Friday, August 14, 2015

Entering Into The Great Rest

The one-stanza hymn (troparion) sung during the memorial service of an Orthodox Christian who has departed this life reaches deeply into the treasury of sacred theology.  

“Give rest O Lord, 
to the souls of your servants who have fallen asleep, 
and establish them in Paradise. 
Give rest to your servants, O Lord, 
where the choirs of the saints 
and all the Just shine like the stars in heaven, 
and do not regard their transgressions.”

The hymn is a prayer that petitions for rest, and this rest is accompanied by two descriptors: first, rest is described as being established in paradise, and second, as shining with the brightness of the stars.  The two key words describing this rest then are, “establish” and “shine.”

Rest is defined by most dictionaries as, the ceasing of work or movement in order to relax, refresh oneself, or recover strength. It is the ceasing of movement that Orthodox theology has in mind when it uses the term.  St. Maximus the Confessor is perhaps most helpful regarding this topic when he writes: “movement is subsequent to coming into being”. In other words, becoming a being, always results in movement.  However, this movement is not random, instead, it is a movement closing in on its destination. This power used for movement is called “passion”. This kind of passion is not the emotion that we so often call passion, rather it is the opposite of impassibility,  which is the inability to experience change. Consequently, passion is movement, which is “change in progress”. According to St. Maximus, change, passion, or motion do not cease their movement until the being in motion arrives at their final destination. 

“Motion does not come to rest until it is embraced wholly by the object of this desire. Once embraced, none want anything from themselves, for they know themselves to be wholly embraced, and intentionally by choice wholly receives the life-giving delimitation. Once wholly embraced, a being no longer wishes to be embraced at all by their own self, but are suffused by that which embraces it. The (suffusion works in the) same way air is illuminated by light, or iron is wholly inflamed by fire.” 
The Cosmic Mystery of Christ, P. 51

The point emphasized by both the Troparion and by St. Maximus, is that there is movement or passion in a human being until that person arrives at their final destination. Only then is there REST within the suffusion of the LIGHT of God, which is in God Himself. That light is the source of such ecstasy that the human being folds his own will to choose into the fixed will of God. It is an ESTABLISHMENT in the LIGHT of God which stops human passion or passibility, and takes us to our final purpose.

"Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." 
Matt 11:28

Monday, June 29, 2015

Marriage, Church, and State

Marriage is an institution dating back to prehistory. Mankind has always had forms of government and forms of religion, and marriage has been associated with both government and religion. The place of marriage within religion and government does not pose much of a problem for monolithic cultures, but marriage can be an immense problem for cultures wherein diversity is the rule.  Such a problem is that which we are facing in our land today.

The problem is simple, both government and America’s religious institutions reserve the right to define morality, however, they do not agree on morality. Let’s be clear, the state has an agenda, and so do the religious institutions, and they are not the same agenda. It seems to many that this is an insurmountable conflict, however, I contend that this need not necessarily lead to succession or civil war (although, I must admit it can if not handled rightly).

The reason that the conflict over marriage rights strikes so deeply at the heart of Americans is precisely because in America the government has been thought of as part of God’s gift to americans. In other words, the government has been thought of by persons of religious conviction as being good and guided by the principles of the bible. The fact is that historically there have been religiously committed people in government, but the government has usually carried out what its benefactors (the robber-barons of a given era) have commanded, and what the voting populous pushes for. 

The fact is that the government does not consider ethics a transcendent and eternal constant that has been revealed, but rather something that is to be self-determined by a democratic process. In other words, according to our government, right and wrong does not flow from the perfect being we call God, who is perfection, but rather from what we (the President, the Congress, or supreme court justices) determine is best for us here and now. This is the source of our conflict. Let me say it very plainly to my religious friends, the government is not good in the way that you define good! Let me be clearer yet, the government is not in your favor, or looking to be holy!

Now then, what are religious institutions to do?  Let me begin by saying that we are not the only ones in history to have a government that is not benign.  Most people around the world do not look at their government as a good institution.  It is only now that this view is becoming mainstream in America. The plain fact is that our government has never been benign, to believe this would be a delusion. There has always been oppression of some sort, killings on a mass scale via unjust wars, hypocrisy, discrimination, and so on. Let me be very clear, our government is not holy! quite the opposite in most cases.

So then, let’s consider the way forward.  

Government has an area of authority regarding marriage, and that is the establishment and oversight of the legal contract that binds the two persons (for now, this may expand to more than two people in the future). The government lays out laws that direct the legal realm of the married person’s relationship between each other and the state. In short, the government manages and directs the marriage contract. No religious person should have a problem with this, unless of course, it is in some way discriminatory against religious marriages. For the moment this does not seem to be the case. 

Religious institutions also have an area of authority regarding marriage, and it is the establishment and oversight of the spiritual aspect of the union called marriage. The state has no say in the spiritual makeup, direction, or requirements for a religious marriage. To speak in historic Christian terms, the Church has sacramental authority in a marriage, thus the church determines who can and who cannot be married, and what that marriage must be like in order to remain part of the church. The government has no say in the church’s institution of marriage.

The problem then is the union of church and state regarding the way marriages are conducted. Today, a couple coming for a religious marriage must have an unsigned marriage license, which is then signed by the minister performing the marriage. it is the signing and filing of that signed license that constitutes a legal marriage for religious persons. This is a huge problem that can lead to all sort’s of future coercion from the sate. As agents of the state, the sate can determine right and wrong for the ministers who continue this practice.

In order to preserve a  more peaceful union, ministers must disengage from this practice of participating in the contractual or governmental side of marriage, and leave that entire aspect to the persons being married and the state. This contractual aspect is of no concern to the religious institution. Let me be clear, if we do not want the state to meddle into our religious affairs, then we must insist that our ministers stop acting as agents of the state.  

