Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wake Up! - A Good Read

My wife has been waiting with bated breath for me to post something new to my blog. It seems the stare of Dieter Philippi from the previous post has been boring holes into her blog's sidebar for nearly two months, and the time has come to see something different ... please.

I've had little time to pay attention to my blog (just when it was getting interesting, too). However, I read this and thought it was a good thing - even if you're not Orthodox.

It is entitled "On Becoming and Remaining Orthodox." Here is an excerpt:
Some people can be so full of themselves! Some people can be very self-important and very puffed-up. They will first tell you - if you let them - their detailed life-stories and then all the latest gossip about Priest X, Bishop Y, and then Jurisdiction Z. Even though they do not know the ABC of the children's Faith. The thing is though, that Christianity, and that is what we are about, is about none of these things. If you don't have contact with reality, then you will never learn about real things. Church life is not about any of that nonsense. There is nothing so boring as discussing the personalities and activities of various clergymen or laymen, except of course sin, because sin is always boring, always the same thing. Ask anyone who hears confessions.

Church life is about: Who will make the coffee? Who will do the washing-up? Who will do the flowers? Who will cut the grass? Who will bake the prosphora? Who will clean the toilets? St Nectarios performed the latter task when teaching in Athens, even though he bore the mighty title of 'Metropolitan of Pentapolis'. So why should we object? It is after all one of the first obediences given to novices in monasteries.

Of course, these are not the main tasks in Church life. Let us go on: ...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

He knows too much...

I would kindly like to direct your attention to the Web page of Dieter Philippi. Herr Philippi is, in his own words, "an internationally recognized and renowned expert on religious, clerical and ecclesiastical headgear." Some of the information is in German, but not all. His attention centers on Roman Catholic haberdashery accessories, but he also covers some Orthodox paraphernalia, not to mention headgear of the Muslim and Buddhist persuasion.

Heavens to Murgatroyd, the section on the Pope's shoes alone is enough to make your head spin.

All in all, a very informative site. In connection with some of the topics I've mentioned here, I recommend the following pages:

He also covers some topics I can only hope one day to cover here (and maybe now there's no need to do so):

Of course, since he is a religious headgear specialist, please spend some time browsing his headgear pages under the PHILIPPI collection. These are in German, unlike the previous pages, but the pictures alone will say plenty. A good online translator can be helpful here, too.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

One of My Favorite Scripture Passages...

One of my favorite Scripture passages is Isaiah 6.
1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. 2 Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one cried to another and said:

“ Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
The whole earth is full of His glory!”

4 And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.
5 So I said:

“ Woe is me, for I am undone!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King,
The LORD of hosts.”

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth with it, and said:

“ Behold, this has touched your lips;
Your iniquity is taken away,
And your sin purged.”

8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying:

“ Whom shall I send,
And who will go for Us?”

Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”
9 And He said, “Go, and tell this people:

‘ Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
10 “ Make the heart of this people dull,
And their ears heavy,
And shut their eyes;
Lest they see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart,
And return and be healed.”

11 Then I said, “Lord, how long?”

And He answered:

“ Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant,
The houses are without a man,
The land is utterly desolate,
12 The LORD has removed men far away,
And the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
13 But yet a tenth will be in it,
And will return and be for consuming,
As a terebinth tree or as an oak,
Whose stump remains when it is cut down.
So the holy seed shall be its stump.”

I like it for two reasons. First, because the vision is so congruous with the liturgical worship of the Trinity in the Church. Second, because of the how the Lord chastises His people.

The people had strayed from His statutes and commandments. In faithlessness they had become of the same mind and spirit as the nations who do not know God. They even had pursued the worship of the idols (demons) the nations worshiped. God follows the conditions of the covenant. He had sent deprivations upon the land. He had sent devastations upon the land from other nations. Finally He will visit the last chastisement upon them through their deportation from the land. But what is at work here is not vindictiveness. It is not a power-play or the satiation of a personal need for justice (a.k.a. holding a grudge).

What is God doing? I believe He is revealing to His people the fullness of their choice to be like the other nations instead of God's Holy Nation. He is letting them see what it means to serve other gods (demons), and the difference between that abominable service and the blessedness of the Royal Priesthood of the Living God.
19:6 And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”
Thus the people are to hear without understanding, that their children may understand what folly their parents gave them for an inheritance. They have chosen their own path, but God never changes His tune.

I like this passage because God insists on being their father.

I also like this passage because it reveals the way of righteousness. Isaiah suddenly finds his eyes upon a vision of the Lord God Himself. He sees God and this illumines his fallen condition - to Isaiah's horror! He feels guilt, but God begrudges Isaiah nothing. However, God does not ignore Isaiah's sinful corruption. He forgives any guilt Isaiah has and atones for the sin. Here is God's love for Israel that they will not have, but blessed Isaiah has found. He is pardoned and released and sanctified and made a partaker in God's efforts to love Israel. Here is a foreshadowing of the fullness of salvation that comes through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Was Isaiah actually cleansed from sin? Yes. Did this take the place of Christ's work? No. Why? Because the root problem behind Isaiah's "unclean lips" is addressed truly in our Lord Jesus Christ. He became man, He accepted our mortality without committing sin, He entered the strong man's house (Death) and bound him. The Lord Jesus has made Himself the fullness of our salvation, both by bearing our sins and partaking of our death only to rise in victory.

As Isaiah was cleansed from sin through a flaming coal, we partake of a better flaming coal - the Eucharist. There the Divinity and Humanity of Christ impart to us the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Monday, November 1, 2010

Some Thoughts on Guilt

This particular post was solicited by my old friend from seminary, Pastor Eric Brown. He commented in a previous post, saying, "How does the East use the term guilt. How is it similar and disimilar? I think that might have an impact upon the differing approaches. So while I am thinking in terms of application to vicarious attonement, feel free to take whatever tact and provide whatever observations you have seen."

Okay. I think this subject will be something I continue to learn about, but at this point I think guilt tends to be defined in two ways:

1) as a cognitive and/or an emotional experience, and

2) as an objective state, usually associated with an adjudication process.

Guilt as a Cognitive or Emotional State (i.e. Subjective Guilt)

Guilt in Orthodoxy works most poignantly in the heart of the Christian. It works through his conscience. Guilt, when left unchecked, drives one away from God out of fear. For instance, one entangled in the sin of fornication may avoid closeness with God, because of the conflict he or she feels between the love of the sin and the guilt in the heart. In this way, though, guilt also is a bit like a security system, because its presence alerts a person to a dangerous turn of events in one's relationship with God. Yet such guilt does more than cry out for attention; it is itself a disharmony between man and his Creator, a disharmony echoing from within the heart and soul of a person that disrupts one's life of communion with the Blessed Trinity.

Remorse is related to guilt, but differs in that one can feel guilty without feeling remorse (sorry for the cause of the guilt). Sometimes guilt and remorse are used synonymously, so care must be taken to distinguish which is indicated according to context.

In the context of repentance, this personal experience of guilt does not make for repentance, but only identifies one's need for repentance. In and of itself repentance is to change. Guilt does not orient one to God but calls attention to the fact that one has oriented himself away from God, pushing God away. Remorse, tears, and/or mourning are proper to repentance. But such mourning must be carefully distinguished. It is easy to shed tears over one's sins out of pride. "Oh, how could "I" do such a thing!" The tears and mourning that accompany repentance arise not out of pride but out of the loss of God. But did man really lose God? No, man causes himself to be lost from God, to experience God in wrath versus approval, and in this way the repentant person finds his repentance mixed with mourning over this realization - whether that happens in a fully cognitive manner or just at the pre-verbalized emotional level.

Guilt as an Objective State

To be objectively guilty, according to Orthodox teaching, one must do something to be at fault. One must freely sin in order to incur guilt and its subsequent wrath. Guilt is not primarily inherited from Adam, but the objective state that leads to guilt is. Man is born in an objective state of corruption, most clearly identified as mortality. This corruption lends one towards actual sins. Sometimes the state of mortal corruption is identified as being in sin or in its power. But, just as the wages of (actual) sin is death, the sting of death is sin that is empowered by the law of God. All of this is to say that guilt as an objective state does not derive directly from the first sin, but as a consequence of weakened people who no longer know perfectly God's will and choose sinful thoughts and acts over righteous acts. (This situation is compounded by the fact that fallen man is dominated by the kingdom of the Enemy, until released by Christ in Baptism.)

So this is a preface to understanding Orthodox guilt as an objective state. Objective guilt is not inherited, but entered into by one's desires and wills. The Orthodox Christian stands in prayer admitting to his or her objective guilt in every manner of sin and life situation, known and unknown, voluntary and involuntary. As much as is humanly possible the Orthodox Christian strives to unite his or her heart (in the subjective experience of guilt) with the outward realization of being objectively guilty. Yet it should be stressed that the unity of heart and mind in prayer must be given by God through His Grace, the working of the Holy Spirit; the Christian is called to seek this unity of person in God fervently through the One who united Human Nature perfectly to His Divine Nature.

In regard to Vicarious Satisfaction, the state of being guilty seems to be one of the main components. Man is guilty, thus man needs his guilt removed so as to be right with God. In Orthodoxy, as far as the saving crucifixion of Christ goes, objective guilt is a component of the issue without being the main thing. In Lutheran theology it is heavily emphasized that Christ satisfies legal requirements, both in the positive sense (supplying an objective and forensic righteousness) and in the negative sense (purging away objective guilt by the Cross). In Orthodoxy there are many ways to emphasize the Cross. This does not mean that the Cross is open to interpretation, but rather that many very important things are coming together and happening at once with the Crucifixion of Christ.

