Freedom and Man’s Fall


by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

It is important that Christians, when they speak of “human nature,” understand this expression in a biblical sense. And when they are told that “human nature does not change,” they should recognize the assertion as more Aristotelian than Christian. When God created human beings, it was precisely for the purpose of making them something more. Their destiny is not defined by human nature.

That is to say, it is not of the nature of human beings that their existence is circumscribed within a fixed and predetermined set of expectations. Unlike oak trees and the birds that nest in them, human beings are endowed with freedom of choice. The behavior of plants and animals, inasmuch as their existence is determined by native tropisms and instincts operating within a physical environment, is fairly predictable. Men are called to become something more.

Although it has become common to speak of “natural history,” the noun in this expression is used improperly. History, as this term has been understood ever since Herodotus used it this way, consists in the rational consideration of sequential events. There is no history without rational memory.

In nature—apart from human beings–there are no events. Things happen in nature, but it is not proper to call them events. An earthquake or a solar eclipse, apart from an interpretive regard by human beings, is not an event. When a landslide destroys a tree, the surviving trees do not record its demise, nor do they compose ballads to lament the tragedy. Birds, likewise, if a mighty wind should blow away their nest, do not fabricate new models, designed on better architectural principles. In nature everything remains the same.

Things human, on the other hand—the res humanae—do not remain the same, because human beings make choices. A potential for history is rooted in man’s capacity for free choice.
God gave human beings the gift of free choice—ultimately—for one purpose: so that they could freely choose Him. This purpose, however, does not change freedom into a necessity. Man’s free invitation to theosis (union with God forever) implies the possibility of damnation (the loss of God forever). Free to choose God, man is also able not to choose God.

Thus, the very gift of freedom could become the instrument of man’s Fall. The goodness God put in man, wrote Gregory the Theologian, was not a thing

“sown by nature alone (ou physei monon kataspeiromenon), but as something to be cultivated by our choice (proairesei georgoumenon).”


“movements of [man’s] self-determination go in both directions (tois ep’ ampho tou avtexsousiou kinemasin) (Orationes 2.17).”

But God could hardly have left Adam and Eve to figure this out on their own. Their choices required some concrete matter (hyle) on which to be exercised. If they were to choose wisely, they would need instruction, and this was the function of the law, or commandment, that God gave them in the Garden. God was determined, in the very act of creating free human beings, to make sure that they would always know the path to their proper destiny.

Indeed, the concept of freedom includes the imperative of law. At absolutely no point in his history—not even in Eden—has man been deprived of the guidance of “law” (45.28).  It is God’s second gift, the necessary supplement to freedom.

How, then, did it happen that man fell? Endowed with a relentless

“quest for God” (28.15),

what prompted him to deviate from the true course of his destiny?

If Gregory had followed the common attempt to find the origins of the Fall in man’s place in the “second stage of Creation” (the world of matter), he would have traced the problem to the physical side of man’s composition. In this he would have shared common ground with Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, Manichaeism, and other dualistic theories prevalent during the golden age of patristic theology.

However, the path to man’s Fall, Gregory believed, did not lie through what was lower in him, but in what was higher. It was in man’s spiritual and noetic nature that he deviated from his destiny. Man’s fall was not occasioned by the world of matter but through the temptation of an apostate angel, the very creature who, in the instance of their creation, most resembled God. Indeed, it was his resemblance to God, his theotes, that enticed Satan to defy God and claim equality with Him (40.10).

And Satan, after his rebellion, enticed human beings, as well, through their own divine vocation, to choose a disobedient and deviant path to their destiny.

“You shall be as gods,”

he promised Adam and Eve. This was the

“deception of the adversary” (klope antikeimenou) (22.13).


Freedom and Man’s Fall


The Sole Forum Where Creation Can Examine Itself


by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

The thinking man, if he wants his thought about freedom to be complete, must also reflect—on the basis of his own experience—that freedom is inseparable from consciousness and the conscious experience of pursuing and discerning truth. If freedom is really free, it must be part of self-reflective thought, or logos; otherwise freedom would be identical with chaos. To say that man is truly free, then, implies that he is gifted with the ability to think reflectively. He is self-determined because he is self-conscious.

In this consideration we are touching man’s special place in the Universe. According to St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-395), this complex psychological quality is what confers on the human being his dominance over all other things. Adam was—and knew himself to be—the head of the Cosmos, its sole deliberative agent. “Self-governed and directed autocratically by his own will,” man’s

“nature was, from the beginning, crafted for royalty (tyrannis).”

The human being, then, is not only a part of the Universe; he is also the thinking part. Human thought is the only place where the Cosmos is conscious, critical, self-reflective, and free. The human mind is the sole forum where Creation can examine itself, render an assessment, and even make cognitive adjustments as they are required. For this reason, man is the only being capable of perverting what God has made.

The human being is also the only part of the created Universe where thoughts—both interpretive ideas and thoughts of resolve—are deliberately chosen. Man’s mind, we noted, is conscious of being free; indeed, cognitive freedom and critical self-reflection are so bound together that man may experience them as identical.

In this respect, man’s mind is the sole portion of the Universe where “effects” cannot be adequately explained by purely physical causes. Man is innately aware of this freedom, nor does it take him very long to infer the moral responsibility it imposes upon his life. He is the only being in the Universe that can choose, but his choices are felt everywhere.

The human being, then, is the only place where the Cosmos itself can deliberately, intentionally change its mind. Man’s organic and formal cohesion to the rest of material Creation is the reason Adam, when he fell, took the Universe down with him. For all of its brevity Genesis 3:6—

“she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave to her husband who did eat”

—identifies the metaphysical mix-up of Creation itself. When the Universe fell into confusion and death, it fell head first.

Saint Paul is explicit on this point.

“Through one man,” he wrote, “he hamartia eis ton Kosmon eiselthen, sin entered into the Cosmos, and, by sin, death” (Romans 5:12).

In Adam everything—ta panta—succumbed to mortality and metaphysical bondage, and the very Universe became a medium of confusion and corruption. From that point on,

“death reigned” (5:14).

So why did God, with a view to redeeming that hopeless situation, “give his only begotten Son”? Very simply, says Saint John,

“because God so loved the Cosmos”— Houtos gar egapesen ho Theos to Kosmon .

Saints Paul and Irenaeus argued that the Universe had to be “re-headed” by Christ, the incarnate Logos. The Universe can only head in the right direction, they believed, when it receives its proper Head.

From Cosmology we should go on to speak of History. But to speak of History, we must speak of language. There is no separating the two. None of the foregoing activity—thought, reflection, consciousness, choice—is possible without language, and language, in its turn, is inherited. It is derived from History. It is through language that Cosmology and History converge in human consciousness.

There is an obvious corollary to this observation: History, as an object of man’s knowledge, must actually precede Cosmology; man cannot think about the world until he has, at least for a while, lived in it. Israel certainly regarded reality in the sequence from-History-to-Cosmology. In the New Testament, likewise, the thinking of the Church worked—backwards, as it were—from the historical experience of the Man Jesus to the contemplation of the eternally begotten Word, in whom

“all things came to be (panta egeneto).”