Give to caesar what is caesar’s and to God what is God’s.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

And Deliver Us From Evil

Evil is a hard concept for us post-moderns. Like all moral judgments in today’s western world, evil is continually being redefined. The new moral definitions all seem to center around how an action makes individuals feel.   In addition to the redefinition of morality there is also a new methodology for the social conquest of these values. In order for a new moral to take hold it must win the hearts and minds of the masses. This transformational process is marketed and promoted by all forms of media until the feelings of a few become the feelings of the majority. In short, in our post modern world, the source of morality comes from the feelings of a few who have the resources to market their desires until the majority are brainwashed into accepting them as good. With feelings guiding the masses, and large financial treasuries steering our feelings, the capacity to change the view of a thing from evil to good is within reach for those who have the resources. 

There is however another powerful mover behind the new morality, and that is a common human dysfunction. I am referring to the pervasive human sexual dysfunction that tugs at everyone’s feelings.  If we note the major changes in moral values for the last fifty years, we will find that many of them are sexual in origin. More specifically, these changes display a move from sexual conservatism and asceticism to sexual liberalism and excess. Consider the movement that began with decriminalizing free sex, which lead to the legalization of abortion, the easing divorce laws, and now the legitimizing same sex marriage, the connection and the trajectory of the refining of morality is clear. Humans are sexually dysfunctional, and there is a string desire to make that dysfunction the norm, an dot stop calling it evil, but instead call it good.

This massive moral change could not have occurred in a spiritually and philosophically developed society.  I say this because even the slightest grasp of sound metaphysics eliminates the possibility that individual feelings are the ultimate source for good or evil. I am specifically referring to the branches of philosophical metaphysics called ontology and epistemology. Ontology is the study of being, namely independent and dependent being, and epistemologies the study of knowledge, namely the mind and consciousness.

To put it in the simplest of terms, human beings are not self-propagating or self-sustaining beings, rather they are dependent beings. Humans have their being in one non-dependent being that all the classical religions of the world call God with a big “G”.  Humans are what we are, and know what we know by participating in ultimate being, and not by our own individual power or feelings. In other words, goodness is God and evil is the absence of God. It is in God that we divide good from evil, not in our individualistic feelings. This study requires a great deal of humility and democracy, our voices are not the only voices. There does exist a history of the human race, and in that history there both good and evil. There is a history in philosophical and religious understanding, and acting apart from that history is neither safe or wise, in fact, it is capricious and childish.

Without a doubt, the most influential religion in our western world has been Christianity. Unfortunately, since 1054 AD, the west’s brand of Christianity has suffered from all kinds of problems. Of most importance for this topic is the western problem of legal satisfaction. In western Christianity the main point of man’s relationship to god is to attain a legal satisfaction for man regarding his offense towards God. This has painted God as an angry Judge who has been scorned and wants retribution. The ultimate consequence of this has been for the masses to say, “I want no such God”. This means I want no non-dependent being, being is a mystery, I am the only being that counts.  The angry God needing satisfaction, creates a desire for there to be no God! 

The original Christianity of the east, which was held in common for nearly 1000 years, does not suffer from this problem of legal satisfaction. Mainly because they knew no such angry God. The God of original Christians is a loving God, and our relationship to him is guided by a statement from saint Athanasius: “God became man the mankind might become like God.” The pre-supposition of this ancient Christianity is twofold. First that man is dysfunctional and has drifted from Godlikeness, and two, because Christ who is God, became man, mankind can now be healed from their dysfunction.  In summary, acknowledging that our spiritual illness affects our minds and desires allows the ancient Christian to turn to Christ for transformation and not to the imaginations of dysfunctional emotions.

Evil in every shape, is the absence of God and therefore the absence of Godlikeness. There is no evil that can ever make the human experience good, no matter how many people tell each other that the evil is okay.  There is no evil that does not hurt us. Free sex is by far the most damaging of all of these evils, and it is the evil that paved the way for the revolution that followed. The reason Christians in the west were silenced is not only the rejection of their angry God, but also the rejection of their hypocrisy. Specifically, because they were totally silent and the free sex in our society, but beside themselves with indignation towards homosexuality. That relative silence towards the rampant free sexuality of our culture, and extreme boisterousness against homosexuality excluded them from the conversation at large.

The way forward is to rediscover the loving God of the eastern Christians, and to love everyone as God loves them. This means that really love those held captive by the dysfunctionally of free sex, divorce, abortion, and homosexuality equally. Christians in the west must relearn to consider all sexual dysfunctions as a spiritual disease in need of healing, and seek to be a help and guide in the healing of the soul. As for my family and friends that suffer under these dysfunctions, they are easy to love and respect. Nevertheless, I pray for them just as I pray for my own healing from all of the evil that dwells in me.  Friends, we are all sick, may the Lord deliver us from evil.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Emotions of God - pt 3

Does God have Needs?
A clear understanding of God’s impassibility must be maintained when considering the accuracy of any doctrinal formulation. This is to say that any doctrine that presents God as having a need, is clearly flawed.  God does not need anything! He has never had a  need to have His honor restored, His justice satisfied, or any other thing. God is and always has been fully satisfied from all eternity.  

