Saturday, December 27, 2008


Protopresbyter George Metallinos.

Paradise and Hell According to Orthodox Tradition

On the Last Sunday of Lent "we commemorate the Second and Incorruptible Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ". The expression in the Synaxarion, "we commemorate" confirms that our Church, as the Body of Christ, re-enacts in its worship the Second Coming of Christ as an "event" and not just something that is historically expected. The reason is that, through the Holy Eucharist, we are transported to the celestial kingdom, to meta-history. It is in this orthodox perspective, that the subject of paradise and hell is approached.
In the Gospels (Matthew, ch.5), mention is made of "kingdom" and "eternal fire". In this excerpt, which is cited during the Liturgy of this Sunday, the "kingdom" is the divine destination of mankind. The "fire" is "prepared" for the devil and his angels (demons), not because God desires it, but because they are without repentance [i.e., unwilling to turn, to re-think, and participate in redemption]. The "kingdom" is "prepared" for those who remain faithful to the will of God. The uncreated glory is Paradise (the "Kingdom"). "Eternal fire" is hell (v.46). At the beginning of history, God invites man into paradise, into a communion with His uncreated Grace. At the end of history, man has to face both paradise and hell. We shall see further down what this means. We do however stress that it is one of the central subjects of our faith — it is Orthodox Christianity's "philosopher's stone."


Mention of paradise and hell in the New Testament is frequent. In Luke 23, 43, Christ says to the robber on the cross: "Today you will be with me in paradise". However, the robber also refers to paradise, when he says: "Remember me, Lord…in your kingdom". According to Theofylaktos of Bulgaria (PG 123, 1106), "for the robber was in paradise, in other words, the kingdom". The Apostle Paul (2Cor.12:3-4) confesses that, while still in this lifetime, he was "swept up to paradise and heard unspoken words, which are impossible for man to repeat." In Revelations, we read: "To the victor, I shall give him to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of my God" (2:7). And Arethas of Caesaria interprets: "paradise is understood to be the blessed and eternal life" (PG 106, 529). Paradise, eternal life, kingdom of God, are all related.
References on hell: Matthew 25:46 ("to everlasting torment"), 25:41 ("everlasting fire"), 25:30 ("the outermost darkness"), 5:22 ("the place of fire"). 1John4:18 ("…for fear contains toment"). These are ways that express what we mean by "hell".


Paradise and hell are not two different places. Such an idea is an idolatrous concept. Rather they signify two different conditions [ways or states of being], which originate from the same uncreated source, and are perceived by man as two, differing experiences. More precisely, they are the same experience, except that they are perceived differently by man, depending on his internal state.
This experience is the sight of Christ in the uncreated light of His divinity, of His "glory". From the moment of His Second Coming, through to all eternity, all people will be seeing Christ in His uncreated light. That is when "those who worked good deeds in their lifetime will go towards the resurrection of life, while those who worked evil in their lifetime will go towards the resurrection of judgment" (Jn.5:29). In the presence of Christ, mankind will be separated (like "sheep" and "kidgoats", to His right and His left). In other words, they will be discerning in two separate groups: those who will be behold Christ as paradise (the "exceeding good, the radiant") and those who will be looking upon Christ as hell ("the all-consuming fire" of Hebrews 12:29).
Paradise and hell are the same reality. This is what is depicted in the portrayal of the Second Coming. From Christ, a river of fire flows forth. It is radiant like a golden light at the upper end of it, where the saints are. At its lower end, the same river is fiery, and it is in that part of the river that the demons and the unrepentant ("the never repentant" according to a hymn) are depicted. This is why in Luke 2:34 we read that Christ stands "as the fall and the resurrection of many". Christ becomes the resurrection into eternal life for those who accepted Him and who followed the means given for the healing the heart. To those who rejected Him, however, He becomes their separation and their hell.
Among the patristic testimonies, Saint John of Sinai (of the Ladder) says that the uncreated light of Christ is "an all-consuming fire and an illuminating light". Saint Gregory Palamas (E.P.E. II, 498) observes: "Thus, it is said, He will baptize you by the Holy Spirit and by fire: in other words, by illumination and judgment, depending on each person's predisposition, which will in itself bring upon him that which he deserves." Elsewhere, (Essays, P. Christou Publications, vol.2, page 145): The light of Christ, "albeit one and accessible to all, is not partaken of uniformly, but differently".
Consequently, paradise and hell are not a reward or a punishment (condemnation), but the way that we individually experience the sight of Christ, depending on the condition of our heart. God doesn't punish in essence, although, for educative purposes, the Scripture does mention punishment. The more spiritual that one becomes, the better he can comprehend the language of the Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Man's condition (clean-unclean, repentant-unrepentant) is the factor that determines the acceptance of the Light as "paradise" or "hell".


The anthropological issue in Orthodoxy is [to provide] that man will eternally look upon Christ as paradise and not as hell; that man will partake of His heavenly and eternal "kingdom". This is where we see the difference between Christianity as Orthodoxy and the various other religions. The other religions promise a certain "blissful" state, even after death. Orthodoxy however is not a quest for bliss, but a cure from the illness of religion, as the late father John Romanides so patristically teaches. Orthodoxy is an open hospital within history (a "spiritual infirmary" according to Saint John the Chrysostom), which offers the healing (catharsis) of the heart, in order to finally attain theosis — the only desired destination of man. This is the course that has been so comprehensively described by father John Romanides and the Rev. Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, Hierotheos (Vlachos); it is the healing of mankind, as experienced by all of our Saints.
This is the meaning of life in the body of Christ (the Church). This is the Church's reason for existence. This is what Christ's whole redemptory work aspired to. Saint Gregory Palamas (4th Homily on the Second Coming) says that the pre-eternal will of God for man is "to find a place in the majesty of the divine kingdom" — to reach theosis. That is the purpose of creation. And he continues: "But even His divine and secret kenosis, His Theanthropic conduct, His redemptory passions, and every single mystery (in other words, all of Christ's work on earth) were all providentially and omnisciently pre-determined for this very end [purpose].


The important reality, however, is that not all people respond to this invitation of Christ, and that is why not everyone partakes in the same way of His uncreated glory. This is taught by Christ, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke, ch.16). Man refuses Christ's offer, he becomes God's enemy and rejects the redemption offered by Christ (which is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, because it is within the Holy Spirit that we accept the calling of Christ). This is the "never repentant" person referred to in the hymn. God "never bears enmity", the blessed Chrysostom observes; it is we who become His enemies; we are the ones who reject Him. The unrepentant man becomes demonized, because he has chosen to. God does not desire this. Saint Gregory Palamas says: "…for this was not My pre-existing will; I did not create you for this purpose; I did not prepare the pyre for you. This undying pyre was pre-fired for the demons who bear the unchanging trait of evil, to whom your own unrepentant opinion attracted you." "The co-habitation with mischievous angels is voluntary" (4th Homily on the Second Coming.) In other words, it is something that is freely chosen by man.
Both the rich man and Lazarus were looking upon the same reality, i.e., God in His uncreated light. The rich man reached the Truth, the sight of Christ, but could not partake of it, as Lazarus did. The poor Lazarus received "consolation", whereas the rich man received "anguish". Christ's words for those still in this world, that they "have Moses and the prophets," signifies that we are all without excuse. For, we have the Saints, who have experienced theosis and who call upon us to accede to their way of life so that we too might reach theosis as they have done. We therefore conclude that those who have chosen evil ways (like the rich man) are without an excuse.
Our orientation toward our fellow man is indicative of our inner state, and that is why this will be the criterion of Judgment Day during Christ's Second Coming (Matthew, ch.25). This does not imply that faith, or man's faithfulness to Christ is disregarded; faith is naturally a prerequisite, because our stance toward each other will show whether or not we have God within us. The first Sundays of the Triodion preceding Lent revolve around relationships with our fellow man. On the first of these Sundays, the outwardly pious Pharisee justifies himself and denigrates the Tax-collector. On the second Sunday, the older brother (a repetition of the seemingly pious Pharisee) is sorrowed by the salvation of his brother. Likewise seemingly pious, he too had false piety, which did not produce love. On the third Sunday, this conditions reaches Christ's seat of judgment, and is evidenced as the criterion for our eternal life.


