total Depravity, as God alone for them can change this, our efforts are rather foolish. Others will believe that our efforts will be blessed and united to the working of the Holy Spirit. This really just follows their view of regeneration, that people are mainly awakened to faith when the Gospel is preached and the Holy Spirit attends unto the ministry of regeneration. There is a logic here but both assume Total Depravity.

    But the Evangelical activist, the liberal Christian social this or that, the secular justice warrior – all sort of believe (due to common Christian inheritance I presuppose) that “good” is met with attending energy of God or collective willpower, etc. And the disavow-er of government believes in a strict fatalism/determinism that God alone can change – then they back their claims with believing that God foreordained Nero to persecute the Christians and that is who St. Paul tells believers to submit to as he was God’s servant for their good. All of these views oddly enough, arise from an Original Sin mindset. What I mean is this, why do Calvinists evangelize? They do, except for the hyper Calvinists (and these align with the2K theology or with theonomy), as these don’t believe God actually loves everyone, and cannot with honesty give the “free offer” of the Gospel to unbelievers. God loves only the elect. From this place many Calvinists back away from social interaction. But, historically the other Calvinists, believed again, that if they were obedient to the admonition to preach the Gospel, then while they could not force God’s hand, there was still the expectation that God would regenerate the elect among the recipients of the Gospel – this was the hope for change.

    But none of these groups, as you mentioned, today or at any other time in American history that I am aware of, every thought of stillness as progress. And this is due imaginatively to the influence of OS/OG or the modification thereof without a full examination – as the debates only focused usually on free will and whether God was implicated as the author of evil.

    So, I’m back to where I started. My sort of zealous preoccupation with this theme is so that I first, and maybe some others – I’m not optimistic, might pursue an alternative/historically Christian piety that returns us to contingency, shame bearing, realizing at the end of the day that you are an unprofitable servant, and knowing the love of God that meets you there. Fr. Romanides’ number one beef with Western theology as I can tell, is that it ruined Hesychasm as the normal path for the Christian. And the more I have spent time on this, I totally agree. Again from a week or so ago, imagine the DSM having wrong diagnoses all over the place for mental illness. Then the good doctors prescribe medicine for each wrongly diagnosed ailment. Now you’re doped up on 8 drugs when really you’ve got PTSD due to interpersonal trauma. This is a great, sad, analogy for how diagnosing people wrongly, harms them and doesn’t heal them. Now, I don’t follow Fr. Romanides farther than his diagnosis and stated cure, Hesychasm as therapy. I think this opens the door for wider takes on what Heyschasm and theosis are.

    To wrap up, the Christian or the secular social justice proponent who believe in progress, operate along an anthropology of OS/OG – this is how you can blame slavery on white people many years later – not that I don’t think we aren’t responsible in part for the sins of our ancestors while disavowing the guilt aspect. The determinist disavows government on two (fundamental) reasons, Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world, but Total Depravity (this necessitates determinsm) is already presupposed making God now the reason not to hope for a better tomorrow, in society or for the salvation of others, yet, the culprit for them will be Adam (genetic determinism). The secular, atheist determinist (and most all atheists are proud determinists) has no option but to try and force change with a fist. The theonomist does the same as they base their anthropology on Total Depravity. And then, the Heyschast follows a path built on a different anthropology of contingency, remembrance of death, loss of Eden, hope of Resurrection – and may end up healing others, offering sound spiritual counsel, etc.

    When the Reformed and others, when the verse, “What are the works of God?” but to believe… this means, faith operates apart from works (John 6:28), or against works.

    Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

    And yet, Jesus here directs them to their contingency, He being our true bread and true drink, He raising us up on the last day.

    I always write off the top of my head, and think Scripture verses off the top of my head, but I often find something I wasn’t expecting, that Christ’s Body and Blood, and His and our Resurrection, be the reminder of and the consolation for, our contingency – and our shame.

    Long as usual, but I would like to know your thoughts on contingency and shame and wonder if you would do a post on it sometime if you agree.

  17. Janine Avatar

    Thank you again for your word to me, Father. It seems like praying, esp now, is just the best thing I can do.

  18. Byron Avatar

    Matthew, you have a very “Orthodox” writing style. And by that I mean: you write, “To wrap up…” and then follow it with 5-6 more paragraphs! It’s like hearing the Deacon say, “Let us complete our prayer unto the Lord!” and realizing that we’ll still be praying 15-20 minutes later! 😀 But I enjoy your thoughts and working through so much. (Please forgive me if this comes across in any manner other than humorous, my friend!).

  19. Mary in Tennessee Avatar
    Mary in Tennessee

    Oh My God: Are the angels in the painting supporting both Christ and the Cross while weeping?

    Please: Who is the artist?

  20. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Viktor Vasnetsov. He’s one of the Russian “Symbolists.” Very poignant style.

  21. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’ve seen stats that support this observation. But, to get more personal on it, the current Rector of the parish where I serve visited Russia as part of an OCA delegation several years ago. They particularly visited some of the educational/training programs there in Moscow. They were told that Russian society is pretty much as secular as the West and that the primary task of the Church remains, “Preach Jesus, preach Jesus, preach Jesus.” I think people have focused on some very visible aspects of the Russian rennaisance – the building of Churches, the large numbers of baptisms, etc., but considering where things were before, it’s a long way to go to become a “dominantly” Orthodox country.

    Orthodoxy in Russia is, to a certain extent, at the heart of Russia. There really are no stories of Russia that speak of that nation without an Orthodox identity. But a national identity and the actual practice of the faith are not the same thing. The latter is more difficult, and takes time. It is also taking place following 70 years of very vigorous atheism. Sometimes the super-strong use of the Church by the state can also be counter-productive. People need to become Orthodox because of Christ – not because of national identity.

    It has been said of American religion that it is 2,000 miles wide and 2 inches deep. I would say that the religion of America is mostly America and its cult of modernity, yielding a very distorted form of Christianity, both conservative and liberal.

    It is important for us in America not to be “Orthodox in reaction.” As much as I critique modernity – I do not want my Orthodoxy to be a form of “anti-modernity.” Orthodoxy existed before there ever was a modern philosophy, and we’ll still be around when it’s gone. Being authentic is hard – here and everywhere.

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’ll dig around – because I think I might have done an article on contingency and shame – describing it as “ontological shame.” I recall having a conversastion with Dr. Timothy Patitsas on this, once upon a time. I’ll check.

  23. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    “At its deepest level, such thinking is nothing more than envy, the “evil eye,” and it is the source of every murder, both individually and collectively.”

    Father, I see envy to be directly related to the self-perception of righteousness. And I believe it is rather rampant in the US. Furthermore, I suspect few are exempt from such failure.

    I read an article once about a young family having difficulty finding a house that fit their budget of a million dollars. I was a bit aghast of their “troubles”. When they settled on a house, the article showed a picture of it. And I said to myself “if I was given a million dollars, I wouldn’t have bought that tasteless house”, and I laughed at their choice. Then I reflected and realized my envy, not so much regarding their choice, but the capacity to have so much money or to be so certain that they would have it over the years they lived in the house.

    I suspect I’m not alone with such thoughts and failures. But there seems to be a rather rampant desire to deny it.

  24. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think of envy as the very dark side of shame. It is when we take pleasure in the hurts of others, or when we wish them ill (the evil eye). Inasmuch as our culture is currently awash with shame – it is also awash with envy. According to the Scriptures, it was envy that crucified Christ. These are the reasons I keep directing our attentions back to the heart and away from current events. Current events are simply a “sacrament” of our hearts – sadly. The world is as it is because our hearts are as they are.

  25. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Indeed, Father, I believe this too.