A needy God is no God at all, and yet, since the beginning of the 2nd millennium, the western expression of Christianity has not been consistent in applying their understanding of the impassibility of God to their doctrinal formulations. This forgetfulness of God’s impassibility first lays hold of western theology in the writings of Anselm, the Bishop of Canterbury. In his influential book, Cur De Homo, Anselm addresses the disorder in the universe, and posits that universal disorder exists because humanity owes God a debt of honor.
 "This is the debt (the guilt of sin) which man and angel owe to God, and no one who pays this debt commits sin; but every one who does not pay it sins. This is justice, or uprightness of will, which makes a being just or upright in heart, that is, in will; and this is the sole and complete debt of honor which we owe to God, and which God requires of us.”
Anselm plants a new seed into the mind of the church, and the new thought is that God, the one previously thought to be immovable by mankind’s actions, has in fact been moved to need something from His creatures by their actions. 

In Anselm's view, God needs His honor restored because the harmony of the universe, what he calls “the order of things”—in rerum ordine, has been ruined by mankind. In his view, the only possible way of restoring universal harmony is by repaying the debt of honor owed to God. This debt moreover, was of so infinite that it required a being of infinite greatness, such as the Second person of the trinity, acting as a man on behalf of men, to repay the debt of honor owed to God the Father. In this view, God’s bliss, and therefore universal order would be recovered only by the satisfaction of God the Father’s honor. Anselm’s theory presents us with a God that is passible and mutable. In short, if Anselm is correct, then God suffers change and He is moved from His state of perfection and bliss by his creatures.

Moreover, Anselm's theory sees God not only as passible, but also as being divided and even Schizophrenic within His one trinitarian essence. In His theory, God the Father is the offended person within the Trinity, and the only person that needs to have his honor satisfied.  

The satisfier in this theory is the second person of the trinity, the Logos, and He is assisted in doing the satisfying by the third person the trinity, the Holy Spirit.  Thus, one person in the trinity needs satisfaction, but the rest apparently have no need for that same satisfaction, because they are the satisfiers. These two problems are a philosophical death blow to Anselm’s theory, and to any doctrines built upon his theory. Anselm’s view reveals a massive ontological misunderstanding and cannot possibly be correct. It is the error of the millennium, and a major distortion of Christian theology.

How Did the Distortions Unfold?
The West’s relinquishment of clarity with regards the impassibility of God, resulted in the reshaping of their historic understanding of the Christian impassable God to that of a paganesque demiurge. More specifically, This new God was great and powerful, able to create, and capable of great goodness, but He also had needs, and was capable of great meanness in order to satisfy his needs. When analyzed closely, this new God has many similarities to the former pagan gods with a little “g”.  Like all of the Greek and Roman gods that had been part of the culture before, Anselm’s god was subject to emotions and change, and was able to be moved by actions of his creatures.

This seemingly unnoticed shift from impassibility to passibility, from God to demiurge, opened the doors to former pagan ways of thinking about Christian doctrines. Almost immediately after Anselm, the West began a massive revision of Christian doctrine.  First was the the invention of original sin, which is the teaching that the passing of Adam’s guilt occurs by birth, making everyone an offense to God. This shift from what was previously understood as a change in man, the inheritance of Adam’s condition of corruption and mortality, morphed into a legal debt which needed to be satisfied because God was affected by man’s action. 

In short, Man’s problem became God’s problem. Then followed the doctrines which really caused this new passible God to change: the planks of salvation, the treasury of merit, purgatory, and dispensations for sin, all four of which depend on a celestial bank account full of merit that could be transferred around with donations and the saying of certain prayers in order to satisfy the dishonored God. What occurred was the general transformation of the Christian God from a being who is immovable “love,” to a being whois right from the beginning of our lives “anger,” and who created death and hell for the satisfaction of His justice against those who offended Him. Every one of these distortions is connected to the new passible God, the demiurge of Anselm.

After 500 years of this demiurge, the people became disenchanted with this new, angry, celestial banker of a God who sought appeasement at every turn. Consequently, when the Protestant reformation appeared, it swept through western Europe like fire over dry brush. Unfortunately, the reformers did not return to the view of God that was present before Anselm, instead, they retained Anselm's theory of a passible God. The one doctrine they unanimously preserved was the view that God needed His honor satisfied.
“Christ, by His obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are thus justified, and did make a proper, real and full satisfaction to His Father's justice in their behalf…”  (WCF 11. 3)
The Westminster Confession, like Anselm, affirms that God needs to have a debt owed Him satisfied, and He is capable of being moved by beings outside of Himself, meaning that He is a contingent being, a god or demiurge rather than God. It is this passible, angry God, in need of satisfaction was preserved by the reformers. More importantly, this  passible God remains the being to whom the west looks at when they call on God.

What Does An Angry God Produce?
The western expression of Christianity as has been discussed above is therefore a mixed bag.  On the one side God is spoken of as immutable, good, and perfect, while on the other side God is said to have needs and emotions brought about by His creatures.  

In the typical folk expressions of western Christianity, it is common to hear quotes from scripture such as, “God is angry with the wicked every day” (Ps 7:11), or “vengeance is mine, I will repay” (Dt 32:35). In the common understanding, the point being made by those who quote these verses is that God is moved by the actions of persons who act wickedly, In other words, He responds to His emotions caused by outside beings.  The result of this presentation is that God is nothing more than a big human, who behaves perfectly, and who rains down pain on all who cannot attain to that perfection. In this kind of Christianity, God’s impassibility is treated as a kind of theoretical nicety, but not as a necessity for the understanding of God, much less what is meant by these words being quoted. 