The experience of paradise or hell is beyond words or the senses. It is an uncreated reality, and not a created one. The Latins invented the myth that paradise and hell are both created realities. It is a myth that the damned will not be able to look upon God; just as the "absence of God" is equally a myth. The Latins had also perceived the fires of hell as something created. Orthodox Tradition has remained faithful to the Scriptural claim that the damned shall see God (like the rich man of the parable), but will perceive Him only as "an all-consuming fire". The Latin scholastics accepted hell as punishment and the deprivation of a tangible vision of the divine essence. Biblically and patristically however, "hell" is understood as man's failure to cooperate (synergy) with Divine Grace, in order to reach the illuminating vision of God (which is paradise) and unselfish love (following 1Cor.13:8): "love….. does not demand any reciprocation"). Consequently, there is no such thing as "God's absence," only His presence. That is why His Second Coming is dire ("O, what an hour it will be then", we chant in the Praises of Matins). It is an irrefutable reality, toward which Orthodoxy is permanently oriented ("I anticipate the resurrection of the dead…")
The damned — those who are hardened at heart, like the Pharisees (Mark 3:5: "in the callousness of their hearts") — eternally perceive the pyre of hell as their salvation! It is because their condition is not susceptible to any other form of salvation. They too are "finalized" – they reach the end of their road — but only the righteous [sincerely pious] reach the end as redeemed persons. The others finish in a state of condemnatoin. "Salvation" to them is hell, since in their lifetime, they pursued only pleasure. The rich man of the parable had "enjoyed all of his riches". The poor Lazarus uncomplainingly endured "every suffering". Apostle Paul expresses this (1Cor.3:13-15): "Each person's work, whatever it is, will be tested by fire. If their work survives the test, then whatever they built, will be rewarded accordingly. If one's work is burnt by the fire, then he will suffer losses; he shall be saved, thus, as though by fire." The righteous and the unrepentant shall both pass through the uncreated "fire" of divine presence, however, the one shall pass through unscathed, while the other shall be burnt. He too is "saved", but only in the way that one passes through a fire. Efthimios Zigavinos (12th century) observes in this respect: "God as fire that illuminates and brightens the pure, and burns and obscures the unclean." And Theodoritos Kyrou regarding this "saving" writes: "One is also saved by fire, being tested by it, just as when one passes through fire. If he has an appropriate protective cover, he will not be burnt, otherwise, he may be `saved', but he will be charred!"
Consequently, the fire of hell has nothing in common with the Latin "purgatory", nor is it created, nor is it punishment, or an intermediate stage. A viewpoint such as this is virtually a transferal of one's accountability to God. But the accountability is entirely our own, whether we choose to accept or reject the salvation, the healing, that is offered by God. "Spiritual death" is the viewing of the uncreated light, of divine glory, as a pyre, as fire. Saint John Chrysostom in his 9th homily on First Corinthians, notes: "Hell is never-ending…...sinners shall be brought into a never-ending suffering. As for the `being burnt altogether,' it means this: that he does not withstand the strength of the fire." And he continues : "And he (Paul) says, it means this: that he shall not be burnt, like his works, into nothingness, but he shall continue to exist, but within that fire. He therefore considers this as his `salvation.' For it is customary for us to say `saved in the fire,' when referring to materials that are not totally burnt away."
Scholastic perceptions and interpretations which, through Dante's work (Inferno) have permeated our world, have consequences that amount to idolatrous concepts. An example is the separation of paradise and hell as two different places. This has happened because they did not distinguish between the created and the uncreated. Equally erroneous is the denial of hell's eternity, with the idea of the "restoration" of all, or the concepts surrounding the idea of Bon Dieu. God is indeed "benevolent" (Mt.8:17), since He offers salvation to everyone: ("He desires that all be saved….." 1Tm2:4). However, the words of our Lord as heard during the funeral service are formidable: "I cannot do anything on my own; as I hear, thus I judge, and my judgment is fair"(Jn.5:30). Equally manufactured is the concept of theodicy, which applies in this case. Everything [all responsibility] is ultimately attributed to God alone, without taking into consideration man's cooperation (synergy) as a factor of redemption. Salvation is possible only within the framework of cooperation between man and divine grace. According to the blessed Chrysostom, "the utmost, almost everything, is God's; He did however leave something little to us." That "little something" is our acceptance of God's invitation. The robber on the cross was saved, "by using the key request of `remember me'…"! Also idolatrous is the perception of a God becoming outraged against a sinner, whereas we mentioned earlier that God "never shows enmity". This is a juridical perception of God, which also leads to the prospect of "penances" in confessions as forms of punishment, and not [epitimia] as medications, as means of healing.


The mystery of paradise-hell is also experienced in the life of the Church in the world. During the holy mysteries/sacraments, there is a participation of the faithful in divine grace, so that grace may be activated in our lives, by our course towards Christ. Especially during the Holy Eucharist, the uncreated (Holy Communion) becomes either paradise or hell within us, depending on our condition. Primarily, our participation in Holy Communion is a participation in either paradise or hell, in our own time and place. That is why we beseech God, prior to receiving Holy Communion, to render the Precious Gifts "not as judgment or condemnation" within us, "for the healing of soul and body," not as "condemnation. " This is why participation in Holy Communion is linked to the overall spiritual course of life of the faithful. When we approach Holy Communion uncleansed and unrepentant, we are condemned (burnt). Holy Communion inside us becomes the "inferno" and "spiritual death" (see 1Cor.11:30, etc.). Not because it is transformed into those things of course, but because our own uncleanliness cannot accept Holy Communion as "paradise." Given that Holy Communion is called "the medicin of immortality" (Saint Ignatius the God-bearer, 2nd century), the same thing exactly occurs as with any medication. If our organism does not have the prerequisites to absorb the medication, then the medication will produce side-effects and can kill instead of heal. It is not the medication that is responsible, but the condition of our organism. It must be stressed, that if we do not accept Christianity as a therapeutic process, and its holy mysteries/sacraments as spiritual medication, then we are led to a "religionisation" of Christianity; in other words, we "idolatrize" it. And unfortunately, this is a frequent occurrence when we perceive Christianity as a "religion."
Besides, this lifetime is evaluated in the light of the twin criterion of paradise-hell. "Seek first for the kingdom of God and His righteousness," Christ teaches us (Mt.6:33). Saint Basil the Great says in To The Youth (ch.3) "Everything we do is in preparation of another life." Our life must be a continuous preparation for our participation in paradise – our communion with the Uncreated (Jn.17:3). Everything begins from this lifetime. That is why Apostle Paul says: "Behold, now is the opportune time. Behold, now is the day of redemption." (2Cor.6:2) Every moment of our lives is of redemptive importance. Either we gain eternity, the eternal community with God, or we lose it. This is why oriental religions and cults that preach reincarnations are injuring mankind: they are virtually transferring the problem to other, (nonexistent of course) lifetimes. The thing is, however, that only one life is available to each of us, whether we are saved or condemned. This is why Basil the Great continues: "We must proclaim that those things therefore that lead us towards that life should be cherished and pursued with all our strength; and those that do not lead us to that destination, we should disregard, as something of no value." Such are the criteria of the Christian life. A Christian continuously chooses whatever favours his salvation. We gain paradise or lose it and end up in hell, already during our lifetime. That is why John the Evangelist says: "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (Jn3:17-18).
Consequently, the work of the Church is not to "send" people to paradise or to hell, but to prepare them for the final judgment. The work of the clergy is therapeutic and not moralistic or character-shaping, in the temporal sense of the word. The purpose of the theraphy offered by the Church is not to create "useful" citizens and essentially "usable" ones, but citizens of the celestial (uncreated) kingdom. Such citizens are the Confessors and the Martyrs and the true faithful, the saints.
However, this is also the way that our mission is directed: What are we inviting people to? To the Church as a [spiritual] hospital/therapy Centre, or just an ideology that is labelled "Christian"? More often than not, we strive to secure a place in "paradise", instead of striving to be healed. That is why we focus on the rites and not on therapy. This of course does not signify a devaluing of worship. But, without ascesis (spiritual exercise, ascetic lifestyle, acts of therapy), worship cannot sanctify us. The grace that pours forth from it remains inert inside us. Orthodoxy doesn't make any promises to send mankind to any sort of paradise or hell; but it does have the power — as evidenced by the incorruptible and miracle-working relics of our saints (incorruptibility=theosis) — to prepare man, so that he may forever look upon the Uncreated Grace and the Kingdom of Christ as Paradise, and not as Hell.


