The Goal of Orthodoxy or (The Holistic Eschatological Orthodox Ethic)

1077506_10201892382165523_1527516608_oA post originally shared on my old blog, Orthodox Ruminations:


Today I had an old friend, with whom I have recently reconnected with more over Facebook, ask me, “What is your goal as part of the Orthodox Church?” This prompted great thought in me as I later drove to visit a Catholic bookstore to purchase some icons. It brings to mind thediscussion of ethics from my Senior Capstone where we studied the deontological, teleological, and areteological ethics. Deontological ethics are ethics informed by rules we keep. Telelogical ethics are ethics informed by the goals we set for ourselves or as a society. Areteological ethics are ethics informed by the virtues that form us from within. I believe that the goal (teleological ethic) of Orthodoxy is union with God via the ascetic practices (a form/type of deontological ethics) which seeks to kill our flesh, our passions, and restore us to right virtue within (areteological ethics), to restore us to right living and right relationship with God. The goal of Orthodoxy for me incorporates all the ethical avenues into one ascetic cocoon that takes us in as sinners, but transforms us to one day be resurrected in new life.

I, again, would say that the overall goal of Orthodoxy is union with God through what we call theosis, meaning “to be made divine”. Orthodox Wiki states of theosis, “Theosis (‘deification,’ ‘divinization’) is the process of a worshiper becoming free of hamartía (‘missing the mark’), being united with God, beginning in this life and later consummated in bodily resurrection.’ Of course we aren’t made divine as God is in His essence, but divine as we were made to be in our original glorious state. We become truly human again, which is what Christ shows us in His becoming human. Theosis is,  as St. Peter said in his epistle, “putting on the divine nature”. Saint Athanasius said, “God became man that man may become god” (note the lower case g).

Now not to confuse readers unfamiliar with Orthodoxy too much we have a teaching about God’s energies and God’s essence. God’s essence is who He is, which is unknowable to us; it’s His ontology, His beingness, His ousia. It is the Numinous. His energies is manifestations of that essence. Grace itself is the energies of God which allow us to experience something of the Divine. We become like God in His energies. We become divine once again. We become Eucharistic. The real fall of man is that he ate that which he could not give thanks for. We become thankful. We take what God has made and given for our lives here on earth, along with our very lives, and offer them up in thanksgiving back to God through what we call askesis. Askesis is the practice of the spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, worship in the Divine Liturgy, etc. It is participating in the ascetic life to kill the Old Man, our flesh, and live from our hearts, where our true selves lie.

The goal of orthodoxy is theosis, the uniting of man with God, in holy love and holy light. It is union of the Divine with humanity. This is the goal of Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is both internally focused, but externally present and manifested. Meaning the spiritual life is a struggle inherent in our own personal lives, but lived out and witnessed by all. Our goal is theosis, complete union with God. We are in continual repentance, and we are continually being made holy and are continually dying to the flesh. This is a struggle faced all our lives and is lived as repentance.

But we also live lives of holiness and show others the work of Christ in our lives. We do preach. We do evangelize. You don’t have 250 million adherents worldwide at this moment without evangelization. Of course our understanding of those things are vastly different than Protestants, but we do preach the Gospel and plant missions (new parishes) that feed the poor, hungry, etc. We do all of these things. Especially monastics.

However, it is by the quality of our inner lives that others see Christ. St. Seraphim of Sarov said, “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” This is what we do. We share with many, with all, the peace of Christ who has taken us into Himself. Our lives as St. Paul says are hidden in Christ with God. (Col.)

When we gain this inner peace from the hell that is our lives we spread that joy to others. It is participating in the grace, the energies, of God. We reinvest that grace given to us by our own askesis and spreading the light of Christ, making Him present in our mortal flesh to those around us. We become little Christs.

I’d say that this is the goal of Orthodoxy. We have the teleological goal of union with God via the deontological goal of askesis which transforms us areteologically and conforms us to the image of Christ. This is theosis. This is Orthodoxy. We are eschatological beings and Orthodoxy is an eschatological faith. This is a very short answer to a very complex question posed to me, but I hope I do it some ounce of justice. This is the Orthodox Ethic so to speak. I believe the ethics perspective paints a great picture of Orthodoxy and what it seeks to do in the human heart and mind. This is our goal; this is our ethic.