The humble and faithful Western Christian who has truly encountered the God of Christians has also by the mere encounter learned of the immense love of God, and for this reason is for the most part willing to accept what to them appears to be a God that can be moved to anger. However, those with a less docile mind and heart, and those hardened by their own corruption rebel furiously, and in a sense who can blame them? Consequently, as a result, there has been a severe backlash in the West, this angry God produced angry people, and a population who wants no God at all rather than one who takes pleasure in both the temporal and eternal torture of His creatures. All we need to do is tally up the decreasing number of active Christians in western Europe and North America in order to confirm this. Ask the average non Christian in these lands why they reject Christianity and the common answer will be, “who can, or even want to believe in such a God as that God?”  In short, this angry God does not draw those who are darkened in their souls closer, rather he drives them further away.

How Does Understanding  Impassibility Help? 
The God that is understood in Light of His impassibility is not the same God as presented above, who is in fact a demiurge.  In fact, He is the God who turned the world upside down in the person of Jesus Christ and by the power of His Holy Spirit. 

This God is the fullness of perfection and love. He is the fullness of being, consciousness, and bliss. It is in the fullness of Him that we experience our own being, consciousness, and bliss. Every experience of beauty, every good, every mercy, kindness, and love is a participation in that God. 

Moreover, the more we participate in these perfections the more we know God, and the more we are able to receive Him as light. The reason God took on flesh is precisely so that mankind might be able to freely enter into that new state of being. It is what the Eastern Church calls deification. God became man that we might become like him through willfully choosing to live in His light. God is Good all the time, and all the time God is good. There is never darkness, or evil, or anger emanating from God.  The plain fact is that the rejectors are correct in denying a passible God, yet sadly, both they and the believers who blindly accept this kind of God miss the point being conveyed.  

God is pure beauty, perfection, and light, and nothing opposed to that light will overcome it, but rather be overcome by that light. Like the Egyptians who pursued the Israelites, those who oppose God will not face a being with a bad mood, but rather the same being that has always been, light.

The problem for those who oppose God is that by their free choice of a life apart from His light, they will not be able to experience God as light, but only as a consuming fire.  Not because any change occurs in God. He is love and goodness always, it is the dysfunctional and rejecting creature that cannot stand the light. To that creature the love of God is a consuming fire, a situation wherein there is gnashing of teeth (anger in the creature) and where the worm does not die (cease to be).  

No blame for this outcome can in any way be placed upon God, only upon those who do not want any part of God and His goodness. This is what is meant by the scriptures when they say that “God desires that all be saved” (1 Ti 2:4),  and “how often have I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” 9Lk 13:34).
In closing, I find it best to state that which the Orthodox church has embraced and taught for 2000 years: 

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 Jn 1:5)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Emotions of God - pt 2

What is God’s Character Like?
There are many portions of scripture, many trustworthy hymns of the ancient church, much unanimous doctrine, and many saintly teachers that tell us what the God of the early Christians is like. It is probably most appropriate to begin with the revelation Gpd made to Moses in the desert at the burning bush. In that account found in Exodus, God tells Moses His that His name is YHWH.  The name means, “I am what and who I will be be.” In other words, I am the being that is eternally complete and unchanging. Right from the start we find God condescending to human capacities by telling Moses something about what He is like by way of a particular name that is meaningful in human terms. In that name, God confesses that He is already that which he will always be.  Later in the History of revelation there are other adjectives added to the name YHWH:
YHWH Nissi (The Banner, meaning The Victorious), YHWH Raah (The Shepherd), YHWH Rapha (The Healer), YHWH Shammah (The Present One), YHWH Tsidkenu (The Righteous), YHWH Mekoddishkem (The Sanctifier), YHWH Jireh (The Provider), YHWH Shalom (The Peace), YHWH Sabaoth (The Ruler of All Bodiless Beings). 
These added names are also a condescension to help humanity understand that God is the beginning-less and eternally unchanging fullness of victory, leadership, presence, healing, righteousness or mercy, holiness, provision, and peace over all creation. 
As is abundantly evident that God is eternally and unchangingly an outward moving being, who pours Himself out in as unchanging goodness for the life and well being of His living creatures. This is best summed up by the statement, “God is Love” (1 Jn 4:8).  
Yet, there is more, much more. Orthodox Christians have always believed that God has revealed Himself in one way that exceeds every other way, and that is by God’s taking on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. In the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the eternal God, the fullness of being, the Logos of God, united himself to humanity. By way of this union humanity was not only forever altered, but also enabled to understand God in a way that could be grasped by mankind. We are told in the New Testament epistles that “He (Christ) is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint (iconos) of his nature…” (Heb 1:3).  Therefore, it is safe to conclude that to know what Christ is like is to know what the Godhead is like. Christ cannot be any different in essence that God the Father, or than God the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life. This means that if it is revealed by God that the Son is merciful and gentle, forgiving offenses 70 times 70 (without limit), teaching mankind to be merciful to the good and the evil ones as our Father in Heaven is, that The character of the whole Godhead is in union. The gospels present the character of Christ as the highest possible expression of goodness. 
It must also be stated that if it is revealed that the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23), then so must the Son and the Father be. Moreover, when we take into account the impassability of the godhead, then we may conclude that this character of ultimate goodness, and cannot suffer any change brought about by any actions of His creatures.  God is the fullness of being and therefore cannot become anything other than what He already is in its fullness. 