1. [Ed Note:] This exposes one of the critical heresies in both the doctrine of purgatory and the doctrine of the "aerial toll houses." This alone is sufficient cause to struggle against the heresies of the "toll house religion."

2. [Ed. Note:] Where then, would the demons of the toll-house theologians "drag the soul" of those who could not satisfy their demonic desires with excess merits of elders or sufficient excuses?

3. [Ed. Note:] The teaching of "apokatastasis," or the ultimate deliverance of all, no matter how wicked, from hell. This teaching of Origen has been condemned by the Church. It is predicated on the notion of a created, geographical "hell." The heresy locates hell literally "in the depths of the earth," whereas such expressions as "the nethermost parts...." etc are used only metaphorically in some hymnology. Whenever one literalises a metaphor, one automatically creates an idolatry.

4. [Ed. Note:] Theodicy is the attempt by man to "justify" God's actions, or what one might perceive as His "inaction." An example might be the question, "If God desires that all be saved, why does He not just save everyone automatically rather than giving man a choice?"

5. [Ed. Note:] In essence, we pervert Christianity into an ideology and reduce it from a means of spiritual assent into a religion of fallen human concepts.

6. [Ed. Note:] And not in some "aerial toll booths" after death.

7. [Ed. Note:] The "proper performance" of the Liturgy according to the rubrics, without awareness or concern for the meaning and the way in which it serves for our sanctification.

Monday, December 22, 2008

2008 Nativity Epistle

Archbishop Lazar,
Abbot of New Ostrog


“Ye rich and ye poor...enter ye all into the joy of the Lord.”

This year, as we approach the Feast of the Incarnation of God, we might reflect on the beloved Paschal Sermon of Saint John Chrysostom. In it, he invites all, those at every level of society and in every spiritual condition, to “enter into the joy of the Lord.”
Let us recall that the proclamation of Christ’s birth came first to the poor, the disenfranchised and humble of this world. The shepherds in the fields often had no better place to take shelter and sleep than in the manger caves at the edge of the hill upon which Bethlehem stands. It was these lowly outcasts who came first to venerate the Christ, the creator of heaven and earth Who now took upon Himself their lowliness and humanity. Only afterward did the Magi come. They were among the elite and wealthy of this world, and Christ came for them also, yet their journey was longer and more arduous, for they had first to learn humility and patience in order to be able to recognise in the child in this poor manger the King of Glory.
He received the lowliness and humility of the shepherds, and took upon Himself their passions and sins. He accepted the gifts of the Magi, and also accepted upon Himself their struggle and spiritual burdens. Both the one and the other were in a condition of alienation. The Magi were gentiles, men born without the promise, outside of the Covenant. The shepherds were on the fringe, among the poorest and most dispossessed of Judean society.
Throughout His earthly healing ministry, Christ would embrace the alienated, the sick and suffering and the sinful, while in no wise rejecting the rich and the powerful, who might respond to the call to humble themselves and come to a true understanding of the Covenant and the Law. From the blind beggar bar-Timaeus to the noblemen Joseph of Aramathea and Nikodemus, Christ would take upon Himself the sins and passions of all, bear them to the Cross and restore man’s unity with God. Even there on the Cross, He embraced the outcasts of this world, dying the death of the most wretched, in the company of two brutish bandits.
So often in our North American society, we approach the Christmas season in the spirit of a saccharine sentimentalism. Christ is portrayed as a cute, freshly washed infant in a tidy manger with well-groomed animals round about. His mother is a pretty, neatly coiffed young woman, and a handsome, strapping young father – Joseph — stands attentively nearby.
Far too often, we do not find a sense of awe and reverence at this event which shook all creation, interjected into the symmetry of the cosmos, and seized the universe, impelling it onward toward its final destiny of transfiguration and glory. Yet, the very purpose of the Nativity Fast is to prepare us spiritually to open our hearts and become truly present to this great mystery. But there is still more. The fast itself and the message of the Incarnation of God in the midst of the humble and outcast is intended to prepare us to open our hearts to the same. We think of the charity and giving of this season, but forget that the giving of gifts and the distribution of food at the mid-winter solstice and New Year predates Christianity and is common to believers and unbelievers alike.
I would like to call upon Orthodox Christians, during this season, to add a perspective to their charity and to their contemplation of the Feast. Preparing ourselves through fasting and prayer, let us with a spirit of awe and repentance, offer to those in need not only because of Christ’s warning preserved for us in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. Let us offer what we can, remembering that Christ was received first of all by the poor and the dispossessed of this world. Christ’s ministry was carried out primarily among such as these. Neither with condescension nor pity nor condemnation did Christ walk in their midst and break bread in the homes of sinners and outcasts. Rather with His presence he acknowledged their humanity, restored their human dignity and invited the attention of all to the image of God in each person on all levels of society and in every nation. He invited the hearts of those who would be His followers to love their neighbour and to open with love to “the other.”
But to recognise “the other” as our neighbour, as “equal to me” in human dignity and God’s love, to see in the lowest and most downcast, a reflection of our own “self,” I must first clothe my own ego in the robe of humility. Training ourselves in self-discipline and self-control, “decentring” our world view from focus on ourselves, are necessary in order to attain to a loving understanding which makes room for “the other” in our hearts. Of what benefit is it so say that we follow Jesus Christ but pay so little heed to how He lived His earthly, Incarnate life? We are called upon as Orthodox Christians to make the principles of Christ’s life incarnate within each of us.
Brothers and sisters, let us be cautious that we do not allow our periodic charity and goodwill, our seasonal good deeds to become a substitute for a life in Christ. If we have sincere joy in the celebration of His Incarnation — the dawning of our own salvation — let us also find true joy in affirming the dignity and worth of the dispossessed and alienated in our society so that we can be followers of Christ in truth as well as in words. In this, we shall truly fulfil the will of the Father, acknowledge the Gospel of the Son, receive the comfort of the Spirit and inherit everlasting life.
Christ is Born! Glorify Him.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Corporatism, Commonweal and the Just Society

Archbishop Lazar Puhalo
University of the Fraser Valley
21 November 2008.

