The Communion of Tradition

Christ_PantocratorThat which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life–the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us–that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have communion with us; and truly our communion is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. (1Jo 1:1-3 NKJ)

There is an old saying in English, “He cannot see the forest for the trees.” The phrase often comes to mind when I am discussing the place and role of tradition in Orthodox Christian life. It is a reality that so surrounds and permeates our existence that we easily overlook it. We discuss tradition as though it were a tree, when, in fact, it is the forest. This is nowhere more true than in the Scriptures.

In some corners of the Reformation, tradition was accorded a place within the sources of authority. Classical Anglicanism (as expounded by Richard Hooker) described the so-called “three-legged stool” of Scripture, Reason and Tradition. Hooker rightly recognized that tradition could not be discarded when thinking about the Christian faith. How the Church read the Scriptures evidenced in the Councils was not something he was prepared to jettison. A number of other reformers recognized this same dynamic and sought to find ways to give a more nuanced expression of sola scriptura. A weakness within Hooker, and similar approaches, was to reduce tradition to a manageable body of knowledge. They sought to turn the forest into a tree.

It is this contextual character of tradition that makes it so difficult for people to understand. Tradition is the context in which anything takes place. If the context changes, then no matter how carefully all else is preserved, its essence has shifted and its meaning has changed. But context can be very difficult to perceive.

The Scriptures are a primary example of this phenomenon. What was the context in which the Scriptures of the New Testament came to be written? For although they are clearly the primary text of Christianity, they are not simultaneously their own context. The quote from St. John’s first epistle points to the primitive, indeed, the primal context of the faith:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life…

St. John is not referencing the Scriptures. He is speaking of the living experience of the incarnate Son of God – “which we have heard – which we have seen with our eyes – which we have looked upon – and our hands have handled…” It is this living experience that “we declare to you.” And the purpose of this declaration is more than the relay of information. St. John tells his readers that these things have been declared to them “that you also may have communion with us; and truly our communion is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” [This is one of those sad verses where English translators have rendered koinonia (κοινωνία) as “fellowship” a meaning that is almost bizarre in its failure to render the Greek.]

The communion to which St. John refers is itself the tradition, the context without which his letter cannot be rightly read. And it is clear that St. John believes that this communion is something that can be given. His word for this transmission is rendered “to declare,” translating the Greek, apaggello (ἀπαγγέλλω – related to the word for gospel). St. John’s declaration is the equivalent of St. Paul’s favorite term, gospel (εὐαγγέλιον, evangel), which is itself frequently misunderstood in its meaning and import.

What does St. Paul mean when he says gospel, the good news? Our first instinct is to find a way to summarize his preaching. Thus the gospel is “Christ died for our sins,” or some such phrase. But St. Paul clearly has an almost global meaning for the word:

For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance,  (1Th 1:5 NKJ)

It is used to mean God’s revealed plan wrought in the death and resurrection of Christ. It is the preaching of Christ. It is the content of the preaching. But like St. John’s communion, the gospel is not “word only” but also “power.” Thus it is not the proclamation of an idea or a set of ideas, nor the announcement only of an event in history. Gospel is the living power of the communion with the Father through His Son in the Spirit. That living communion is our participation in the crucified and risen Christ.

But St. Paul is also quite clear that this gospel is given by tradition.

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you– unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. (1Co 15:1-5 NKJ)

Here the Apostle uses the technical word delivered, translating paradidomi (παραδίδωμι), the verb form of tradition, paradosis (παράδοσις). The gospel preached is what St. Paul understands as that which has traditioned to the Corinthians. And it is this tradition which saves (if we hold fast to it).

The written words of the New Testament are a form which the tradition came to take. Interestingly, the verses that mention the “Scriptures” in the New Testament do not mean the New Testament itself, but the Scriptures of the Old Testament. The New Testament is a written form of the tradition, the gospel, the preaching, the declaration, the communion given by the Apostles to the Church, the living communion of the one gospel of Christ. But the context of that writing was the living tradition (gospel, preaching, declaration, communion) of the Church.