The importance of these considerations is apparent if we bear in mind that a major underlying assumption of Christian Theology is—and here we come to the nub—the historical nature of Revelation and Redemption. Indeed, this assumption has the quality of a principle.

In the biblical faith man neither seeks nor receives “deliverance” by escaping from history and time. In the Bible “deliverance” comes only in and through a historical process; indeed, it is found only within a specific line of history.




St. Gregory Palamas: Traditionalist or Innovator?

palamas prayer elder

by Jesse Dominick

St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), Archbishop of Thessaloniki (1347-1359), was and is a controversial figure. His experience and teachings of the Uncreated energies of God was severely attacked by Barlaam the Calabrian (who accused him of following the supposedly innovative teachings of St. Nicephorus of Mt. Athos [d. c. 1300]),[1] Gregory Akindynos, Nicephoras Gregoras, and others in his own time. Although his theology was vindicated by several councils in Constantinople between 1341 and 1351, and he was canonized just nine years after his death in 1368, it remained a topic of disagreement. His theology and influence fell into nigh-obscurity from the late sixteenth century practically until the twentieth century, and today there is still disagreement within the Orthodox Church over how to understand his theology and interactions with his opponents, as well as continued debate from outside the Church.[2]

However, for the faithful Orthodox Christian there is no such question: St. Gregory Palamas is undoubtedly a great Father of the Church, fully within the Orthodox Tradition. His theology is a seamless whole with that of all the Fathers who came before and after him. Whereas the Church recognizes heretics to be such because they innovated, She recognizes St. Gregory Palamas to be one of the three great Pillars of Orthodoxy, and his hymns connect him with the three Theologians and the Three Holy Hierarchs.[3] His commemoration on the Second Sunday of Great Lent is understood as a continuation of the First Sunday’s celebration of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. In placing him between the Sundays of Orthodoxy and the Cross, the Church

“underlines the fact that, in his life and teaching, St. Gregory stands as an unsurpassable witness to the Orthodox Christian faith and a supremely skilled guide to the mystery of the Cross, the vision of Christ in glory.”[4]

The Council of 1351 which proclaimed Palamite theology holds ecumenical status and is widely regarded as the Ninth Ecumenical Council.[5] And his troparion leaves no doubt as to his position within the Church:

“O light of Orthodoxy, teacher of the Church, its confirmation/ O ideal of monks and invincible champion of theologians/ O wonder working Gregory, glory of Thessalonica and preacher of grace/always intercede before the Lord that our souls may be saved.”

However, it must be emphasized that St. Gregory Palamas was no mere “traditionalist” in the sense of one who simply repeats theological formulae that came before him, but rather he is one who truly entered into the living stream of the Orthodox Tradition, that is, into the Life of the Holy Trinity. Although his writings are replete with Scriptural and Patristics quotations, he did not intellectually develop his theology of the essence and energies in God from a synthesis of those who came before him. To theologize, even based on the great Fathers of the Church, apart from personal experience would ultimately be an exercise in philosophical speculation, but St. Gregory’s beginning point was precisely his own personal experience of the divinizing grace of God. Archbishop Basil Krivosheine makes exactly this point:

“He was not a mere compiler if only because the starting point of his theologizing was his own spiritual experience and not only the study of the books of the holy Fathers.”[6]

Commenting on the view that monastics must study secular wisdom because knowledge of God comes through the mediation of creatures, the great saint himself does not offer a rebutting philosophical argument, but speaks from a place of experiential intimacy:

“I was in no way convinced when I heard such views being put forward, for my small experience of monastic life showed me that just the opposite was the case.”[7]

And not only did St. Gregory’s theology begin with his own experience within the Church, but it is the possibility and reality of this experience which he directly defended against the blasphemies of Barlaam, Akindynos, and Gregoras. Ultimately the very theology and life of the Church was at stake in the Palamite controversy—for theology is, at its height and center, not a collection of dogmatic statements, but it is the Person of Jesus Christ—our great God and Savior, Whom we may know by Divine illumination, to which dogmatic statements point the way. True theology, true spiritual life, is the vision of Christ in glory, and so at the heart of the Orthodox faith also stands the Cross-bearing Christian who has beheld Christ in glory. Of such, St. Gregory states:

“We believe what we have been taught by those enlightened by Christ, which they alone know with certainty.”[8]

His experiential theology is that of the saints preceding him because they experienced the same Christ. The centrality of such personal experience of the glory of God is underlined by St. Symeon the New Theologian’s statement that whoever does not desire to attain to the vision of Christ is possessed by the devil,[9] and St. Gregory’s own statement that the vision of God

“is the only proof of a soul in good health.”[10]

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity Who became incarnate for us, that we might share in His very Life, becoming heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17), and partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). As the great Cappadocian Fathers and St. John Chrysostom ably defended against the Eunomian heresy, the essence of God is incommunicable and is known only by the Persons of the Holy Trinity, and so our own partaking in the divine “nature” is accomplished through the energies of God, which are by nature divine and communicate to us the divine Life. This distinction between the unknowable essence of God and the knowable energies is absolutely essential for maintaining a proper understanding of the Person of Christ and the spiritual life. If in God there is only essence, and His energies are merely created, then there can be no true unmediated union and communion with God, for creation cannot impart to us the Uncreated. Such theology calls into question the entire Incarnate economy of Christ and is akin to Nestorianism in which the Divine and human persons in Christ are united merely by good pleasure, or will, leading to a moralistic soteriology.

But the true Orthodox vision is incomparably greater than this, for the Church has always refused to reduce the perfection of and in Christ. St. Maximus the Confessor writes:

“the person who has been deified by grace will be in every respect as God is, except for His very essence.”[11]

Commenting on this, Dr. Christopher Veniamin writes:

“This means that we have been created to contain the very Life of the Holy Trinity.”[12]

Likewise, St. Gregory writes in the Hagioritic Tome:

“By means of it (of grace) the entire Godhead is contained in all those who are worthy and all the saints are entirely contained in the Godhead.”[13]

Thus, although it is essential to unite our will to God’s, the fullness of theosis, being filled with the Life-giving energies of God, for which God created mankind, is far beyond this, and it is this which St. Gregory ably defended against Barlaam, Akindynos, and Gregoras who all rejected the Orthodox distinction of the essence and energies in God, arguing that divine illumination is either created or it is the substance of God.

St. Gregory’s opponents were concerned with preserving the unknowability of God, which of course St. Gregory agreed with to a point, but they were also concerned with preserving the traditional teaching of God as a simple and non-composite Being in Whom there are no distinctions other than that of the three Hypostases, thus excluding, as they believed, the possibility of eternal, uncreated energies in God. Archbishop Basil Krivosheine writes that this was the main concern of Akindynos and Gregoras,[14] and St. Gregory ascribes it to Barlaam as well in chapter 81 of his 150 Chapters.[15] Of these St. Gregory writes:

“They are unaware that it is not acting and energy but being acted upon and the passivity which constitute composition. But God acts without being acted upon and without undergoing change. Therefore, he will not be composite on account of the energy,” and elsewhere “But how does the energy observed in God avoid composition? Because he alone possesses an energy completely void of passion, for by it he is active only but is not also acted upon, neither coming into being nor changing.”[16]

Thus, as the three Hypostases in God do not introduce composition, neither does the distinction of the uncreated energies.