Does God Experience Emotion?  
God possesses, and is the ultimate state of consciousness from where all other consciousness derives.  Therefore, His capacity to experiences serves as the basis for our human experiences, including human emotion. Nevertheless, while He experiences all things, He does not do so in any way that humanity can relate to directly.  For this reason, Stanilou calls God a “superessence”. A being that is conscious of all things, yet not moved or shaped by any these experiences. God is conscious of both good and evil, but does not respond to them in any way other than in the fullness of being that He already is.  To use an old cliche, God is good all the time, and all the time God is good. God is perfectly good and loving no matter what, there is no darkness in Him at all, His response is unchanging love and goodness at every second.
How then are we to understand the portions of scripture that tell us that God was angry, or that He repented, or exhibited His wrath? The answer according the unified perspective of the Orthodox Church is that these terms are anthropomorphisms. An anthropomorphism is an attribution of human characteristics or behavior to a god, animal, or object.  These anthropomorphisms are found in the scripture in order to assist our human perceptions and to help us see and understand what occurs when we interact with God.
St. Anthony The Great said it this way:
"God is good, dispassionate, and immutable. Now someone who thinks it reasonable and true to affirm that God does not change, may well ask how, in that case, it is possible to speak of God as rejoicing over those who are good and showing mercy to those who honor Him, and as turning away from the wicked and being angry with sinners. To this it must be answered that God neither rejoices nor grows angry, for to rejoice and to be offended are passions; nor is He won over by the gifts of those who honor Him, for that would mean He is swayed by pleasure. It is not right that the Divinity feel pleasure or displeasure from human conditions. He is good, and He only bestows blessings and never does harm, remaining always the same. We men, on the other hand, if we remain good through resembling God (by repentance and transformation into Christ likeness), are united to Him, but if we become evil through not resembling God, we are separated from Him. By living in holiness we cleave to God; but by becoming wicked we make Him our enemy. It is not that He grows angry with us in an arbitrary way, but it is our own sins that prevent God from shining within us and expose us to demons who torture us. And if through prayer and acts of compassion we gain release from our sins, this does not mean that we have won God over and made Him to change, but that through our actions and our turning to the Divinity, we have cured our wickedness and so once more have enjoyment of God’s goodness. Thus to say that God turns away from the wicked is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind." The Philokalia (ch. 150, first volume)

God does not experience emotional swings, nevertheless, He does experience all things in the fullness of his perfect and unchanging goodness. It is the darkened and ever changing creatures who, from their perspective, perceive God as angry, or full of wrath. A great example of this is found in the Egyptian and Israelite conflict of the Exodus. To the Israelites God was a light of goodness and safety, but for the Egyptians that same light was a consuming fire (Exo 13 & 14). God is the eternal YWHW, that which always was and will be, however the two had very divergent experiences of that same God. The anthropomorphism say more about the human experience of a perfect and unchanging God than of God’s feelings or emotions.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Emotions of God - pt 1

I have wanted to tackle the subject of the emotions of God for some time now, but I have found the challenge entirely too draining.  However, it seems that perhaps the time has come to gird up the loins of my mind and begin to move towards the task.

When we use the term God with a capital G, and not with a small g, we are referring to the being about whom there is a great deal of consensus throughout the classical religions of the world.  This does not mean that the great classical religions agree on every point, that would be untrue and belittle each tradition beyond what would be acceptable to their adherents. Nevertheless, when it comes to the philosophical challenges presented by the assertion of such a God, then the philosophical agreement is almost unanimous.  This claim of unity is especially true in the area of philosophy we call “ontology,”  or ontological inquiry.  In ontology, philosophy studies “being.”  

Ontological Impassability

All of the classical religions refer to God as the “Being.”  In other words, the one true being, possessing the fullness of being, from which and wherein all other beings find their being.  The assertion is that God is the fullness and perfection of all that is perfect and thus is dependent or contingent upon nothing but himself. As the fullness of being, God possesses certain attributes in their completeness, and thus beyond a limited creatures capacity to rationally exhaust his understanding of these attributes. In the words of Orthodox Christian Archpriest Thomas Hopko, of blessed memory, “you cannot know God, but you have to know Him to know that.”

Nevertheless, there is great agreement by all the classical religions regarding these ontological attributes. Why? Because this agreement items from a philosophical necessity and theological necessity. For a more complete treatment of universal ontology, I commend the book, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, David Bentley Hart - Yale University Press.  

The specific area of agreement I would like to address is the attribute of God called  impassability. The term comes to us in English from the Latin in, "not", passibilis, "able to suffer, experience emotion”. The term describes the concept that God does not experience pain or pleasure from the actions of another being because he is not subject to, dependent upon, or affected by any other being. God is the fullness of being from which every being receives their being. If he could experience emotions that could change Him, then He would not be the fullness of being but instead by dependent.
This is a consistent belief within all classical expressions of Christianity, both east and west. In each of the traditions we find the full affirmation that God is impassible. What is arguably the most classic of Western Protestant confessions, the Westminster confession of faith expresses it this way: 
There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory. (WCF 2.1)

The New Catholic Encyclopedia says it this way:
Impassibility is that divine attribute whereby God is said not to experience inner emotional changes of state whether enacted freely from within or effected by his relationship to and interaction with human beings and the created order. More specifically, impassibility means that God does not experience suffering and pain, and thus does not have feelings that are analogous to human feelings. Divine impassibility follows upon His immutability, in that, since God is changeless and unchangeable, his inner emotional state cannot change from joy to sorrow or from delight to suffering.

Orthodox Christianity, has held on to the necessity of God’s impassability with unwavering commitment, and with careful accuracy. Orthodox theologian Dimitru Stanilou expresses it in this fashion:
“God can be said to be the tripersonal superessence, or the superessential tripersonality.  What this superessence is, we do not know. But it exists of itself; like any essence, however, it is not real except by the fact that it subsists hypostatically, in persons.  As superessential hypostatic existence, however, God is not encompassed by any category of existence as this is known or imagined by us, but transcends it.  For all the things that we know as existing have their existence from something else, and, in their existence, they depend on a system of references. This points to a relativity or a weakness of existences. He who exists of himself, however, has an existence free of all relativity. He is not integrated within a system of references and he has no weakness at all. He is existence not only in the highest sense, but he is also a superexistent existence.  As such he does not sustain existence passively, nor is he subject to any passion or suffering. This is the meaning of the Greek word [apathes] applied to God; it does not have the meaning “indifferent.” The entire life of God is act or power.  All his attributes he has of himself, hence not through participation in some other source.  That is why he possesses them all in a mode incomparably superior to that of creatures, for all these possess their attributes through participation in the attributes of God, through his operations.”  (The Experience of God Vol. 1, Brookline, Massachusetts: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1998, 129-130.)