How did the primitive Church recognize the authenticity of writings presented to it? The question is extremely important. There is evidence of the question within the New Testament texts themselves. In both Colossians and 2 Thessalonians, the text refers to St. Paul’s own signature. St. John’s gospel has a closing affirmation by a community that his gospel is by the beloved disciple. But to a large extent, such tokens are but tokens and not by any means proof of authorship (forgeries were abundant in the ancient world).

Ultimately the acceptance of writings as authoritative rests entirely on tradition (particularly tradition as context). The Church recognized the authentic voice of the Church in the writings – i.e. the writings agreed with the gospel as it had already been received. St. Paul specifically describes this manner of recognition:

But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (Gal 1:8-9 NKJ)

Here again, St. Paul uses gospel in a manner synonymous to tradition (paradosis). And he again invokes the technical word for the reception of tradition, paralambano (παραλαμβάνω). No writing, even from St. Paul himself, is to be accepted if it is not in harmony with the tradition as it has been received. That tradition (gospel, declaration, communion) judges all things for it is the true life of Christ within the Church. Christ promises this as a specific work of the Spirit:

However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. (Joh 16:13 NKJ)

St. John references the same thing in his first epistle:

But the anointing [chrism] which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing [chrism] teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him. (1Jo 2:27 NKJ)

This work of the Spirit is not the quasi-magical notion taught by many Pentecostals, nor is it the testimonium internum of Calvin. Both of these misinterpretations imagine an interior working or voice which warns the believer of error, etc. It certainly has an inner component, but it is not some unique charisma. Rather, it is the living witness, the abiding presence of the same Christ, the continuing, authentic voice of that which was once delivered within the Church. 

St. Ignatius of Antioch, immediate successor to the Apostles, writing in the early second century bears witness to the presence of this voice: “He who possesses in truth the word of Jesus can hear even its silence.” Ep. to the Eph. XV

All Christians have something of this authentic voice in their midst. Anyone who names Jesus as Lord with the full and true intent of those words affirms that authentic voice. But it is greatly diminished by the various ideologies and unexamined cultural assumptions that crowd contemporary Christianity. The ideologies of sola scriptura, in which the culture of the reformers or other latter-day leaders is substituted for that authentic voice create an alternative silence, a context in which the words of Scripture take on meanings foreign to gospel once delivered to the Church.

Many times we cannot see the forest for the trees. It is even more difficult if the trees have been transplanted into a strange land.

____________

For an excellent description of the shape of the Apostolic context read Fr. John Behr’s The Mystery of Christ.

 

 

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

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



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28 responses to “The Communion of Tradition”

  1. Fr. Barnabas Powell Avatar

    As usual, there is no way to express how important this insight is. Tradition to the Orthodox is like water to the fish. Thank you, father. I look forward to seeing you in Tarpon.

  2. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Fr. Barnabas, Are you ready to do some sponge diving?

  3. Justin Avatar
    Justin

    We pray that God might enlighten our hearts to hear the word of the Lord. Thank you for your enlightening words.

  4. Phaedrus Avatar
    Phaedrus

    Still waiting for my “that which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and touched with our hands” moment. It’s nice that someone was able to have an objective experience of God. The kind of experience that would engender authority and confidence in the one writing and speaking. I think a major hurdle for many people is “How do I know?” Once a person realizes how easily misled the human mind can be, how powerful and common place self-deception is, and the shocking realization that there is no idea so absurd no one would believe it, then talk of the mystical begins to appear dangerously subjective, i.e., “I know in my heart it’s true.” How do you escape the human propensity for unconsciously erecting illusions for the psyche? It seems like it should be obvious that if there isn’t something that unequivocally takes you outside of yourself, then there is always the possibility of self-deception. It is hard to admit that unless some unequivocal experience imposes itself on you, then it is likely that your biases, fears, unconscious assumptions will frame your beliefs, and your subjective experience will be, “I know it is true in my heart.” How many times must one journey to Oz only to find one man after another hiding behind the curtain before one thinks, “Until I see something with my eyes, hear something with my ears, and touch something with my hands before I believe.” Even Thomas had his doubts erased by what he touched with his hands.