Corporatism, Commonweal and the Just Society

  • Is not this the manner of fast that I have commanded: to loose the bonds of repression, to lift the heavy burdens and let the oppressed go free, and that you should break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you shall bring the poor that are cast out to your own home? Is it not that when you see the naked, you shall clothe him; and that you do not hide from your own weaknesses? Then shall your light break forth as the dawn, and your spirit will quickly spring forth: and your righteousness shall go before you and the glory of the Lord will be your recompense. (Isaiah 58:6-8)

  • ....Then the King will say to those on his right hand, Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was hungry, and you gave me food: I was thirsty, and you gave me drink: I was a stranger, and you took me in: naked, and you clothed me: I was sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me.
  • ....Then shall the righteous answer, Lord, when did we You hungry, and fed You, or thirsty, and gave You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in or naked, and clothed You? Or when did we see You sick or in prison, and visit You?
  • ....And the King will answer them, I tell you in truth, Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me. (Matthew 25:34-40)

....No society which is governed by ideologies can possibly be a "just society." The original meaning of "justice" (Lat. jusitita; Gk. dikaionsine) is "to balance, to set aright, rightness," etc. It indicates a recompense to those who have been wronged, even if they have been wronged by legal means. Justice did not have a juridical connotation until late middle Latin. It did not and does not mean simply "to punish." Nor does it mean to uphold a given ideology and attempt to force it on the community by means of the state power. In terms of a "just society," we must refer to the concepts of social justice, the commonweal, the common good. By "commonweal," we do not mean corporatism. As an example, in Socrates' Apology, he tells a story that illustrates the tension between corporatism and commonweal. Zeus, Socrates relates, decided to help mankind create a human society. He sent Hermes to distribute the necessary technical and managerial skill to certain people. The result was a society based on self-interest and expertise. Such a society was centrifugal and fragmented. As the philosopher John Ralston-Saul observes, Zeus had created a society based on the corporatist model. The economic and social structures were based on professional self-interest. People were defined and their value established by what they did. In more contemporary terms, this would be the corporatism of consumer capitalism, also based on self-interest and self-centredness: defining people by what and how much they consume.
....Zeus sees the error and decides to remedy it by having Hermes distribute social reverence (aidos) and right-mindedness (diki) to every person. Social reverence signifies a sense of "community," a shared awareness, a shared knowledge of self-constraint and belonging. Right-mindedness relates to a sense of social justice, integrity, freedom, and social order: a shared sense of responsibility. An example of this would be the Canada Health Care Act. Under our health care system, Canadians share the burden for one another, and this is perhaps our highest moral accomplishment as a nation. Those who are ill are not corporatised as "consumers of medical services," but rather are seen as equal human beings with equal access to the basic human right of adequate health care.
....This is what we refer to as "commonweal." It defines people simply as "fellow human beings," as members of a community that we call "humanity."
....Corporatism in a consumer capitalist economic system reorganizes society with the reduction of the individual to his or her status as a consumer. To consume is patriotic; to consume in excess is to raise the level of one's social status. This present economic world order presents us with intense moral and ethical contradictions, arguing that greed, self-gratification, and excess consumption are simply aspects of human nature. This argument, taken from the doctrines of Social Darwinism, is certainly questionable. As author Linda McQuaig observes in her essay, "Lost in the Global Shopping Mall":

  • Perhaps we are in danger of becoming such a culture, but it is important to remember that culture itself is a learned set of rules The concept of the "common good" is one that has fallen out of favour in recent years. Over the past two decades, it has become increasingly common to dismiss the notion that we all share an interest in the broader community, that society is more than simply a collection of individuals all pursuing their own individual material self-interest..... The rapaciousness of certain business leaders has been much in the spotlight recently.... Even conservative pundits appear shaken by the astounding greed and dishonesty at the heart of ... corporate culture. Still, some shrug it off as simple human nature, saying that we are inherently a competitive, acquisitive species, naturally inclined to push our own self-interest as far as we possibly can. But is this the whole picture? Is our society really nothing more than a loose collection of shoppers, graspers and self-absorbed swindlers? "

And as Paolo Virno has suggested:

  • At the base of contemporary cynicism is the fact that men and women learn by experiencing rules rather than `facts'... Learning the rules, however, also means recognizing their unfoundedness and conventionality. We are no longer inserted into a single, predefined `game' in which we participate with true conviction.
  • ....We now face several different `games,' each devoid of all obviousness and seriousness. Only the site of an immediate self-affirmation – an affirmation that is much more brutal and arrogant, much more cynical, the more we employ, with no illusions but with perfect momentary adherence, those very rules whose conventionality and mutability we have perceived.

....At this point we may also refer to the corporatization of morality and, to some extent, of Christianity. And here we have one of the primary reasons why Christianity itself has lost much, even most, of its influence in Western nations. It is no longer seen as having any true moral authority. The concept of commonweal — the common good — is foundational to an authentic sense of morality and to the idea of a just society. A clear and profound doctrine of commonweal is affirmed by Jesus Christ with his two great moral imperatives, ("love your neighbour as yourself" and "do unto others as you would have them do unto you"). Christ makes the love of neighbour (together with unconditional love of God) the very foundation and essence of the Law and the Prophets. The fulfillment of such a moral imperative certainly requires a direct encounter and interaction with culture and society. Unfortunately, this is an encounter that has been either abandoned, corporatized or reduced to outbursts of legalistic, juridical moralism by many Christian bodies. This is often coupled with the utopian fantasy of the mythological "godly nation." This leads to a deconstruction of Christianity by blending it with the unfounded socio-cultural constructs of this utopian fantasy. This in turn undermines the concept of a just society by reinterpreting the concept in the juridical terms of rules of externally correct behaviour. This approach corporatises human beings into categories which often prevent the effective encounter with human catastrophes and social injustices. When people are corporatised as "godly" or "ungodly," or "good" and "bad" in a moralistic way, punishment too often becomes the definition of "justice." In such a circumstance, there is little chance of a healing of social problems. Interaction with society under these concepts often consists primarily in scolding politicians and demanding that the law enforce on all citizens the sort of behaviour considered to be correct according to a given ideology, whether or not it ultimately has an overall positive effect on that society. We must avoid the inner contradictions of moralism and address the whole scope of true morality. Contrary an ideological approach, the Christian community must engage society and culture in a creative and interactive way. This would entail a deep sense of social justice, not juridical justice. The healing of social injustices can prevent as much crime, and sometimes more effectively, than juridical concepts of justice.

Justice, Morality and Moralism?
True morality consists far more in how well we care for one another rather than in what sort of behaviour we demand of others, and so it must certainly be tied to valid concepts of social justice.