Regarding the issue of sin and Christ's Crucifixion, the main point is that Christ purges sin, that is, He actually purifies it, expiates it, expunges it, cleanses it, etc. The working concept of sin is something that causes corruption and arises from corruption. If mortality/corruption is a contagion in a wholistic sense, then sin the disease exerting its power to break down and destroy. This is primarily the view of sin, the working of a contagion that infects a person with a spiritual rot (and of course, the physical depends on the spiritual for its subsistence, so the spiritual contagion has physical consequences, some of which we live with every day and call "normal" or "natural"). This is what Christ purifies on the Cross. Somehow, in a way that only God knows, Christ bore the sins of the world in His Body on the Cross, and by His holy Suffering and Death purified human nature of this contagion, this corruption, this sin. He made Himself the Cure, injecting Himself into the heart of the illness - as a True Man who entered into Death. (A True Man is one in full communion with Life, which is the All-holy Trinity.) This is, I think, the primary view of sin and the Cross in Orthodoxy. Objective guilt is dealt with in that where the sin is cleansed the guilt is taken away, too. Thus the forgiveness of sins in Orthodoxy involves a total forgiveness - a release both the bondage/disease of sin and the guilt of alienating oneself from God.

So guilt isn't something that keeps God away, but something that keeps man away from God. I've been reading through the Prophet Jeremiah lately, and it is striking that no matter how vehement God's wrath seems to be against Judah in sending Nebuchadnezzar against them, His ultimate goal clearly is to correct His people so that they will come to their senses and return to Him. They want to worship all the pagan gods (demons) and be like the pagan nations? Then God hands them over to a pagan king to teach them the difference between their choice and serving the Living God, who is a caring Father and Husband to them. Guilt is a problem with God only when one chooses guilt and rejects Him. However, repentance always negates guilt, because God has an unimaginable love for all people. What is guilt compared to one sinner repenting? The angels rejoice over this, and God accepts such a person. Objective guilt becomes an issue when one rejects God. THEN guilt that has piled up speaks against a person, especially on the Last Day.

East and West

I think the East and West both appreciate the need to see one's guilt, both objectively and subjectively. To what end that one sees it, though, may be where some of the tension lies. Do we identify guilt in order to feel a moment of sorrow with the expectation that such a feeling makes everything okay? (I've met plenty who live this way.) Or do we see guilt as a condition that makes God hate me unless someone can smooth over the whole thing? (I've heard many insist on this.) Or do we see guilt as something that highlights our inescapable relationship with God, and something that marks out the difference between the Way of Life and the way of death? The light in which we place the issue of guilt is going to beam from how we claim to know the All-holy Trinity.

These are just some thoughts. Sorry I took so long to gather them.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Things on my mind...

Jeremiah 20:9
Then I said, "I will not make mention of Him,
Nor speak anymore in His name."
But His word was in my heart like a burning fire
Shut up in my bones;
I was weary of holding it back,
And I could not.

Job 32:17-22
I also will answer my part,
I too will declare my opinion.
For I am full of words;
The spirit within me compels me.
Indeed my belly is like wine that has no vent;
It is ready to burst like new wineskins.
I will speak, that I may find relief;
I must open my lips and answer.
Let me not, I pray, show partiality to anyone;
Nor let me flatter any man.
For I do not know how to flatter,
Else my Maker would soon take me away.

Proverbs 4:25-27
Let your eyes look straight ahead,
And your eyelids look right before you.
Ponder the path of your feet,
And let all your ways be established.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
Remove your foot from evil.

1 Timothy 1:15
This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.

Ecclesiastes 7:15-24
I have seen everything in my days of vanity:
There is a just man who perishes in his righteousness,
And there is a wicked man who prolongs life in his wickedness.
Do not be overly righteous,
Nor be overly wise:
Why should you destroy yourself?
Do not be overly wicked,
Nor be foolish:
Why should you die before your time?
It is good that you grasp this,
And also not remove your hand from the other;
For he who fears God will escape them all.
Wisdom strengthens the wise
More than ten rulers of the city.
For there is not a just man on earth who does good
And does not sin.
Also do not take to heart everything people say,
Lest you hear your servant cursing you.
For many times, also, your own heart has known
That even you have cursed others.
All this I have proved by wisdom.
I said, “I will be wise”;
But it was far from me.
As for that which is far off and exceedingly deep,
Who can find it out?

Psalm 28
A Psalm of David.
To You I will cry, O LORD my Rock:
  Do not be silent to me,
  Lest, if You are silent to me,
  I become like those who go down to the pit.
Hear the voice of my supplications
  When I cry to You,
  When I lift up my hands toward Your holy sanctuary.
Do not take me away with the wicked
  And with the workers of iniquity,
  Who speak peace to their neighbors,
  But evil is in their hearts.
Give them according to their deeds,
  And according to the wickedness of their endeavors;
  Give them according to the work of their hands;
  Render to them what they deserve.
Because they do not regard the works of the LORD,
  Nor the operation of His hands,
  He shall destroy them
  And not build them up.
Blessed be the LORD,
  Because He has heard the voice of my supplications!
The LORD is my strength and my shield;
  My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped;
  Therefore my heart greatly rejoices,
  And with my song I will praise Him.
The LORD is their strength,
  And He is the saving refuge of His anointed.
Save Your people,
  And bless Your inheritance;
  Shepherd them also,
  And bear them up forever.

Monday, October 11, 2010


When I was a Lutheran, we did not pursue holiness; we received it passively. On the dogmatic level we believed we grew in holiness, but on the practical level - especially in seminary - pursuing it with activity was seriously frowned upon. Sermons about love were complained about, unless they were about how Christ loves us. If a professor spoke about growing in holiness, most of us squirmed in our chairs fearing the breath of Progressive Sanctification (which separates the holiness Christ accomplishes in a person from the good works a person does), or Pietism.
A wonderful Orthodox analysis of Pietism:

When I look back on my time as a Lutheran minister, I think this was the one element that was truly missing from my preaching and teaching - holiness - and I am sorry for its absence. I think I subconsciously was trying to get to it, since it is so plain in the Scriptures (and Dr. Martin Luther - the "model" for Lutheran preaching - had no fear of it). Yet I did not reach it in my preaching. This is mostly because I did not know it personally.

Now that I am Orthodox, do I know it personally. Yes for sure, and no not yet. No not yet, because I am a sinner. Yes for sure, because coming to grips with my conversion has allowed me to see where holiness lies: "One is holy, One is Lord, Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father. Amen." The Liturgy teaches me, not just at this point, but in its multitude of prayers, songs, rites, and gifts. The liturgical life of the Church - which is not made up by committees, but something each Bishop, Priest, ... down to layman must submit to as to his or her spiritual father and guide - this liturgical life constantly lifts up mankind in his sinfulness to be brought near to God that he may become something more. That something more is the whole measure of the fullness of Christ through the unity of the faith (Eph 4:13).

For some time I did not know what was different. Then I realized it, something I did not realize before my conversion. No one was trying to get me to take refuge in the fact that God accepts me. In Orthodoxy of course God accepts you. But isn't that why Christ died, to save me from God's wrath - which means to get God to accept me again, if I just believe? In Orthodoxy Christ doesn't have to get God to accept me, but rather me to accept God. What does God want that I should accept?
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me [St. John 17:20-23].
God wants me to want everything He is and is about, because we are made to be His image and likeness, to live in Him and He in us. So faith's first job is to bring you into union with God, and this removes all cause for wrath. In Orthodoxy we are made partaker's of Christ's holiness, if we are willing to change (repentance) and live in Him (faith) in the unity of the Holy Spirit (the Church).

At first I didn't know how to exist in the Church. I didn't know how to exist without that Doctrine that told me to measure my relationship with God based on a faith-makes-me-okay-with-God-so-it's-all-okay-now-phew crutch. I had been taught that once God's anger toward me is resolved in Christ, the "work" was done, and salvation was in the bag (more specifically in the ear or in the mouth) - just don't stop believing the message (and to make sure we'll tell it to you again and again). Communion was a tangible proof of God's lack of wrath (forgiveness in this sense) and from that the reward of union with Christ.

What is different in Orthodoxy is that no one is trying to give you an indulgence against God's wrath (Protestant forensic justification), because the Incarnation and Pascha were for you and I - not God. They were to change you and I, not God. Nothing has changed with God: He loves all, judges fairly, rewards the righteous, punishes the wicked (for correction and/or limitation of sin), shows mercy to the merciful, and desires that all be saved and come to knowledge of the truth.

Everything in Orthodoxy gets to the heart of the matter. Sin caused an ontological and existential corruption in man without changing him into something other than man - a reduced man. Salvation is an ontological and existential renewal of man that makes man fully man again in the fullness that God intended for him. If sin is an ontological and existential problem, then the cross addresses that problem by purifying sins by the blood of Christ, and this purification (i.e. expiation) causes the propitiation that Lutheran theology is so hung up about.