  5. Andrew Avatar
    Andrew

    As was undoubtedly the the case for many others, the first step in my journey towards the Church was the discovery of the Tradition (and as a result the undermining my belief in sola scriptura) In various conversations I’ve had over the years with Protestant/Evangelical family and friends, I’ve come to feel that there’s often very little use in discussing anything else (Mary, the Saints etc.) until this foundation stone is addressed. Being on the other side of that discovery, it’s difficult to understand how I believed it in the first place, other than that it was an unevaluated presupposition I just inherited (a negative ‘tradition’, if you will). It’s seems so obvious now how little sense it makes, but there seems to be a veil over the eyes of most of my family that just can’t or won’t see it. But that was me at one point too. Lord have mercy.

  6. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Phaedrus,
    I have two general thoughts on your comment. The first has to do with what St. John meant by his statement: “That which we have heard…”etc. The second is about the nature of mystical experience (in the sense in which it is embraced and taught by Orthodox Christianity).

    First: St. John is not describing his own, personal St. Thomas moment. The thrust of his statement is a refutation of the Gnostics. The Jesus whom He knows was not a phantasm as some of the Gnostics taught. Rather – He heard Him, saw Him with His own eyes, looked on Him, and touched Him with His hands.” This was a real man – a human being. He also watched Him bleed and die (he could have said). This is not a refutation of doubt, but a grounding of what he himself says in historical reality. This is not the Jesus of hearsay – but the Jesus as proclaimed by the Apostles. Of note, St. John doesn’t say, “I have heard…etc.” But “we have heard..” etc. It is the common witness of all of the Apostles – those men who were appointed with authority and the historical responsibity to establish the Church in faithfulness to Christ, as commanded.

    Mystical experience. If someone came to me and said, “Christ appeared to me last night and told me that I should convert and become an Orthodox Christian,” I would actually be hesitant (and I would not simply Baptize them immediately). It’s not the normative manner of coming to faith in Christ. I would be sceptical. I have only ever encountered one person who had such a claim (and it was long before my Orthodox years). Christ told the man, “I want more of your time, more of your money, more of your life.” I was only about 18 years old and was running a Jesus Freak coffee house. The man was a college professor. I judged (rightly I think) that he was in the middle of a nervous breakdown. I do not know what became of him.

    Mystical experience is not a substitute for objective experience. It is not a sub-level compelling experience that solves all doubts. My best comparison to it is marriage. I love my wife – and I loved her enough to want to spend my life with her when I proposed so many years ago, though I had very little idea of what that would me – I did not know ultimately who she would become, nor who I would become. I knew enough (it seemed) to make that “leap” of faith. There was an inner component (I knew here for about 3 years before we married) rooted in our relationship and the hours we spent together. I “liked” her enough to want to find out what love would be like.

    We have the “objective” witness of those who walked with Christ and knew Him, who recorded His teachings, and who saw Him tortured, crucified, dead, and buried, and report that they saw Him after He was raised from the dead. Their claims can be examined like any other historical claim. It is plausible and has never been refuted (as versus the false claims of Joseph Smith, or even Mohammed). They have been questioned relentlessly, but remain as plausible as ever. There’s no smoking gun of doubt surrounding them. There is doubt, for sure, on the part of some or many, but not of the sort that makes belief impossible for others.

    But, it’s back to marriage. I encountered the claims of the gospel (in a healthy manner) as a teenager. There was enough there that I was willing to respond with a level of “faith.” Vladimir Lossky defines faith as a “participatory adherence.” I like that definition. My response to what I was told was to extend myself towards Christ by deciding to practice the commandments as they’ve been taught through time. I gave my life to Him in that act of adherence. The result (much like my marriage) has been that my inner life has increasingly agreed with that early decision, such that I am who I am as a person today. I could say the same about my marriage. Without those two “participatory adherences” in my life – I would not be the same person at all.

    The “mystical” side of experience, again, is much like the mystical side of marriage. From time to time, I “know” that my wife loves me, even when she says nothing. There is a mutual giving and sharing. I find the same thing in the Eucharist. I “know” that this is Christ’s Body and Christ’s Blood, in a manner that does not argue objectively, but in a manner that changes my life and makes me who I am. I have a “participatory adherence” to the death and resurrection of Christ, such that I “know” it to be the meaning of all things.

    Love is the great “mystical experience” wherever it is encountered. But it doesn’t happen because I “saw” something. I saw a bird fly through the air as I was driving earlier. No one has any reason to doubt that statement. But it didn’t change me (or the world, particularly).