In his 150 Chapters St. Gregory demonstrates that the failure to distinguish between the essence and energies in God leads either to atheism or polytheism. He argues that if the energies of God are created then they of necessity belong to a created nature, for as St. John Damascene writes, the energy distinct from the divine substance is a natural one. St. Cyril writes that creation belongs to the divine energy, and so if the energy in God is itself created, then we must seek out an uncreated energy behind it which gave rise to it.[17] If there is but substance in God, then there is no creation, operation, or relation to be found, which means He is not the principle and Lord of the universe, and destroys the trihypostatic Godhead,

“And one who is not trihypostatic nor master of the universe is not even God. Therefore, those who thus hold the opinions of Barlaam and Akindynos are atheists.”[18]

And again he writes that if essence and energy are to be conflated then generation and procession, which belong to the essence, will in no way differ from creation, which belongs to the will, and so all of creation will be shown to proceed from God and will be divine as are the Son and the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, if the many energies are equated with the essence then there must needs be a multitude of substances—

“an opinion which no one of the Christian race has ever uttered or held!”[19]

St. Gregory also demonstrates that the theology of Barlaam and Akindynos even leads to the heresy of Eunomius, which had been defeated a thousand years prior! St. Paul writes in Romans 1:20 that the invisible realities of God, namely, his eternal power and divinity, are perceptible to the eye of the mind in created things. If “power” and “divinity” be equated with the divine substance then St. Paul is saying that the substance of God is knowable:

“This is the sort of thing you find in the delirious thinking of Barlaam and Akindynos and in the madness of Eunomius before them.”[20]

Furthermore, Barlaam accused St. Gregory of Messalianism—the heresy that God’s substance can be seen, and in this life. Denying the essence-energies distinction, he believed, that to behold a vision of the energies of God, which often manifested as Light, as on Mount Tabor, was in fact a claim to beholding the substance of God. He even went so far as to call the hesychastic contemplation of the Uncreated Light

“a sensuous and alluring vision of evil powers.”[21]

On this point, all that has been said about the truth and necessity of the distinction of the energies from the essence of God applies, as the Light is a manifestation of God’s energies, and St. Gregory was able to produce many Patristic witnesses to the Uncreated nature of the Light, many of which are provided by Krivosheine, and most notably St. John Damascene’s Homily on the Transfiguration, which Krivosheine notes is remarkably similar to the exposition of St. Gregory.[22]

In the second phase of his attack Barlaam also claimed that the repetitive use of the Jesus Prayer and the bodily and breathing techniques that sometimes accompanied hesychastic prayer relegated the experience of God to the material realm which is unbecoming of the Church’s spiritual teachings. St. Gregory had no patience for any degradation of the body and argued that humans possess the image of God to a greater degree than the angels precisely because they have a body.

With a body, humans are able to imitate the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so the participation of the body in prayer is natural, for the height of noetic prayer is nothing less than the vision of Christ in glory, which is the Mystery of the Cross. Bodily techniques, such as uniting in-breathing with the Jesus prayer and confining one’s gaze, support the retention of the mind within the body, which, following St. John Climacus, St. Gregory argues is the mark of true hesychasm. He mainly wrote about these methods simply because they were under attack by Barlaam, but he is clear that they are merely suggestions, mainly for the novice, and they are decidedly secondary to the mind’s ascent to God,[23] and so Barlaam’s claims are seen to possess no true substance.

It is clear from their inability to understand and give assent to the Palamite teachings, that St. Gregory’s theological opponents were not beginning from a point of personal experience but rather were engaged in philosophical exercises. St. Gregory, and all the saints before and after him, know with certainty that the energies of God are eternal and divine because they are divinized by them, which can be accomplished by no creature. The overly-cataphatic approach of the Christian West prevented their understanding and experience of the antinomic God proclaimed by the Christian East. In his second homily on the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Holy of Holies, St. Gregory paints a powerful contrast between theology and philosophy:

Let us consider from a theological and philosophical point of view, things completely free from matter, a subject which the Greeks … called the first philosophy, being unaware of any higher kind of contemplation. Even this, although it contains some truth, is as far removed from the vision of God, and as different from converse with Him, as possessing is distinct from knowing. Saying something about God is not the same as encountering Him. Speaking of God requires that you pronounce words … It also requires all sorts of logical reasoning, compelling arguments, and worldly examples … They may be acquired by the wise men of this present age, even though their lives and souls may not be completely pure. It is absolutely impossible, however, to truly encounter God unless, in addition to being cleansed, we go outside, or rather, beyond ourselves … [and] attain to that unknowing which lies beyond knowledge, that is to say above every kind of much-vaunted philosophy.[24]

Unfortunately the defeat of Barlaam, who ended his days as a Catholic Cardinal, did not bring western theology any closer to the east in this regard. In modern times we see the same attacks, stemming from the same philosophical speculation being leveled against St. Gregory and his theology. Krivosheine refers to a Sébastien Guichardan and an M. Jugie who argue along lines similar to those of Akindynos and Gregoras in regards to the simplicity of God, and in response to Archimandrite (now Met.) Kallistos Ware’s God Hidden and Revealed: The Apophatic Way and the Essence-Energies Distinction[25] both the neo-Thomist Dom Illtyd Trethowan and the future Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams offer decidedly philosophical and cataphatic responses.

The main thrust of Trethowan’s article seems to be: “why should God transcend logic?” He rejects the antinomy of the unknowable yet knowable God put forth by Ware because “to say that revelation requires us to hold at the same time two contradictory propositions would be to say that it is meaningless,” and because our awareness of God

“is a matter of experience, it cannot be contradicted by the conclusions of logical arguments.”[26]

Following Aquinas, Trethowan rejects the essence-energies distinction and identifies God as Pure Act. It is our awareness of God as identical with His activities that unites us to Him and so we know the Creator in the same way we know creation. He asks why then, should there be a “problem” of the knowledge of God, and

“why should it be so often assumed … that our grace-union with God must be a quite peculiar affair, requiring some quite peculiar explanation over and above that union which is the basic character of human experience?”[27]

In the face of the Palamite heights, the poverty of his approach and conclusions is obvious, for he presents a Christian experience that seems to be little more than a titillated mind.