  26. Maria Avatar


  27. Bill Atkin Avatar
    Bill Atkin

    If we’re morally incompetent and helpless then how would we know that? You have to rely on the very moral and intellectual facilities you denounce as useless to ascertain that one particular moral truth. To condemn them is to condemn all moral truths, including of course Christianity’s. It’s the same as denouncing reason, you cannot do that without reason itself.

    I confess, the more I learn about Christianity, the less I am convinced of it as anything except self-torturing nonsense. To say the innocent are guilty for the guilty is simply to lie, and of course make utter nonsense of any idea that Jesus could himself have ever been innocent.

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I have not said we have no morality, nor that we have no reason. Incompetence says that we fail morally and helplessness says that we need help. That Christ is innocent does not mean that He sepaorated Himself from us, but that He voluntarily took our brokenness on Himself and heals it. But there are many concepts you seem to struggle with.

    If you want to dig deeper on any of this, you might read my book. It’s short but has more meat than a brief article. As it is, you’re assuming that you understand what you don’t understand and then arguing with it. It’s a sort of lose lose way of approaching this.

  29. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I have no idea what you have “studied” when it comes to Christianity, so it’s really difficult to comment on your assessment. Strangely, having practiced it since the age of 15, I have not found it to be self-torturing. Instead, it has been life-giving, liberating, and healing.

  30. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Bill, I can appreciate your perspective. The Cross seems gory, ugly, painful and masochistic. I have met people who certainly approach Jesus in a a self-torturing way. In the 50 plus years I have tried to follow Jesus I have learned to avoid those folks.

    It is no fun to face one’s own sins and failings to be sure but from the beginning Jesus has called us to Himself through repentance and mercy. Joy, wonder and deep peace are the fruits. It can be a fascinating adventure.

    Struggles continue because temptation and evil exist in three places that each of us is unavoidably entangled with: the world(modernity), the flesh and the devil.

    Most of the time the first two are enough to lead me astray. The Church and the Holy Fathers show us the way to fight such temptation: prayer/repentance; worship/communion while praising God in thanksgiving for all things; fasting/almsgiving.

    Those are the fundamental activities of the Orthodox faith. From my perspective the self-torture that exists is wholly of the world even when it makes an appearance in Christian garb.

    Please forgive me. I tend to preach a bit. May God grant you grace to enter into His mercy.

  31. Bill Atkin Avatar
    Bill Atkin


    Let me put this in real terms. I have a newborn son. Bright-eyed, cries a lot, but a very happy, bouncy baby. To ask me to accept that all are guilty for all is to ask me to accept that this sweet, curious, innocent little baby is guilty for, say, Genghis Khan. The burden of guilt for all the cities burned, the millions of dead, the rapes, the murders, the slave-taking, all of the monstrous deeds of the long-dead Mongolian warlord are somehow this helpless little one’s fault, and he should be expected to somehow make reparations for them. Frankly, not only is that both horrifying and utterly contrary to reason, but it strikes me that it could just as readily make a case for killing the other as caring for him, since apparently his very being represents an unprovoked attack on mine and my son’s. If those are the terms on which God created reality, then he is both cruel and insane.

    As to Jesus. If God is unchanging, and God was man, then God was always in some sense man. If all men are guilty for all other men, past and future, irrespective of what they do, then God was always guilty for everything all men would do and hence at no time was ever innocent. Hence, he would be as morally incompetent as the worst of men.

    Finally, what book are you referring to?

  32. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


    In almost every reply I write here I go after the heresy of Original Sin contrasting with the Orthodox view of Ancestral Sin. Ancestral Sin contrasts in these ways:

    Instead of a perfect/completed Adam, man was created very good, and was meant for theosis/deification, through the use of his energy cooperating with God’s energies. Man therefore, when he falls, falls from potentiality, his honor, God’s intention, etc. But he does not become totally depraved, which just means, he loses the capacity to will rightly. Death is brought into the world. Death and Satan motivate depravity, faith and obedience prove faith over fear. Our union with Adam, with other sinners, is not with their individual choices as in Western theology. There, man – you – your child – is Adam, is in “his loins”, chose with Adam, Adam being our “federal head”. I personally don’t believe your child to be depraved or sinful, but that children are naturally inclined and responsive to God. This is very much the logic for paedo Communion in Orthodoxy I would think. If we thought children to be evil, we would have a bogus, Age of Accountability like others, or wait to confirm children until a certain age, etc.

    What is almost always missed Biblically by just about everyone, is that in the OT, death was a liability for coming into Sacred Space/the Tabernacle/Presence/Temple, and most atonement rituals were about fixing (temporarily) this death/lack of life/loss of life liability – not – fixing you morally. Death and moral sin are almost synonymous – as liabilities – in the Bible but because Westerners lost the idea, present all over the Bible for Sacred Space, they collapse the two into moral categories. The woman with the issue of blood was unclean but not morally sinful. Having relations with your wife made you unclean, not sinful. Why? You lose life force in the experience of intimacy or when you bleed or when you touch dead things, etc. – that’s the logic. So, does your child need life from Christ? Of course. All things exist by Him and for Him. They need saved in this way, and they need saved from whatever influence Satan/the demonic may have over them. Do they need saved from their own personal sins? Likely no. But eventually they will.

    The Law was/is an ascetical path to the attainment of selfless love. This is why to fulfill the Law for Jesus and surely for Paul was to love God preeminently and neighbor as self. Getting love, fixing death, and destroying Satan are necessary for salvation. I quoted this the other day but it’s pertinent:

    2 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

    When we are humbled by our own lack of faith, fear and anxiety when God cares for us, and we identify with the weaknesses and even the depravity of others. The worse criminal ever tried to beat death through a fantasy likely originating in a demon. This we can sympathize with to a degree, as our main failure in life is to believe we will live forever, instead we build bigger barns or wish we could, and say to our souls, “Relax and be merry.”

  33. Dino Avatar

    the ‘sharing’ here is perhaps easier to understand, as a sharing in (both good and bad) potentiality according to the law of ‘communicating vessels’

  34. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


    As to your last paragraph, we do not believe that God’s Essence underwent a change in the Incarnation. When humans are deified, they are still humans deified. When God takes upon Himself human flesh, He is still God. Again, when people assume Adam to have been perfect, the logic for Christ as the New Adam is destroyed. Well, if Adam lost perfection, the question comes up immediately, how? How does a perfect being in a perfect world (nowhere does the Bible say Eden was the whole world) chose imperfectly? For Westerners this is a mystery, and logically it entails God choosing this without somehow being implicated, it makes God look like the author of evil. But if Christ is this New Adam modeled after the perfected Adam, what does He actually accomplish except maintaining His perfection? It’s quite a static notion. Now, if Christ is the New Adam as the Old Adam/Israel failed to become, failed to stay faithful, failed to gain love, failed as Priest, Prophet, King, then when Christ fulfills these/becomes these, it is actual work, has nothing to do with Christ temporally (the heretics used these verses on becoming as proofs for Christ being created when that had nothing to do with the point, with the soteriology) – but the focus is on being what Adam was not. In this way, Christ’s fidelity to the Edenic vision with the Father and the Holy Spirit – this is what God’s righteousness is, this faithfulness – commits Him to be One of us. The meaning of Jesus’s Baptism is partly contained in this.

    In short, Christ’s fidelity to man in part, is His commitment that we be glorified Saints among His Family. He makes attaining our destiny/teleology possible but will not force it on us.