....Some years ago, when a large body of us had gathered in Ottawa to protest the civil sanctions against Iraq because about 500 children were dying each day because of these sanctions. I approached a group of Pro-life protesters in Ottawa. I asked them to join our protest because of the death of all these children. The members of the group were essentially very right-wing Christians, and they were quite rude and openly hostile to our protest. They refused, in an openly condemnatory manner, our invitation to express a sincere pro-life position by joining us in protesting the deaths of these thousands of children in Iraq. Yet, how can Christians consider it to be an authentic expression of morality or "pro-lifeism" to oppose the killing of unborn children while ignoring the killing of children who are already born? Is it truly moral to protect the lives of unborn children while ignoring or trivializing the fact that they will have to grow up in a world where, because of our own excess and ideologies, they will not have sufficient food and many of the necessary natural resources will have been squandered and climate change will have made their lives precarious and uncertain?
....It is neither just nor moral to deny global warming for the sake of a religious ideology. It is genuinely evil to deny it in order to protect corporate profits. Is it actually moral to demand that governments enforce the sort of correct personal behaviour that our own ideologies demand while turning consumer capitalism into a religious doctrine that cannot be subjected to critique and criticism? One fatal flaw in the preaching of Christianity that has had negative effects in North America is the failure to distinguish between morality and moralism. From an authentic Christian point of view, true morality has to do not only with salvation but with every aspect of our inter-human relations; it is not simply a system of correct behaviour.
....True morality is not a system of law which, if obeyed, makes one a moral person. Nor does holiness consist in ultra-correct behaviour; rather it consists in perfect unselfish love. It is necessary to have laws relating to ethics and civil conduct for the sake of society, but such laws have little to do with the change of a person's heart and an inner transformation into the image of Christ's love. Morality is not a form of bondage but a path of liberation. True morality cannot be expressed in a society that does not base itself on concepts of social justice and the care for all the members of that society equally, no matter what their circumstances.
....When we speak of "the law of God," we are not speaking of an ordinary, worldly notion of "law." God's law is not given to repress us but to protect us. If we are driving along a dangerous highway and the signs warn us to slow down because there is a dangerous curve in the road, that is a "law." The speed limit is set by law. If we disregard that law and crash over a cliff because we are driving too fast, we do not claim that the government punished us by making us crash. On the contrary, the government tried to save us from serious injury or death by making that law. This is precisely the meaning of the "law of God," of our system of morality. God has revealed to us a manner of life that can keep us from much pain and suffering and from many disasters. He has called upon us to realize that his law is a law of love, and that we should obey it out of love and trust in him, not from fear of punishment. Moreover, such true morality constrains us to imitate God's love in our dealings with the world. This is the essence of true morality, that it consists far more in how well we care for one another rather than in what sort of behaviour we demand of others, and so it must certainly be tied to valid concepts of social justice.
....When we speak of true morality, we are not referring to simple obedience to a system of law but a free accord with a system of spiritual healing. The authentic Christian spiritual life really does provide us with the means for moral healing, but even among our own people, we see so many who never experience such healing. This is because they encounter only moralism: "Obey this law or God will do something bad to you." There can be no such thing as a just society when that society is manipulated by fear and fundamentalist religious aggression. No just society or true morality can be manifested in the face of an arrogant and condescending ideology such as the "rapture" theory. Rapturism (which has no roots in ancient Christianity), corporatises humans into sharp categories of "us" and "them," of "they" who deserves to suffer and "we" who do not. It also innately disregards the human destruction of our biosphere, positing that those unworthy humans who are corporatised as the "left behind" deserve to suffer the ecological consequences, and so nothing should be done about them.
....Moralism does not take into account what is necessary to actually heal a person and deliver them from the bondage of their inner suffering so they can lead a moral life; it thinks only about condemnation and punishment. But let us indicate how these ideas have a direct bearing on our subject. Our modern consumerism inclines a society not only to excess but also to self-centredness and indifference. One can opt to blame such attitudes on Satan, but when one does, let him remember that the power of Satan in our lives can be defeated only by means of unselfish love, by adopting a sincere sense of commonweal—to love your neighbour as yourself—in place of a desensitized self-interest. There is no such thing as Christian morality without an inner struggle toward unselfish love, self-constraint, and a sincere concern for the welfare not only of those around us but also for future generations. Moralism condemns, usually with arrogant self-righteousness, while the spirit of a true concept of morality seeks one's own moral healing and the moral healing of those around us so they might be liberated from bondage to inner human suffering. It must be based in concepts of an effective social justice and the desire to contribute to a truly just society. This is the concept of morality that can keep us alive spiritually in our consumerist and corporatised secular culture without resort to recorporatising it with a religious ideology in place of a living, vital Faith.

The Corporatisation of Morality

....The corporatisation of morality may be a product of radical individualism or simply of an egoistic ideology. Organizing and spending large sums of money to protest and lobby against certain forms of personal behaviour may be useful, but there is an inner contradiction that is inexcusable when the same organizers refuse to condemn corporate immorality or organize and finance lobbying about environmental issues that relate to the very survival of whole populations and the health, welfare, and survival of future generations. The destruction of the environment is every bit as immoral and kills just as many children as does abortion. Any sincere "pro-life" movement that does not wish to be riddled with internal contradictions that undermine its veracity, should certainly be in the forefront of the environmental movement. Any truly just concept of morality will encompass corporate and environmental immorality with the same fervour that it addresses what it considers to be personal immorality. It is urgent for us, as moral human beings, to recognize that future generations will pay a terrible price for the excess and overindulgence of our era. We cannot separate spirituality from moral responsibility and here, consumerism poses yet another challenge. Since consumerism thrives on over-consumption, not only must products not be durable, as we mentioned before, but they should not be reasonably "upgradable" either. Computers, for example, are discarded and replaced regularly. Let us look at the injustice and moral tragedy of this problem.
....In Canada alone, 140,000 tons of computer equipment, cell phones, and other types of electronic equipment. are discarded into waste disposal yards every year. That is the weight of about 28,000 fully-grown adult African elephants. This results in 4,750 tons of lead, 4.5 tons of
cadmium, and 1.1 tonnes of mercury being leached into the water system and food chain every year. These toxic heavy metals are already creating havoc on people's health and causing a loss of drinking water reserves. Future generations will pay a devastating price for all this: for our addiction to "convenience," speed and the status symbols of a callous and indifferent society, the very status symbols that help to corporatise us.
....Whether we care enough to do something about it or to resist this aspect of consumerism is both a social justice and a moral issue. It is also a barometer of our spirituality.
....Yet we need not succumb to what Jürgen Habermas calls "personality systems without any aspiration to subjective truth nor secure processes for communal interpretation." This is why it is so important for us to consider the role that authentic morality can play in this unfolding drama of our present era. We cannot have such a role if we opt out of the political dialogue and refuse to engage culture and interact with the society around us in a creative and healing way which aims primarily for a truly just society.Without this, there can be no authentic system of morality.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Symbolism, Ritual and Revelation

Archbishop Lazar Puhalo.

