Implications for Orthodox Psycho-Theology
by Fr. George Morelli
In this essay, Fr. Morelli masterfully expresses the depth of Incarnational theology – the teaching of Orthodox Christianity about God, man, and spiritual reality – and the dangers of departing, even apparently, from its foundational truth. We are approaching the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, the feast of the Incarnation, making this essay essential reading, in my opinion, among preachers in this day and age.
This essay was taken, and reprinted with permission, from Orthodoxytoday.org.
Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pt 5:8).
The names we use for ourselves, for others, and for God shape our thought and influence our understanding of God’s revelation to us. A fundamental link between God and mankind “is concentrated in the use of the Name, in the ‘invocation of the Name.’ The Name is the preeminent word, the proper, exclusive word which is much more than a concept: it carries something of the presence, of the person” (Bobrinskoy, 1999). Paul Evdokimov (1998) makes this meaning even clearer. In recounting Jesus’ visit to the country of the Gerasenes where He met a man with an unclean spirit, St. Mark records Jesus’ words:
“What is your name?” (Mk 5:9).
Evdokimov goes on to explain:
“To the Jewish mind the name of an object or a being expresses its essence, and the old adage nomen est omen sees in the name both the expression and destiny of a person. Christ’s question meant therefore: “Who are you; what is your destiny, your secret being?”
God’s Revelation of Himself
Let us recall the words of Moses:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one God…” (Dt 6:4).i
Bobrinskoy (1999) remarks about what is known about Yahweh in the Old Testament:
“Even before God is called Father, the fact He is called ‘God of the Fathers’ links Him to paternity…”
The same principle can be seen in Moses’ account of the Covenant of God with His people:
“I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants; and your descendants shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and by you and your descendants shall all the families of the earth bless themselves” (Gen 28: 13–14).
While in flight from the Egyptians, we read Moses words:
“And he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Ex 3:6).
However, it is only in the New Testament that a personalized name, “Father” will be given to Yahweh. As Bobrinskoy (1999) notes:
“When the Bible [Old Testament] speaks of the word of Yahweh, this word does not have the quality, the resonance of a proper name …”
Sex and Gender in God and the Church
God and His Triune Life
God reveals Himself to us as Father. No matter how strongly the tenets of postmodern secularism are promoted, unless we dare to rewrite Tradition and Scripture in a totally radical way, the teaching regarding God as Father cannot be denied without compromising the essence of the Christian faith. It is prima facie, evident both humanly and by divine revelation.
Consequently, attempts to rewrite history by downgrading, denying or ignoring the truth that Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself is “Son,” and His Father is “Father” historically negate God’s Self-revelation. As is pointed out in a recent article,
“Perpetrators of such attempts to distort the historical record often use the term [historical revisionism] because it allows them to cloak their illegitimate activities with a phrase which has a legitimate meaning” (Historical Revisionism negationism, 2006. See www.macedoniaontheweb.com/forum/archive/t-1240.html).
The term negationism, as used in this article, describes the process that attempts to rewrite history, including Scripture, by minimizing, denying or simply ignoring recorded facts. This wrongdoing of distorting the historical record often uses anachronisms based on the biases or values of the contemporary culture. Only the Church, inspired by the Holy Spirit and one with the Apostles, can interpret Holy Scripture.ii
Evidence: Scripture and the Writings of the Early Church Fathers
St. John (1:14) tells us:
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.”
Jesus Himself tells us how to pray:
“Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:9–10).
St. Irenaeus of Lyons, the second-century Christian apologist, tells us:
“No man has seen God at any time except the Only-Begotten Son of God, who is in the bosom of the Father. He has declared [Him]…For He, the Son who is in His bosom, declares to everyone the Father who is invisible. For that reason they know Him to whom the Son reveals Him.”
In another place St. Irenaeus also writes:
“He whom the law proclaimed as God, the same did Christ point out as the Father” (Bercot, 1998).
The teachings of Origen of Alexandria (third-century) fell afoul of Orthodoxy in some areas. Yet his understanding of God as Father is Orthodox:
“Although no one is able to speak with certainty about God the Father, it is nevertheless possible for some knowledge of Him to be gained by means of the visible creation and the natural feelings of the human mind. Moreover, it is possible for such knowledge to be confirmed from the Sacred Scriptures” (Bercot, 1998).
An important champion of God’s revelation of God as Father is the fourth-century St. Gregory of Nyssa. In his book, Against Eunomius, St. Gregory of Nyssa states:
I say, we have learned to what we ought to look with the eyes of our understanding, that is, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We say that it is a terrible and soul-destroying thing to misinterpret these Divine utterances and to devise in their stead assertions to subvert them, assertions pretending to correct God the Word…For each of these titles understood in its natural sense becomes for Christians a rule of truth and a law of piety.