    Christ responded to St. Thomas’ doubt with a bodily appearance and a physical demonstration. Nevertheless, He said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And there’s certainly way more of us in that category. I don’t think that any of us “can” believe the way St. Thomas believed. But the kind of believing we can do – is apparently greater and better than the sort of believing that St. Thomas did.

    I agree that there is plenty of delusion and self-deception – so much so that we do well to be sceptical. But note – I have made no great “objective” claims for my faith. I have a reasonable faith in the historical witness (though I am not unquestioning about various aspects). I have made a reasonable response in my life (much like my entering into a relationship with my wife was not unreasonable) to the gospel. Time and years have given me greater and greater confidence that the “participatory adherence” of my life to the Crucified and Risen Christ was correct and good.

    I had, of course, the many generations of Christians before me to listen to (St. John and St. Thomas, both). Some of that historical witness is part of what made me an Orthodox Christian rather than the Baptist of my childhood or the Anglican of my earlier adulthood.

    If I had a summary on this – it would be that the epistemology of the existence of God is not the right way to ask the question (or is simply a dead-end way to ask the question). Jesus’ question to Peter was more to the point, “Do you love me?” That is the heart of mystical experience. It doesn’t ignore the historical evidence – but we don’t live on it, either. We live in, through, and by love – probably always.

    What is the participatory adherence in our lives? It’s there, sometimes thick, sometimes thin. But it’s there.

  7. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Father, Phaedrus,
    Certain special experiences that qualify as incontrovertible bastions against doubts might exist. However, I don’t think – as you Father brilliantly explained – they are what we think they are.
    This is easily demonstrated when we consider that there can be found two people who’ve had the same ‘transformative experience’ and one of them has remained a changed person ever since the experience having advanced into greater assimilation of said experience, while the other has eventually fallen away and once again made a landing-field in his mind to allow doubts to ‘touch down’. And there’s evidence of this occurring even with those witnessing the authoritative resolve of a saint for a time, or those who have been the receptor of some immense miracle, or who heard an inconceivably sublime ‘word’ which entered indelibly into their depths, or even having had a transformative vision of God in unforgettable Light.
    Eventually, the parallel with a long marriage is perhaps the best approach…

  8. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, does not 1 John 4:19-21 convey how we know?
    19. We love Him because He first loves us.
    20. If a man sayeth, I love God and hateth his brother, he is a liar. For he who loveth not his brother, whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?
    21.And this commandment we have from Him that he who loveth God love his brother also.

    For me what I know of Jesus has come through prayer: personal, private prayer and Liturgical prayer.

  9. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dino,
    Marriage is pretty much the one thing in my life that seems to serve as a parallel. And, it has the added element of love which, it seems to me, has more to do with why something “sticks” for us or not. Belief is complicated – much more than I would have thought years ago. It says much about our lives – and, I will observe, is complicated enough to make it something about someone that we should reserve judgment about. In fact, I think there can be an element of a “widow’s mite” in belief. Someone can make do with very little evidence, as it were, while someone else is unphased by an abundance.

    Sometimes I think to myself (when thinking about faith) – “Who would I want on my side if I was going into a fight?” There are elements involved in a person that cannot be described by what they “believe” (or think they believe). I suspect that Judas “believed” pretty much like everyone else – he had seen all the miracles, etc. But, I remember that it was Thomas who said, “Let’s go and die with Him,” when Jesus announced his intention to go to Jerusalem despite their urging otherwise.

  10. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael,
    It is interesting that St. John says, “God, whom he has not seen.”

  11. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    Even the greatest of miracles do not necessarily compel belief. Jesus publicly raises Lazarus from the tomb 4 days after his death. Many of the Jews believed in Jesus upon witnessing this great event. Yet others ran off to the Pharisees to report what Jesus had done. Apparently they were not moved by this miracle as were the ones who remained and believed.

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dean,
    Good point. It makes me say to others – Why do you believe? Phaedrus’ comment sent me into the direction of reflecting on my marriage as a model of how my faith has worked.