After not knowing how to live in the Orthodox Church, I moved on to being absolutely frightened. For the first time in my life I began to grasp personally, existentially the Prophet Isaiah's fear at seeing the Lord (Isaiah 6) and the fearful mercy of the burning coal touching his lips, or Hebrews 12:29 where God is described as a consuming fire. I was drawing near to God without that indulgence that made my relationship with God a passive and neutralized one. I was drawing near to God with the knowledge that He wants to change me, if I am willing. I know by now it's self-condemnation to run from God, so there is left but the trial by fire: to become the burning bush or one of Ahaziah's 50 soldiers.

God calls us to be partakers of His holiness (Hebrews 12:10), and through His promises partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). He calls us to approach and prepare like a man (Job 40:7), though not from a whirlwind but from the mercy of His Church, through the Incarnation of His Son. Deep down, in Holy Orthodoxy, a person comes to a small measure of what each of the prophets faced when they were called by God. We come to know why Isaiah cried out and received a burning coal, why righteous Job called himself vile but was restored, why Ezekiel fell on his face but was set on his feet by the Spirit, why St. Peter fell to his knees and begged Christ to go away from him but Christ made him a fisher of men. God comes to each person, and there is no indulgence to neutralize or diffuse His coming. Rather, each of us must come to appear unshielded before God, and from there to learn to cry out for His mercy like the thief on the cross and the Canaanite woman.

The call to partake of God's holiness requires a fundamentally deeper belief in God's mercy and faithfulness than anything I ever found outside of Orthodoxy. Perhaps this is because in Orthodoxy you do not rest on the indulgence of a forensic justification, but in nakedness of soul you can only rest on God as He is before you from His Church - in His Gospel, His Prophetic and Apostolic preaching, His Liturgy, His Sacraments (all 7), His entire way of life that you get to live in and that takes up residence in you (for the Kingdom of God is within you - St. Luke 17:21). God does the saving by Christ on the cross and by Christ in you now. It is salvation in actuality, not simply legality.

I have moved on from being frightened to being thankful. God has treated me better than I have deserved. I am a train-wreck that He is carefully and beautifully healing. And He does this for all who will draw near in faith.
Perhaps all this is why I love reading the writings of ascetics so much. If you haven't read any yourself, ask me for a recommendation.

I could never preach this as a Lutheran minister. I had never known it. I had never seen it. I had never conceived of it. But, by God's Grace, today is different. May it be so now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Monday, September 27, 2010


I was surprised by his Grace, the Rt Rev Bishop MARK of Toledo and the Midwest to be tonsured a Reader and elevated as a Subdeacon this past Sunday. I am not worthy, and I am thankful that God makes His servants worthy to stand before Him and serve Him.

I say "surprised" because there was not advanced notification. (This has been hard for some people to understand.) It seemed good to his Grace at the time he spoke with me to do this, which happened to be the evening before the tonsuring and elevation. Glory to God for His mercy toward sinners!

Below is the prayer of chirothesis (ordination to minor orders) used to make a Reader (first) and then a Subdeacon (second) in the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America:

The Reader:

Bishop: O Lord who enlightenest all created beings with the light of thy wonders, and knowest the intent of every man before it is formed, and strengthenest those who are desirous of serving thee: Do thou, the same Lord, array in thy fair and spotless vesture this thy servant (NAME), who desireth to become a Reader before thy holy mysteries, that he may be illuminated, and that attaining unto the age to come he may receive the incorruptible crown of life, and rejoice with Thine elect in bliss everlasting. For blessed is thy name and glorified is thy Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages, Amen.

The Subdeacon:
Bishop: O Lord our God, who, through one and the same Holy Spirit distributing gifts of grace to each one of those whom thou hast chosen, hast given to thy Church diverse Orders; who, through Thine inscrutable providence hast appointed degrees of ministry therein, for the service of thy holy and immaculate mysteries; and who, through Thine ineffable foreknowledge, hast ordained this thy servant (NAME) to be worthy to serve in thy Holy Church: Do thou, the same Lord, preserve him uncondemned in all things. And grant that he may love the beauty of thy house, stand before the doors of thy Holy Temple and kindle the lamps in the Tabernacle of thy glory. And make him thy perfect servant in the time of thy Second Coming, that he may receive the recompense of those who are well-pleasing in thy sight. For Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory, of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages, Amen.

The full rite for each can be found at the Antiochian Archdiocese Web site. Each is linked above.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Not Idolatry, but Ark-eology

Not too long ago I ran across a comment on a random blog complaining about the Orthodox and idolatry. They featured a picture of an iconostasis with a platytera behind it. The platytera is the icon of Our Lady of the Sign. In the particular picture featured the portion of the icon featuring Christ on the Virgin's lap was obscured, which led the commentators to think the Orthodox were worshiping the Virgin Mary.

I note this here, because when I was a Lutheran I thought just the same thing: idolatry. I saw an Orthodox Church that had only the Virgin featured - lacking the Christ Child in her lap. This is non-canonical. However, the Theotokos' placement behind the altar, whether in the canonical fashion or the non-canonical, makes a particular confession of faith. Lutheran onlookers (like myself those years ago) shudder and wonder how a huge icon of the Theotokos directly behind the altar, center-stage, could be anything but a confusion of who we are there to worship.

Yet the Orthodox Church places the platytera there to emphasize a particular theological truth - one that I learned from one of my seminary professors as a Lutheran. The Virgin Mary is the fulfillment of the Ark of the Covenant. In seminary it was even pointed out that her movements following the Annunciation follow the likeness of the Ark of the Covenant's movements in the Old Testament.

The Ark of the Covenant was covered with the mercy seat, the Throne of God flanked by cherubs. It was kept in the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle. Upon this mercy seat the blood of atonement was sprinkled once a year by the High Priest for the forgiveness of sins for the people of Israel. The Ark of the Covenant contained within it Aaron's staff which had budded, the jar of manna that came down from heaven, and the tablets of the Ten Commandments.

The Virgin Mary fulfills this Ark. She is the one in whom the Word of God dwelt, in whom the True Manna came down from heaven and remained. She is the one who, though a Virgin, was made to bud with Life Himself, fulfilling Aaron's staff. She is the one upon whose lap the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob sat enthroned for our salvation.

Thus the Orthodox Church rightly confesses her to be Theotokos, and rightly places her holy icon at the center behind the iconostasis. She is the True Ark of the Covenant with its mercy seat, upon whose lap and from whose womb we find the Lord Jesus seated as True Man for our salvation. So the placement of her icon - canonically or uncanonically - confesses the same truth: that God has appeared in the Flesh, and has fulfilled the Old Testament's shadow with the Light of His coming. We enjoy the reality of that coming now, gathered around the Eucharist, around our Lord Jesus who unites all in Himself, with His Father and the Holy Spirit ever reigning. Amen.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Fair and Honest Reform

Josiah Rediscovers the Torah
I have noticed in discussions with Lutherans who once were my colleagues and fellow-conspirators in the LCMS :-) that our conversation seems to get "stuck" a lot. We end up posturing ourselves against each other. For instance, "A single visible Church of Christ on earth is a theology of glory," or "the Fathers normally read that Scripture as thus and thus." Boiled down, this sort of conversation amounts to "As Lutherans we believe such and such," and "The Orthodox have always believed such and such." You see, it's just posturing. Perhaps a better way to describe it is identifying lines of demarcation, something essential if two sides are going to learn to deal with one another in any constructive way.

It seems to cause no small bother to some of these Lutherans that the Orthodox Church has (relatively speaking) theological unity and peace, a common way of life, and has maintained a belief that there is one Church of Christ (one communion fellowship) that has always been Christ's Church since Pentecost, and always will be until Christ returns. These are the most prevalent reasons cited by such Lutherans to explain why some of their own would be tempted to convert to Orthodoxy, or even finally make that conversion.

But this is wrong. Now I must speak for myself. Other converts are welcome to use the combox to speak on their own behalf. What tempted me to look towards the Orthodox Church? The following encouragement came from outside sources, either directly or indirectly:

  • In seminary I was assigned to write a paper on a Christian church group I knew nothing about. I chose the Orthodox Church. After graduation I began to feel that I had not given Orthodoxy a fair shake, and it was unsettling to me. I wanted to go back and look at it again.

  • My own church body was a spiritual disaster, and my participation in it was becoming unconscionable. No other Lutheran body within reach offered anything better. Therefore I was willing to examine Orthodoxy, especially when invited to do so with other Lutherans by other Lutherans. I hoped to a) discern if Orthodoxy was basically Lutheranism (it isn't), and b) at least give Orthodoxy a fair chance on its own terms.

  • Some Lutherans I know (who did not nor do I expect to convert) expressed a kinship with Orthodox theologians, clergy, and books. This piqued my interest.

The following are things that I initially discovered that encouraged me to look deeper:
  • The Orthodox value the sacraments similarly to Lutherans.

  • Orthodox theology is highly eschatological - meaning the future reign of Christ is constantly happening now and being applied now.

  • Orthodoxy maintains historical continuity, in doctrine and practice. In layman's terms this means they can demonstrate that they are believing and doing the same things the first Christians were doing.

  • The Orthodox Church is very liturgical. Not only is there no contemporary revival-worship, but their rich liturgical practices are accompanied by a sensible theology. Liturgy in the Orthodox Church involves all the previous points made above in this list.