    Preoccupations with predestination and foreknowledge are a byproduct of Original Sin. Original Sin and Guilt means, that your will no longer will function naturally, like a child’s, but is opposed to God perpetually until, God forces the will into submission and afterwards, you can obey and enjoy God etc. But this monergistic necessity which comes about because of Original Sin, makes everything imaginatively into a question regarding predestination, time, foreknowledge, etc. This is why the Reformed have to admit God ordained the fall, planned it, and divided humanity into the Elect and the non-Elect, and these suffer torment forever – the thole theodicy is solved – by showing the Elect how good they’ve got it compared to the damned – this becomes the Glory of God for them, and for a lot of Catholic theologians.

  35. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


    Sorry to go on again…

    “As to Jesus. If God is unchanging, and God was man, then God was always in some sense man.”

    I don’t know if it will be evident, but a static view of man then projected onto Christ seems presupposed here. And the reason I went on was because, I see this – if it is a presupposition – as coming from a view of Adam where He was already perfected/static/automatic then projecting that onto Christ, whereas Adam needing to become perfected, and Christ perfecting what it is to be human, takes the static/automatic and also the idea that man = every man, when this is not the case, off the table so to speak. Hope that made sense. Christ perfects where Adam defects.

    Again, from I Cor !5
    As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality (what Paul refers to as mystery), then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

    “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
    55 “O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

    58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

  36. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Bill the is Fr. Stephen Freeman’s ‘Glory to God For All Things’.

    Eighth Day Books is the best resource for it and for anu other soul edifying books you might need.

  37. Byron Avatar

    The burden of guilt for all the cities burned, the millions of dead, the rapes, the murders, the slave-taking, all of the monstrous deeds of the long-dead Mongolian warlord are somehow this helpless little one’s fault, and he should be expected to somehow make reparations for them.

    Bill, you are speaking with very Western, legalistic terms. There is not “burden of guilt” in Orthodoxy, as you define it. There are no “reparations” as you seem to define the situation. Orthodoxy teaches the fullness of communion. Sin is not a legalistic breaking of Law; it is a wound from which we all must heal. And our healing is, in many ways, a communal process in which we all share. The actions of Genghiz Khan, to use your illustration, wound each of us even though we do not perpetrate them. In the same way, the prayers of the Church are a healing balm for the entire world.

    So you will find many sayings among the Saints, such as “Gain the spirit of peace and 10,000 around you will be saved” and “my brother is my life”. No one would consider your son “guilty” of all that you list. Instead, we recognize that he is a part of humanity and shares in the communion of Creation. He (or you or I) doesn’t cease to be an individual but our lives are none-the-less bound together.

    I agree that the legalistic viewpoint you illustrate is a horrible and difficult thing. But, generally speaking, it is a Western aberration; it is not Orthodoxy.

    I very much recommend Father’s book as well.

  38. Byron Avatar

    As to Jesus. If God is unchanging, and God was man, then God was always in some sense man.

    I will say here that I think the confusion is found in the phrase, “if God is unchanging”. As Scripture tells us “God is love” but many seem to think that this translates to something akin to “love justifies all things” (since love is god, so to speak, how could it not?). But “God is love” reflects the unchanging nature of God: He loves. It is His nature. When we speak of God, unchanging, we speak of a God that does not stop loving His Creation.

    The Incarnation is a reflection of God’s nature. He loves us enough to BE us; to take part in the communion of Creation and restore Creation’s communion with its Creator. It does not mean He “was always man” but that He reaches out to mankind in the fullest manner possible; in the fullness of our humanity (including the wounding unto death caused by our sin). I hope that this is helpful.

    Father, I also hope I have not overstated the points commented upon and welcome any correction.

  39. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Let me clarify. I would have written far more earlier in the day, but I’m traveling this weekend.

    Your newborn son is surely innocent and “not guilty” in the manner of speaking if we’re talking about “legally guilty.” He’s not responsible for the world’s mess. Absolutely.

    I used the word “guilty” in the quote from Dostoevsky, because that’s how it is translated. I would, in my own language, say that all of us inescapably, on the level of our existence, have a share in the good and the bad of humanity. Your son is innocent, and good. Yet, he is born mortal, subject to death (I know the fear of being a parent and a grandparent – their vulnerability is the most frightening thing in the world). Not only is he (and us) subject to mortality but the world in which we live is marked and shaped in many, many ways by Genghis Khan, murders, rapes, etc. The world is not a trial court where each person gets only what they deserve for what they’ve done. The world is one big ontological thing in which we all participate and share (both good and evil), and it marks us.

    My point in the article is that we cannot stand off at a distant and point to others as if others are to blame for everything and we are not. We’re all connected, and that connectedness matters – for both good and bad. We have a common humanity.

    Christ enters into that common humanity and becomes one of us, though He Himself is personally innocent. But, if you will, God has not distanced Himself from our problem of evil. He has entered into Himself, taken it into Himself, even entering death that He might rescue us from death and deliver us from evil. That is the Christian gospel.

    The “morality” of that gospel is not found in rules and regulations so much as its found in the single, common bond of love. From now on, I’m sure that anything that happens to your son “happens” to you – because you love him. You would die for him, risk your life for him, etc.

    So God loves us as well.

    There are ultimate questions that we can’t pretend to know (though lots of Christians will say they do). I do not fully understand how it is that we got into the situation of good and evil. The stories of the Christian faith tell us that we were led astray into this by the devil. But I do not know exactly what that story should look like in a purely historical form. In many ways, as Christians, we start not at the beginning of the story, but in the middle.

    We begin with Jesus Christ. We believe that He was crucifed, died, was buried, and that the third day He rose again, and was transformed into an undying life. It is from Him that we know what we know. What we know from Him is that God loves us, is for us, is on our side, and that in Christ we are being rescued and have a share in His life.

    It is also true, that we are taught that our purpose in life is to become like Christ Himself. Thus we don’t just go from some bad situation into Disney World (everything’s fine). Instead, we follow Him in a path that forms and shapes us so that we love as He loves. That path is described as “taking up the Cross.”

    Your love for your son is not just a feeling. It will also be most clearly seen in how you suffer and sacrifice for him. It’s what we do for our children. Children are a joy, but they inherently involve our suffering. That is also how the world is.

    But you didn’t look at the world and say, “The world has bad people and my son will not always be safe and he might get hurt, and eventually he’ll die,” and then choose not to have him in order to avoid all that. You brought him into this world. So God has brought us into this world on account of His love for us. He is not cruel or insane – and neither are you.

    The book I was referencing is my book (Fr. Stephen Freeman) Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe

    It’s not very long, but it’s got more consistency and depth than a blog article and might be useful in seeing the larger picture of Orthodox Christianity. Orthodox Christianity often differs in significant ways from the popular Christianity in our culture. So, it might be useful.

    Congratulations on the birth of your son. May God grant him long life, health peace, and all good things!

  40. Bill Atkin Avatar
    Bill Atkin

    “Your love for your son is not just a feeling. It will also be most clearly seen in how you suffer and sacrifice for him. It’s what we do for our children. Children are a joy, but they inherently involve our suffering. That is also how the world is.”

    Begging your pardon, Father, but as far as I am concerned that is simply a restatement that the world is deeply broken. That should not be so. I’m willing to suffer greatly for my son, but that does not mean I enjoy the act of doing so, or that it is good that I should. Suffering is simply bad, and it neither adds to nor refines love. In too many cases it simply destroys it altogether. I cannot take seriously a theology that embraces or makes excuses for the brokenness and suffering of the world.

    Or, to put it another way, while I would take a bullet for my son any day of the week I don’t want to get shot and if I ever am something is terribly wrong.

    “But you didn’t look at the world and say, “The world has bad people and my son will not always be safe and he might get hurt, and eventually he’ll die,” and then choose not to have him in order to avoid all that. You brought him into this world. So God has brought us into this world on account of His love for us. He is not cruel or insane – and neither are you.”