    After my years in a commune, part of a charismatic house church, I almost jettisoned my faith – having come to have many crushing doubts about the experiences in that setting. My hesitancy, interestingly, came through my memory of quiet, very solemn services of Holy Communion in the Episcopal Church I had joined when I was a teen. There were no arguments there. No really interesting discussions of the existence of God or even discussions of miracles and such. But the quiet mystery of the Eucharist was simply a place in my heart that I wasn’t ready to abandon.

    So, I went back there. It was as I remembered. Of course, in a couple of years, I was off to seminary, and my life began to change (and has continued). As a priest in retirement, one of my goals is the recollection in the heart of those quiet points of knowing from those youthful years. I’m not young anymore, and my innocence has been bulldozed many times…so I find it to be a struggle. But, I can name it. It has a silence about it.

  13. Phaedrus Avatar
    Phaedrus

    Of course, a miracle is not enough, but it seems like a necessary condition to satisfy. Maybe it isn’t a sufficient condition, but how could it not be necessary? True believers are dime-a-dozen. Everywhere there are people willing to die for what they believe. They are convinced and ‘know in their heart’ that what they believe is right. We can talk about the virtues in believing on little or no evidence. But it still seems to me that unless God bridges the gap in an unequivocal way we will remain captive to our own feelings, thoughts, and impressions. That seems unavoidable to me. I believe we have a moral obligation to follow the implications of these ideas. I believe I have a moral obligation NOT to say anything more than what my experience communicates. If God wants me to be able to say more than what I am able to say, then he will have to bridge that gap. Why is that so hard to understand?

  14. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Phaedrus,
    I understand the point. I think I make a distinction between “hard” miracles and “soft” miracles. “Hard” miracles would be the sort of thing that most people think of. I’ve seen a few over the years. I carried a weeping icon of the Mother of God around in a college conference of several hundred students. The icon was streaming myrhh. The students were holding their hands and I was tipping the icon so that the oil would drip down into their hands. We were filling the hands of the whole auditorium. It was way beyond any kind of possibility of fakery and such. It certainly moved my heart…but it’s not actually the kind of thing that I feed on day-in-and-day-out. Those morsels would be more of the “soft” miracles – moments of grace in someone’s life – a sense of the light-bulb coming on as I’m reading something – a whole bunch of things that are more like the day-to-day life of my marriage.

    But I get your point. It’s mostly the problem of our feelings, thoughts, and impressions that are so constant and insistent.

    I appreciate the moral obligation you describe. My response would be (for myself) that the whole sum-total (hard and soft) asks of me my “participatory adherence.” I don’t much like speaking about the “hard” miracles for a variety of reasons. I’ve mentioned one and there are others.

    I think it’s ok to say, “I need this.” But I can’t write a prescription that says to someone, “You’ve never had that kind of necessary miraculous experience, therefore your faith is not real or trustworthy. I just think that’s too reductive. It might be important, and even necessary for some. But I can’t make it a hard requirement. If, on the other hand, someone is coming at a person insisting that they believe, arguing the point that they must believe, and there is nothing hard backing it up, they would probably do well to back off.

    The brother of my Archbishop, a physicist (I think), certainly a scientist, was converted to the faith by seeing and examining a myrhh-weeping icon. He said, “It simply defied the laws of physics,” and that was his testimony to his brother. The icon I was privilege to witness is really quite extraordinary.

    Your point is well-made.

  15. Jane Szepesi Avatar
    Jane Szepesi

    Talking to my sceptical daughter-in-law years ago, I said first, it makes sense (Bishop Kallistos used to say something like “It all ties up”). Then, I have known people who believed, and both loved and respected them. Trying to follow the examples of the Lord, his saints, and the saints God has sent to me, makes my life hold together somehow.

  16. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Jane,
    “It all ties up.” This is something of the “soft miracle” that I was alluding to. The “hard” miracles – defying laws of nature and such – are something different, and I think that for many believers, they are not felt to be necessary. I’ve used the comparison of marriage. I’ve known many people with very successful marriages whose relationship did not begin with “falling in love.” It was something different, but the “soft miracle” of day-in-and-day-out life together builds an undeniable love that, perhaps without fireworks, is still quite tangible.