Likewise, Rowan Williams, in a rather philosophically technical article[28] that bears the strong feeling of an exercise in self-aggrandizement, attempts to take St. Gregory to task for his many supposed philosophical blunders. He states that Palamas’ poor understanding of Aristotelianism leaves him floundering almost in a state of a-logic, and argues that he uses the terms ousia and energeia inconsistently and thus incoherently. He ends,

“Let us be grateful to Palamas for witnessing to his own vision of God as self-sharing love; and let us at least do him the courtesy of not canonizing the confusions of its expressions.”[29]

In an article responding to both Trethowan and Williams, Ware notes the error of considering St. Gregory to be a philosophical theologian, for, as we have seen, his beginning point was not philosophy but experience. He also points to St. Gregory’s own admission that his polemical works are not always exact in their verbal expressions, and they need not be, but this is why he has also drawn up a confession of faith which everywhere observes exactness. And responding to William’s claim that Palamas’ theology of “participation” is dangerous for rational theology, Ware offers a clear statement that is a pertinent response to both Trethowan and Willaims:

“The Greek Fathers did not aim to expound a ‘rational theology’ … They did, however believe that their theology was founded on the nous or spiritual understanding, and likewise that it was founded on Holy Scripture,”

thus drawing them back to the experientially-defined theology of St. Gregory and all the saints.

As aforementioned, St. Gregory Palamas was discovered anew in the twentieth century thanks in large part to the work of scholars such as Krivocheine, Crestou, and Meyendorff.[30] But it is in response to Fr. John Meyendorff’s works on St. Gregory in French: Introduction a l’etude de Gregoire Palamas and his translations of the Triads,[31] that Fr. John Romanides wrote his work Notes on the Palamite Controversy[32] which corrects many of the errors of Fr. Meyendorff and places St. Gregory in his proper hesychastic context.

Although Fr. Meyendorff certainly is quite favorable towards St. Gregory, and considers him no innovator,[33] Fr. Romanides believes he is presenting him as an original thinker over and against the stale repetitions of Akindynos and Gregoras.[34] For Meyendorff, the debate between St. Gregory and Barlaam was not one between East Roman and Franco-Latin theology but rather one between Byzantine humanists and a sizable segment of Byzantine monastics. He refers to Barlaam as a humanist, Platonist, and nominalist, although, as Fr. Romanides points out, Platonism and nominalism are mutually exclusive, and Fr. Meyendorff unfortunately makes no attempt at explaining how Barlaam could be both, although he believes that the supposed neo-Platonism of St. Dionysius is the basis for his nominalism! In this light, he believes that St. Gregory was actually correcting the Areopagite, which implies that Barlaam was actually fairly close to understanding St. Dionysius.[35]

For a full corrective to Fr. Meyendorff’s admirable attempt it is best to read the entirety of Fr. John Romanides’ work, but it does provide an occasion for Fr. John to properly speak about the heart of Palamite theology—the vision of Christ in glory and union with God. For St. Gregory, in the state of actual prayer, the noetic faculty is liberated from the influences of the body and discursive thought by the Holy Spirit, but these faculties are themselves dominated by the hesychast’s unceasing prayer

“in such a fashion that they are spiritually cleansed and inspired and at the same time may engage in their normal activities.”[36]

This is precisely what Barlaam contended strongly against, for for him spiritual things do not transcend human reason, and the transcendence of the body and soul in ecstasy remains a thing of the intellect, whereas for Palamas it is supra-intellectual.[37] Here we again see that the Orthodox vision of theosis is no mere union of wills but rather involves the transfiguration of the whole man. That this is God’s will for us is made known by Christ’s Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. Fr. Romanides points out that, against Barlaam’s claim that the glory on Mount Tabor was seen merely by the Apostles’ senses and is therefore inferior to intellectual revelation, St. Gregory argues that this vision in fact transcends both the senses and intellect, being simultaneously a knowing and an unknowing in which the entirety of the human person participates.

Whereas Christ’s body, as the source of glory by virtue of the Incarnation, illumined the Apostles from without, it now illumines the initiated Christian from within.[38] Following St. Dionysius, St. Gregory argues that this vision of the glory of Christ is synonymous with union with Christ and theosis, which is the participation in His Life. This is the height to which our great God and Savior calls, which St. Gregory nobly and ably defended.

Fr. John Romanides writes that the basis for Latin theology is the belief that every level of knowledge of God is rational.[39] But as we have seen, those who begin with rational philosophical speculation, from the time of Barlaam until today, end in denying the crucial distinction between the essence and uncreated energies of God, which preserves both the transcendence and unknowability of God, and the Christian’s possibility at experiencing direct and unmediated participation in the very Life of God. It is from this point that St. Gregory began, and it is this point which he ardently defended against a multitude of attacks. The Christian is not called simply to know about God or to behave in a moral way, but is called to be literally filled with the Life-giving energies of God and to thus take on the Life of the Godhead, in all respects save for nature. Speaking of the Most Holy Theotokos, whom he identifies as the first hesychast who combines and multiplies every virtue within herself, and in whom is no deficiency at all, St. Gregory writes:

“Through Him who provides for the angels you have fed us on the true heavenly and incorruptible food. You have made men live the same life as angels, or rather, you have made them worthy of greater privileges, in that you conceived, of the Holy Spirit, the theandric Form, and mysteriously gave Him birth, linking man’s nature to the divine nature and rendering it, as it were, equally divine, in inexpressible fashion.”[40]

To such may we all attain by the indwelling grace of God.

* * *

Works Cited

* Krivochéine, Archevêque Basile. ‘The Ascetic and Theological Teaching of Gregory Palamas.’ Eastern Churches Quarterly 4 (1938, reprinted 1954), 1-67.

* Mantzarides, George. ‘Tradition and Renewal in the Theology of Saint Gregory Palamas.’ Eastern Churches Review 9,1-2 (1977), 1-18.

* Pseudo-Dionysius. “Mystical Theology.” Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works. Trans. Colm Luibhe?id and Paul Rorem. New York: Paulist, 1987. The Classics of Western Spirituality.

* Romanides, John S. ‘Notes on the Palamite Controversy and Related Topics.’ Greek Orthodox Theological Review 6 (1961/62), 186-205; and 9 (1963/64), 225-70, also available online at

* St. Maximus the Confessor, Letters to Thalassius 22, PG 90:320.

* St. Gregory Palamas, Hagioritic Tome, PG 150, 1229D, available in translation at

* —Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies. Edited and translated from the original Greek, with an introduction and notes by Christopher Veniamin. Mount Thabor Publishing, 2009.

* —Saint Gregory Palamas: The One Hundred and Fifty Chapters. Edited and translated by Robert Sinkewicz, Studies and Texts 83. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1988.

* —The Triads. Edited with an introduction by John Meyendorff, and translated by Nicholas Gendle. Classics of Western Spirituality. Paulist Press: Mahwah, New Jersey, 1983.

* Trethowan, Dom Illtyd. ‘Irrationality in Theology and the Palamite Distinction.’ Eastern Churches Review 9,1-2 (1977), 19-26.

* Veniamin, Dr. Christopher. Patristics 2 class lecture 11/7/12, St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary.

* —‘Saint Gregory Palamas: His Theological Perspective,’ Delivered at the Clergy Continuing Education Symposium, St. Tikhon’s Theological Journal, Vol. 3 (2005, actually published 2007), 1–16.

* Veniaminov, V. “On the Life and Theological Heritage of St Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica” Part Two. Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate no 3 (1985): 70-76.