    Were I to have some mystical power of foresight and be aware that siring my son would result in a life of little else but suffering for him, then of course I would not have had him. Judging from the empirical facts of how many lives end up just being a mass of misery followed by an early death, God does not seem to feel the same way. And it of course goes without saying that I would never permit a universe to exist in which unending suffering in some mythical hell is even a possibility, as I would have to believe that God has done were I to subscribe again to Christianity of any sort, including Orthodoxy.

  41. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Hi Fr. Stephen,
    I love the quote as well as your article.

    Just a thought or a question (not sure which)…. I fully agree that the notion of the “moral state” is oxymoron, delusion, dangerous. For some, it is clear that the claim to have created such a state is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, i.e. an effort to make make self/ humanity into god while dressing up the sin in Christian clothing to sell it to the masses.

    But what about all of the deeply faithful Christians who seem to promote and get lost in the notion that the Kingdom is something we build? I wonder if this confusion occurs because Christ’s instructions on justice and care for the poor are so clear that, as people band together to carry out these imperatives, they naturally want to make it something more permanent than just a single cup of cold water. Hence, they set about digging a well where there is no clean water and, as people benefit, a program is born. As enough programs come into being, a political movement develops to try to ensure that every citizen has access to as many cups of cold water as they need.

    Since everyone needs access to clean drinking water, the “state” the movement is trying to bring to power appears to be one that carries out the teachings of Christ. Yet the Christian who talks of cross-bearing while handing out single cups of water and spurns organized well-digging will seem, at best, to be an inefficient follower of Christ. The value of the program (and hence the “state”) is hard to resist.

    I sense that the problem lies not in digging wells but in why we dig them. What might begin as an act of love for the sake of Christ, once politicized, gets subtly twisted into a program, then a candidate, and finally a need to attain and maintain power. This subtle twisting is how the enemy gains foothold in the hearts of those striving to follow Christ. Without our noticing it, seeking votes becomes more important than than the thirst of our neighbor.

    I do not think this means we should refrain from digging wells, only that we must pray and guard our hearts as we do so.

    Is this consistent with what you are saying?

  42. Janine Avatar

    At the risk of really putting my foot in it, Bill (et al), I would like to suggest that someday, it’s likely, you will be old and possibly infirm, while your son will still have the strength of a grown man. Should he decide to help you to bear your burden of age and infirmity, and to ease it a bit by bearing it and sharing in it with you in so doing, it will not make him guilty of something, or infirm, or old. But he nevertheless will bear your burden with you and help to carry you through age and infirmity. So we may share in and bear one another’s burdens and of necessity sacrifice in so doing out of love. That is self-emptying, a mature sacrifice and it is what makes beauty the world. Especially in a world governed by selfishness.

  43. Nikolaos Avatar

    On our anxiety to discern what is good or bad, there is a well known instructive story in Greek, translated below:

    Once upon a time there lived in a village a poor old man, who had a beautiful horse that helped him in his agricultural activities and which was so beautiful and strong that it was known all over the surrounding area.
    One day, a prince who was impressed by the horse’s fame and appearance, wanted to buy it, offering the elder a large sum of money. He, however, refused to sell his favourite horse, to which he had been tied for so many years, and returned to his village.
    – “Are you a fool?” his fellow villagers asked. “Sell the horse for your own good, you will get a lot of money and you will be happy!”
    – “Aaah, the horse helps me in my work .. And who knows what is good and what is bad?” the old man replied, “Only God knows!”
    The days passed and the horse remained an inseparable companion of the elder. One morning he woke up and saw that his horse was gone.
    His fellow villagers gathered to express their sorrow:
    – “What a great evil that found you, now who will help you in your work? You were a fool for not selling the horse.
    “Now you have neither the money nor the horse.”
    The old man with his characteristic calmness answered:
    – “And who knows what is good and what is bad? Only God knows! ”
    The villagers were walking away, thinking that the old man had lost his mind.
    After a few days the horse returned to the old man’s paddock, along with some other beautiful wild horses he had encountered in the forest.
    The villagers gathered again and said to him:
    – “How lucky you are! Good luck to you, since now you have more horses to help you. ” The elder answered them:
    – “And who knows what is good and what is bad .. Only the Lord knows! However, I’m glad that my horse came back. ”
    His fellow villagers looked at him contemptuously again.
    A few days later, his son, riding one of the horses, fell and broke his legs, leaving him helpless.
    The villagers gathered again saying:
    – “What a bad thing happened to you! With the horses that came, you finally lost your right hand at work – your son – who is now suffering from pain and may suffer for the rest of his life. ”
    The old man answered again:
    – “Who knows; only God knows what is good and what is bad!”
    Less than a week after the accident, a neighbouring country declared war on its own people. So the army passed through his city and recruited all the young men of the city. They did not, of course, take his son, who had broken legs, so he did not take part in the fierce battles that followed.
    The villagers came again and said:
    “You are very lucky, since the sons of us all are going to be killed in the war, while you will always have your son near you.”
    And the old man answered them tenderly:
    “We humans never know enough to judge whether something is a blessing or a calamity. You still do not understand my brothers: Only God knows our good and our bad !! ”
    So we must show absolute trust in our God, not in words but in deeds! Is there a case if we are left like a small child in his Will, to ever feel sadness, anxiety, sorrow?

  44. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Ok. I understand your points. Might I ask what it is that interests you about Christianity?

  45. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


    Forgive my unsolicited comments.

    “Suffering is simply bad, and it neither adds to nor refines love. In too many cases it simply destroys it altogether. I cannot take seriously a theology that embraces or makes excuses for the brokenness and suffering of the world.”

    Tracing the root of suffering is not the same thing as embracing the root (death, Satan, fear) – except when suffering becomes the means of undoing suffering. Every theology there is in the world essentially does what you’ve asked it not to do, makes suffering a natural part of existence. For atheists the world has always been red in tooth and claw. For most Christians God and the world, what happens, are basically indistinguishable and everything is fate, or this is the “Best of All Possible Worlds”. Where other religions/theologies take death to be essentially normal and tell you just to deal with it largely by pretending or by reinforcing a disembodied afterlife imaginatively, Christ takes what is unnatural, and flips what was upside down, where only an embodied life on this planet, renewed, will suffice to bring us to the place we always wanted to be: where the lion and lamb lay down together and we are with our truest Parent(s).

  46. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    ‘Everything is Broken.’ – Bob Dylan.

  47. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    When you’ve had no power, you have no choice to make.

  48. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    mary benton, Nice to see you here again. Two points:
    1. Doing good for others is not moralistic. In fact, it is a commandment.
    2. Moralism is an attempt to “build a better world” without God. With the nihilism of our age it is an active attempt to replace God with human (or inhuman) will. It becomes Satanic.

    Unfortunately, it can be easy to fall into the trap of the world.

    Psalm 50/51 says it best I think:
    1 Have mercy upon me, O God,
    According to Your lovingkindness;
    According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,
    Blot out my transgressions.
    2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    And cleanse me from my sin.
    3 For I acknowledge my transgressions,
    And my sin is always before me.
    4 Against You, You only, have I sinned,
    And done this evil in Your sight—
    That You may be found just [a]when You speak,
    And blameless when You judge.
    5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
    And in sin my mother conceived me.
    6 Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts,
    And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.
    7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
    8 Make me hear joy and gladness,
    That the bones You have broken may rejoice.
    9Hide Your face from my sins,
    And blot out all my iniquities.
    10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
    11 Do not cast me away from Your presence,
    And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
    12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
    And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.
    13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
    And sinners shall be converted to You.
    14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
    The God of my salvation,
    And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.
    15 O Lord, open my lips,
    And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.
    16 For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
    You do not delight in burnt offering.
    17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
    A broken and a contrite heart—
    These, O God, You will not despise.
    18 Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion;
    Build the walls of Jerusalem.
    19 Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness,
    With burnt offering and whole burnt offering;
    Then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.