Symbolism, Ritual and Revelation


When Hebb released his seminal paper on neuroplasticity in 1947-1948, he radically changed the way learning was perceived. Perhaps we should rather say that he set in motion a whole series of developments that produced new and deeper understandings about the whole function of the brain, shed light on the mind and provided a profound insight into revelation and the meaning of ritual and symbolism. Orthodox Christians may find it interesting to note that the fathers and mothers of early monasticism had already perceived the principles of neuro-plasticity without having any of the physiological or scientific information about the brain. What they understood was the profound link between the spiritual, emotional and physical aspects of mankind.
God and His works are not to be understood by fallen human concepts and rationalism. God spoke to Israel offering iconic types and imagery that led the holy nation to a spiritual understanding of the awesome mysteries and did not permit them to identify their expectation with earthly and limited expressions. In the same way, our holy fathers offered an apophatic theology carefully setting signs, types and symbols to establish a boundary for us on the true path, but never delimiting the mystery in a frame of words that would diminish the Will of God and His revelation to the likeness of a legal document. No theology is according to the Orthodox Faith if it is not based on those valid types and symbols which we have received in our Sacred Tradition. In the Holy Seventh Ecumenical Council, the holy fathers clearly dogmatised that valid icons are the equivalent of true theology. Valid icons consist in types and symbols, not in interpretations of reality by the fallen human mind. All elements of a canonical icon are symbolic and contain a profound revelation; there are no naturalistic elements in this Liturgical art.
No theology can be valid and sound unless it is based first of all on the icon that God offers in the first pages of the book of Genesis: God created man according to His likeness, one nature revealed in many persons, as the one divine nature is revealed in three distinct hypostases. He created man to live in the likeness of His own life. That life is revealed to us in types and symbols, for God, and from Him the Holy Church, clearly have understood that mankind's mind and its brain, his knowledge and his language are all symbolic, that language develops on the matrix of vision, and that even what we see enters the brain and is processed in symbolic images. It is interpreted by the mind in the brain symbolically and the concepts attached to this symbolic unfolding constitute the meaning that one gives to all things.
The Orthodox Christian liturgical services and the symbolism that they contain are also expressions of such a deep understanding. While rationalists have not been able to grasp the significance of this, it is an example of the profound depth of the revelation contained in Orthodox worship. This being the case, it is especially disturbing to see so many of our teachers and priests advocating an abandonment of the types and symbols that have been given to us through the holy fathers, and especially by the liturgists, of the Orthodox Church. In particular, there are writers in our era who complain about the symbolism given to actions in the Divine Services and to various elements of the furnishings in the altar. They decry the symbolism attached to the chalice covers, the aer, the rapidé and other items used in the liturgy. Some wish to abolish the iconostas altogether, or at least the Royal Gates. In attempting to abolish the symbolic elements of worship, they would lead us on the path to Anglican/Episcopalian meaninglessness. Let us recall that it was just such "liturgical reform" that left the Anglican Church even more empty of significance and meaning than it had been at the beginning of the 20th century. Let us recall also that the Anglican Church of Canada now permanently closes on average of one parish church a week.
We will give some concrete examples of the heretical notions and falsehoods that develop within the Church when the wisdom and understanding of the great liturgists, including St. Symeon of Thessaloniki, are disregarded, or even unknown to priest, hierarchs and teachers in the Church.

The Human Need For Symbolism and Ritual

Recently, near our monastery, a seventeen years old girl was killed in an auto accident. She had been speeding and lost control of her car. By evening, there were dozens of candles burning beneath the tree into which she had crashed. Mounds of flowers, cards and notes appeared, and someone placed a wooden cross against the tree with her name on it. A month later, candles are still being lit at the site.
Last week, Father Moses and I travelled to a small city in the northeastern part of our province to serve a funeral for a young Orthodox man who had drowned on a fishing trip. Of the approximately 250 people who attended the funeral, many of them classmates from the young man's school, not more than a dozen were Orthodox. The people were either Protestant or of no religion, but most of them especially the youth, brought candles to light. The majority of them took time to come and tell us how meaningful the Orthodox funeral service had been. Not a few of them commented on the penetrating symbolism in the words and ritual of the service. One young man commented, "I became aware that you were not serving for John, but were serving with him. It made me realise that he has a soul that is still alive."At an earlier funeral which we served in another town, the warden of the United Church was present. Afterward he remarked, "I was so struck to realise that you were serving the funeral with the deceased, rather than for her." The symbolic actions in the service had clearly penetrated the man's understanding, even though his denomination has almost totally renounced any form of symbolism in worship.
We have seen this deep human need for symbolism so many times before and in history as well. When symbolism in worship and in life are missing, people create their own and respond to it. When the symbolism they adopt is not divinely inspired and rooted in the Sacred Tradition of Christianity, it often incorporates pagan ideas and folds into the "New Age Movement." Such symbolism and symbolic actions so profoundly convey and establish spiritual, emotional and cultural concepts, knowledge and values that no society or culture is without them. Symbolic actions and symbolism in worship arising from the Sacred Tradition and experience of the Holy Church help maintain the doctrine and inner life of the Christian faith.
The Orthodox Church has always understood this. Without symbolic actions and symbolism in divine services, both teachings and worship become the sterile reserve of dry intellectualism. Indeed, some of our own intelligentsia advocate that we abandon the idea of symbolism and symbolic understandings in the Divine Liturgy, Vespers and Matins, and render them as concrete and sterile theological intellectualisms, accessible only to scholastic, rationalistic minds. In this way, they would become external and lack the power to penetrate the soul the way symbolic understandings do.
Human language is symbolic. It conveys information, concepts, ideas and values in a symbolic manner. Language developed on the matrix of vision. This is clear both physiologically and theoretically. Vision transfers patterns and reflections of light into symbolic images in the brain. Words are symbols whose meanings are established by cultural, religious or legal norms. Defined symbolism can be grasped and understood even by simple, uneducated people for whom concrete intellectualised and philosophically elegant refinements are completely inaccessible. So too are the sophisticated abstractions so often expressed by theologians. The Liturgy, we know, is eschatological, it carries us into the eternal wedding banquet of the Heavenly Bridegroom.
Fine, but what has this to say about the daily struggle of the ordinary Orthodox Christian worshipper? What visible symbolism can the overworked, stressed and harassed daily commuter, concerned about his or her mortgage, the needs and education of their children, coping with taxes, maintaining a home and automobile, and now trying to pay for gasoline, find in the Liturgical cycle, that is easily accessible to them and elevating to their souls in a straightforward way that they can comprehend? Is the Orthodox faith and worship ultimately only truly accessible to the intellectual and his remote, abstract understandings and interpretations?
This is why there are clearly symbolic actions in the divine services, and symbolism in both iconography and the structure of the Orthodox temple and in particular, in the altar. Our philosophical rationalists may claim that such symbolism is not needed and that interpretations of the Liturgy expressing the symbolic aspects of it are "accretions," but this only proves the point that meaning is conveyed symbolically. They may be able to offer a highly refined and elegant philosophical concept of the Liturgy, but their hearts might never be penetrated with its actual meaning which underpins the daily spiritual struggle of the sincerely pious faithful.

Symbolism and Neuroplasticity:
the work of the mind in the brain.

This essay is not being written for every level of reader. It is intended to respond to a stream of rationalism which is drawing a kind of Episcopalization or Anglican style "liturgical reform" movement within the Orthodox Church. There are a many of such rationalists who would lead us on the same path that the Anglican-Episcopalian Churches have gone upon. Reductionism and minimalism in the divine services and the liturgical cycle have had a deeply negative effect everywhere they have been instituted. It is the connection between the Orthodox liturgical cycle and our liturgical art (iconography) and the structuring of the brain that we wish to examine. First, let us explain, as simply as possible, what is meant by neuroplasticity.

The Mind Can Reshape the Brain

This may be a startling statement to some people. For those who think that the mind is only a function of brain chemistry, it will appear antithetical. Nevertheless, the ability of the mind to rewire and restructure the brain is precisely what we are going to discuss. We are particularly interested in examining this process in connection with the liturgical cycle and the symbolic aspects of liturgy and iconography.
There are many, sometimes extreme examples, of the ability of the mind to retrain and restructure the brain. It takes a lot of work and dedicated focus. One of the primary sources of our knowledge of this process is stroke victims or persons with other brain injuries. If one part of the brain is injured, another section can be trained to take over its functions. The Arrowsmith School in Toronto specializes in teaching people to "rewire" their brains in order to overcome learning disabilities.

Repeated Actions and Words

It is through repetition of actions, phrases and words, particularly in fixed symbolic contexts, that this restructuring takes place. It is known that neurons and synapses in the brain can be strengthened by repetition, by repeated engagement of the neurons and neuro-communication. Neuro-connections can also atrophy from lack of engagement or use. Repeated acts and phrases can also have an epigenetic effect and can effect DNA. Repetitious prayer can, for example, activate genes to produce the proteins that change the structure of neurons and increase neuro-connections among brain cells. The brain functions in codes which are or construct symbolic constructs. Language itself is a form of verbal symbolism that creates images in the brain in an unconsciously understood interpretation.