For while there are many other names by which Deity is indicated in the Historical Books, in the Prophets and in the Law, our Master Christ passes by all these and commits to us these titles as better able to bring us to the faith about the Self-Existent, declaring that it suffices us to cling to the title, ‘Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,’ in order to attain to the apprehension of Him Who is absolutely Existent…
For when we hear the title ‘Father’ we apprehend the meaning to be this, that the name is not understood with reference to itself alone, but also by its special signification indicates the relation to the Son. For the term ‘Father’ would have no meaning apart by itself, if ‘Son’ were not connoted by the utterance of the word ‘Father.’ When, then, we learnt the name ‘Father’ we were taught at the same time, by the selfsame title, faith also in the Son.
Now since Deity by its very nature is permanently and immutably the same in all that pertains to its essence…Since then He is named Father by the very Word, He assuredly always was Father, and is and will be even as He was. For surely it is not lawful in speaking of the Divine and unimpaired Essence to deny that what is excellent always belonged to lt. For if He was not always what He now is, He certainly changed either from the better to the worse or from the worse to the better, and of these assertions the impiety is equal either way, whichever statement is made concerning the Divine nature.
The essential revelation of God to us is that He is called “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit.” He uses the language of sex and gender to communicate to us the name of His persons.
Belonick (2004), in commenting on the importance of the name of Father and Son in the teaching of St. Gregory of Nyssa, explains:
The name “Father,” said Gregory, leads us to contemplate (1) a Being who is the source and cause of all and (2) the fact that this Being has a relationship with another person—one can only be “Father” if there is a son involved. Thus, the human term “Father” leads one naturally to think of another member of the Trinity, to contemplate more than is suggested by a term such as “Creator” or “Maker.” By calling God “Father,” Gregory notes, one understands that there exists with God a Son from all eternity, a second Person who rules with him, is equal and eternal with Him.
“Father” also connotes the initiator of a generation, the one who begets life rather than conceiving it, and bringing it to fruition in birth. This is the mode of existence, the way of origin and being, of the First Person of the Trinity. He acts in Trinitarian life in a mode of existence akin to that of a father in the earthly realm. Before time, within the mystery of the Holy Trinity, God generated another Person, the Son, as human fathers generate seed.
As Father of the created world, God creates from without. In other words, creation exists apart from Him. Creation is not equivalent to Him. God as Father is transcendent to what He creates. There is no room for pantheism. As Joseph Campbell (1988) has noted, by giving God a feminine definition and name, God, as mother, creates from within. God’s transcendence is lost. The cosmos becomes one with God. Pantheism abounds.
The Eastern Church prefers not to use philosophy in understanding the revelation God has given to His Church. The Church takes what it are God’s words to us as reflecting the essential or genuine character of what they refer too.
The Reality of the Eucharist
For example, the Eucharist is the real presence of Christ; it is His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. The terms of scholastic philosophy such as ‘substance’ and ‘accident’ are not found in Eastern theology. The Eastern Church simply accepts the ontological-existentialiii reality of Jesus’ words. St. Matthew (26:26–28) tells us:
Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
The Reality of the Holy Trinity
The meaning of the words of St. Paul are to be understood as ontological-existential reality. St. Paul connects the Son-ship of Jesus with the Fatherhood of God, telling us:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:5–11).
St. Paul tells the Ephesians (3:15);
“I kneel before the Father, from whom every fatherhood in heaven and on earth takes its name.”
Bobrinskoy (2003) has an interesting way of expressing the basic understanding of the teachings of Christ regarding the “Holy Trinity” It is summed up in his chapter titled “The theology of language and the language of theology.”He states:
“Thus, the incarnation of the eternal Word means that the eternal mystery of God can express itself forever in human words…”
Later Bobrinskoy cites the view of St. Hilary of Poitiers who radically opposed any speculation, even theological, regarding the holy mysteries of the Trinity.
“The guilt of the heretics and blasphemers compels us to undertake what is unlawful, to scale arduous heights, to speak of the ineffable, and to trespass upon forbidden places. And by faith alone we should fulfill what is commanded, namely, to adore the Father, to venerate the Son with Him and to abound in the Holy Spirit …”
The Deconstruction of the Christian Vocabulary
Stealth: The Weapon of Choice of the Evil One in the Modern Age
In a recent article (Morelli, 2009) I noted C. S. Lewis as a modern philosopher-theologian, who alerts us to the secularist-postmodernist threat. Secularists attempt to change the world and the church to conform to their worldview. Lewis, like the Church Fathers of old, identifies heresy not in ideological terms, but within the classical framework of spiritual warfare. Ideas matter to Lewis because they have consequences that affect the souls of men. How man’s mind is shaped has bearing on the light the soul receives. Indeed, we can heed the pre-eminent teaching of St. Paul who exhorted us to
“be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).