Upon some deeper investigation I found that the Orthodox:

  • Do not believe we earn our salvation by works. See the video in my previous post for an excellent explanation of salvation in Orthodoxy by the Martyr Fr. Daniel Sysoyev.

  • Believe the Pope of Rome is the reason for and source of error, schism, and protestantism in the West. The Orthodox reject Papal Supremacy.

  • See everything in Christological and Pneumatological terms, more so than the Lutherans. Everything is about Christ, and everything is influenced by the Holy Spirit in the Church.

I also noticed right away that the Orthodox have their own way of thinking about some things that the Lutherans normally considered "settled" or "refuted from Scripture" when dealing with others like Roman Catholics or other Protestants. The Orthodox have their own unique explanations regarding (to name a few):
  • Scripture and Tradition

  • The Fall of Man

  • Free Will

  • Intercession of the Saints

Here I would like to point out that Lutheran theology arose by seeking to reform Western, medieval, scholastic theology. It examined theology in that context. It searched the Scriptures with that theology and its frameworks in mind. Even in referring itself to the teachings of the Fathers, Lutherans read them from within this Western, medieval, scholastic context. Lutheran reformation theology developed by listening to the theology of the Roman West, living in its practices, and finding something askew. Dialogue and debate ensued. In the end the popular, liturgical, and sacramental practices of the Roman West were judged according to the arguments and theologies of those in the West. This is how Lutheran theology begins.

While it is often assumed by Lutherans that they have done nothing but resurrect the lost theology of the Bible, in fact the very act of trying to recover assumes an investigation. The reform did not involve Luther, a Bible, and a blank piece of paper. Rather, it was to be a reform of existing Christendom, with special attention given to teaching nothing new - hence the multitude of references to patristic sources. Thus Lutheran theology is a reform of the medieval West, and a response to Western papal theology and practice. This reform is often increased to include not only the medieval West, but even all of Christianity after St. John the Apostle wrote the last book in the Bible.

It must be pointed out that Lutheran theology is something developed from investigation and argument. This investigation and argument did not include the Orthodox East. What of the Tübingen theologians who corresponded with Patriarch Jeremias II? I'm afraid that was not the same as the original reformation efforts. The Tübingen theologians wrote not to determine what the true Christian teaching really is (as was done when the first reformers investigated matters for themselves against the errors around them), but to gain the support of the Patriarch against the Pope and to convince him that the Lutherans had discovered the real truth. Patriarch Jeremias II had no interest in being converted to a reformational theology away from the unreformed and unchanged theology and practice of Orthodoxy.

So again I point out, Lutheran theology is something developed from investigation and argument. Some of Lutheran argumentation against the Pope came from the practice of the Orthodox East (e.g. see Melanchthon's defense of Eucharistic sacrifice in the Apology). Yet today's Lutherans say to the Orthodox, "We alone have the truth - you are wrong and need a reformation." Never have Lutheran theologians said, "Whoa, our conclusions about the Truth have been reached in exclusion of the Orthodox Church. Yet we're telling them they are wrong and need to submit to our beliefs in order to have the real Christian faith. We need to backup."

A Lutheran who truly believes in the principles behind the Book of Concord ought to give Orthodoxy a fair chance. That does not mean he should automatically submit to Orthodox practice and belief. It means he should choose to be open to the way of life, to the spiritual teaching, to the theology, to the heart and soul of Orthodoxy - to let Orthodoxy fully present itself to the Lutheran (which takes time) so that the Lutheran can discern, can test the spirits, and see for himself as Luther believed he had regarding the Pope and Western theology and practice of the day.

For the whole point of the reformation was to return the Church back to its Apostolic roots - not to make a new Church, but to heal the Church. In examining Orthodoxy one has to discern patiently many things over some time in order to determine if Orthodoxy itself is the real return to our Apostolic roots.

This is what I did. This is why I did it. I did not learn to hate Lutheranism. Rather I learned to love Orthodoxy as the fulfillment of my Lutheran goal: to return and abide in the Apostolic, Scriptural, Historic, Eschatological, and Liturgical root of Christianity. Some do not come to this conclusion. My conversion or another's non-conversion should not detract from the simple need a Confessional Lutheran ought to have - the need and aim behind the Augustana itself: to return to our Apostolic origin for healing and re-forming.

In coming to Orthodoxy I found that Christ Himself, through His Spirit, is doing the re-forming: He is re-forming me through His cross, healing me through His sacraments. I also found that the things that annoy my Lutheran friends (a single communion fellowship that has always been Christ's Church, theological peace, etc) are things that were not selling points at all for me (the visible Church point was very hard to swallow), but ended up being things that I came to believe because all of the internal stuff about repentance, the cross, the sacraments, spirituality, etc., convinced me themselves that this is the Truth, and in turn that Truth showed all the rest to be true (including the Visible Church part).

Monday, August 30, 2010

Salvation in Christianity: the Martyr Fr. Daniel Sysoyev

The following video records Fr. Daniel Sysoyev describing salvation. Fr. Daniel was martyred recently.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Accused again: Theology of Glory

As a friendly reminder - first to myself, and then to others who are either bothered by the accusation, or who are levying the accusation:

When a Lutheran levies the charge against the Orthodox that we are just a Theology of Glory, this says nothing of any value or substance. This is a Lutheran term that has meaning only if one accepts the whole of Lutheran theology. This is frequently used to avoid discussion and helpful dialogue, especially by those flustered with Orthodoxy. And lately it is a term, when applied to Orthodoxy, that expresses unbelief in Orthodoxy on the basis that Orthodoxy has visible unity among her churches, relative theological peace, a common way of life in Christ, and has for 2000 years held to a belief in one holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that exists simultaneously in the invisible heavens and visibly as a communion fellowship on earth - and has for 2000 years.

So let's remember: levying the charge of Theology of Glory against the Orthodox only really means, "They aren't Lutheran, no matter how great they seem to so many Lutherans (especially the hordes that are converting all over the place)."

For more info, here's an article I wrote a while ago. If anyone can recommend something else on the topic, please leave a link in the comments.

If we can get past the frustration (which is to be expected, surely) and the attempts to shut down dialogue, perhaps we can move on to things of faith and piety. God willing we will be able!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Responding to Fr. Burnell Eckardt's "Temptations"

It continues to interest me how my former colleagues in Lutheranism try and try to deal with the Orthodox faith, but without really getting anywhere. I mean here those who recognize in Orthodoxy something different enough to lead well-informed, pious, and serious-minded Lutherans to walk away from the Lutheran Confessions, their congregation(s), and Lutheranism in general. No doubt this is a scary thing to behold, or at least very unsettling. And it has not happened but once or twice, but is happening continuously. The Lutherans who either have stayed or are unwilling to consider Orthodoxy at all are put in an uncomfortable position. They are left to defend their Lutheran beliefs against a tide of former pastors and/or colleagues that have proclaimed, "We have seen the True Light, and It is in the Orthodox Church!" Actually, it is not so much that they must defend against the converted as they must defend against the appeal and magnetism of Orthodoxy itself.

Recently I read a reprinted post by Fr. Burnell Eckardt, a man I truly like and was thrilled to spend time with at the 2007 LCMS Convention in Houston (before my conversion to Holy Orthodoxy). Fr. Eckardt struggles with the same difficulties most Lutheran pastors I have met struggle with: to find what about Orthodoxy that is so wrong or out of place - enough so as to set before the world a clear reason for Lutherans no longer to need to feel so attracted to the Orthodox Church.

I'd like to outline Fr. Eckardt's post from Gottesdients Online:

I. Looking for Unity
A. Hopes for a reunification between Eastern and Western Christendom.
B. Lutherans in America have struggled in a similar way among themselves.

II. Confessional Lutherans and Orthodox Christians agree with "how" unity is achieved.

III. Largely the source of temptation for Confessional Lutheran pastors to become Orthodox is the desire for theological unity.

IV. The East itself demonstrates that the West is the wrong place to be:
A. by pointing to how the West is so divided in itself
B. which comes from having rejected the consensus of the Ecumenical Councils
C. and in their place adopting Papal supremecy.
D. Thus the Western divisions prove that everyone needs to run back to the East.

V. This Eastern criticism is just the old post hoc falacy, which wrongly assumes:
A. temporal succession implies a causal relations,
B. i.e. because you broke with us, therefore you have no unity among yourselves.
C. It boils down to flawed Western thought by the East's estimation (says Fr. Eckardt)
D. Yet easily as admissable is the idea that the West is so assailed because the devil is most threatened by the West.

VI. Controversy has forced the West to become sharper and more prepared than the East.
A. The Reformation gave the Augsburg Confession,
B. precision and clarity unsurpassed regarding faith and justification,
C. and overall great confessional clarification.

VII. The process of the Reformation was the same as the Ecumenical Councils
A. Tribulation led to the formation of the Nicene Creed.
B. Tribulation led to the formation of the Augsburg Confession.
C. Thus the West's struggles have made it better prepared to struggle in the second millenium.

VIII. Filioque controversy
A. The East doesn't like it because it's an innovation
B. The West found it useful against the Arians
C. The East won't consider it to have any theological truth because it's an innovation
D. There are reasons to go beyond the Ecumenical Councils.
E. The East points out that the Third Council forbids changes to the Creed.
F. The East won't admit into the discussion theological reasons for changing the Creed.