Prayer and Liturgy

All that we have said in this brief paper is greatly simplified. Nevertheless, it should present some idea of why we use such repetitious prayers as "the Jesus Prayer," augmented by the repetitious use of the prayer rope. It should also lead us to a greater appreciation for the symbolic actions and repeated phrases in liturgical worship. Perhaps if we have some notion of the effects of these things, we can focus on them and through concentration, focus an intent of the mind we can experience the desired restructuring among the neurons, synapses and communicators in our brain. In order to accomplish this, faith, focus and commitment in worship and prayer are necessary. Attempting to reinvent the Divine Liturgy or expunge the symbolic understanding of it will undermine this process and rob the Liturgy of much of its power to impact so profoundly on the mind, brain and spiritual heart of man. This would be a tragic loss ultimately resulting in a disunity and disintegration in the Orthodox Church.
To understand this better, let us remember that these changes in the brain are significant and powerful. Overcoming stroke damage may take years of focus and work on oneself, but the restoration of function dramatically restores the quality of life. Overcoming serious learning disabilities by utilising neuroplasticity also requires a lengthy system of retraining and restructuring in the brain, but the results can be quite dramatic. Not everyone has the patience or the strength of will and commitment to accomplish these things.
Regarding the liturgical services and symbolic features in the Orthodox Church, it is clear that an awareness of such capacities of mind and brain existed. Such an awareness would have had to come from the Holy Spirit because it was not until the end of the 1940s that an actual understanding of these features began to develop. Now that we do have more understanding of this, it is possible for us to focus on the symbolic and repetitious aspects of liturgy, prayer, and the Orthodox Christian lifestyle in a more concentrated and beneficial way. Generations of Orthodox Christians have received such spiritual benefits by osmosis in worship, prayer and spiritual struggle. Others whose hearts were closed to it, did not. We can also better understand why contrived liturgies and liturgical reform, such as the "Western Rite" and renovationism have no intrinsic spiritual power. Rather they are shaped by human passions and often degenerate into a form of entertainment or emotionalistic expressions of self-centredness. They require no real focus, spiritual struggle or patient commitment.
We realize that some will be upset that such spiritual growth and ascent has so clearly a physical dimension. This is a Gnostic attitude. The brain is the instrument of the mind and the mind is a function of the brain. Soul and body work together as a unified entity. They are neither at enmity with one another nor is either one complete in itself. Indeed, the brain must even be equipped with some inner construct that functions for an awareness of God and for spiritual insight. To imagine that our spiritual life is a metaphysical abstraction that is external to the physical body and its functions is sheer Gnosticism.

The Errors of Those Who Ignore the Liturgists

When we mention "liturgists," many people think of those whom we used to call "typikon commandos." There was a humorous reference to them, "What is the difference between a terrorist and a typikon expert? You can negotiate with a terrorist." This is not what we mean by "liturgist." We are referring both to Saint James the Apostle who gave us the Christian Liturgy, and to Saints Basil the Great and John Chrysostom who standardised the Liturgy throughout the Byzantine Empire, and also to the recognised authorities on the liturgical services, such as St. Symeon of Thessaloniki (the foremost expert and commentator of the divine services) and Nicholas Kavasilas. There are also completely authoritative comments on liturgical services in the Didascalion.
Let us examine just one very severe and critical error. There are a number of bizarre and grotesque tales about the meaning of the memorial services which we serve on the third, ninth and fortieth days following the repose of an Orthodox Christian. Of course, the services are not served for everyone. Soldiers who die in battle, people with no close relatives, those who perish at sea and those who repose far away from any Orthodox Church often have neither an Orthodox Funeral service or any of the memorials. If we were to accept some of the bizarre stories, some told even by saints of the Church, then we must conclude that all those people were taken to hell by demons only because the services were not said for them. This is the "magic formula" theory of the divine services.
The doctrinal statement of the Orthodox Church about these memorial services is quite clear, and expressed both by Saint Symeon of Thessaloniki and in the Didascalion. We serve a memorial on the third day because of the resurrection of Christ on the third day, opening the way for the resurrection of all mankind. We serve on the ninth day because the soul, unable to receive its reward of recompense until it is reunited with the body is kept by the nine orders of angels. We have a memorial service on the fortieth day because Christ ascended into heaven on that day, both Body and Soul, thus revealing that all will likewise ascend body and soul together. Despite such authoritative declarations of the Orthodox Church, we hear many gruesome tales about what takes place during the days after the repose of a person, and why they must be "prayed into heaven," or else the demons will snatch them. We hear tales of wandering souls needing to be prayed to rest and a number of other ghost stories. The adepts of such tales can rummage about in the early Church writings and find some disconnected "proof texts" for such stories and never stop to consider the irreconcilable internal contradictions that this creates in the established doctrine of the Orthodox Church. They never refer to the Memorial of Funeral services themselves, because they contain not a hint of any such fantasies. Nor do they ever refer to the commentaries of the recognised Liturgists of the Orthodox Church, because they give explanations that are diametrically opposed to such outlandish ideas as the Aerial Toll Houses, wandering souls or the necessity of never omitting a single word of these service, because to do so would endanger the soul (the "magic formula" theory). It is well, therefore to pay attention to the recognised Liturgists such as Saint Symeon of Thessaloniki and others rather than following the bizarre stories. The symbolism of the memorials and funerals is quite profound and direct, and it is in this symbolism that we become spiritually educated and edified about the mystery of death and resurrection.

Thursday, July 24, 2008



Most of you will have some familiarity of the fable of the "evil eye." According to this ancient pagan belief, you can blame practically any thing negative that happens to you by saying that it was caused by someone giving you "the evil eye." The story accords magic powers to the eye (usually the left eye) of an evil person. In all liklihood, you have seen some one from Greece or Lebanon (occasionally from Romania also) wearing a blue stone, perhaps even one shaped like a blue eye. This stone is supposed to protect you ways that the Cross of Christ cannot. Why is it blue? Because in the Mediterranian area most people have black, hazel or dark brown eyes, so blue eyes are "outsiders." In pre-Christian times, and even after, many ships sailing on the Mediteranian sea had an eye painted or cared on the forecastle or figurehead. This was supposed to drive a way sea monsters or ocean spirits, or even the ghosts of drowned sailors.
In Scripture, looking with an evil eye meant to be to look with envy. Of course, many truly wicked deeds are done from envy, but no one has a magic eye which can cause harm. Wearing the blue stone as something that is more powerful than the Cross of Christ is sign of weak faith or no faith at all.
For some years now, I have refused to give Communion to people who wear the blue stone in place of the Cross. I one has no faith in the Cross of Christ, then one cannot have faith in the fruit of that Tree, Holy Communion.
If you are using the pre-Christian fables about the evil eye, curses and magic, then you are likely using them primarily as a means of not having to accept you own mistake and folly, or the natural events that take place in life. If you pray sincerely to Christ and plan your actions carefully, taking good advice and preparation, then you will find that the things you consider to be curses or attacks with the evil eye no longer occur in your life. Remember that "luck" is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