May God have mercy on us all and remember us in His Kingdom.


Goddammit, Who Damns Whom?

“Is the freedom to reject God—definitively, irrevocably, everlastingly—authentic freedom? Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Arminian, and all other free-will defenders of eternal perdition must answer yes. To answer otherwise would mean that God permits individuals who live under a serious form of bondage, constraint, or limitation—and are thus incapable of morally responsible action—to injure themselves irreparably. As is commonly stated, God does not damn; the damned damn themselves. Yet the notion that human beings are capable of freely separating themselves from the bliss of the Kingdom and thus freely embracing eternal torment is far more complex than we might initially imagine.”

Eclectic Orthodoxy

Is the freedom to reject God—definitively, irrevocably, everlastingly—authentic freedom? Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Arminian, and all other free-will defenders of eternal perdition must answer yes. To answer otherwise would mean that God permits individuals who live under a serious form of bondage, constraint, or limitation—and are thus incapable of morally responsible action—to injure themselves irreparably. As is commonly stated, God does not damn; the damned damn themselves. Yet the notion that human beings are capable of freely separating themselves from the bliss of the Kingdom and thus freely embracing eternal torment is far more complex than we might initially imagine.

I’d like to come at this by first briefly considering our Lord’s famous parable on the Last Judgment:

Now, whenever the Son of Mankind may be coming in His glory, and all the holy messengers with Him, then shall He be seated on the throne of His glory, and in…

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A Particular Scandal

ImageOne thing I have discovered to be true as a convert to Orthodoxy is that belief in the Particularly is always offensive and weird to those holding to the general. It’s scandalizes them! Father Stephen over at Glory to God for All Things nails it here in one of his recent blog posts. Read and share and enjoy: 

A Particular Scandal 

By Father Stephen Freeman

A character in a Peanuts cartoon once declared, “I love mankind! It’s people I can’t stand!”

The statement accurately describes our problems with the particular. It is easy to love almost anything in general – it is the particular that brings problems.

Nowhere could this be more true than with God. Speaking about God in the abstract is extremely common – after all – He is “everywhere present, filling all things.” He is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good-  all, all, all. The very nature of such speech is generalized and generic.

However, it is impossible to experience anything in general. For the great scandal or stumbling block of particularity is not so much God but us. We are inescapably particular – it is an inherent part of being human. We are circumscribable; we are limited; we are local. And we chafe at such limits. The prefer that the ego of modern man become the measure of the world itself. That which does not interest me does not exist.

The abstract, generalized God is the god of modernity. The generalized God cannot offend – there is nothing offensive about Him. But just as He cannot offend, neither can He be known because there is nothing there to be known. We only know particulars.

Everything by which we know God is particular. The ultimate particularity is Christ Himself – the God who can be circumscribed, drawn, pictured, nailed, spat upon and crucified. 

The same is true of our ongoing relationship with God. One aspect of classical Christianity is its interest in icons, shrines, oil, bread, holy places, bones, etc. For modern people all of these things are confusing and even offensive. 

At the very least, “holy objects” seem superstitious. But holy objects and holy places are deeply part of the particularity of human existence. For example, we do not love “food in general.” We have a favorite food. And our favorite is very likely far more specific. We have a favorite food cooked specifically by someone we know, perhaps even associated with a place and time we ate it. All of the memories we have in our lives are most often tied to specific people, places and things. We rarely remember simply that “I felt great then.” Our lives are extremely concrete.

The God whom we know – gives Himself to us in the particular. In classical Christianity that particularity is the very heart of the faith. For Christ is not merely God-become-man. He is God-who-became-aman

This particularity, according to the fathers, is the precise reason for making icons, because it is the property of a man that he may be depicted. An icon of Christ is proof and witness of His incarnation and particularity. We make icons in order to proclaim that God became a man.

But the Orthodox know that even an icon can become yet more particular. There are not just icons of the Mother of God, but the Vladimir Mother of God; the Iveron Mother of God; the Kazan Mother of God; theTikhvin Mother of God, and so on. And each icon, though depicting the same Mother of God has its own unique story. And those unique stories continue as believers encounter that icon. It was the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God that protected Moscow from Tamerlane in 1395, etc.