IX. Lutherans part ways with both Rome and the East on the Councils
A. Only what agrees with the Scriptures is accepted
B. Nothing is accepted in addition to the Scriptures
C. Councils, Confessions, Creeds, etc. are accepted only in theology, never more.

X. Most damaging about Orthodoxy is that they believe they are the Visible Church of Christ on Earth.
A. The Orthodox have always stuck to their guns on this one.
B. In Reformation times, Orthodox told the Lutherans to either conform to Orthodoxy or leave them in peace.

XI. People capitulate to the East because they:
A. have a tradition that is harder to gainsay than Rome's
B. they did not pass through a "Middle Ages" as did the West

XII. For Lutherans the Unity of the Church lies in her marks.
A. Christ's divinity was marked in His cross, believed without seeing it.
B. The Unity of the Church likewise is marked by the cross, believed without always seeing it.
C. The stuggles of the Church have produced confessional stamina and refinement.

XIII. Temptations to go East are understandable, but should be rejected.
A. The East has a lot going for it
1. Peace
2. More pristine Creed
3. Visible unity
B. But we need to stay where we are and keep fighting as we have been.
C. The lack of peace, the religious infighting, the schisms, the heresies, and the rest are just part of bearing the cross of Jesus. So just keep fighting.

Fr. Eckardt has tried to color Orthodoxy as lacking theological sensitivity, while in turn he colors the West as theologically strong and virile from all of its infighting. He suggests that the Orthodox are hung up on formalities, but the West is willing to dig into the theological "meat" that will be needed in this second-millennium (actually, it's the third millennium now: 0-999 is the first, 1000-1999 is the second, etc). He suggests that Orthodoxy has an external beauty and tranquility that is tempting, but that the West - especially Lutheranism - knows the cross and lives by that cross.

Fr. Eckardt says of himself that he once looked into Holy Orthodoxy for himself, but rejected it. Given his description of matters here, I can only wonder if it was actually Orthodoxy that he looked into or some uninterested party's casual review of Orthodoxy's interactions with the West. There is the vague outline of Orthodoxy's silhouette here, but nothing that actually describes Orthodoxy in and of itself. If Fr. Eckardt's article serves as your first in-depth analysis on Orthodoxy and its appeal to Lutherans, then let me say loud and clear that you've been had. Fr. Eckardt is smart and means well, but Orthodoxy is not about smarts and good intentions, but about things of the Spirit and the power of God to save. His entire approach is off. He has approached first with his intellect things that are first grasped with the heart and the spirit.

All of this is to say that the allure of Orthodoxy lies in something else than what Fr. Eckardt describes. This article is naught more than a smoke-screen to keep wandering those who are thirsty for God in a dry and parched land, all the while calling it the cross and salvation.

Do the Orthodox know the cross? Yes; the cross is our daily life of repentance given in Baptism. It is our incessant struggle in the Spirit against our own passions - i.e. the damage we cause in ourselves by sin. But the cross is infinitely linked with the resurrection, in that God pours out His Grace (the Holy Spirit) to supply us with the strength to struggle profitably and the healing that comes from our struggle in faith, hope, and love.
1 Peter 1:22-23, "Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, ..."

Orthodoxy is characterized by her spirituality, and her spirituality is characterized by ascetic struggle, a.k.a. the cross. Our entire existence in Christ is one great Passover from death to life, from sin to righteousness, from bondage to freedom. Fr. Eckardt has touched upon none of these things in Orthodoxy, but has pointed his Lutheran hearers to those aspects of Lutheranism that encourage one to struggle and persevere in Lutheranism.

I submit that Fr. Eckardt is encouraging his hearers to struggle in a non-helpful manner, to beat the air aimlessly. He concludes by telling his hearers to accept the warfare that tears their souls apart, to accept the lack of peace, to not look for unity, to think of a different sort of church than the One attested to by the authors of the Creed (go research their writings if you don't believe me), and to ignore the lack of a common way of life in Christ among them as being just the difficulties of bearing the cross.

There is no resurrection with this cross. Fr. Eckardt does not point to a Paschal cross, at least not as Orthodoxy knows the cross always to be a Paschal cross. The cross he speaks of in this context does not offer healing or purification or strength against the passions for the believer, but rather locks the believer in stasis, neither growing nor shrinking. Christ's suffering purified our sins and gave us Life in His resurrection, a dynamism of growth in the Holy Spirit. In the Orthodox Church we struggle in ascetic suffering in Christ, thus engaging and growing in the purification of Christ's cross through active faith. In Orthodoxy we suffer in Christ, and thus grow through God's Grace into the fullness of Life - the likeness of the One who calls us to participate in His own glory. Our cross is a Paschal cross, i.e. a purifying cross - the cross of salvation.

Lutherans do believe in a cross of salvation, one that saves from sin and unites to Christ. I think this is why so many Lutherans are giving Orthodoxy a real chance, on its own terms. There is in Orthodoxy - even from the superficial level of outward appearances - that sacramental, liturgical, biblical, historical, non-papal, and eschatological Christianity that all good Confessional Lutherans are hungering for and strive for. Remaining in stasis, frozen complacently in heterdoxy (I refer here to the mix of beliefs that is the LCMS), is a big flashing warning sign to many that they are now beyond the wood of the cross and instead lost in the crowds of the unillumined. While this alone is no reason to join the Orthodox Church, God be praised that for some it is a reason to begin looking at her with more sensitivity.

2 Thessalonians 2:13-17, "But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Wrath of God (continued)

This post is in response to a comment made at the end of my last post: Wrath and Justification. My response is too long to fit into comments, so I'm (yet again) moving my long-windedness to a full post.

Okay, let me take a stab at this. In reading part 1 of Fr. Hopko's podcast (I realize you cite part 2) on God's Wrath we find that he says the following:

As it says in the Letter of Peter in the New Testament: “He trusted Him who judges justly.” And even in the Letter to the Romans, you have this genitive of faith where it could be translated that we are made righteous by faith of Christ or faith in Christ. But even the faith of Christ, Jesus’ own trusting to God, trusting that God would vindicate him, but the big point—He doesn’t sin at all. He does no evil. Therefore, the wrath of God cannot be upon Him. There’s no way that the wrath of God can be upon Him. The wrath that is upon all the sinners and all the unrighteous, He takes upon Himself, and when he takes upon Himself the wrath that is due to all the rest of us—all the Jews, all the Gentiles, everyone who has lived, “there is no one righteous, no not one,” as it says in the Letter to the Romans, quoting of course the Old Testament Scripture. Then, the wrath of God is assuaged. There is no wrath against Him. God puts Him in the position of the wrath. He puts Him in the position of the sinner, but God’s wrath is not against Him. And because of that, that’s the paradox.

Here Fr. Hopko is not saying that Christ's satisfies God's wrath, as evidenced by the previous portion of the podcast. He is saying Christ stands in the position of God's wrath against sinners. We sinners are under wrath, and Christ carries our sins - the sins of all people of all times - and thus with the sins also the wrath of God. However, Christ saves from sin not by satisfying wrath but by being perfectly righteous. This is Fr. Hopko's point. Ever see one of those Dawn dish soap commercials? The drop of soap hits the scummy water and the scum disappears. Christ the Righteous, Innocent One has the same effect on our sins and God's wrath. He purifies the sins, which purifies the need for wrath. St. Luke is very clear that Christ is innocent, yet is condemned as if a sinner. The point is not that Christ is satisfying wrath, but that Christ is purifying from wrath.

So when Fr. Hopko says in part 2 of his podcast,
And God is well pleased in His Son, Jesus, because the Son takes upon Himself the sin of the world, and assuages divine wrath and redeems humanity and saves creation...
he is (in typical Fr. Hopko fashion) giving us an interconnected list of things Jesus does: takes on our sins, assuages God's wrath (through purification, not satisfaction), redeems us from our bondage, and thus saves creation.

Fr. Stephen is not in a discussion with Fr. Thomas Hopko, so comparing his statement with Fr. Hopko's isn't going to yield anything precise. Fr. Stephen is writing against the idea that God bullies us into faith: come along and no one gets hurt. Fr. Thomas Hopko, if you follow the length of his argument, shows that God's wrath is corrective, namely: you're going the wrong way - life and goodness is here! If you want wrath, I'll give it to you, but if you want mercy I'll give it to you - and I'm trying to get you to choose mercy by showing you what a choice for wrath gets you! That's not bullying (I'll come along because I'm afraid) but enlightening. Remember, there are people out there that know what wrath is and still choose it, because they love sin and darkness and not God.

Here the difference is between being concerned about portraying God as an abusive husband (Fr. Stephen) versus portraying God as a real, dynamic being who gives man a choice in the whole affair of being united to Him in blessedness or abiding in wrath, which thus makes wrath a chastisement appropriate to our calling in communion with God (Fr. Hopko).

Now, this doesn't mean that Fr. Hopko and Fr. Stephen might not have a lengthy discussion or debate over what is to be emphasized regarding the wrath of God. Fr. Stephen might not like it that Fr. Hopko speaks of assuaging the wrath of God, though not necessarily with how Christ accomplishes that. Fr. Hopko might be wary of Fr. Stephen's statements about God's unchanging-ness, fearing it to be overly Hellenized or Philosophized, but he's not going to disagree with the apophatic theology behind it.