  49. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Matthew, human beings have always realized that in our “natural” state is, as John Locke said: “Nasty, cruel, brutish and short.” Without the divine it is almost impossible to bear. So, is the divine a fit of desperate imagination, the source of all of our sorrows or the only way to challenge the world and overcome?

    All of those messages about the divine are floating around in the mind of the world. I was blessed even before I was born with a direction that the divine was a real and living part of human life. Neither imaginary nor malevolent. That is a hard conclusion to come to for many. The ‘evidence’ seems to contradict God’s goodness and presence at every turn.

    The only evidence that contradicts the obvious is the Incarnation (The Birth, Ministry, Crucifixion on The Cross, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ fully God and fully man). That is not a belief that is a reality that we are free to reject or equally free to accept and enter into. Once someone accepts the reality of the Incarnation it takes work, grace and humility to enter further into the mystery and blessing of the reality.

    The Orthodox Church still, despite our tendency to fall away, has the tools and support for such work to be fruitful. Because of pride, laziness and other sins, most, including me, make it much more difficult that it needs to be. Especially when we live in a culture where we are indoctrinated every waking minute with the idol-ology that the human will is supreme. We have but to exercise it to obtain all we want ending suffering in the process.

    Prayer, meditation and asceticism are not new but the Sacramental dimension that the Orthodox Church maintains is only possible because of the Incarnational reality.

    Interestingly, that is brought home to me most strongly during the Silent Entrance in the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts.

    At that moment all can do is implore the Incarnate God to forgive me and please make my heart of stone a heart of flesh. Then I can rejoice and give thanksgiving for all things through the Cross.

  50. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Father, I have always appreciated the Orthodox words that Christ has tabernacled the Kingdom of God in this world. There is so much in the depths of these words.

    Another thing that always amazes me is the literalist take on all the scriptures as if such was a perception of “reality”. There is a failure to understand that the scriptures, particularly the part more often described by Protestant denominations as the ‘old testament’, as cryptic. Over my life I’ve met more former Protestants disillusioned with Protestantism (equating such as ‘Christianity’) become atheists, or want to become such to extract themselves from the quagmire in which they were raised.

    I had similar perceptions but managed to separate what I called Christianity from my personal experiences with God. I didn’t fault God, in other words, but just ‘Christians’. I had no exposure to Orthodoxy, until I reached latter years in adulthood. Also rather oddly, perhaps, while I accepted the ontological need for ‘a Christ’, I was a long ways from accepting Him as savior. One might consider it a rather strange leg in my journey, especially through the eyes of a believing Christian. I describe such a time in my life as being on the way to Emmaus.

  51. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, what a wonderful story, thank you for that. It always amazes me and heartens me how much we learn from our shared struggles.

  52. Janine Avatar

    Nikolaos, thanks for the Greek tale. I’ve never heard it before.

  53. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Nikolaos,
    I’m ever grateful for your translations. This is a beautiful story and lesson. Thank you for this,

  54. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Indeed Michael,
    Each of our stories, of those of us coming into Orthodoxy from the ‘outside’, I believe contributes to the gifts of our Eucharist, our communion.

  55. Dino Avatar

    Bill’s comments do make me ponder a great deal on suffering, the Cross, and its ‘necessity’ (as well as its transformative potential).
    If we examine the intersection between the two great “qualities of Paradise”, love and freedom, we see that in practice, these two also necessitate a kind of intersection of Heaven [free affirmation] and Hell/pain/suffering [free negation].
    Little wonder that Heaven’s author, God Himself, is said to be “slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8) … He creates and unconditionally loves creatures who can very well say to Him (like the prodigal once said) “I want to behave as if you have died and I have already inherited you” (Luke 15:12).
    He creates so outrageously ‘free’ creatures [regarding their self-determination towards their very Source of true fulfilment] because only such creatures can love Him back (or not).
    Creatures that can freely love, must be able to also not love, in other words, the ‘Heaven’ of loving requires the existence/possibility of the ‘hell’ of not loving (and therefore suffering).
    Of course there is suffering in loving too, but that is different to the suffering of not loving.
    Grace has the power to transform the suffering of love into Heaven, that is the mystery of the Cross leading to eternal resurrection.
    Now the fact that pain and suffering in this world also becomes a ‘tool’ for our salvation, of course does complicate these rather philosophical tenets further.
    In his book ‘The Problem of Pain’, C.S. Lewis observes that “the proper good of a creature
    is to surrender itself to its Creator”, but points out that “to render the will to which we have so long claimed
    for our own, is in itself, wherever and however it is done, a grievous pain.”
    After discussing the “necessity to die daily”, Lewis continues:

    But this intrinsic pain, or death, in mortifying the usurped self, is not the whole story.
    Paradoxically, mortification, though itself a pain, is made easier by the presence of pain in its context.
    This happens, I think, principally in three ways.
    The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it.
    Now error and sin both have this property, that the deeper they are the less their victim suspects their existence;
    they are masked evil. Pain is unmasked, unmistakable evil; every man knows that something is wrong when he is being hurt…
    And pain is not only immediately recognisable evil, but evil impossible to ignore.
    We can rest contentedly in our sins and in our stupidities;
    and anyone who has watched gluttons shovelling down the most exquisite foods as if they did not know what they were eating,
    will admit that we can ignore even pleasure.
    But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain:
    it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world…
    If the first and lowest operation of pain shatters the illusion that all is well, the second shatters the illusion that what we have,
    whether good or bad in itself, is our own and enough for us.
    Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us.
    We ‘have all we want’ is a terrible saying when ‘all’ does not include God. We find God an interruption.
    As St. Augustine says somewhere ‘God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full—
    there’s nowhere for Him to put it.’ Or as a friend of mine said ‘we regard God as an airman regards his parachute;
    it’s there for emergencies but he hopes he’ll never have to use it.’
    Now God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him.
    Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for.
    While what we call ‘our own life’ remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him.
    What then can God do in our interests but make ‘our own life’ less agreeable to us,
    and take away the plausible sources of false happiness? It is just here, where God’s providence seems at first to be most cruel,
    that the Divine humility, the stooping down of the Highest, most deserves praise…

  56. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you, Dino, for citing these words by CS Lewis in his book “The Problem of Pain”. Glory to God for all things!

  57. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    My brother just sent me a quote from St. Maximos, the Confessor that seems to fit here:
    “Pilate is a type of the natural law; the Jewish crowd is a type of the written law. He who has not risen, through faith, above the two laws cannot therefore receive the truth which is above nature and expression. On the contrary, he invariably crucifies the Logos for he sees the Gospel either like a Jew, a stumbling block or like a Greek, foolishness. (1 Cor 1:23)”

    Lord forgive the hardness of my heart.

  58. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


    Hey, I don’t know if you meant to address that to me or if you didn’t see the quotation marks around the beginning of the last post. Regardless I agree, and I don’t believe God is an imaginative evolutionary “thing”.

    When I use the word imagination, I mean, your imagination of what the Christian life is, what existence is, makes a certain piety. It’s not imagination in the sense of imaginative/creative, but more like worldview. Whatever we think our problem is in life, and especially as it relates to what salvation is, will make a method of treatment. In most religions, and in the average American’s Chirstian understanding (this is easy to test with a few questions for them) the afterlife – where the body which experiences pain/suffering is unimportant – is an experience of bliss or painlessness. There’s already laden in their imagination a superfluous view of the body, in many anyway, that is basically Gnostic. Our emphasis on Resurrection is very much the same as for St. Paul, “If the dead are not raised our faith is futile and we are still in our sins.” Again I’m back to I Cor 15. If the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised – verse 16.