C. S. Lewis, recognizing that heretical challenges ultimately seek to undermine and eventually vanquish the Christian faith, argued that secularism is more pernicious than many of the transparent ancient errors. (see for example: The Abolition of Man). Secularism conceals itself in the concepts and terminology of Tradition while seeking to undermine and eventually supplant it (Morelli, 2009). Lewis wrote in 1959:
“He (the evil one) pours out self-knowledge in a quite shameless fashion. But even if He (God) defeats your (the demons) first attempt at misdirection, we have a much subtler weapon…Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves. Of course this has not always been so.”
For Lewis, the Evil One is cunning and often comes in disguise. In his famous work The Screwtape Letters (1961), the senior supervising devil tells the novice devil:
“Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.”
Call the novice devil in this passage the demon of correctness.
Repeating this “strong, or stark, or courageous” message eventually moves correctness from suggestion to fact. In psychological terms this means the listener gives up his cognitive skills. Instead of applying a reality test to the content of the message that is conveyed, the listener allows the deliverer of the message to usurp his cognitive potential.
The Secularist Appeal: Human Justice and Sentiment
In this case, the jargon of the secular post-modernists includes the following appeals: human justice and fairness, equality in all things, liberty, and non-discrimination. To these I might add doing things the ‘American way’: overcome insensitivity by making judgments based on emotion and sentiment. In human society these characteristics have value. In the Kingdom of God, these values are ultimately evaluated in terms of Divine Justice.
The Kingdom of God has a value system based on Divine Justice, not human justice. Insofar as human and Divine Justice are opposed to each other, a clash is inevitable. In Scripture, the parable of the workers in the Vineyard (Mt 20:1–16) is an example of Divine Justice over what is considered human justice, as the same wage or reward is given to workers regardless of how long they worked (Morelli, 2009).
In another example, we learn that claiming rights and equality in strictly human terms does not work in God’s Kingdom. In St. Mark’s Gospel (10:36, 37, 40), Jesus exhorts the apostles:
“And he said to them [James and John], ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory…’” Jesus replies “‘… to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’”
The kingdom of heaven and His Church are based on God’s standards, and not human standards. Negationists, secularists, post-modernists and feminists, beware.
Affirmation of God as Father
The straightforward, ontological-existential understanding of words and names in Scripture is thoroughly Orthodox. Meyendorff (1998), in his study of St. Gregory of Palamas and the filioque controversy, writes:
“So when Photius was faced by the Latins who, on the basis of their own theology, arbitrarily modified the wording of the common Creed, the reproach of heresy came readily to his pen. He clearly saw the weak point of his adversary; if one admits the doctrine of Procession ab utroque, he wrote, ‘the name of the Father is deprived of its meaning and sense.’”
Affirmation of the Uniqueness of the Feminine Charism
In a similar straightforward, existential context, Orthodox theologians discern the essential revelation and Tradition of the Church. Paul Evdokimov (2001) beautifully describes the feminine vocation and charism:
“The ontological relationship of mother and child makes woman like Eve, ‘the source of life.’ She watches over every being, protects life and the world. Her interiorized and universalized charism of ‘motherhood’ bears every woman toward the famished and the needy and makes admirably precise her feminine essence: married or not, every woman is mother in aeternum. This is the sacramental character inscribed in her very being.”
Affirmation of Christ Incarnate as Male and Son of God
Evdokimov also captures the essential Church teaching and Tradition regarding the male character of the priesthood:
“The ordained ministry, that of the priesthood and episcopacy, is a masculine function of witness. The bishop attests to the saving validity of the sacraments and has the power of celebrating them. He has the charism of watching over the purity of the deposit of faith and exercising the pastoral authority. The ministry of woman belongs to that of the royal priesthood, and not that of attributed functions, as with the ordained episcopacy and priesthood, but that of her very nature. The ordained ministry is not to be found in such charisms.”
For Evdokimov an authentic Orthodox Christian anthropology demands a rediscovery of male and female are equal with but with distinct vocations.
Affirmation by St. John of Damascus
St. John of Damascus, writing in the eighth century, teaches the importance of icons in the Church as representative of what they image. He writes:
“An image is of like character with its prototype…”
St. John’s description of the relationship of the persons of the Godhead is also telling:
“The Son is the living, essential, and precisely similar Image of the invisible God, bearing the entire Father within Himself, equal to Him in all things, except that He is the Begetter. It is the nature of the Father to cause; the Son is the effect. The Father does not proceed from the Son, but the Son from the Father. The Father who begets is what He is because of His Son, though not in second place after Him.”