The consensus within historic Christianity is clear, God cannot be moved by emotions caused by the actions of beings outside of Himself, God is perfect being, consciousness, and bliss.  He is uncreated light and life. As the great thinker and saint, the apostle Paul stated, “it his in Him that we live and move and have our being,” and not the other way around. 

It seems clear from the above that to ascribe emotional changes in the Godhead brought about by the actions of mankind is a fallacy.  So then, what are we to do with the places in scripture and in the tradition where the emotions of God are presented to us?  This is where the rubber hits the road for the Christian and for their understanding of theological doctrine or dogma.

Moreover, what are we to do with the doctrines of the anger of God, the wrath of God, not to mention the cursing of God, or the need for satisfaction by God, and so on?  Are these not emotional needs, and are these needs not caused by the actions of mankind?
It seems that the way forward is to first of all consider what God is like, or what is His character like?

To be continued...

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

An Anonymous Orthodox Hero

C.S. Lewis is much loved by many Orthodox Christians who often raise the question, "Was C.S. Lewis an anonymous Orthodox?" Lewis's Atonement Theology and Soteriology, as well as his understandings of heaven and hell, are very similar to that of the Orthodox and stand opposed to traditional Roman Catholic and Protestant understandings of these matters. 

Of course, Lewis remained an Anglican throughout his life; however, it is significant to note that for more than a century, and all through Lewis' life, the Anglican and Orthodox churches were studying union. The Orthodox gave up the quest for union in the late 1960s when it became apparent that liberalism, not orthodox theology, would prevail in the Church of England. 
It is very fair to describe Lewis as an "Anonymous Orthodox"—his official allegiance lay with the Church of England, but his sympathies lay with the Orthodox. The most thoughtful study of Lewis' relationship to Orthodoxy was written by Bishop Kallistos Ware of Diokleia, who also teaches at Oxford. In an article published in Sobornost (an Anglican-Orthodox Ecumenical magazine) entitled "C.S. Lewis: an 'Anonymous Orthodox'?" he explores this fascinating question. He humbly relates that Lewis has a tendency to "idealize us Orthodox," and affirms that "even though C.S. Lewis' personal contacts with the Orthodox Church were not extensive at the same time his thinking is often profoundly in harmony with the Orthodox standpoint."
Although he can't be looked upon as an Orthodox writer, his consistent sympathy for Orthodoxy has to be considered. As one of his biographers recalls (in "C.S. Lewis and His Times," by George Sayer), after a holiday spent in Greece together with Lewis and his wife, Lewis told him that of all the liturgies he'd ever attended, he preferred the Greek Orthodox liturgy to anything that he had seen in the West, Protestant or Roman Catholic. Then he went on to say that of all the priests and monks that he had ever had the opportunity to meet, the Orthodox priests that he ran across in his sojourn in Greece were the holiest, most spiritual men he had ever met. C.S. Lewis referred to a certain look they had, a sense. Lewis himself, in one of his letters, speaks of having been at an Orthodox liturgy and he said he loved it. He said "some stood, some sat, some knelt and one old man crawled around the floor like a caterpillar." He "absolutely loved it." We only know for sure that C.S. Lewis loved the Orthodox Church, though he never joined it and remained in the Anglican Church.

From the Orthowiki website

Friday, May 1, 2015


Dating non-Orthodox Christians -  By Archpriest Michael Gillis

Single Orthodox Christians have no easy road before them, especially if they suspect that they will be married some day. For most of history and in a large but shrinking portion of the Orthodox world today, single people did not have to worry about who they would marry: someone else chose for them. In the best cases, the people involved had veto power; that is, neither one had to accept the match. But in some cases one or both had no choice. Now we live in a world in which Choice is God. We cannot imagine not choosing our own hair style, clothing and career path; much less not choosing our own spouse.

We vainly imagine this power of choice is the same as freedom, but if we have no basis on which to choose other than our subjective urges, transient likes and dislikes, and fantasies based on movies, novels and occasional glimpses at internet pornography, then choice is not freedom but bondage: bondage to the ideals of a sick culture and the passions of a fallen mind. But this is the reality many Orthodox Christians in North America and Europe today. Some lucky few have relationships with parents or spiritual mentors that are close enough and mature enough to provide some guidance and advice in the search for a mate. Most, however, are out on their own. Even if they do ask for advice or guidance from a priest or parent or other responsible person, many young people are merely seeking confirmation for what they already feel or think or lust for.

So this is where we start: one priest’s dating guide for Orthodox Christians.
First, and this applies not only to dating, but to all friendships: Hang out with people you want to become like. This does not mean that you do not hang out with people who are not perfect; that’s ridiculous, no one is perfect. What it means is that you look for Christ-like virtues: kindness, gentleness, self control, faith, joy, etc. People with these qualities or who are seeking these qualities will help you develop these qualities. Now I am going to say something shocking: Orthodox Christians are not always the most Christ-like people you know. (I probably didn’t surprise anyone.) Good people are good people no matter where you find them. Hang out with good people and you will become a better person.