    Now, think of that last verse. If the dead are not/will not be raised, then Christ hasn’t been raised. Our Resurrection and Christ’s are so intertwined that once cannot happen without the other. But if you thought of the normal Christian thinking of afterlife, it’s “going to heaven” when you die, not, New Jerusalem descending to Earth where Christ reigns unto the Ages of Ages.

    This shows, when you think about it, that for the average Christian, death is natural, as often the existence imagined after death, could include or not include a real, physical body. For Paul, I can only imagine what sort of anathema he might lay on such an imagination.

    Our emphasis on Resurrection then again, is nothing more than the Gospel. The body, subjected to the unnaturalness of death due to sin/Satan, will not forever be subject to it, the last enemy – soon to face final defeat – is death. The Creation groans due to death, but longs for New Adam and us, as New Adams in Christ, to undo and reverse the chaos of death. For the Orthodox Christian then, there is no natural dimension to death. The only grace of death is that we not live perpetually in a fallen existence, this and it creates a perception of time which forces crises of faith/doubt upon us, it allows us to prove fidelity and promotes it in one sense.

    What I find in Bill’s comments is a presupposition that has gone unexamined, and I have tried to guess at why it may be the case (mainly Western imaginations of Adam, the prioritization of soul over body, etc. – which are the basis for the general Christian imagination/worldview we are surrounded by) – but that in the end, there is the presupposition that death is natural. This is the case for most religions when you get down to it, but not for us.

  59. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dino, pain is, of course, transformed and transfigured in and through the Cross if we embrace it. Sometimes that pain may be all there is to offer to our Lord. In the offering, thanksgiving can appear thus transforming our heart, our mind AND our body. Not running from the pain seems to be the key. Neither denying it nor trying to cover it or use it to make others guilty or ashamed, much less wallowing in it.
    Pain is part of the natural law.

  60. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Matthew, forgive me I did not address it to anyone. Reading it convicted me but also raised up my heart in joy. There is a personal context to it that relates to conversations my brother and I had when he came to visit me this week. First time in five years we have been together. He received from his friend Fr. Dragan.
    It has wide application but only if I take it seriously myself first and realize how much time I spend as either Pilot or the Jewish crowd. Or both sitting in bewildered judgement.

  61. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Matthew, I found your post, to which you refer, good food for thought. Saints have a way of convicting us all, I think but also offering hope at the same time

  62. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    I was listening to Jordan Peterson today and he said that when someone embraces nihilism, they always make the world a worse place for themselves and for others. When people though try to answer the problem of death/evil with Original Sin, it will make God look like He planned all the evil in the world. I can’t help but feel now that

    pantheism = fatalism
    atheism = fatalism
    monism = fatalism
    denial of the Essence Energies distinction = fatalism
    Original Sin = fatalism

    Or, to avoid the charge of fatalism (I want to emphasize the “fatal” in fatalism) they employ the logically incoherent compatibilism.

    What Bill asks for is nothing less than a better theodicy. And we have it.

    We truly have a Trinity, not a subordinated Son or co-equal Son, and a subordinated Spirit logically ontologically different than the Father and Son.
    We truly have a devil who is not God’s puppet.
    We truly have Saints who had some measure of freedom to use their will in synergy with God’s will.
    We truly have a view of death where it is unnatural, not normal.
    We truly connect the Resurrection to the Gospel, not give it as a proof for Penal Substitution.
    We truly have an Incarnate Christ who is in every way able to sympathize with our weaknesses, yet without sin.
    We truly have a view of man where Saint/ruling among the Family/Council of God is his/her destiny.
    We truly have life given to us in the Resurrected flesh and blood of Christ.
    We truly will live again on Planet Earth when it is renewed, and we receive bodies for existence in New Jerusalem.
    We truly believe death is bad, that it really is the last enemy, and that only an embodied existence without the presence of death is normal.


    Glad to be Orthodox.

  63. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


    “Matthew, human beings have always realized that in our “natural” state is, as John Locke said: “Nasty, cruel, brutish and short.” Without the divine it is almost impossible to bear. So, is the divine a fit of desperate imagination, the source of all of our sorrows or the only way to challenge the world and overcome?” …

    That’s what I was referring to. Thanks.

  64. Drewster2000 Avatar

    Yes Dino, thank you for the Problem of Pain excerpt. I’ve read much of Lewis but ironically I never attempted this book because it sounded too painful.

    But my past few years have in fact been painful. So now I’m ore ready to listen. Funny how that works.

  65. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Matthew, ahhh. The Locke quote is a perfect example of natural law. I was attempting to agree with what you were saying. I need to learn to ask questions. Forgive me.

  66. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Matthew I am not sure what you mean by: “We truly have a view of man where Saint/ruling…” Could you clarify please?

  67. Janine Avatar

    Matthew Lyon, interesting thoughts.

    Dino, you write:
    Now the fact that pain and suffering in this world also becomes a ‘tool’ for our salvation, of course does complicate these rather philosophical tenets further.
    But this is the great thing of Christ, where pain and suffering become a means of transformation of the world, and beautifying it. It is really the only full solution to the problem in the first place. We know that (or rather I should say I think I know), for example, Buddha’s detachment is a solution to the problem of suffering as suffering is caused by desire. Of course, our own faith traditions tell us, also, about our desires and passions, and our need to cultivate a proper sense of dispassion. But Christ goes beyond that. If one looks at it as a kind of hypothesis, it is an elegant, simple, and complete solution. But it does more than that, it invites us in to be part of the solution, “like Him.” and with Him.

    Michael Bauman, a very interesting quotation from St. Maximus; in some sense it follows the idea of an elegant solution

    Drewster and Dee, thank you for your insights

    Father, Bill, and everybody in conversation — thank you also for your thoughts and contributions and thoughts to this interesting dialogue that helps me think. God bless

  68. Janine Avatar

    At the risk of creating a huge stumbling block, I also want to add that there is a juridical problem here, a problem of justice and judgment. In that, Christ is called the faithful and true witness (Rev 1:5, 3:14). As an innocent who endures the worst of the affliction of evil, He becomes a true witness against it, not having participated in its endless cycles. This is more than a temporal problem but an ontological and spiritual one, as is Judgment. Again, though, He invites us into participation in that witnessing, which looks to a future we don’t know (as neither the first called disciples knew either) but asks us to be part of that gospel message and its journey. But we have – importantly – faith, hope, and love

  69. Bill Atkin Avatar
    Bill Atkin

    “Might I ask what it is that interests you about Christianity?”

    I’ve been influenced by it since I was a child myself. My father was a minister before he retired, I grew up in a Christian culture being taught a great deal about the Bible and Church history. It’s hard for me to step away from all of that, because there are parts of it which I’d like to be true but the state of the world suggests to me that they are not. On the other hand, I have never found any other religion either intellectually or morally compelling, and the atheist universe seems unbelievably bleak in addition to its many problems accounting for people as they are. Half of me would like at least some of it to be true, and half thinks (hopes?) that it isn’t.