St. John describes the icon of the Theotokos, the God-bearer, the carrier and nurturer of her Son, as an image appropriate for the container and bearer of ‘The Word:’
The ark of the covenant is an image of the Holy Virgin and Theotokos.” For St. John, as “words edify the ear, so also the image stimulates the eye… as words speak to the ear, so the image speaks to the sight; it brings understanding.” For St. John, an apologist for icons during the influence of iconoclastic Islam, it would be inappropriate for Christ to be depicted as a female, or the Theotokos to be depicted as a male. He writes: “Let us receive the tradition of the Church in simplicity of heart, without vain questioning, since God created man to be straightforward, but he has entangled himself with an infinity of questions. Let us not allow ourselves to learn a new faith, in opposition to the tradition of the fathers.
St. John calls the icon
“a more distinct portrayal of the prototype.”
The Saint reminds us that in the Old Testament, God appeared to Jacob as “a man” (Gen 32:24–32); Moses saw the “back of a man” (Ex 32:23); “Isaiah saw Him as a man sitting upon a throne” (Is 6:1); Daniel saw the likeness of a man and one like a son of man coming before the Ancient of Days.” (Dan. 7:9, 13) St. John warns us not to learn a new faith in opposition to the tradition of the fathers. Quoting St. Paul (Gal 1:9) he tells us:
“If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be anathema.”
Christ became incarnate as a male, as His Father appeared to the ancient prophets as a man. The appropriate icon of the one true priest, Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, is the male form of our human nature, as He Himself was. Only this male form ‘icon’ can be ordained priest-bishop.
The complementary nature of male-female, father-mother, husband-wife, father as begetter of children and mother as bearer of children is essential to Orthodoxy. Evdokimov (1985) interprets the biblical account of the creation of Eve from Adam as the foundation of the “consubstantiality of the complementary principle.” After the fall, brokenness occurs and distorted masculinity and femininity ensues. Two possible outcomes can take place:
1) without God’s grace “discord and fruitless contention” occur; and
2) with Christ at the center, masculinity and femininity are the “prophetic figure of the Kingdom of God, the ultimate unity, the communion of the Masculine and Feminine in their totality in God.”
Paul Evdokimov echoes the teaching of the Church Fathers. He writes:
“St. Clement of Alexandria states very clearly that ‘the Son only confirms what the Father has instituted…God created man male and female. The male is Christ, the female is the Church …’”
The complementarity of the sexes is an icon of the love of the Holy Trinity, the way the Father, Son and Holy Spirit relate to each another. The male and female sexes making up mankind reflects the essence of God Himself (Morelli, 2005a). St. John the Evangelist tells us
“… for love is of God…God is love” (1 Jn 4:7–8).
The love of Christ for the Church becomes the archetype of marriage, the union of male and female who become one flesh and create offspring, flesh of their flesh, in imitation of God, who created us (Morelli, 2005a, 2008b)
In the Orthodox Church, sacred Scripture is rooted in Tradition (Breck, 2001). No individual on their own can interpret scripture.iv Any passage has to be viewed in terms of the “mind of the Church.” For example, attempts to interpret St. Paul’s saying in Galatians (3:28) that there are no differences before God between male and female, are not viewed by the Church Fathers as grounds for the female priesthood. Rather, as St. John Chrysostom interpreted, the phrase is meant to underscore the equality of spirituality or divine illumination that can be attained by both male and female. In Eastern spirituality, only in following God’s do we attain this illumination. For example, a bishop is of a higher ecclesial rank, endowed with the fullness and completeness of the ordained priesthood given to the apostles and their successors by Christ. If a male desires to be a bishop and God’s will is for him to serve only as a priest, his desire is to his personal damnation. As Our Lord told the apostles:
“Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt. 7:21)
The Fullness of Time
St. Paul told the Ephesians:
“For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (1:9–10). St. Paul’s teaching on the fullness of time is also found in his words to the Galatians: “So with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe. But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons”(4:3–5).
The fullness of time encompasses the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, who would be born of the people of the Covenant, God’s chosen people. He would be born of the house of David. As Isaiah prophesized:
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good” (Is 7:14–15):
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. Thou hast multiplied the nation, thou hast increased its joy; they rejoice before thee as with joy at the harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, thou hast broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore (Is 9:2–7).
There is no coincidence in God’s providential care for the world. The era in which the ultimate Divine Intervention among mankind took place, with its distinctive character, is part of the fullness of time in which the birth and lifetime of Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ was Divinely ordained to happen.
This includes the place, people, culture and state of the world in which this momentous event occurred. Historical negationists would like us to believe that the patriarchal Judaism of the people of the first Covenant was accidental and overthrown by Jesus in His establishment of the people of the New Covenant. However, this conclusion is not consistent the mind of Christ or His Church.