What this demonstrates is that in Holy Orthodoxy we do not always have a clear-cut, systematic definition of things as in the West. You are witnessing Orthodox theologians in the act of trying to be faithful in the face of theological threats from Western Catholicism and Protestantism. It seems Orthodoxy is still hashing out the best way to approach the issue.

I will still attempt to say something helpful in all this. Take Fr. Stephen's comments in light of apophatic theology: we cannot accurately apply categories of wrath, repentance, rejoicing, etc. to God, because God is supra-beyond-what-we-can-know. He doesn't change, and we can't know Him in His being. In that sense, how can we say He has wrath (like we have wrath), when by that we mean something perceivable only on the human level? Thus it is an anthropomorphism. However, take Fr. Thomas Hopko's two podcasts on God's wrath - he covers so much in there! Especially realize that he wants us to take what is written in the Bible seriously and to avoid making God so unknowable in our minds that we nullify His wrath as something very real and something that is a part of who God is. He wants us to avoid nullifying God's real Personhood, that He does act with different energies, in differing way, and does so consciously and purposefully. Maybe Fr. Stephen doesn't appreciate Fr. Hopko's method - you should ask him. They don't have to agree as much as they have to fairly represent Orthodox teaching. Both do. How to balance this out may take some time - it may be the next controversy that needs hammering out!

Between the two, though, what does not need hammering out is whether or not Christ satisfies the Father's wrath. He does not. He purifies our sins, yes. He stands in the place of sinners, who are under God's wrath, yes. But He does not satisfy God's wrath. He may assuage it, which really just means He removes the reason for it, but He does not satiate some desire for justice through wrath that is in the Father. God is not like that.

I have noticed two aspects to God's wrath in reading Fr. Hopko and people like Fr. Stephen. There is the ontological situation of man, where outside of Christ man is under the wrath of God. This comes from lacking blessed communion and having only broken communion. My original comments in the previous post make this conclusion. There is also the wrath, though, that God intentionally afflicts on man for the purpose of calling him to repentance. In this case man, in failing to faithfully adhere to the high calling he has in his relationship with God (and this supposes having a communion relationship with God) is chastised by God for the purpose of repentance. God's wrath is thus a result of both our ontological orientation (broken communion) and our personal, self-determined activity (blessed communion). God is not a robot, dispensing according to whatever button we push, but a unity of real Persons with a dynamism that goes far, far beyond our ability to adequately describe, but yet that is really and truly personal.

The Scriptures teach that God is love. I know that doesn't sound very apophatic, but I've found this colors the way God is perceived in Orthodoxy. Since He is love, people feel His wrath because He is love. Sometimes we can describe this through the lens of our ontological and existential incompatibility with God (broken communion) and sometimes we can describe this through the lens of having God as our Father and being His children (blessed communion).

If one is looking for a concise description of God's wrath in Orthodoxy, then I'm afraid one might be disappointed. In the question there is worry about Western distortions, lack of experience among Orthodox theologians in responding to those distortions, and a general lack of interest in the question in the first place. There isn't much reason to hammer this out in Orthodoxy, unless you're being confronted by an influx of Western Christians (which we are, so perhaps we'll get better at answering the question as time goes on).

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wrath and Justification

In a previous post a conversation developed about how the Orthodox Church understands God's wrath. Below I am going to include some of my comments about God's wrath as understood in Orthodox theology, and then I'm going to ask you to consider Justification.
As far as I can articulate, God's wrath is very real, just as is His mercy. God does not change. Man changes, usually through the use of his free will. When man orients himself against God (in sin), he experiences God in wrath. When man orients himself properly regarding God (in faithful love) he experiences God in mercy and blessedness. God is constant, man is not and thus has different experiences of God.

To put it in the context of communion with God, when man is out of communion with God he experiences God as wrathful. When man is in communion with God he experiences God as blessedness and mercy. God, for His part, does not change Himself but rather does all to change man's situation. Hence He sends His Son to reunite humanity in communion with Himself through the Incarnation and to free men from their sins and from bondage to mortality and the Devil through the cross and resurrection. God is constant, man is not.

Having said this about God's wrath, now consider Justification (our context is Orthodoxy compared to Lutheranism).

In Lutheran theology justification is that God declares the sinner to be righteous. This means that man is truly sinful, but God changes His mind about the sinner and regards him as righteous instead. The result of this justification is that man is then able to enter into communion with God and be sanctified and becomes a temple of God and so forth. While justification and sanctification happen in the same moment in time in Lutheran theology, sanctification, communion with God, and the attending blessings are understood to be a direct result of God choosing to see man as righteous (for Christ's sake). In this paradigm God changes in order to save man from wrath.

In Orthodox theology God does not change in order save man from His wrath, but He changes man. What about man does He change? He changes man's orientation to God at the ontological and existential level, that is, He returns man to blessed communion with Him. This in itself is man's justification. If it is man's bondage to mortality, corruption, and passions that orients man to experience God in wrath (for in such bondage man is in broken communion with God), and on top of that it is also man's actual sins that further plummets man into the depths of experiencing God in wrath, then God's solution is to
  1. first restore communion between Him and humanity through the Incarnation of His Son by the Holy Spirit and Virgin Mary, and then
  2. second burst apart man's bondage through crucifixion and resurrection, and then
  3. third to make this salvation available to all who will believe through union with Christ in the Holy Spirit through Baptism, Chrismation, and the Eucharist.
In this way God changes man's situation. Each person's justification happens through communion with Christ, who Himself is our Justification. In this way man's sins are really destroyed by Christ's cross, and man really is made righteous through abiding in communion with God through Christ in the Holy Spirit. In this way Justification is more than just a declaration of favor, but is communion with the One who favors us. This is why Justification in Orthodoxy is much like Sanctification. Both mean a change in man through God's operation (in Orthodoxy, God's Energies). In Lutheranism Justification is different from Sanctification, in that the former is only a status change (declared righteous) and the latter is an actual spiritual change in man (made holy).

For this reason, in Holy Orthodoxy, man is saved from wrath. God does not change, so if we are not in communion with Him but instead in bondage and serve to sin, death, and the Devil then the wrath of God abides on us - for under those conditions that is the only way we can experience God's unchanging-ness. If we are in communion with Him, then our sins are cleansed and God dwells in us in Grace, mercy, and peace. One of the nice things about God not changing is that He loves us - which applies even when we were enemies in sin and had His wrath abiding on us. He pulled out all the stops to change our situation, our orientation to Him, but without forcing anyone to return to that communion that was lost in Paradise by Adam and Eve's first sin. In Christ we can return and abide with God and He with us (and in us and through us!), or we can reject this Grace for the love of sin and remain in wrath. God is with each person, but if we are not with Him through Christ then we experience God as wrath, for we lack blessed communion and experience only broken communion. Praise be to God that He is constant in faithful-love toward us, even when we were children of wrath!

There are some further applications that can be drawn from this paradigm, but I will stop with this for now.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Vicarious - yes; Satisfaction - huh?

I was looking through some old files and came across the following excerpt a friend sent me, which he believed to be proof of a Patristic belief in "Vicarious Satisfaction":
St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, XIII

“If Phinees, when he waxed zealous and slew the evil-doer, staved the wrath of God, shall not Jesus, who slew not another, but gave up Himself for a ransom, put away the wrath which is against mankind?…Further; if the lamb under Moses drove the destroyer far away, did not much rather the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world, deliver us from our sins? The blood of a silly sheep gave salvation; and shall not the Blood of the Only-begotten much rather save?…Jesus then really suffered for all men; for the Cross was no illusion, otherwise our redemption is an illusion also…These things the Saviour endured, and made peace through the Blood of His Cross, for things in heaven, and things in earth. For we were enemies of God through sin, and God had appointed the sinner to die. There must needs therefore have happened one of two things; either that God, in His truth, should destroy all men, or that in His loving-kindness He should cancel the sentence. But behold the wisdom of God; He preserved both the truth of His sentence, and the exercise of His loving-kindness. Christ took our sins in His body on the tree, that we by His death might die to sin, and live unto righteousness.”

“Note carefully in the above the words, “I gave to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for the blood shall make atonement for the soul.” He [Moses] says clearly that the blood of the victims slain is a propitiation in the place of human life. And the law about sacrifices suggests that it should be so regarded, if it is carefully considered. For it requires him who is sacrificing always to lay his hands on the head of the victim, and to bear the animal to the priest held by its head, as one offering a sacrifice on behalf of himself. Thus he says in each case: “He shall bring it before the Lord. And he shall lay his hands on the head of the gift.” Such is the ritual in every case, no sacrifice is ever brought up otherwise. And so the argument holds that the victims are brought in place of the lives of them who bring them…While then the better, the great and worthy and divine sacrifice was not yet available for men, it was necessary for them by the offering of animals to pay a ransom for their own life, and this was fitly a life that represented their own nature. Thus did the holy men of old, anticipating by the Holy Spirit that a holy victim, dear to God and great, would one day come for men, as the offering for the sins of the world, believing that as prophets they must perform in symbol his sacrifice, and shew forth in type what was yet to be. But when that which was perfect was come, in accordance with the predictions of the prophets, the former sacrifices ceased at once because of the better and true Sacrifice.