* Ware, K. T. ‘God Hidden and Revealed: The Apophatic Way and the Essence-Energies Distinction.’ Eastern Churches Review 7,2 (1975), 125-136.

* Williams, R. D. ‘The Philosophical Structures of Palamism.’ Eastern Churches Review 9,1-2 (1977), 27-44.


[1] Mantzarides, “Tradition and Renewal in the Theology of St. Gregory Palamas,” p. 3.

St. Nicephorus of Mt. Athos is commemorated on May 4. His treatise “On Watchfulness and the Guarding of the Heart” is found in the fourth volume of the English Philokalia.

[2] Veniamin, St. Gregory Palamas: The Homilies, Introduction, pp. xxiii-xxiv.

[3] Ibid., p. xxviii.

The other two pillars of Orthodoxy are Sts. Photios the Great and Mark of Ephesus. The three theologians are Sts. John, Gregory and Symeon, and the Three Holy Hierarchs are Sts. Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom.

[4] Ibid., p. xxiii.

[5] St. Gregory is also commemorated on Nov. 14. If Nine Councils are accepted then the Eighth is the Photian Council of 879-880 in Constantinople.

[6] The Ascetic and Theological Teaching of Gregory Palamas, p. 48.

See also Fr. Georges Florovsky, The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, Vol. I, Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View: “St. Gregory was not a speculative theologian. He was a monk and a bishop. He was not concerned about abstract problems of philosophy, although he was well trained in this field too. He was concerned solely with problems of Christian existence. As a theologian, he was simply an interpreter of the spiritual experience of the Church … He was rooted in the tradition. Yet, in no sense was his theology just a ‘theology of repetition.’ It was a creative extension of ancient tradition. Its starting point was Life in Christ,” pp. 113-114.

[7] The Triads, p. 25.

[8] The Homilies, p. 273, Homily Thirty- Four §17.

[9] Patristics 2 class lecture, 11/7/12

[10] The Homilies, p. 438, Homily Fifty-Three §52

[11] Letters to Thalassius 22 (PG 90:320); qtd. by St. Gregory in his Homilies p. 59, Homily 8 §13.

[12] St. Gregory Palamas: His Theological Perspective, p. 9.

[13] PG 150, 1229D, as qtd. in Krivosheine p. 44.

A full translation of the Hagioritic Tome, or The Declaration of the Holy Mountain in Defense of Those who Devoutly Practice a Life of Stillness, compiled in 1341 by St. Gregory Palamas, can be found at, which includes the signatures of many notable monastics, including Iaksovos, the bishop of Hierissos and the Holy Mountain, and the Abbots, spiritual guides, and monastics of several Athonite monasteries.

[14] p. 58 n. 132.

[15] Ed., trans. Robert E. Sinkewicz, p. 179.

[16] 150 Chapters, Chapter 145, p. 251; Chapter 128, p. 233.

[17] Chapter 73, p. 169.

[18] Chapter 134, p. 241.

[19] Chapter 96, p. 197; Chapter 99, p. 199.

[20] Chapter 82, p. 179. See also Chapters 83 and 150.

[21] Veniaminov, V. “On the Life and Theological Heritage of St Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica” Part Two, p. 70.

[22] pp. 34-36, 47-48.

[23] Ibid., pp. 3-14.

[24] The Homilies, p. 437, Homily 53 §51.

Cf. St. Dionysius the Areopagite, Mystical Theology, Chapter 1, p. 135: “Trinity!! Higher than any being, any divinity, any goodness! Guide of Christians in the wisdom of heaven! Lead us up beyond unknowing and light …”

[25] Eastern Churches Review 7, 2 (1975), pp. 125-36.

[26] “Irrationality in Theology and the Palamite Distinction,” p. 19.

[27] Ibid., pp. 22-23.

[28] “The Philosophical Structures of Palamism,” Eastern Churches Review 9,1-2 (1977), 27-44.

[29] Ibid., p. 44.

[30] The Homilies, Introduction, p. xxiv.

[31] Patristica Sorbonesia 3 (Paris, 1959); Spicilegium Sacrum Lovaniense: Etudes et Documents, Louvain, 1959, vols. 30-31.

[32] Greek Orthodox Theological Review 6 (1961/62), 186-205; and 9 (1963/64), 225-70.

[33] Gregory Palamas: The Triads, Introduction, p. 22.

[34] GOTR 6, p. 187.

[35] Ibid., p. 187.

[36] Notes on the Palamite Controversy and Related Topics, Part 2,

[37] GOTR 6, p. 190;, Part 2.

[38], Part 2.

[39] Ibid.

[40] The Homilies, p. 443, Homily 53 §63.



Why Man is Destitute of Natural Weapons and Covering

by St. Gregory of Nyssa

adamBut what means the uprightness of his figure? And why is it that those powers which aid life do not naturally belong to his body? But man is brought into life bare of natural covering, an unarmed and poor being, destitute of all things useful, worthy, according to appearances, of pity rather than of admiration, not armed with prominent horns or sharp claws, nor with hoofs nor with teeth, nor possessing by nature any deadly venom in a sting—things such as most animals have in their own power for defence against those who do them harm: his body is not protected with a covering of hair: and yet possibly it was to be expected that he who was promoted to rule over the rest of the creatures should be defended by nature with arms of his own so that he might not need assistance from others for his own security.

Now, however, the lion, the boar, the tiger, the leopard, and all the like have natural power sufficient for their safety: and the bull has his horn, the hare his speed, the deer his leap and the certainty of his sight, and another beast has bulk, others a proboscis, the birds have their wings, and the bee her sting, and generally in all there is some protective power implanted by nature: but man alone of all is slower than the beasts that are swift of foot, smaller than those that are of great bulk, more defenceless than those that are protected by natural arms; and how, one will say, has such a being obtained the sovereignty over all things?

Well, I think it would not be at all hard to show that what seems to be a deficiency of our nature is a means for our obtaining dominion over the subject creatures. For if man had had such power as to be able to outrun the horse in swiftness, and to have a foot that, from its solidity, could not be worn out, but was strengthened by hoofs or claws of some kind, and to carry upon him horns and stings and claws, he would be, to begin with, a wild-looking and formidable creature, if such things grew with his body: and moreover he would have neglected his rule over the other creatures if he had no need of the co-operation of his subjects; whereas now, the needful services of our life are divided among the individual animals that are under our sway, for this reason— to make our dominion over them necessary.