A Protestant Church Sees Through the Negationists’ Argument
In a significant rebuttal to negationist theory that echoes the “mind of the Church,” the Lutheran Protestant denomination issued the following statement:
Today the claim is frequently advanced that this masculine rendering of God in the Bible is a function of the patriarchal culture in which the Scriptures were written. Biblical language, it is said, reflects cultural realities and biases which we, given the new realities of our own cultural egalitarianism, are free to replace through the use of ‘gender neutral’ language.
Such an analysis of the biblical language, however, does not take with adequate seriousness the uniqueness of Israel in the midst of the nations. The peoples surrounding ancient Israel and the believers of the New Testament commonly possessed female as well as male deities. Rather than reflect the religious language of the broader culture, the language of the Bible was in considerable contrast to the language and understanding of surrounding peoples. Had the biblical authors thought of God in feminine terms (as in surrounding cultures), we would expect that there would be some equilibrium of use between masculine and feminine language concerning God. In fact, however, that is not the case (www.lcms.org/graphics/assets/media/CTCR/biblrev.pdf).
Jesus Distinguished the Essential from Non-essential: Unseating Culture
Many of Jesus’ words and actions, as understood by the ancient Church and recorded in the Gospels, taught those around Him what was essential versus unessential in the Jewish way of life at the fullness of time. Jesus was no stranger to challenging the ‘establishment’ and customs of the culture of his day. A few examples follow.
- Our Lord’s first miracle was performed at the direction of a woman, his mother, the Theotokos. The gospel account of changing water into wine at the Cana wedding feast reads: “When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you’” (Jn 2:3–5).
- To the Jewish leaders, Jesus said: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith” (Mt. 23:23).
- In St. John’s Gospel Jesus was found talking alone with a woman, and what’s more, a Samaritan woman. The Samaritans were a community of mixed ancestry not worshipping at the Jerusalem temple and thus eschewed by the Jews. In St. John’s account: “The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans… Just then his disciples came. They marveled that he was talking with a woman.” (Jn 4:9, 27)
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, it is an outcast Samaritan who shows the mercy of God, rather than a Levite or priest, that is, the elite of the chosen people. St. Luke (10:33–37) tells us:
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he [the beaten man]; was and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back. ‘Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed mercy on him.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” There is no hesitation on the part of Jesus to break with tradition and point out that Godliness (mercy) is not inherent in title or bloodline, but is shown by the deeds and actions which come from the heart. Godliness is open to any one.
The Romans were the pagan occupiers of the Holy Land in Jesus’ time. They were hated by the Jews for their denial of God, worship of idols, oppressive taxes and brutal occupation. But this did not influence Jesus who read the heart and humility of the Roman Centurion who came to Him.
As he entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion answered him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth” (Mt 8:5–12).
Jesus, the Son of God, became incarnate in the male sex. Jesus, who was not afraid to go against the establishment and cultural tradition, appointed apostles—the twelve and the seventy—who were of the male sex. The apostles, at the last supper in which he took bread and wine and made it into His Body and Blood, and ordained those around Him to “do this in Remembrance of me,” were of the male sex. As St. Luke (22:13–19) records:
And they went, and found it as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover. And when the hour came, he sat at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
So, Jesus, the Son of God, who was not afraid of depart from the conventions of His day, was not only of the male sex, but appointed male apostles to carry out His priestly ministry.
Another example of the distinct priestly ministry, given by Jesus to the apostles who were male, is the holy ministry of confession:
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20:21–23).
The Regard Jesus Gave Women
Jesus’ choice of male apostles was not a sign the He disparaged women. As previously mentioned Jesus began His public life at the marriage feast at Cana doing what His mother, Mary, the Theotokos asked of Him. As told by St. John (2:1–11):
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” So they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it to him. When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.
The holy women of the Gospels were those who loved Him and served Jesus in His ministry. Jesus had great love for Martha, Mary and Lazarus their brother. It was Martha who served Jesus, and Mary who sat, listening to His every word and anointing His feet (cf. Lk 10:38–42; Jn 11:1). Who cannot recall the action of Jesus upon hearing Lazarus had “fallen asleep” (Jn 11:12)? The response of the Master was: “Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead…’” (Jn 11:14). The gospel narrative continues:
…and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary sat in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.” When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying quietly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him” (Jn 11:19–29).
St. Matthew (27:55–56) records that at the crucifixion of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ:
“There were also many women there, looking on from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him; among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.”The holy evangelist Mark (15:41) describes these women as follows: “… who, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered to him; and also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.” The women, including the Theotokos, the Mother of God, now steadfast and faithful even unto Christ’s death at the foot of the cross, are described by the beloved disciple and apostle John with words impossible to emulate: “But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (Jn 19:25–27)
After the death and burial of Jesus, the Myrrhbearing women tended to His Body. Recall St. Luke’s account of the holy women’s actions.