Second, don’t differentiate between “dating” and hanging out, at least not in the early and middle stages of a relationship that may be leading to marriage. That word, “dating,” has killed more potentially wonderful relationships than any other word in contemporary English. “Dating” is a cultural construct defined by popular culture, chiefly movies and TV. Generally the only difference between dating and hanging out is that if you’re dating you are admitting that you are sexually attracted to one another—not the best way to begin a relationship that you hope will lead to the martyrdom of Orthodox Christian marriage. Unfortunately, our culture has taught us that sexual attraction is key to finding a suitable life partner; in fact for much of our culture, good sex is the highest form of transcendence conceivable. But let me state the obvious: this is not a Christian culture.

Christians are called to a life of repentance, a life in which Christ is God and my life is His. Sex, even “great” sex, is a normal part of life for married Christians; but, and here is the irony for our culture, great sex is the byproduct of Christ-like loving and giving in the context of a life-long relationship. Feeling sexually attracted to someone you hardly know is certainly no way to determine if someone will make a good wife or husband. A good marriage can never be based on how the other makes me feel. Good marriage is based on my caring for and loving the other, even when it doesn’t always feel good to me.

Third, religion matters. Above I said that good people are good people no matter where you find them, but if you begin to think you might want to spend the rest of your life raising children with someone, then religion is very important. For most people, when things are going well religion is not a very important part of their life (no matter how strenuously they protest that it is). When we feel like things are going well, and nothing feels better than being in love, God drifts to the background, and we basically ignore God. I’m not making this up. Read Deuteronomy 32 sometime. It records the common experience of God’s people: when things are going good (when we “grow fat”) we ignore God. However, marriage, as many have observed, is the remedy for falling in love. Once a man and woman begin the hard work of sharing their lives together, God becomes much more important in their lives. I am not saying that marriage is all work and drudgery. No, not at all. The most wonderful, wonderful gift God has given me is my wife and children; however, marriage has also driven me to my knees again and again. When a couple do not share the same faith and same religious commitment, then when the going gets tough, where do they go for help?

The Orthodox Church allows marriages between Orthodox Christians and other Christians (not non-Christians). The main stipulation is that the couple agree to raise the children Orthodox. This allowance for mixed marriage, however, can be easily misunderstood in our modern world of choosing what’s right for me. This allowance did not have in mind an Orthodox boy choosing a Baptist girl because she’s hot. This allowance came to be in a world in which children were often promised in marriage before they were three years old. They had no choice; and so the church made allowance for the reality of a culture in which a man or woman could not choose his or her spouse. But we have a choice.

Young people, my daughters included, often say that there are no good candidates among the Orthodox Christians they know. I understand this problem. Often Orthodox Christian churches are small and choices are limited. Therefore, if you’re serious about finding and Orthodox Christian spouse, you need to get out and get involved in Orthodox projects, conferences and activities outside your little parish. Organize retreats, participate in diocesan, mission or service organizations, visit monasteries (you never know who else might be visiting), rent a van and crash a archdiocesan convention with seven of your buddies splitting the cost of the room. Be creative.

Let me sum up. It is not a good idea to date non-Orthodox Christians because it is not a good idea to date anyone. It is a good idea to have lots of friends, to learn how to be kind, generous, loving, patient and joyful by hanging out with people who encourage you to be more like Christ. If you suspect that a particular friend may indeed be someone with whom you could spend your life, then enquire if he/she suspects the same thing. If you are too shy to ask directly, then ask a trusted third person to make enquiries for you. Since you are already friends, you can skip the dating thing. You can now continue to be friends discerning together and with your priest(s), parents, and other trusted friends whether or not you are indeed right for each other.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Virtue of Chastity

By Fr. Phillip Reese  - From the "The Voice of Orthodoxy"

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)

The virtue of chastity, or sexual self control; the value of virginity and of waiting until marriage is virtually gone in our western world today. Christendom is teetering. To carry these values and beliefs into the reality of today’s world where the opposing message comes at us relentlessly through the various forms of media, academia, culture, politics, government, and even other churches, are like going against a great monster.

So many of our Orthodox young people have succumbed to it. Many minimize or cease their participation in Church life, some returning after marriage and the arrival of children, recognizing the Church’s teachings and influence as a positive aspect in their lives. Very many never return, their faith shipwrecked as they find little relevance for the Church in their lives molded by modern, secular thought. It is a big problem which faces not only our Orthodox Church, but churches all over America and the Western world. Children not only face it, but also adults.

The early Church began in the pagan Roman world filled with sexual license and ambiguity. The first Christians were firmly connected with their faith and with each other. They did not look to the pagan world and its institutions for support. They accepted the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and lived each day as the Church, concerned with the advancement of His Kingdom in this world. It was a minority faith that was peculiar and strange to the masses. The members faced opposition and bitter persecution from the beginning. The names and stories of so many the martyrs of that period are with us today. They are our heros and our heritage as a believing community. Their faith, along with with the ideals of chastity, sexual purity, the sanctity of marriage and self control have changed the world. It is that faith, the Orthodox Faith, that continues that heritage even today in the presence of the licentious and profligate monster (or idol!) which we all face and are challenged by.

As in the early Church, so today; being firmly connected to our faith in Jesus Christ and to each other is key. He and His Holy Church must be the center of our lives if we are to tame the influence of this monster our lives. It’s time to repent, to organize and to pray. Retreat is not an option.