It was the slowness and difficult motion of our body that brought the horse to supply our need, and tamed him: it was the nakedness of our body that madenecessary our management of sheep, which supplies the deficiency of our nature by its yearly produce of wool: it was the fact that we import from others the supplies for our living which subjected beasts of burden to such service: furthermore, it was the fact that we cannot eat grass like cattle which brought the ox to render service to our life, who makes our living easy for us by his own labour; and because we needed teeth and biting power to subdue some of the otheranimals by grip of teeth, the dog gave, together with his swiftness, his own jaw to supply our need, becoming like a live sword for man; and there has been discovered by men iron, stronger and more penetrating than prominent horns or sharp claws, not, as those things do with the beasts, always growing naturallywith us, but entering into alliance with us for the time, and for the rest abiding by itself: and to compensate for the crocodile’s scaly hide, one may make that very hide serve as armour, by putting it on his skin upon occasion: or, failing that, art fashions iron for this purpose too, which, when it has served him for a time for war, leaves the man-at-arms once more free from the burden in time of peace: and the wing of the birds, too, ministers to our life, so that by aid of contrivance we are not left behind even by the speed of wings: for some of them become tame and are of service to those who catch birds, and by their means others are by contrivance subdued to serve our needs: moreover art contrives to make our arrows feathered, and by means of the bow gives us for our needs the speed of wings: while the fact that our feet are easily hurt and worn in travelling makes necessary the aid which is given by the subject animals: for hence it comes that we fit shoes to our feet.


How God Judges Men

By Christos Yannaras
judgmentGod is not the “judge” of men in the sense of a magistrate who passes sentence and imposes a punishment, testifying to the transgression. He is judge because of what He is: the possibility of life and true existence. When man voluntarily cuts himself off from this possibility of existence, he is automatically “judged”. It is not God’s sentence but His existence that judges him. God is nothing but an ontological fact of love and an outpouring of love: a fullness of good, an ecstasy of loving goodness… Man is judged according to the measure of the life and existence from which he excludes himself. Sin is a self-inflicted condemnation and punishment which man freely chooses when he refuses to be as a personal hypostasis of communion with God and prefers to “alter” and disorder his existence, fragmenting his nature into individual entities – when he prefers corruption and death …For the Church, sin is not a legal but an existential fact. It is not simply a transgression, but an active refusal on man’s part to be what he truly is: the image and “glory”, or manifestation, of God.


The Death of Christ on the Cross: The Life of Man

by Fr. Stephen Freeman

CrucifixionSeveral years ago, someone wrote and asked, “Why did Christ have to die on the Cross?” It is the question that prompted this article. On September 14th (New Calendar), the Church marks the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross. It is a fitting time to ask, “Why did Christ have to die?” His death and resurrection are the utter foundation of the Christian faith. Either we can answer this question, or we have nothing to say.

Preliminary Thoughts

Part of the information accompanying the question was the experience (of Mary K) with teaching on the atonement that centered largely on the wrath and anger of God. (I paraphrase and summarize) We sinned  (both ourselves and Adam and Eve) – God punished us. God sent Christ whom He punished in our place. Now through faith in Christ we can escape the punishment we deserve. Along with this were a number of questions about the blood of Christ. How does it cleanse us from sin?

Of course such a question could be the occasion for a book. As is, it is the occasion for an answer of readable length (barely). Readers who feel that more should have been said about one thing or another are asked for patience. The heart of things, it seems to me, has to do with the primary images used to understand both what is wrong with humanity and creation (sin) and what it is about Christ that saves us and heals us (His death and resurrection). If there were only one way of speaking about this or thinking about this, then the question would not have been asked.

The truth is that Scripture, including within the work of a single writer, uses many images to describe the reality of what Christ has done. Some of those images are simply useful analogies or metaphors, others seem to have a more “literal” character about them – though nowhere do we find a definitive account that sets all others aside.

I want to also add a preliminary word (for our questioning reader) about the language of Scripture. Though many Christians would agree that the words of Scripture are “God-breathed” (inspired), this does not mean that every statement in Scripture is to be read literally. There are many things that are read figuratively, metaphorically, and otherwise. That is to say, the Scriptures cannot be read without help and a guide. This has always been true. For this reason the Scriptures, when read in a traditional Christian manner, must be read with Christians who themselves have been taught to read them in a traditional manner.

In this matter, you will find great diversity among Christians, for the interpretation of Scripture has been amajor point of division between Christians for almost 500 years. Much of what was described in the background to the question that was posed are examples of modern, fundamentalist Christian interpretations (of which there are a variety). What I offer here is the general understanding of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

The Problem

What is wrong with humanity, and creation, such that we are in need of anything from God? What is sin?

At its most fundamental level – sin is death.

For the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

The fact that we die is not a punishment sent to us from God but the result of our having broken fellowship (communion) with God. God is Life and the only source of life. Created things (humanity included) do not have life in themselves, it is not something we have as our possession and power. Rather, life is the gift of God. It is not just our life that is the gift of God – but our very existence and the existence of all that is. God is our Creator. The Scriptures say,

“In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Genesis offers us the story of Adam and Eve in which we hear described their disobedience from God. He had warned them:

“Do not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Many early commentators on Scripture were careful to note that God did not say,

“In the day you eat of it I will kill you,” but “in the day you eat of it you shall die.”

Rather we are told:

“God did not create death, nor does he delight in the death of the living” (Wisdom 1:13).

St. Athanasius explains that when humanity chose to break its relationship with God (through disobedience) we cut ourselves off from the source of life. However God did not take life from us (He does not take back the gifts He gives) but we removed ourselves from it. And so we die. We not only die physically, but we have a process of death at work in us. St. Paul speaks of this process as “corruption.” This movement away from and towards death and destruction reveals itself in the many broken things in our lives. We hurt and kill each other. We hurt and destroy creation. We are weak and easily enslaved to powerful things such as drugs and alcohol. We are dominated by greed, envy, lust, anger, etc. We cannot help ourselves in this matter because we do not have life within ourselves. Only God can give us the true life that alone can make us well.

The Answer

Above all else we should remember that “God is a good God and He loves mankind” (from the Orthodox dismissal). This we hear clearly in Scripture: “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

We hear this echoed in the words of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom:

You [God] brought us into being out of nothing, and when we fell, You raised us up again. You did not cease doing everything until You led us to heaven and granted us Your kingdom to come.

This good God who loves mankind is not an angry God. He is not a vengeful God. He does not will us harm or punish us for our destruction. Though the Scriptures use these images, the Fathers of the Church have been consistent in understanding that this language is figurative and should not be understood literally. For instance, St. Anthony says:

God is good and is not controlled by passions. He does not change. 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, 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.

There are many Christians who would handle Scriptures in a different manner – but I think they do not listen to the fathers of the Church and interpret Scripture according to their own opinions. In this, I think they are in error and should not be listened to.

This good God, the only Lord and giver of Life, had compassion on us when we fell away and became subject to death and corruption. In His compassion He sent His only Son who became one of us – taking our human nature upon Himself. Uniting us to Himself, He lived a life without sin (for He is Life), and taught us by word and deed the goodness and kindness of God and to become like God by loving even our enemies.

His love was so great, that He extended that love beyond the grave. He accepted death on the Cross, suffering the hatred and evil doings of those around Him.

And here, as we approach Christ’s death on the Cross, it is appropriate to ask, “Why death?”