“And the women that were come with him from Galilee, following after, saw the sepulcher and how his body was laid. And returning, they prepared spices and ointments: and on the sabbath day they rested, according to the commandment. And on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the sepulcher, bringing the spices which they had prepared” (Lk 23:55–56, 24:1)
First Covenant Justice
Jesus not only freely went beyond the conventions of the era; he also surpassed the economy of justice of the first covenant. Regarding the economy of justice in the Old Testament, Moses in Exodus (21:23–25) tells us:
“If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”
In the book of Leviticus (24:19–20) he tells us:
“When a man causes a disfigurement in his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has disfigured a man, he shall be disfigured.”
And again in Deuteronomy (21:21) Moses teaches:
“Your eye shall not pity; it shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”
In the prayers of the Psalms (92; 9) King David utters:
For, lo, thy enemies, O Lord, for, lo, thy enemies shall perish; all evildoers shall be scattered.” And then the harsh call for vengeance accompanying the lamentation of the Jewish people during the Babylonian exile: “O daughter of Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall he be who requites you with what you have done to us! Happy shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock” (Ps 136:8–9)!
Contravening the Culture of Vengeance
Consider St. Matthew’s (5:38–44) account of some of the most radical words Jesus said:
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”
The Early Church Distinguished Essential from Non-essential Culture
The Church did not hesitate to discern and discard what was not of Christ and to retain what was of Christ. St. Matthew (28:18–20) records the last instruction Jesus gave to His apostles:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
It is the Church’s mission given to her by Christ to “teach all I have commanded you.” The Church is commanded by Christ to teach the essentials of His message.
The Judaising Controversy
Some did not adhere to Jesus’ words, as told to us by St. Luke:
“But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’” (Acts 15:1).
There was a controversy among the Apostles on circumcision of the Gentiles. St. Paul wrote about this to the Galatians (cf. Gal 2:1–21) and even confronted St. Peter whom he called wrong on this matter:
But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned… he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews (Gal 2:11–14)?
This issue was settled by the first council of the Church, the Council of Jerusalem. St. James, the Bishop of Jerusalem, addressed this first Church Council and said:
Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood. Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to [the Gentiles]” (Acts 15:19–20, 22).
Early Church Authority: Counciliar, not Individual
Interestingly, the apostles considered their decision to be a synodal act, not one promulgated by one individual, either St. James, the president of the Council, or St. Peter, later considered (by the Western Church) that he and his successors, would have personal infallibility in matters of faith or morals. This is shown in the attribution of the spiritual act of this Apostolic Council:
“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” [emphasis mine] (Acts 15: 28).
Although a general church council did not occur until the fourth century, this Conciliar consensus, guided by the Holy Spirit, was considered by the Eastern Church to be the model of authority in Christ’s Body, the Church. As noted by McGuckin (2004),
“The council was always given precedence in authority over the bishop or patriarch.”
And, may I add, the Pope of Rome. From the beginning, the synod of bishops were expected to manifest a “common mind.”
Implications for Psychology and the Church
In the present secular culture the distinction between the essential and non-essential are blurred and confused by political correctness. (Morelli, 2009). Political correctness has no place in science or in the Church. The use of the term gender for sex among those who consider themselves scientists but are not , such as psychoanalysts (Morelli, 2006a) or those who write in the media is one such confusion. As I stated elsewhere (Morelli 2005b):
- Sex: What a person is biologically.
- Gender Identity: The sexual characteristics a person perceives himself as having that are socially defined, irrespective of his biological sex.
The political correctness agenda has implications for how we understand God’s revelation of Himself to us, Christ’s teachings, and the Holy Spirit guiding the understanding of the Church, and shapes our own attitudes and behavior. If sex is now called gender, then it is merely a social definition which can be modified, changed and re-defined by social consensus. Thus, this has implications for how we understand ourselves, that is to say: how we name ourselves.
Sandra Bem’s (1974) research on androgyny initiated the popular use of the term gender to replace sex. On the basis of her research, the ideal personality, the one most fully mentally healthy, would be considered to be one that has a mixture of androgynous traits which could be applied to social and occupational functioning. In actuality, however, behavioral research found that masculine traits of independence and competence were actually related to the psychologically functional characteristics (Lamke, 1982a,b; Massad, 1981).