  70. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


    Eden was essentially a Temple. In Adam, if he had been divinized, and in the New Adam, and in us to the extent that we are healed, the “as it is in heaven” is united to the terrestrial, to everyday existence “on earth”. Saints are not truly Saints if they are only so via Election as virtue would be meaningless. But, because we do not have Original Sin, and because our Adam was never perfect, but meant to become perfect – then his/our teleology entails this mediatorial role. Christ is our only mediator in a unique way, He mediates humanity and divinity to us, but we mediate vocationally as well through Him and in Him. This is why we believe in the “priesthood of all believers.” Our vocational responsibility/telos is to be priests, prophets, and kings. A Saint has fulfilled this duty (although imperfectly) through the real use of their energy with God’s energies. St. Stephen’s prayer, as an example, for his abusers is mediatorial, as is Christ’s prayer “they know not what they do.” It is prophetic (the entire sermon in Acts 7) in the sense that it conveys/communicates the “oracles” of God, the heart of God, it is revelatory. It is kingly in more than one sense (same with the other examples) in that He sees Christ ruling at the right Hand of God. St. Stephen, then, becomes with the disciples, with our Holy Mother, those who rule with Christ. A Saint is a ruling member in God’s Family/Council. Their wills are interactive with God’s and ours. They did not gain this through Election, being chosen in advance based on literally nothing in them as with Original Sin and Guilt. They had to use faith/works/love, make it until the end, prove loyalty. Our Saints, since we actually believe in some measure of free will, used the Grace of God given them (all existence is gratuitous on God’s part I would think) with the energy available from God, to fulfill human destiny.

    I’ve always wondered how Catholics or Protestants can really have a high estimation of anyone as exemplary since God had to overpower their wills which were formally against Him in order to make them by force, Saints. Our Saints are not forced to be Saints. Nonetheless, they take no credit for being Saints, all Glory to God.

  71. Dino Avatar

    If our faith in the eternal God was dependent upon the state of the the temporal world we’d be in trouble. It is not that kind. Hopefully.

  72. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


    I don’t think tool is the right word, it makes it sound like utilitarian. If I took a sword and turned it into a plowshare it is a “tool”, but it is no longer a sword.

  73. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


    Last, the witness of Revelation is also the word martyr.

    4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
    Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

    To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail[b] on account of him. Even so. Amen.

    The “witness” is followed by the same themes I mentioned before interestingly. His witness/martyrdom, His blood, His firstborn-ness from the dead, makes/made us a Kingdom, priest to his God and Father.

    In Rev. 3 the neither cold nor hot church, the lukewarm, the about to vomited, the church needing repentance – is greeted by the True and Faithful Witness, or the True and Faithful martyr.

    I think there is good possibility that the contrast between witness/martyr/remaining faithful and the lack of loyalty/love/perseverance is what is there, not as much witness as in victim.

    3:21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.

    Christ has conquered in remaining faithful/the true faithful Israelite/Man/Adam, and in doing so brings the Kingdom, makes us priests, etc. The conviction meant to bear on the churches is the contrast between Christ and them it seems to me, as if they remain faithful, return to their first love, as Christ conquered, they will conquer, and they will sit with Christ, as Christ sits with His Father on his throne.

    All tied together perfectly with what I wrote earlier.

  74. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


    Sorry, my wheels are still turning.

    There’s a pattern: faithful witness/martyr = Resurrection/vindication = sitting down on the throne of Christ which is the Father’s throne as well = Kingdom = Priests/Prophets/Kings = dominion and Glory.

    The same pattern is there for us. The same pattern is there in the Gospels.
    Exodus>Desert/Demons/Testing>Prove Faithful>Vindication/Resurrection>Glorification

    Remain faithful/obtain love/be healed of fear by faith = Resurrection …

    Now, if Original Sin were true, this pattern would make no sense, but thankfully it’s a lie.

  75. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


    Went over my head I guess, thanks for clarifying.

  76. Elpidios Avatar

    Matthew, I really appreciate your work and comments; I am sure others do too.
    Imagination in the sense you use it I agree is key for seeing and resolving these theological problems. I also spent much time seriously in the Reformed tradition, and now that I am Orthodox am keen to minister where I can in the space and community I formerly was. My pearl of wisdom is that my efforts as an apologist have multiplied by embracing my artistic side. My latest favourite quote comes from the great man and artist, Vincent Van Gogh, “There is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.”

  77. Byron Avatar

    Father has written extensively on suffering in the blog. I offer this as a fine, somewhat general viewpoint upon it.

  78. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Good choice, Byron!
    Thank you for this.

  79. Drewster2000 Avatar


    “On the other hand, I have never found any other religion either intellectually or morally compelling, and the atheist universe seems unbelievably bleak in addition to its many problems accounting for people as they are. Half of me would like at least some of it to be true, and half thinks (hopes?) that it isn’t.”

    I empathize, and I think much more of it depends on things like hope and gut instinct than we feel comfortable with in this rational and efficient part of the world. At times when logic fails me or it leads me to dark places that are bleak like you say, I often think of Puddleglum’s answer to the which in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia book called The Silver Chair:

    “One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one more thing to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”

    And the more I follow his example, the more I become aware that in fact the sun is shining and people heretofore unseen by me are being good to one another, and that there is a good God and (is it possible?) some sense of order in all this chaos. After a long, long time of this kind of recovery, I finally understand that it was my vision and my heart that had grown dark, and not so much the world itself or anything external.

  80. Síochána Arandomhan Avatar

    Such a wonderful post and so many interesting discussions! I don’t have anything very intelligent to add. But a realization I have been slowly coming into: there are a great many problems in the world, close to me and farther away. And I can’t think my way out of any of them. If there is any answer, it is in how I orient my life. I have to live the answer (always imperfectly).

  81. François Smuts Avatar
    François Smuts

    Dear Bill,
    I am an Orthodox Christian.
    I conducted my first conversation about the existence of God at the age of 6 and have discussed the God questions ad nauseam since.
    I became the besotted parent of a baby boy in 2000 and lost him 40 days later, after a brief, quiet life which could only have been one excruciating headache.
    I therefore had real cause to grapple for years with all the difficult questions you pose.
    I have discovered that there are no answers to your questions, no arguments which will carry the day against all comers. As someone trained professionally to analyse and argue, I can confirm that life, its questions and meaning cannot be solved.
    What saved me from atheism after the death of my child was an inexplicable, paradoxical but real experience of God’s love, in more ways that I have words for.
    And looking back after 22 years I can say that my child’s life and death shattered the concrete slab between my head and my heart, and broke me and made me one.
    I pray that your life – and that of your son – will be blessed with the realisation of God’s ineffable love for you.

  82. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The eloquence of your experience is greater than an argument – it’s a witness. Thank you.

  83. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thanks for the answer – it gives me a much more clear picture of what you’re thinking.

    The one great treatment of the so-called “problem of evil” in the Scriptures is in the book of Job. It’s setting is perfect, with the outlandish conversation/bet between God and Satan. The failed attempts of explanations/advice from Job’s “friends” as well as his wife’s, “curse God and die,” pretty much cover the field. The one thing the book does not do is offer a satisfying, reasonable answer to the question. As such, it is an incredibly honest take on the problem and rather typical of the Scriptures honest presentation of everything it touches.

    What Job does do – in its ending – is present Job with an encounter with God Himself. Somehow, that encounter seems to be enough. It is not enough as a rational answer – but it seems to be enough as an existential answer. What I take from that is that a rational answer isn’t actually what the heart longs for, or needs, though we imagine it to be so.

    For myself, I have no satisfying, rational answer to the problem of evil. I find those attempts that introduce the Genesis account of the temptation and fall as though it were an answer to be wholly unsatisfactory. It only pushes the question off to somewhere else but it remains (if we’re honest) on the doorstep of God.

    The whole of the question would be a terrible stumbling block, I think, if God did not have “skin in the game” as He does in Christ. That, for me, at least says that He’s not overlooking the problem nor leaving it to us. It is “His” problem.

    In all of my thought of God/Christianity, I start with Jesus. “God” can be an abstraction, a cipher for who knows what. It is the question of Jesus that is the start/fail of everything for me (at least I arrived at that over the years). Is He who He said He is? Was He raised from the dead?