“This Sacrifice was the Christ of God, from far distant times foretold as coming to men, to be sacrificed like a sheep for the whole human race. As Isaiah the prophet says of him: “As a sheep he was led to slaughter, and as a lamb dumb before her shearers.” And he adds: “He bears our sins and is pained for us; yet we accounted him to be in trouble, and in suffering and in affliction. But he was wounded on account of our sins, and he was made sick on account of our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripe we are healed. …And the Lord hath given him up for our iniquities …for he did no sin himself, nor was guile found in his mouth.'’ Jeremiah, another Hebrew prophet, speaks similarly in the person of Christ: “I was led as a lamb to the slaughter.” John Baptist sets the seal on their predictions at the appearance of our Saviour. For beholding Him, and pointing Him out to those present as the one foretold by the prophets, he cried: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.'’

“Since then according to the witness of the prophets the great and precious ransom has been found for Jews and Greeks alike, the propitiation for the whole world, the life given for the life of all men, the pure offering for every stain and sin, the Lamb of God, the holy sheep dear to God, the Lamb that was foretold, by Whose inspired and mystic teaching all we Gentiles have procured the forgiveness of our former sins, and such Jews as hope in Him are freed from the curse of Moses, daily celebrating His memorial, the remembrance of His Body and Blood, and are admitted to a greater sacrifice than that of the ancient law, we do not reckon it right to fall back upon the first beggarly elements, which are symbols and likenesses but do not contain the truth itself. And any Jews, of course, who have taken refuge in Christ, even if they attend no longer to the ordinances of Moses, but live according to the new covenant, are free from the curse ordained by Moses, for the Lamb of God has surely not only taken on Himself the sin of the world, but also the curse involved in the breach of the commandments of Moses as well. The Lamb of God is made thus both sin and curse—sin for the sinners in the world, and curse for those remaining in all the things written in Moses’ law. And so the Apostle says: “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us”; and “Him that knew no sin, for our sakes he made sin.”For what is there that the Offering for the whole world could not effect, the Life given for the life of sinners, Who was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a lamb to the sacrifice, and all this for us and on our behalf? And this was why those ancient men of God, as they had not yet the reality, held fast to their symbols.

Do you think this teaches a vicarious "satisfaction" as understood by Western Christians? I don't. I see here standard Orthodox teaching.

shall not Jesus, who slew not another, but gave up Himself for a ransom, put away the wrath which is against mankind?

Does Christ, by virtue of His holy self-sacrifice, stave off the wrath of God? Yes. How? By removing the reason for God's wrath - i.e. our sins and the code that condemns sin. When would that wrath have poured out on men? On the Last Day. "Wrath" poured out beforehand is either 1) chastisement that leads to repentance, or 2) in the case of someone dying apart from repentance it is that person being reserved in Hades for future judgment. These words do not mean that Christ suffered God's wrath for our sins, but rather condemned our sins to death in His own Body and thus removed what actually gave reason for wrath. See the difference: suffering wrath so that there is none left for us, versus suffering death so that the cause of wrath comes to an end.

But behold the wisdom of God; He preserved both the truth of His sentence, and the exercise of His loving-kindness. Christ took our sins in His body on the tree, that we by His death might die to sin, and live unto righteousness.

The sentence from God was that sinners should die. Why? Because sin and death are one, just as righteousness and life are one. Also because our sinning is warfare against God and against His image within us. Does Christ by dying take on God's wrath? Yes. Does He satisfy God's wrath? Wrong question. The death of man is not something that needs to be satisfied on God's end, as if it were an appeal to one of God's divine attributes. God's wrath is not about God but about man, and thus does not need to be satisfied or propitiated (a word often wrongly used to translate hilasterion, when "expiated" is proper).

God's wrath (sentencing sinners to die) is prophetic, in that it reveals the true existential reality of man's own sins and sinfulness, including the end of such a situation. God's wrath, in conjunction with His barring man from the Tree of Life and the eternal life that came from eating it, is preservative for man, allowing him to be reformed and redeemed spiritually in his nature and person (unlike the Devil and the other rebellious angels). And God's wrath is corrective, in that man carrying the weight of that sentence's slow effect upon him while living in a world that proclaims the glory of God is given opportunity to freely return to God (esp. in light of the Word of the Gospel), just as man freely has taken opportunity to sin and die.

So God's wrath is not satisfied, but rather achieves its purpose in Christ - the proclamation of man's true condition, and the fulfillment of his return to God in blessed communion, which itself is the opposite of death, namely righteous-life.

“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.'’

St. John the Baptist does not say that Christ takes away the wrath of the world, but the sins. Wrath will come, but those in Christ have passed over from death to life, and thus from their sins to a life that is ontologically righteous, for it is communion with the blessed Trinity.

For what is there that the Offering for the whole world could not effect, the Life given for the life of sinners,

Vicarious Death and Communion of Life is what sinners need, not vicarious satisfaction. For sinners need to be sinners no more, that is, they need their sins destroyed and new life imparted. This removes wrath. This is the pass-over from death to life, from sin to righteousness, from the wrath that will come from the Face of God to the blessedness that will come from the appearance of God.

Now it may seem like splitting hairs, Christ dying to satisfy God's decree that man die vs. Christ dying to save man from the need for wrath in the first place. But it is not splitting hairs, for the first depicts God as One who needs our death in order to be placated and pacified toward man. The second knows God not to delight in the death of the sinner, but does all in His power to give man every opportunity for return, even making the way of his return and effecting the necessary escape route and supplying the requisite power and Grace to accomplish all through faith without prior earnings or deservings.

So we see that Christ stands in our place, offering His Life in place of ours, so that we might be spared from the eternal condemnation of death (which itself is the power of estrangement and enslavement, with our sins as its shackles, and the Devil the usurping Prince and harsh Taskmaster), and through His death gains the blessed purgation of our sins and in His immaculate Body and precious Blood the bridge of His Hypostatic Union to Life in God.

Just some thoughts, fwiw.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Sign of the Times: Airbending Spiritual Peril

This afternoon our family went to see The Last Airbender. Critical reviews raged against the movie for its acting, story sequencing, avoidance of Asian actors (the story's cultural background is Asian), and the general disappointment it caused among fans of the cartoon. What all these "critical" reviews failed to take into account is that The Last Airbender is aimed at kids ages 10 and under. In this context the movie was a huge success. As soon as the film ended a little kid sitting behind us said, "That was so cool!" Both of our kids loved the film. We were able to enjoy the film, too, because we knew this was aimed at a younger audience (and the acting was commensurate with that aim). It didn't try to appeal to all age groups, but instead focused on what was developmentally appropriate for kids (not tweens, teens, or Airbender-cartoon purists). We enjoyed the film and had a lot of fun. If they make the two sequels that are planned we will probably see those, too.

Now, having said all that, there is something that Christian parents should be aware of when exposing their children to The Last Airbender: Eastern spirituality. The movie drove home a worldview where a spiritual realm was in constant contact with the physical realm. Okay so far. But this spiritual realm is said to be populated by numerous "spirits" that watch over mankind, help out, and direct nature. These spirits are depicted as friends of mankind who share their spiritual powers. In the movie they are depicted as a large dragon, as two fish representing Yin and Yang (and these govern the moon and water). The power of these spirits is depicted as natural and not to be feared. Rather, in this spirituality, we are encouraged to trust and be open to these spirits and their particular wisdom. Herein lies the danger.

What Eastern spirituality has observed is the true existence of the spiritual aspect of the Earth. What is more, they have observed the actual existence of numerous spirits. Up to this point this is consistent with Orthodox conceptions of creation. Yet the many spirits that inhabit the "spiritual plane" of the Earth are in fact not friends of mankind but demons, i.e. fallen angels. It is a well established fact that the angels that rebelled and were defeated were cast out of heaven and now abide on earth. These are the demons that have lured men into worshiping them as gods. These are the demons that possess men and women, who tempt and attack all mankind, especially those struggling on the path of virtue and Grace.

It is interesting that one spirit in the film is depicted as a fierce dragon, a serpent with a terrifying face, given the biblical references to the Devil as that ancient serpent, that dragon, who leads the whole world astray. Also of interest is when one character in the film disguises himself in a demon mask, and is feared to be a "blue spirit." These sorts of demon visages are accepted as a normal part of Eastern spiritual culture. Compare a typical demon mask with the visage of the Hindu idols, and with the accounts of demons given by holy Christian men and women in spiritual combat, and you will find a striking similarity. For a long, long time demons have been openly at work in Eastern societies, pretending to be mankind's friends and lords, but in fact have only managed to lead men and women further into spiritual bondage and slavery that leads to complete and everlasting condemnation.

One critical of the traditional Christian belief about the so-called friendly spirits of Eastern spirituality might forcefully point out that such spirituality preaches a philosophy of peace and harmony. This is but a ruse, to lead modern man into relaxing his guard. Once relaxed, and in ignorance of the mercy, love, and power of God for our salvation, modern man then finds enough "truth" in the philosophy of the East to seek more. Then the demons lead modern man into the appearance of a personal relationship with the benevolent forces of the spiritual realm. Then modern man finds himself imprisoned, taken over, and harmed beyond physical comprehension.

In the context of a movie for children parents ought to be aware of the subtle message of Eastern spirituality: the world is full of spiritual mystery and friendly spirit-beings that can help you find inner peace, help your life's struggles, and give you true power. In reply to this message I recommend a book that sheds much light on the terrible danger of that message: "The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios." This book, dealing with Eastern Indian spirituality rather than Chinese spirituality (Shyamalan is Indian, btw), is the chronicle of a man who chose to give Eastern spirituality and Orthodox Christian spirituality equal opportunity, and nearly lost his soul. Another book that should be read in conjunction with the first (and in consultation with a dependable Orthodox friend or priest) is Fr. Seraphim Rose's "The Soul After Death," which gives careful and detailed explanation about the spiritual dimension of creation.