Androgyny in Popular Culture
Bem’s redefinition of the ideal self spilled over into popular culture. In the 1970’s and 1980’s ‘fashionable androgyny’ became a widespread medium and model for youth. This redefinition was led by the entertainment industry. Dress fashions and other life style imitations followed. A music album, interestingly called “Sinner” (Joan Jett), is but one example. New names for how such individuals perceived themselves entered into popular vocabulary, such as androgynes and ambigender. Using such words defines the self as being genderless or in-between male and female.
Other movements, often started in the entertainment industry, to rename male and female became popular. ‘Heavy metal’ musicians often use satanic lyrics and imagery in their material. An example would be the upside down pentagram (a symbol of Satan). Those representing this so-called ‘left hand path’ have names such as Black Sabbath, Venom and Slayer. ‘Glam’ or ‘glitter rock’ had performers and their followers wearing ostentatious blended unisex apparel, jewelry, hairstyles and makeup.
‘Punk rock’ and ‘new wave’ glamorized a sex-drug lifestyle. Groups such as Sex Pistols and Sniff’n Glue not only made a sex-drug lifestyle normative, but projected an image of who they were as persons. ‘Gothic rock’ glamorized not only ‘the dark side’—death, evil, sex, suicide and the occult—, but also produced a subculture in society celebrating these ideas.
Lyrics contain crude, rude overt references to these themes. Furthermore, bodily gestures during performances depict these motifs and leave little to the imagination. As pointed out in Morelli, 2006b,
“language is in part a broadcast of our psychosocial definition. It shapes how other people see us and how they think we see ourselves.”
Modeling Influences Learning and Performance
There is copious child development research pointing to the crucial role of modeling in influencing child behavior (Bandura, 1986; Morelli, 2007,2008a). In another article I point out the efficacy of the various models children are exposed to which significantly influence their behavior: “If a parent capitulates to the culture, then the culture will assume the teaching authority of the parent. Several decades ago research psychologists demonstrated that there was no real difference between real life and mediated models (cartoons, movies, books) in terms of their effect on a child’s perceptions about sexuality and other important moral issues” (Morelli, 2007).
As indicated above, “the name of an object or a being expresses its essence.” In asking the name of the demon (Mk 5:9; Lk 8:31), Christ was asking: “Who are you; what is you destiny, your secret being?” This sheds a completely different light on the names we are describing, male and female (the modes of mankind) in this post-modern secular and negationist world. The sexes created by God are ‘out,’ the genders created by those committed to Satanism, secularism, or just plain misguided Christianity are ‘in.’
Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: Prayer as a Spiritual Model
A common rendition of this Latin phrase is: the law of prayer is the law of belief. Under the guise of emotion-based “human justice and fairness,” the rule of prayer, that is to say, what God has revealed to us about Himself and our relationship with Him, is under attack. As usual, the movement is subtle. C. S. Lewis paved the way for understanding how the evil one, Satan, (the divider, separator, adversary, tempter) does his work.
As St. John tells us:
“Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. He who confesses the Son has the Father also. Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father” (1 Jn 2:22–24).
Looking back at Church history, we see that secularists, post-modernists and those who espouse political correctness, and those who promote inclusive language in Scripture and prayer affect the Church in the same way that the heresies of old did. Secularism, while not formally recognized as a heresy, functions in many of the same ways the ancient heresies did in that it overthrows the understanding of man and God (Christian anthropology) received through Tradition.
Inclusive Language and the Deconstruction of Orthodox Tradition
Some Translations of Scripture: The Work of the Evil One
A confession: I am not a Scripture or language scholar. I read sacred Scripture in English. It has always been the tradition of the Orthodox Church to translate scripture and prayer into the “language of the people.” Thus, the importance of the ‘correct’ translation and the danger of using standards of secularism (negationist, post-modernist, promotion of inclusive language and political correctness). Why? Because language communicates what we assert or confirm about our understanding of God’s revelation to us.
Inclusive language, with its blurring and confusion of names and meanings, can change theology if it differs from the word of God given to us in the fullness of time. Consider the link between Christ, the New Adam, and the first Adam, as told to us by St. Paul:
Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation.
Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned—sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many” (Rom 5:9–15).
Examples of Heresy (change in Orthodox Theology) by Inclusive Language
As mentioned at the start of this essay: ” The names we use for ourselves, for others, and for God shape our thought, and influence our understanding of God’s revelation to us. A fundamental link between God and mankind “is concentrated in the use of the Name, in the ‘invocation of the Name.’ Take for example what we know about God, by His revelation of Himself to us: He is Father-He begets the Son. An “Orthodox” scripture English translation, true to the original words of the ancient scriptures would keep the exact meaning given to us His creatures on earth at the fullness of time, and held by the Church under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit from its conception at Pentecost to the current day. For example consider St. Matthews words (3: 17) :
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Now consider the inclusive language text: “This is my beloved Child [emphasis mine], with whom I am well pleased.” (An Inclusive Language Lectionary, 1986).