And, of course, all of this seems like so much fuss over something that should be more general moregeneric

I have, from time to time, been invited to pray at certain public events. It has become common in America to be given “guidelines” for such prayers, often requesting the minister to be “generic” in his prayer (not proselytizing, or speaking of “the deity” in a manner that might give offense). Such guidelines were recently ruled unconstitutional though they’ve been around now for several decades.

It is, of course, the height of modernism – the desire for a God who gives no offense – the generic god. 

God is transcendently particular. He is the ultimate particular. For God alone is alone. He is not one of something of which there are two. He is the only God and thus the Transcendent Particular. 

And He leads us to Him (in His condescension) through particular places, things, words, people. But He does not condescend to become generic, for the generic cannot be the bearer of the Particular. An icon can be holy, but Art can never be. A man can be holy, but humanity can never be. 

And the Particular Who invades our lives through the particularities that we encounter is never generic. For the generic is no-thing – it is nothing. There is no generic, only the comfortable imaginations born of our desire to avoid the discomforts of the particular.

The more God is devoid of the particular, the more we reduce Him to a concept – even reducing Him to something like a natural resource: water, light, air, God. In such a position, God remains available (everywhere), inert and ready to be ignored or accessed, depending on our own requirements. The generic God is thus the ultimate consumer product. In a consumerist culture, there will always be pressure to move God towards the mode of “available resource,” a mere symbol for our own selfish desire for transcendence. Such a God underwrites and validates my “spirituality,” but makes no demands that might be occasioned by His own particularity.

The particularity of God will be seen as an increasingly offensive reality within a consumerist culture. Such a Particularity too easily assaults the universal claims of all consumers. So-called “non-denominationalism” is simply an ecclesiological expression of a generalized God in which nearly all particularities are seen as “man-made,” and merely reflect consumer desires. Any elevation of the Particular in religious terms is easily seen as an effort to control access to a generalized God (“You’re trying to put God in a box”). 

Classical Christianity (whether Roman Catholic or Orthodox) proclaims the Particularity of God. It is why Classical Christianity speaks of “the” Church. That both classical groups speak in such particular terms is not mutually contradictory – it is simply evidence of the Great Schism. The present conversations between them are a discussion about the nature of the Particular and themselves. Those who have distanced themselves from the Particular God have no place at the table, because they have declared that the table does not exist.

Conversion to classical Christianity requires the difficult acceptance of the Particular God (and thus a particular Church). That acceptance includes the rejection of the etiquette of the generic. You will offend your friends and family – for the acceptance of the Particular casts judgment on the general whether it is uttered or not. 

But this difficult acceptance is a necessary thing – for the generic God is – ultimately – no God at all. It is merely a god, a cipher for a cultural notion. The generic god cannot save for it can only offer something in general. 

Eternal life is an invitation into ultimate Particularity. Accept it, and you will become a Person, a true human being.

The Universalist Hope in the Early Church

Eclectic Orthodoxy

I confess that my immersion in the eschatological views of Fr Dumitu Staniloae has been depressing and discouraging. Perhaps in his divine foresight God saw that this would be the case, and so he provided an antidote. Last week I received an email from my local library informing me that they had finally obtained through ILL a copy of Ilaria L. E. Ramelli’s massive work of scholarship, The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis . The book weighs in at 890 pages, as well as at the hefty price of $328 (yep, you read that right). I have been dipping into the book from time to time in order to maintain my sanity. It is a remarkable work of critical scholarship. Ilaria Ramelli is no mean scholar. She is highly regarded by her professional peers and has published dozens of books, essays, and monographs in patristic scholarship.

The rehabilitation of Origen and…

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St. Nikolai Velimirovich: Why are Vigil Lamps Lit Before Icons?

Orthodox Church Quotes

Why are vigil lamps lit before icons?

1. Because our faith is light.  Christ said: I am the light of the world (John 8:12).  The light of the vigil lamp reminds us of that light by which Christ illumines our souls.

2. In order to remind us of the radiant character of the saint before whose icon we light the vigil lamp, for saints are called sons of light (John 12:36, Luke 16:8).

3. In order to serve as a reproach to us for our dark deeds, for our evil thoughts and desires, and in order to call us to the path of evangelical light; and so that we would more zealously try to fulfill the commandments of the Saviour: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works” (Matt. 5:16).

4. So that the vigil lamp would be our small sacrifice to God, Who…

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