There are many meditations on the death of Christ. Meditations that see Him as the Paschal Lamb sacrificed for us, as the “Serpent lifted in the wilderness,” and others. Here, temptation sets in and Christians seek to explain Christ’s death by comparing it to their own faulty understandings of lesser things. For it is not the shadow of things to come (Old Testament) that interprets the things to come – but rather the reality (New Testament) that interprets the shadow. It is Christ’s death that gives meaning to every type and foreshadowing and image of that death to be found in the Old Testament.

Thus it is more accurate to say that the Paschal Lamb in the time of Moses is like Christ’s sacrifice, rather than to say His sacrifice is like that which came before. As Christ said of Moses and the Prophets,

“These are they which testify of me” (John 5:30).

One of the most common and helpful images in Scripture and the fathers of the Church is the image of Christ’s union with humanity. Christ became incarnate, taking to Himself our human nature. He became what we were, yet without sin. This union should be understood in more than a metaphorical manner. For Christ literally and truly became man. His humanity was not a new creation, but he took flesh “of the Virgin Mary.” He became a partaker of our humanity.

In becoming a partaker of our humanity, Christ opened the way for us to become partakers in His divinity.

“For as He is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17).

St. Paul uses this language as well in his explanation of Baptism:

Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall also be raised together in the likeness of His resurrection. Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that we should no longer be the slaves of sin (Romans 6:3-6).

This imagery is common in St. Paul:

I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2:20).

If you are risen with Christ, seek those things that are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then you shall also appear with Him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4).

These things only make sense because Christ has united Himself to us, and us to Him. We are united to His death and resurrection in our faith and in our Baptism. We become one flesh with Christ. We truly become a part of the Body of Christ.

And this goes to the heart of the answer to the question posed: why did Christ die? Christ died because we were dead. We were trapped in the lifeless death of sin (which yields corruption and physical death as well). Christ is God who has come to rescue us from our prison of sin and death. He became what we are that we might have a share in what He is. We were created in the image and likeness of God – but our sin had marred us.

We did not inherit guilt and a legal penalty from Adam and Eve. We inherited a world dominated by death. In such a world we behaved as the slaves of sin and sought to live our lives apart from God Who alone is Life. God alone could rescue us from the place where we had confined ourselves. Christ enters death. Christ enters Hades and makes a way for us to follow Him into true life.

In our present life, this true life is made present within us in many ways. First, it is made present in our knowledge of God.

“This is eternal life, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent” (John 17:3).

We know God and have a true relationship and communion with Him. We also have within us the power to overcome sin. This is sometimes manifest as obedience to Christ’s commandments, and, as God pleases, it is sometimes manifest as physical healing in our bodies (and miracles in creation – Romans 8:21).

If the same Spirit which raised Christ from the dead dwell in you, He will make alive your mortal bodies (Romans 8:11).

The true life of humanity is a common life. It is common in the modern world to think of ourselves only in terms of discreet individuals. But the Scriptures and teaching of the Church bear witness to a common life in which we all partake. Thus, what happens to one of us effects all of us. This commonality is also an important part of our spiritual life and our salvation. The Church in particular is the place where Christians live their common life.

This common life is also the place where we come to understand the references to “Christ’s blood” (since this was part of the question posed). His blood carries a number of meanings. It is His death, His “life poured out for us.” It is also His life given to us in the sacrament of His Body and Blood. His blood cleanses us – just as Baptism cleanses us – for His death destroys death and makes the whole creation new. There are many links between the image of blood in the Old Testament and Christ’s blood in the New. However, it is easy to become overly detailed about his connection and miss the larger point of Christ’s death – by which He destroyed death and gave us eternal life.

There are many voices across the Christian world. Taken together – they are a madhouse of confusion. Confusion and contradiction is the only result of those who listen first to one teacher and then to another. No one will arrive at the truth by such a route.

Instead, I counsel anyone to take up the life of the Church. Be Baptized (or otherwise received into the Church) and stay put. Listen to a godly pastor who lives the Scriptures and respects the fathers of the Church. Those who have built private empires and practice ministries that are in submission to “no one except God” are frauds and live in delusion. They are scandals waiting to happen.

No Church, including the Orthodox Church, ever exists without scandal. But that scandal can be disciplined. True teaching can be found and life in union with the resurrected Lord can be lived.

A Short Word About Wrath and Anger

These are words, I believe, that are so charged and dangerous, that they must be used seldom and only with caution and careful nuance. Hate and anger and wrath are generally only experienced in a sinful manner by human beings and most people are deeply wounded already by such abuse. Those who preach such terms are often engaging in spiritual abuse and should stop. If someone who teaches or preaches the Christian gospel but cannot do so without reference to these words, then I think they need to stop and pray and see if there is not something fundamentally wrong with their understanding. I’m not trying to edit these things out of Scripture – simply to say that they are abused by most who read them. Imagine you are explaining the gospel to a 4 year old. Will the child misunderstand the concept of God’s wrath? I am rather sure of it. I have not found adults to be that much more emotionally mature. My challenge of these images (on the blog and in my writings) is, I hope, an occasion for other Christians, particularly Orthodox, to think carefully about these very powerful words. If we do that – then I’ll have done a little good.

[Of course, Scripture and the Fathers use the image of anger and wrath, generally with the understanding that such anger or wrath is an expression of an aspect of God’s love and not an effect created in God by our actions. A common example is the double aspect of fire – in which it is both heat and light, purification and illumination. Of course, the words “wrath” and “anger” are seldom used with such subtlety by many who preach or teach them and in so doing may be saying something that the Gospels do not teach.]

It is quite possible to give a very good account of the Christian gospel without the use of “wrath” and “anger.” St. John only uses the word wrath once in His entire Gospel. It is not an integral and necessary part of the theology of the Cross. To say that it is – is to make of an illustration and metaphor a matter of dogma. If you disagree, argue with St. John.


I pray that this answer is of help to the reader who posed the question. I also ask pardon of those readers who have been patient with me for the posting of this answer. It comes at the end of a busy week. May God give us all grace to hear the Holy Gospel.


Hell And God’s Love: An Alternative Orthodox Approach

by Eric Simpson

From the Huffington Post (!)

Common depictions of the Christian doctrine of hell, perhaps borrowing images from classic literature and Dante, portray it as a place of literal fire, where tortured souls repose in anguish, a vision much used by itinerant evangelists and manipulative preachers.

A further degradation of this cartoon vision finds human souls not only suffering extreme torture, but prodded by red devils with tiny horns, cloven hoofs for feet, spiraling tails, and pitchforks at hand, a caricature used to both trivialize the concept as well as mock the very idea of hell.

In the Revelation of John, we discover a lake of fire, prepared for the devil and his angels, as an abode of punishment, as well as a bottomless abyss. Jesus himself, of course, named hell as the place where the worm doesn’t die and the fire is never quenched, but he spoke of eternal darkness as well, eternal destruction and eternal death.

Such descriptions are at best figurative, much like other parts of the Bible where, for instance, God is described as a hen brooding over her chicks (God isn’t literally a fowl.) Rather, it seems apparent that according to the teachings of the ancient Church, the non-literal descriptions of hell that appear in Scripture and elsewhere pertain to fundamental qualities of a disposition of being, not one defined primarily as punishment, but of death.