Now consider one other Orthodox scripture English translation of a passage from St. John’s Gospel (3: 16-17)
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”
The feminist, secularist influenced inclusive language text reads: “For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Child, that whoever believes in that Child should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent that Child into the world, not to condemn the world, but that through that Child the world might be saved.” [Bold text emphasis mine] (An Inclusive Language Lectionary, 1986).
Recall the key points of God’s revelation to us as understood by the Church in the words of St. Gregory of Nyssa as quoted above:
… the title “Father” [is understood] also by its special signification indicates the relation to the Son. For the term “Father” would have no meaning apart by itself, if “Son” were not connoted by the utterance of the word “Father.” … [the] Deity by its very nature is permanently and immutably the same in all that pertains to its essence … it is not lawful in speaking of the Divine and unimpaired Essence to deny that what is excellent always belonged to lt. For if He was not always what He now is, He certainly changed either from the better to the worse or from the worse to the better, and of these assertions the impiety is equal either way, whichever statement is made concerning the Divine nature.
St. Gregory describes any change in scripture wording as impious. Heresy is defined as a rejection of “orthodox understanding.”
The Lesson for Christians
The purpose of this essay has been to show the hidden danger of the values inherent in a Godless society and of human values detached from God and His apostolic Church, both of which can inwardly destroy both society itself and surreptitiously undermine His Church. Who should take note of this? All individuals who are committed to Christ. It should be noted by husbands and wives who also are parents, the leaders of their domestic churches, whose divine vocation is to lead each other and their offspring to the kingdom of Heaven. It should be noted by priests, the pastors of their local Churches in leading their flock to Christ. It should be noted by our hierarchs, the arch-pastors, who have the ultimate responsibility before God to account for the flock they shepherd. It is easy to look the other way and take what is going on in society for granted. It is also dangerous for each soul and for the Church, the Body of Christ given to us, not to discern the evil-inspired values of the world that are craftily disguised as virtue in today’s world.
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves (Mt 7:15).
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i A more literal translation reads: “Listen, Israel: Yahweh our God is one Yahweh …” (New Jerusalem Bible (1971), Garden City, NY: Doubleday). ii Can someone who calls themselves Christian construct his or her own church and call it Christian? Being a follower of Christ and being in full communion with His Body, the Church is to choose to follow the fullness of the teachings of Christ and His Body, the Church. The fullness of revelation given to us from God comes to us from Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ Who established His Church and sent His Holy Spirit to guide It in understanding His teachings. These teachings include the history of His chosen people of the First Covenant; everything that Jesus taught the apostles and disciples; and the understanding that the Church has of this revelation as applied to the present day, as well as into the future, and which is protected and guarded by this same Holy Spirit. In the priestly prayer of Jesus at the last supper, Jesus told His apostles: “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me …” (Jn 14:10-11) Jesus told them His teachings will be revealed and made understandable by His Holy Spirit: “And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth…” (Jn 14:16-17). Our Lord went on to tell the apostles gathered together: “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn 4:26). Unbeknownst to the apostles were Jesus’ upcoming death, resurrection and ascension. Not until the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost were the meaning of Jesus’ words understood: “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn 16:7). Jesus told them: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (Jn 16:13). And indeed St. Luke records in the Acts of the Apostles (2:1–4): “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit …” Following St. Paul, we know that the teachings of Jesus are understood by Christians throughout all ages sanctification by the Spirit: “To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thes 2:13–15). The teaching of Jesus is passed in tradition to His Church: “I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you” (1 Cor 11:2). St Paul told the Ephesians: “you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone …” (2:19,30). St Luke told his readers: “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers [bishops and priests] to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son” (Acts 20:28). These traditions—oral and written—have been passed from the apostles to their successors, the bishops and priests. Christianity is known, therefore, through the oral tradition and practice of the church and through the written Scriptures. iii Ontology relates to something’s being and reality in existence. iv Scripture translation is critical to this issue. Theological Implications: “If one wishes to translate accurately the words of the Scriptures, the language of both the Old Testament and the New Testament is clear enough concerning the terminology about God. God and his Spirit are consistently referred to in masculine terminology. A faithful translation will reflect the actual state of affairs in the language used by the biblical authors.” www.lcms.org/graphics/assets/media/CTCR/biblrev.pdf
Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist, Coordinator of the Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, (www.antiochian.org/counseling-ministries) and Religion Coordinator (and Antiochian Archdiocesan Liaison) of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion. Fr. George is Assistant Pastor of St. George’s Antiochian Orthodox Church, San Diego, California.
Fr. Morelli is the author of Healing: Orthodox Christianity and Scientific Psychology (available from Eastern Christian Publications, $15.00).