    There are those, for example, who see the world and creation and its wonder, and based on their experience of it are convinced that it has a Creator and accept the existence of God (it is spoken of and referenced in Scripture as a path to faith). I do not find atheism to be plausible – in that the world and our existence doesn’t make sense in that account of things. One could argue (and many do) that the world is simply absurd and without meaning. But I find that unpersuasive in the extreme. Not irrational – just unpersuasive for me.

    “It all ties up” says it fairly well.

    Jesus Himself – all that we reliably know of Him – is an argument for the existence of God and His own authenticity. But that’s another long set of paragraphs for another time.

  17. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, is there a point where Communion with Jesus plus our brothers and sisters just IS and, in a certain way, needs no question or explanation?

  18. Jeff Avatar
    Jeff

    Phaedrus,

    I am touched by your insistence that God must bridge the gap in an unequivocal way. Though I can’t speak for others, I can tell you that He did exactly that for me.

    I was the full-time pastor of a mid-size Evangelical Protestant church when one day I attended a Vespers service at a Russian Orthodox monastery (how I came to be there is a story in itself). There Christ spoke to me in words—not audible words—but still it was very clear that He said, “Follow Me.” And it was equally clear that He meant that I was to come into the Orthodox Church.

    After that, it still took more than five years before my Chrismation—may God forgive me—even though I was forced to resign from the pastorate within a couple of months after hearing those words. Every area of life became painful: financial difficulties, strains on my marriage with my wonderful wife, floundering to find direction in my professional life, and a long hard struggle to find as clear a sense of purpose and identity as I’d had before when I was the pastor. And now (years later), each of those areas has improved—thank God!)—but none of them is as easy or comfortable as they were before God spoke to me.

    And yet I wouldn’t trade that miracle, or the daily miracle of belonging to the Church, for anything. I say that in all seriousness.

    So…I guess I’d sum up by saying, Be careful what you ask for.

  19. Jane Szepesi Avatar
    Jane Szepesi

    Thank you Father for your good words.

  20. Mark Shillaker Avatar
    Mark Shillaker

    I have gained so much from this article and the comments! Glory to God

  21. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Phaedrus,
    I believe that Jeff’s closing comment is spot on. There is great danger in God “bridging the gap in an unequivocal way”, because man’s subsequent response is typically NOT to man’s own credit. There are exceptions of course, but these are rather rare.
    As Elder Aimilanos used to say, “what good is it if I see God? especially if my subsequent existence remains almost as self-centred as it was before? Is it not better for God to see me? And the way this occurs is by putting myself under God’s gaze every single night!”
    This awesome authority of all things spiritual was a huge proponent of the night-time exclusive prayer that requests nothing but offers everything even if it is not for 7 hours but just for 7 minutes.
    This is what is permanently transformative.
    In the most pragmatic way possible he offered a solution there. But it was based on our own “work” and not on some work that God needs to do, He has done everything as they say already, but our assimilation of all gifts requires (whether some “bridging the gap in an unequivocal way” miraculously occurs or not) our own consistent “response”.

  22. Phaedrus Avatar
    Phaedrus

    Dino,

    I agree.. Seeing something profoundly supernatural would not be transformative. I found myself thinking about Fr. Stephen’s comments about love. Love is transformative. I see this in my life with children. Parents are transformed not by the love their children give them, but by the love they give. So, I think I’ve learned something here. The reveal is that I do not love God. How can I love God without falling in love with my own imagination? I have see this before and it is something that I see as a clear and present danger. Let’s assume I know nothing about anything. How would a person even know which God to start with? I think that is why an unequivocal event would be critical. At least you would know which God to spend your time seeking. Also, it is clear on reflection that I have a deep distrust of my own mind. If you knew me, you would understand why that is true. The mind can convince you things are there when they are not. I do not want to love my own hallucination.

  23. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Phaedrus,
    May God give us all grace to love as is possible.

  24. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Coincidentally, I was reading Corinthians this morning in which Paul talks about marriage–and why he is reluctant to endorse it.

    I do love Father Stephen’s use of a good marriage to illuminate a proper understanding of how communion with God can develop. The desire for something dramatic in our conversion is very much akin with how many want to experience instant “eyes meeting across the room” and a certainty that this is the person we are going to spend our lives with. As with so much else about human beings, I tell my children, “If it was supposed to be exactly the same for all of us, why would God make so many of us?”