Do I think The Last Airbender ought to be avoided? No. It was a fun movie. I simply think that parents should be aware of the danger that is creeping more and more into our culture, especially when it appears in forms that are appealing to children. We live in a world that is marching forcefully away from Christ and toward whatever else it can put in His place. Atheism is one threat, Oprah Winfrey's celebration of all faiths is another, but making friends with mysterious Eastern spirits and spiritualities is a yet another threat just as real and maybe far more destructive.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Guess Who

We were on the streets of Defiance earlier this evening and came across this picture in the window of a Latino grocery. I recognized who this was immediately. Do you know who it is?

Regarding Slavery and the Master's Love

The following is the moral from St. John Chrysostom's second homily on St. Paul's epistle to Philemon. This continues the subject matter of the previous post, regarding slaves in Roman society and the biblical- and patristic-era manner of dealing with the practice that no one really ever questioned then.
Moral. These things are not written without an object, but that we masters may not despair of our servants, nor press too hard on them, but may learn to pardon the offenses of such servants, that we may not be always severe, that we may not from their servitude be ashamed to make them partakers with us in all things when they are good. For if Paul was not ashamed to call one "his son, his own bowels, his brother, his beloved," surely we ought not to be ashamed. And why do I say Paul? The Master of Paul is not ashamed to call our servants His own brethren; and are we ashamed? See how He honors us; He calls our servants His own brethren, friends, and fellow-heirs. See to what He has descended! What therefore having done, shall we have accomplished our whole duty? We shall never in any wise do it; but to whatever degree of humility we have come, the greater part of it is still left behind. For consider, whatever you doest, you do to a fellow-servant, but your Master has done it to your servants. Hear and shudder! Never be elated at your humility!

Perhaps you laugh at the expression, as if humility could puff up. But be not surprised at it, it puffs up, when it is not genuine. How, and in what manner? When it is practiced to gain the favor of men, and not of God, that we may be praised, and be high-minded. For this also is diabolical. For as many are vainglorious on account of their not being vainglorious, so are they elated on account of their humbling themselves, by reason of their being high-minded. For instance, a brother has come, or even a servant you have received him, you have washed his feet; immediately you think highly of yourself. I have done, you say, what no other has done. I have achieved humility. How then may any one continue in humility? If he remembers the command of Christ, which says, "When you shall have done all things, say, We are unprofitable servants." Luke 17:10 And again the Teacher of the world, saying, "I count not myself to have apprehended." Philippians 3:13 He who has persuaded himself that he has done no great thing, however many things he may have done, he alone can be humble-minded, he who thinks that he has not reached perfection.

Many are elated on account of their humility; but let not us be so affected. Have you done any act of humility? Be not proud of it, otherwise all the merit of it is lost. Such was the Pharisee, he was puffed up because he gave his tythes to the poor, and he lost all the merit of it. Luke 18:12 But not so the publican. Hear Paul again saying, "I know nothing by myself, yet am I not hereby justified." 1 Corinthians 4:4 Do you see that he does not exalt himself, but by every means abases and humbles himself, and that too when he had arrived at the very summit. And the Three Children were in the fire, and in the midst of the furnace, and what said they? "We have sinned and committed iniquity with our fathers." Song of Songs 5:6, in the Septuagint; Daniel 3:29-30; 5:16 This it is to have a contrite heart; on this account they could say, "Nevertheless in a contrite heart and a humble spirit let us be accepted." Thus even after they had fallen into the furnace they were exceedingly humbled, even more so than they were before. For when they saw the miracle that was wrought, thinking themselves unworthy of that deliverance, they were brought lower in humility. For when we are persuaded that we have received great benefits beyond our desert, then we are particularly grieved. And yet what benefit had they received beyond their desert? They had given themselves up to the furnace; they had been taken captive for the sins of others; for they were still young; and they murmured not, nor were indignant, nor did they say, What good is it to us that we serve God, or what advantage have we in worshiping Him? This man is impious, and has become our lord. We are punished with the idolatrous by an idolatrous king. We have been led into captivity. We are deprived of our country, our freedom, all our paternal goods, we have become prisoners and slaves, we are enslaved to a barbarous king. None of these things did they say. But what? "We have sinned and committed iniquity." And not for themselves but for others they offer prayers. Because, say they, "You have delivered us to a hateful and a wicked king." Again, Daniel, being a second time cast into the pit, said, "For God has remembered me." Wherefore should He not remember you, O Daniel, when you glorified Him before the king, saying, "Not for any wisdom that I have"? Daniel 2:30 But when you were cast into the den of lions, because thou did not obey that most wicked decree, wherefore should He not remember you? For this very reason surely should He. Were you not cast into it on His account? "Yea truly," he says, "but I am a debtor for many things." And if he said such things after having displayed so great virtue, what should we say after this? But hear what David says, "If He thus say, I have no delight in you, behold here am I, let Him do to me as seems good unto Him." 2 Samuel 15:26 And yet he had an infinite number of good things to speak of. And Eli also says, "It is the Lord: let Him do what seems Him good." 1 Samuel 3:18

This is the part of well-disposed servants, not only in His mercies, but in His corrections, and in punishments wholly to submit to Him. For how is it not absurd, if we bear with masters beating their servants, knowing that they will spare them, because they are their own; and yet suppose that God in punishing will not spare? This also Paul has intimated, saying, "Whether we live or die, we are the Lord's." Romans 14:8 A man, we say, wishes not his property to be diminished, he knows how he punishes, he is punishing his own servants. But surely no one of us spares more than He Who brought us into being out of nothing, Who makes the sun to rise, Who causes rain; Who breathed our life into us, Who gave His own Son for us.

But as I said before, and on which account I have said all that I have said, let us be humble-minded as we ought, let us be moderate as we ought. Let it not be to us an occasion of being puffed up. Are you humble, and humbler than all men? Be not high-minded on that account, neither reproach others, lest you lose your boast. For this very cause you are humble, that you may be delivered from the madness of pride; if therefore through your humility you fall into that madness, it were better for you not to be humble. For hear Paul saying, "Sin works death in me by that which is good, that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful." Romans 7:13 When it enters into your thought to admire yourself because you are humble, consider your Master, to what He descended, and you will no longer admire yourself, nor praise yourself, but wilt deride yourself as having done nothing. Consider yourself altogether to be a debtor. Whatever you have done, remember that parable, "Which of you having a servant...will say unto him, when he has come in, Sit down to meat?...I say unto you, Nay...but stay and serve me." From Luke 17:7-8 Do we return thanks to our servants, for waiting upon us? By no means. Yet God is thankful to us, who serve not Him, but do that which is expedient for ourselves.

But let not us be so affected, as if He owed us thanks, that He may owe us the more, but as if we were discharging a debt. For the matter truly is a debt, and all that we do is of debt. For if when we purchase slaves with our money, we wish them to live altogether for us, and whatever they have to have it for ourselves, how much more must it be so with Him, who brought us out of nothing into being, who after this bought us with His precious Blood, who paid down such a price for us as no one would endure to pay for his own son, who shed His own Blood for us? If therefore we had ten thousand souls, and should lay them all down for Him, should we make Him an equal return? By no means. And why? Because He did this, owing us nothing, but the whole was a matter of grace. But we henceforth are debtors: and being God Himself, He became a servant, and not being subject to death, subjected Himself to death in the flesh. We, if we do not lay down our lives for Him, by the law of nature must certainly lay them down, and a little later shall be separated from it, however unwillingly. So also in the case of riches, if we do not bestow them for His sake, we shall render them up from necessity at our end. So it is also with humility. Although we are not humble for His sake, we shall be made humble by tribulations, by calamities, by over-ruling powers. Do you see therefore how great is the grace! He has not said, "What great things do the Martyrs do? Although they die not for Me, they certainly will die." But He owns Himself much indebted to them, because they voluntarily resign that which in the course of nature they were about to resign shortly against their will. He has not said, "What great thing do they, who give away their riches? Even against their will they will have to surrender them." But He owns Himself much indebted to them too, and is not ashamed to confess before all that He, the Master, is nourished by His slaves.

For this also is the glory of a Master, to have grateful slaves. And this is the glory of a Master, that He should thus love His slaves. And this is the glory of a Master, to claim for His own what is theirs. And this is the glory of a Master, not to be ashamed to confess them before all. Let us therefore be stricken with awe at this so great love of Christ. Let us be inflamed with this love-potion. Though a man be low and mean, yet if we hear that he loves us, we are above all things warmed with love towards him, and honor him exceedingly. And do we then love? And when our Master loves us so much, we are not excited? Let us not, I beseech you, let us not be so indifferent with regard to the salvation of our souls, but let us love Him according to our power, and let us spend all upon His love, our life, our riches, our glory, everything, with delight, with joy, with alacrity, not as rendering anything to Him, but to ourselves. For such is the law of those who love. They think that they are receiving favors, when they are suffering wrong for the sake of their beloved. Therefore let us be so affected towards our Lord, that we also may partake of the good things to come in Christ Jesus our Lord.