May the Lord, in His mercy, bless you and inspire you! 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Veneration vs. Worship

In modern English, “worship” (like prayer) has mainly taken on the meaning of an act (invocation, prostration) offered exclusively to God. However, the original and official semantic range of this word used to be much wider, as was the case of the Greek word proskunh/w (proskuneo) which is normatively applied to God but also to human beings (Genesis 27:29; 1 Kings 1:16; Revelation 3:9).  The idea conveyed by proskuneo is that of “offering obeisance,” “making a physical demonstration of veneration and respect” or “prostrating oneself.” With this in mind, the New American Bible sometimes translates proskuneo as “to do homage,” including when applied to Jesus.  In contemporary Eastern Orthodox terminology, the equivalent of proskuneo is often “venerate.”    The Marriam-Webster dictionary offers the following definition for ‘worship:’
1 : to honor or reverence as a divine being or supernatural power
2 : to regard with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion... synonym see REVERE
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As a result, some scholars have decided to translate proskuneo consistently as “worship,” but many others do not use “worship” in contexts where proskuneo is properly offered to a creature.  Indeed, there are instances when proskuneo is reserved for Go (Exodus 20:5 LXX, Acts 10:25, Rev. 22:9) and others when proskuneo can be properly offered to creatures as derivative icons of God (1 Chronicles 29:20 LXX, 1 Kings 2:13 LXX, Rev. 3:9). Hence, although ‘all honor, glory and worship are due to God,’ relative honor, glory and worship are due to parents, rulers, bishops, angels, saints, etc. 

In the development of the Eastern Orthodox dogmatic framework and at the time of the iconoclastic controversy, St. John of Damascus and the Seventh Ecumenical Council clarified the definition of proskuneo as “derivative or relative worship” or “veneration,” while acknowledging the fact that proskuneo can also mean “worship” in the highest sense. On this basis, the Council declared such acts of reverence to be proper if the intention is to ultimately honor the ‘the true God and Father’ by honoring his icons, primarily the Son who is the perfect icon, “True God of True God” and who shares the uncreated nature of the Father, but also created icons, such as rulers and saints. For clarity’s sake, the Council also declared that the highest form of worship would be associated with the unambiguous word latruo/latreia, a semantic clarification and adjustment comparable with the one that took place with the words episkopos and ousia/hypostasis.  Indeed, latreia is never used in the Scriptures in reference to anyone but God. 

The EOB Bible pg. 24-25

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Bridegroom Matins

No other time of the year enables "our life in Christ" to be more palpable than Holy Week. It is during Holy Week that we are actually given the opportunity to immerse ourselves in Christ simply by showing up to the worship services of the Church.  Unlike our regular routines of one or two visits to church during the week, Holy Week bids us to move in to the nave and stay there for seven days. Simply this presence has an overwhelming effect on the human psyche and soul. 

During the first three days of Holy Week, Sunday evening through Tuesday evening, we are drawn into the passion week by way of the services called the bridegroom matins. During these three days we are made to participate in the experience of the disciples on that very week, with them we move from the preview of Christ’s victory on Palm Sunday to that time wherein Christ explained to His disciples that “He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.” (Mat 16:21)  We hear the Lord say, "Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” (Jn 12: 31) In summary, we are prepared to be crucified with Christ, in the same way as in our baptism. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Indiana and Democracy

We are surely not experiencing the first time in American history in which we find ourselves torn by competing moral values. This current test that we have before us in the new Indiana religious liberty law is just the latest of these events.  I have mused over this interesting face-off, and come to see it as just another test for the real viability democracy. The debate over Indiana’s religious liberty law forces each of us to examine such things as whether or not democracy is feasible for the long term, how much should or should not be legislated by a democratic nation, and to finally answer the question, when do personal convictions trump the basic rights of another and vice versa.  I do not pretend to be the all knowing voice or any kind of authority with an answer to this test, but perhaps raising additional questions might be part of the answer.

Q. 1. How is virtue determined and applied in a democratic society?
We owe this process to Plato who insisted that in a democracy national choice must be constrained by a set of virtues.  
“This city has been created to be the best city possible, we know this because we can be sure that it has all the virtues. So we will now look for each of the four virtues: wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice.” 
The Republic; book 4, 419-34.
The idea found in the above quote was one of the major influences that led to our constitution and the bill of rights. However, our problem in present day America is that we have shifting definitions of virtue and vice. For, example what used to be a virtue (being religious) is now considered by many to be a vice, and what used to be a vice (LGBT) is now considered a virtue. The obvious problem seems to be that we cannot agree on right and wrong, and even if we do now there is no guarantee we will in the future. Right and wrong are shifting sands. The fact is that the two sides totally disagree. Historically when this occurs, the side which is strongest either politically or militarily wins the debate. In other words, it becomes a case of force decides virtue (as in the civil war). We will have to wait and see on this one.

Q. 2. How much religious liberty is actually to be tolerated by a democratic society?
America has not answered this question fully. Political history seems to be full of political figures that are somewhat eager to placate religious folk for the sake of votes.  In other words, religious people are treated as a voting block and that’s all, if they are significant in number they matter, if not then they don’t matter that much.  The outcome of Indiana will probably reflect our politicians  reliance upon keeping the religious on their side as a voting block. The outcome will then point to the future direction of religious liberty in America. In short, the outcome will answer how committed are our politicians are to pursuing the religious voting block.  It doesn’t look good for the religious. All indications are that America has a decreasing level of tolerance for religion.

Q. 3. How much moral liberty is actually to be tolerated by a democratic society?
The answer here seems to be easy, moral liberty will rest completely on public opinion because that is the greatest voting block. Our future moral convictions are completely in the hands of those who can both afford and be willing to invest in major funds into their convictions.  Whoever is willing to use public media and the educational system to form values, will in due time be found virtuous. We know this much, once something is deemed virtuous, then the republic mindset kicks in and the dissenters are overridden by the masses who vote for the politicians.

As I said, this is merely a political observation and not a moral commentary, I will save the moral commentary for another day.