    CS Lewis writes of Paul’s objections to marriage that most readers are mistaken in that they understand those objections to be carnal based. Paul, however, clearly is warning against marriage making us double-minded. Lewis says that the danger is in that all the mundane problems of married life can be a distraction from our greater communion.

    To go back, then, to Father Stephen’s analogy, that likely parallels our post-conversion life, too. Pre becoming Orthodox we look overmuch for a Damascus moment; afterward, we have to guard against all the little daily disappointments that do not disappear and the inner rebellion that chafes against the routine.

    Indeed, I recall Father Daniel warning about that at the conclusion of my catechumenate.

  25. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Phaedrus,
    trying to stick to what I have come to appreciate from the same Elder Aimilanos as well as others, regarding what you just explained, the discerning advise is for a combination of
    both things:
    (1) a deep distrust of one’s own mind and even heart, mixed with what can almost sound like a
    (2) “self-induced” visualisation of God’s presence. This second aspect however, is not hallucinatory -in the context of spiritual watchfulness but almost the exact opposite: a self-induced awareness of God’s loving gaze at all times, suspicious of visions and such, aware of one’s own propensity for delusion, yet trusting in God (the God that one doesn’t quite know much yet), simply wanting and endeavouring to be and behave as one would behave if God’s gaze was actually visible.
    God eventually reveals Himself -as is beneficial to each practitioner of that type of spiritual vigilance- ‘unequivocally’.
    However, the matter of “necessity” of an “unequivocal event” from God can be sharply critiqued from more aspects than we often tend to consider.
    Take the last historical bodily action of Christ, for instance, His Divine Ascension before the eyes of the awe-struck disciples.
    If we were to complain that, ‘He afterwards left us without unequivocal incontrovertible witness’, we would fail to realise what this actually pertains in truth.
    Let me explain: Can you imagine if Christ was to remain for over two thousand years now, say in Jerusalem, bodily, say on some throne, with a body that goes through walls, goes through doors, [John 20:19] that doesn’t need food yet somehow can taste of fish to prove he is not a hallucination, a being who knows what everyone is doing in the entire globe without the need for advanced technical surveillance, who even knows everyone’s thoughts and everyone knows that this eternally undying Lord in Jerusalem unceasingly monitors everyone without the need for cameras or microchips etc. You would essentially have something more akin to the Antichrist’s dream objective! And man would surely then side with the devil and say “just give me a break and leave me free to do my own thing!” “Why is your presence unceasingly breathing down my neck? I cannot function like this!” “I hate you, the devil was right all along!”
    But God is so inconceivably magnanimous that He hides away and only slowly allows His unimaginably sweet presence do be “unequivocally” felt by those who demonstrate to Him (and, significantly, to themselves) that they truly utterly want Him above all, and they do this in large part by the aforementioned discerning “self-induced visualisation of His presence”, that special spiritual vigilance centred in their hearts, where He comes to mystically, yet utterly unequivocally confirm the Light of His presence that is free of all delusion.

  26. Columba Silouan Avatar
    Columba Silouan

    “There is great danger in God “bridging the gap in an unequivocal way”, because man’s subsequent response is typically NOT to man’s own credit.”

    This is why, I believe, Jesus Christ is and needs to be our CHIEF Gap Bridger, with all the other intercessors we have assisting us in bridging any remaining gaps and needs.

    Jesus is the Gateway to our life in God, the Holy Trinity. It is through Him that we have received the reconciliation with and participation in God that we can then build on through all the means of Grace God has provided for us.

    When we are weak, then He is strong. Not if, when we are weak.

    We often need forgiveness and healing for our subsequent responses, as they often fall short, too.

    Is this correct, and Orthodox?

    Blessings,

    Reader Columba

  27. Laurie Marvin Avatar
    Laurie Marvin

    Before I was married I imagined falling in love with a Dietrich Bonhoeffer type figure. I think it was mostly a fantasy. It took me a while to accept that my husband was the person for me, but I’m so glad I did. I hope one day he becomes Orthodox, but he is always very supportive and attends our (long) services. I agree that some people are looking for spiritual fireworks and we would be better off accepting stability and long-term growth.

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Columba,
    Yes, generally.

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