    I answer those questions with a “yes.” It is from that point that I “move outwards” to any other question. If I say, “God,” I mean the One revealed in and through Jesus Christ. Nothing more. Nothing less. If Christ has not revealed it, then I do not know it.

    With that, I can say that I do not have a grasp of what we imagine to be the “whole picture” (in the rational sense). What I see is, in Christ, is the intersection of God and Man – that tells me that God loves me, loves all things, that God “is love.” With that, I live as a man who areas of ignorance in my life.

    I assume a couple of things about that ignorance. One. I assume that it is an area of ignorance that is good for me. I do not think it is healthy to “know everything” (or to imagine that we do). It’s one of the great faults of modernity that it imagines itself to be competent where it is not. Two. It invites me into the heart of the pain/suffering that is so much a part of our world (and we describe as the “problem” of evil). It does not ask me to stand outside the problem and ask Jesus what He’s going to do about it. It invites me to be “crucified” with Him – that is – it asks me to love as He loves.

    Finally, I find that Christ Himself (even taken with my ignorance) is “satisfying,” that is, He is “enough.” I live as a Christian. I give thanks as a Christian. I also perceive the wonder and beauty of the world as a Christian. And, I ponder things as a Christian. It’s not that I am no longer aware of my ignorance – but I do not let the ignorance overwhelm that things that I do know.

    It is, for me, an invitation to be a human being when the temptation is to want to be God. There are so many “gods” running around in the world – and they’re making a terrible mess! Christ is the image both of what it means to be a human being (which might be why He never really gives us explanations for the “big” things – even demurring and saying that such things are only in the “Father’s” knowledge) and also what it means to be God.

    Thanks for sharing something of your story and your struggle.

  84. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


    I realized I answered your question and addressed it to Janine.

  85. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Francois, thank you from me as well.

    I have a dear friend who read himself into the Church and allowed the sinfulness of some in the Church to drive him away. Since I had an encounter with God when he and I first met, I have refused to let him drift away. He acknowledges the encounter as it was a shared one but he allows his fear of the sin in people to override the obvious love of God. Making the sin even larger over time; internalizing the real sin that happened and making it his own.
    I have to fight my own judgemental attitude when I am with him.
    Only this prayer keeps me out of the abyss.

    My friend “knows” the faith much better than I do in some ways. Now he must learn, as we all must to deal with our own brokenness and the brokenness of others by allowing God’s mercy and grace to overcome–daily in each minute.

    The only way I know to do that is to follow Jesus call to everyone at the start of His public ministry recounted in Mt 4:17. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

    Especially when I feel someone has wronged me or the sinfulness of others and my own doubt overwhelms me.

    Otherwise I might very well listen to Job’s wife: “Curse God and die!”

    Repent and know the Kingdom and its King or Curse God and die. That seems to be the choice I have come to.

    It is both a Life choice and a minute by minute choice.

  86. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Thank you François.

  87. Zoe Avatar

    “…each of us is responsible for the sins of all”
    The pandemic has proved that we cannot live in our own bubble, but rather that we are all connected, we are all one. In other words, we cannot be happy “alone”. If any member of our family suffers, including animals or pets, birds, plants, trees and gardens, the whole family suffers, the whole world suffers. The pandemic and the many disasters in the world had only tested our love for one another and our faith in the One who became incarnated and suffered death for our sins.
    Our judgements condemn people to death all the time. At least in my case, I used to construct my own reality so many times rather than accepting my own blindness and rigidity of heart.
    I believe there’s a war raging inside each of us all the time, and the battlefield is the human heart. But thank God for a heart in mourning and sorrow because it can calm many storms and passions, and I feel unworthy to live in this Earth with all those who suffer and patiently endure.

  88. Janine Avatar

    François, many prayers. Thanks for telling us that experience and your faith.
    Father, thanks for your reply to Bill, instructive and clarifying for me too. Often I find others echo and illuminate personal experiences in ways I could not do so myself

  89. Matthew Brough Avatar

    Hello, I’m just poking my head in to say that this comment section is one of the most well-conducted, thoughtful, engaging corners I’ve come across on these big questions. Grateful to Bill for his honesty and genuine fair objections, and to Fr. Freeman and the others who have answered in the spirit of love and honesty.

    I myself have been unconvinced and unsatisfied with any kind of complete and fully rational answer to the kinds of objections raised by Bill. This was a main source for my turn towards atheism and agnosticism in my teens and twenties. The unsustainability of a rational pursuit of a just God was only matched by the unsustainability of atheism as any kind of total rational answer. I have simply come to accept that a rational answer isn’t fully available on the question of a good and just God in either direction: affirmative or negative.

    And finally accepting this, I turn to the more modest question of what to do in the face of uncertainty. Having re-engaged (or probably engaged for the first time) with the thoughts and writings of various serious Christians, I have discovered that the arguments and discussions and room for thought and meditation are of a far higher quality *within* the tent of Christianity than without. The best and liveliest stuff is actually going on inside. This came a surprise. And now, seeing Orthodox Christianity more clearly, I see that there is a respect for the mystery that I have not found elsewhere. The mystery is the reality for us, it seems. There is no point or benefit in pretending certainty in either direction. Fr Freeman put it very very well, when he noted Christians find themselves in the *middle,* not the beginning or end. It is this kind of Christianity…the one that wrestles with the angel, and that is in honest and simple awe of that which is more than it can know, and which puts love finally at the center…that I can align myself with. And feel humble to have any part at all.

    Happy to have found this page

  90. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Matthew B.,
    You are most welcome here. Over the years I’ve come to think about “the question” – as in “the question” that is at the very center of the heart. That question is a very difficulty thing to know – because it is often buried under lots of stuff – and, if it gets asked (and answered) it changes everything (so it’s sort of scary as well). I think that “the question” is deeply important – as in “ask, seek, knock” in the teachings of Jesus. It has been important to me, in writing and moderating this blog, to keep this as a safe place for questions – because, you never know – someone might actually be asking “the question.”


  91. Dino Avatar

    In Greek, we have an incredibly fine word (it’s a wholly Christian formation), that has been used so much that we sometimes forget its downright profoundness. It feels like it simultaneously ‘poses the great question’ while also delivering ‘the great answer’ in one word.
    It is the adjective «σταυροαναστάσιμος (-η)». It would be inelegantly rendered as “crucificial-resurrectional” in English. I always thought that it contains more in it than we can ever fathom, and that concerning the highest questions and answers (especially regarding the highest things like ‘love’ and ‘freedom’, as well as suffering/life/death), this one word manages to contain them all.
    Saint Paisios somewhere once said that he was fond of staying up, fasting and praying all night during the special “σταυροαναστάσιμες” hours of the last two nights of Holy Week, trying to partake of that mystery in its culmination. He used that word, as if that peculiar word pronounces a ‘quality’, which those hours also contain in some non-verbally communicable way.

  92. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Beautiful Dino! Thank you for your translation and description! I sincerely wish I knew more Greek. I imagine I lose a lot in translation. Your description is helpfully revealing.

  93. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Father,
    Your response (about “the question”) is spot on!

  94. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    I’ve been going through the Freedom of Morality and in the footnotes, he mentions that Camus’s atheism was a reaction to Catholicism’s (and Reformed) idea that the bliss of the Elect was enhanced by their awareness of the torment of the damned. As I keep saying, that makes for a bad theodicy. If you’ve ever read some of Duterte’s comments/rants on Christianity, they’re in the same vein as Camus. But, without Original Sin none of that would have ever happened.

  95. Dan Avatar

    I just want to echo the comment made by Santosh John Samuel:

    “ God bless you Father with many more years of beautiful writing.”

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