Strains of western Catholicism and Protestantism have fundamentally defined death as legal punishment, an expression of God’s wrath. Death is entrenched within a judicial context; it is a sentence for sin. God is angry, according to the western view, and Christ’s merit applied to us satisfies his anger, so He dies as a sacrifice to appease the Father.

A gross oversimplification and popular notion of the historical understanding of death in the West paints an ugly and frightening picture for those who take it seriously. Good people or redeemed people who have faith in Jesus, whom the Father punishes in our place through an expression of divine anger, overcome the punishment of death and go to heaven; unrepentant sinners suffer their just punishment and are cast howling into hell for their evil deeds. Death is the judicial sentence of all humanity; some overcome it totally through an abstract and forensic transaction, others do not.

The Greek fathers and the eastern churches historically do not share the western legal emphasis, nor the consequent view of atonement. The fathers of the church teach that humanity is the author of death, not God. St. Basil in the fourth century writes, “God did not create death, but we brought it upon ourselves.” Death is the result of sin; it is the final product that we, apart from God, create for ourselves through the power of the human will, that also ensnares and condemns us.

For the Christian Orthodox, death is much more than what happens when the lungs quit, the heart fails or the brain stops functioning; it is also the source of corruption and spiritual myopia, producing deep-rooted fear and a whole legion of consequent disorders, maladies, pathologies and suffering. The separation of the spirit and the body at the end of physical life is the culmination of a long period of smaller separations; existence is filled with estrangement. Death is embodied by division and the truncation of significance. As the late Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann writes:

When we see the world as an end in itself, everything in itself becomes a value and consequently loses all value, because only in God is found the meaning (value) of everything, and the world is meaningful only when it is the “sacrament” of God’s presence. Things treated merely as things in themselves destroy themselves because only in God have they any life. The world of nature, cut off from the source of life, is a dying world. For one who thinks food in itself is the source of life, eating is communion with the dying world, it is communion with death. Food itself is dead, it is life that has died and it must be kept in refrigerators like a corpse.

It is possible to envision death, defined in this way, as at least tolerable, but if we posit the reality of redemption, that is, from a certain perspective, the added imposition of the presence of infinite and divine personality figuratively signified by fire, death then takes on a further dimension. Death doesn’t dissolve away into nothingness, but energized by the presence of creative, personal and divine love, it becomes a separation fixed in an eternal position. Death is transmuted into bitter torment and despair.

As St. Symeon the New Theologian writes:

God is fire and when He came into the world, and became man, He sent fire on the earth, as He Himself says; this fire turns about searching to find material — that is a disposition and an intention that is good — to fall into and to kindle; and for those in whom this fire will ignite, it becomes a great flame, which reaches Heaven. … [T]his flame at first purifies us from the pollution of passions and then it becomes in us food and drink and light and joy, and renders us light ourselves because we participate in His light. (Discourse 78)

The same fire, the love of God, that ignites in the hearts of the faithful transmutes in the experience of those who reject it into the fire of hell; it purifies the former, but burns the latter, per St. Isaac the Syrian:

It is totally false to think that the sinners in hell are deprived of God’s love. Love is a child of the knowledge of truth, and is unquestionably given commonly to all. But love’s power acts in two ways: it torments sinners, while at the same time it delights those who have lived in accord with it. (Homily 84)

Hell in this view is understood as the presence of God experienced by a person who, through the use of free will, rejects divine love. He is tortured by the love of God, tormented by being in the eternal presence of God without being in communion with God. God’s love is the fire that is never quenched, and the disposition and suffering of the soul in the presence of God who rejects him is the worm that does not die. Whether one experiences the presence of love as heaven or hell is entirely dependent on how he has resolved his own soul to be disposed towards God, whether communion or separation, love or hatred, acceptance or rejection.

Hell, then, is not primarily a place where God sends people in his wrath, or where God displays anger, but rather, it is the love of God, experienced by one who is not in communion with him. The figurative, spiritual fire of God’s love is transcendent joy to the person purified and transfigured by it through communion in the body of Christ, but bottomless despair and suffering to the person who rejects it, and chooses to remain in communion with death.

Ancient Fears and Modern Man

by Fr. Ian Page

Text: Luke 8:26-39

Date delivered: 22nd Sunday after Pentecost (24/10/2010)

Location: Parish of St. Peter & St. Paul, Clapham, London

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

I must confess that I met the idea of preaching upon today’s Gospel with a certain degree of trepidation.
For several reasons, we modern people find ourselves particularly disconcerted by accounts of demonic possession and exorcism.

First of all, in recent times there have been disturbing accounts of so called exorcisms which have been nothing other than mechanisms of manipulation, bullying and downright abuse.

Secondly, the mass media has produced a whole genre of entertainments which seems to consistently glamorise supernatural evil whilst depicting all that is good and wholesome as being rather boring and dull.

There is, however, a third: – and I believe a more profound reason for the unease which I (and I suspect you) feel.

Like it or not, we are all modern people: – that is to say people of the post-enlightenment era: – and as such we live with, an often unspoken assumption that everything is perfectly rational. In other words that it should always be possible, at least in principle, to explain things, to predict events and, in the light of all of this, to remain in control of our lives.

Today’s gospel confronts us with the irrational in a dark and menacing form. The daemons’ clear understanding and confession that Jesus is the Son of God prevents us from conveniently dismissing the episode in the modern categories of mental illness.  We are, rather, confronted by the uncomfortable truth that, what we perceive to be the terra firma of rationality, may in reality be a thin crust overlying the unknown and perhaps the unknowable.

It is disturbing because it means that that the security that we all work so hard to achieve in this life is, in fact, a delusion.  A change in the law: – and a pension fund is raided: – A few months of hyperinflation: – and a lifetimes savings can buy a bag of cherries. A stroke: – and years of formal education can be erased.

A loss of temper and a cherished relationship can be shattered.

The world encourages us at every turn to be ‘self reliant’.

Yet, if we rely upon ourselves, we become more vulnerable than we can possibly imagine.

When we acknowledge Jesus Christ to be the Lord of all Creation: – it is, perhaps all too easy for us to limit the scope of ‘Creation’ to what is familiar to us.

Even if we include the most distant stars and galaxies together with the most minute particles of matter: – we still limit our understanding to those things which are accessible to our minds.

In today’s gospel Jesus demonstrates His Lordship over both the visible and the invisible:-
His Lordship over both the knowable and the irrational.

In doing so He reveals Himself to be the only ground for our well being, our safety, indeed our salvation.
After hearing how the Lord had delivered the man from the legion of daemons:- The locals were frightened and wanted Jesus to go away.


They obviously weren’t frightened because the daemons were gone.

Perhaps, they weren’t so dissimilar to us moderns after all!

Perhaps, in this mighty act of the Lord, they had caught a glimpse of the true bedrock of reality and saw that it was not the basis upon which they had chosen to build their lives:-  Disconcerting indeed!
May Christ our God:- the Lord and creator of all things, both seen and unseen, be to us the sure foundation.