PERSONALISM: a brief critique




When Dr Andrew Sopko made a comment about Personalism in his examination of my theology, I became curious about the philosophy of Christian Personalism and its French roots. Dr Sopko observed that, unlike some contemporary Orthodox theologians, I had not fallen into "Personalism." From my examination of Personalism, I conclude that there can be no Orthodox Personalism. Whatever our view of it, it is evident that there is no patristic support for Personalism, or for any kind of synthesis of Christianity with Phenomenology or neo-Kantian liberalism. While one cannot consent to the theology expressed in Personalism, it is an admirable philosophy, and since it includes the wonderful Dorothy Day, at least some of its adherents actually put its concepts into real practice. My critique is with regards to the theological precepts, not the philosophical concepts, and certainly not a critique of those self-less people who put those concepts into practice.
....Many historians had presumed that Apostolic and sub-Apostolic Christianity was shaped by an osmosis from Plato and Aristotle. This surmise has been based upon the use of some vocabulary which developed in the process of Hellenic and Hellenistic philosophy. Scant attention was paid to the fact that the Church fathers were diligent to maintain a clear separation of theology from Platonism and Aristotelianism. Nor was there any harmonising of Christianity with Plotinus and the Stoics by the Church fathers. It is true that some early Christian writers and philosophers such as Augustine and Origen did not observe this separation, but the fathers of the Church did.
....They did appeal to Hellenic thought and vocabulary as an instrument of discernment, communication and elaboration of the Faith. In other words, unlike post-patristic theology, philosophy and ethics, there was no amalgamation of first principles between the Church fathers and the Greeks. There is no continuity from antiquity to modernity on the question of the relationship between Orthodoxy and the Greeks—the dogmatism of Western scholarship notwithstanding.
....Personalism arose well over a century ago within the Western heritage but I want to direct the reader's attention to Personalism and its modernity — "the paradigm for the second modernity," as James Lawson refers to it. Although Personalism has many both Christian and non-Christian proponents, such as Charles Peguy, Pope John Paul II, Martin Luther King Jr., Paul Maurin, Edith Stein, Dorothy Day, Martin Buber, Max Scheler, and others, there are three Personalists who will occupy most of our discussion: the French Roman Catholic Emmanuel Mournier (1905–1950), whose journal, L'Esprit, launched the principles of Personalism; the American Methodist Professor Borden Parker Bownes (1847–1910) of Boston University and, finally, the Russian Boehmist émigré Nicholas Berdyaev (1874–1948), "the prince of the Catholic Workers Movement." Like many others, Berdyaev viewed the "communitarian revolution" of the 1930s as a social demonstration of Personalism.
....This Movement (and several similar ones) was ignited by the Great Depression. It was fuelled by several papal encyclicals: Pope Leo XIII issued Rerum Novarum (15 May 1891) with its concern for the urban poor; and later, Pope Pius XI Quadragesomo Anno (15 May 1931) which called for the reconstruction of the social order through the recognition of the sanctity of human life and the dignity of each individual. They were aware of the significant number of members that the Catholic Church had been losing since the Industrial Revolution. At the same time, these papal declarations prepared the way for a religious answer to Marxism. Unfortunately, this religious response to materialism and collectivism did not imply a return to the Christian Tradition but rather encouraged Personalists to hail their experiment as a grand synthesis or, as some had described it, the "clarification of thought" and a "new humanism."


The use of the term "Personalism" first appeared in Friedrich Schleiermacher's "Personalismus" in his Discourses (1799) and in the 1860s Walt Whitman and Bronson Alcott used it. Personalism did not, however, assume the character of a school until the appearance of the work of Boston University's Borden Bownes. He had been taught in Germany by the philosopher Herman Lotze (1817-1881). Against the pantheist, George Hegel, whose Absolute or Universal Spirit threatened to swallow the cosmos, Lotze defended the unity and indissolubility of the individual self. He had also been the teacher of Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), whose Phenomenology inspired his pupils Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), the prodigal Max Scheler (1874–1928), and Edith Stein (1891–1943). Scheler attempted to find an objective basis for ethics which avoided "the empty and barren formalism" of Kant's "practical judgment." One of Scheler's pupils was Roman Ingarden who was the teacher of Karol Wojtyla.
....Personalism also inspired post-World War I American radicalism, none more important than the work of the marvellous Dorothy Day (1897–1980), a founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. She was taught Personalism by the French Catholic émigré, Pierre Maurin (1887–1949), co-founder and collaborator in the social action of the Catholic Worker Movement. Curiously, Day referred to the Russian Sophianist Vladimir Soloviev as her favourite philosopher, without meaning any slight to the inestimable contribution of Berdyaev to the Personalist doctrine. However important all these figures were to Personalism, it was Emmanuel Mounier (a "new Catholic of the Left") who was its guiding spirit. The organ of the Movement was the L'Esprit which he established in 1932. It has been described as anti-American, anti-Socialist, and pro-fascist.
....Mounier's Personalism is eloquently expressed in his numerous books, most of which have been translated into English and other languages: Personalist Revolution and the Communitarian (1935), A Personalist Manifesto (first published in L'Esprit, October, 1936) What is Personalism? (1947), Personalism (1940), Be Not Afraid: Studies inPersonalist Sociology (1951), etc. They are dedicated to the affirmation of the absolute value of the human person. When Mounier declares the person to be something "absolute," we must not think of the word in Hegelian terms. Not even the Rights of Man elevate him to that status.
....Inasmuch as Mounier's Personalism is both religious and Roman Catholic, he believed that man is neither "clump of clay" or "pure spirit." The human person is, contrary to Descartes, a single unified substance, a dynamic whole which is the synthesis of body and soul. He is a self-conscious embodied soul. To be sure, Mounier admits that each man is in the image of God, but his philosophical interpretation of the concept left him far short of Christian anthropology. Although he agreed with Thomas Aquinas that "person signifies the most perfect of all"— a position Mounier shared with Jacques Maritain — the former insisted that, thanks to Christ, the person is neither Greek nor Christian, but self-born. He is self-created (autogenesis). Personalism generally agrees with those Existentialist philosophers who hold that man has no essence; and must form it by his decisions and actions. His autonomy makes man "the being who defines himself." He is sine matre creatum. This will not equal the patristic concept of hypostasis, but rather asserts an existence without an essence. Man would, in this system, give birth to his own essence and he would constitute his own essence. A particularly disturbing aspect of this is the disunity of mankind that such a position indicates. Orthodox Christianity understands that all mankind shares in the same essence, the human nature. The human nature is what is common to all and subject to the laws of nature. It is this common human nature that should cause us to have a respect for all human beings, and which should, for example, tell us that racism is a form of apostasy. Nevertheless, we are not without an individual personhood, a "particular" essence, which we can shape and expand (or contract). The holy fathers resolved this apparent paradox by expressing our individual personhood, our "particular essence" with the ontological category of "hypostasis." The category of hypostasis includes one's personal differentiation and particularity. It relates to what we consciously and intentionally do with our essence and energy. Hypostasis signifies, therefore, not only our personal differentiation but our freedom within, and ability to rise above, our common nature or essence. This concept is necessary in order to understand how we have individuality but are at the same time all comprised in the one, single human nature, regardless of race, nationality, religion, gender or any of the other categories that our fallen humanity can think of in order to create divisions and hatred among humanity. Nevertheless, we do have a unique hypostasis, and this provides our personal creativity and our freedom to shape our own lives and fulfil our own personal potential. We would understand this hypostasis as a gift of grace. Orthodox Christian anthropology holds that all share in common the human nature, even though this nature can be known only in individuals, not in abstractions. He is part, and yet he is whole. The individual personhood of each lies in his hypostasis, not in a being without an essence, an essential tabula rasa. This concept of nature and hypostasis is discussed more fully in my book Freedom To Believe: Personhood and Freedom in Orthodox Christian Ontology.
....In the absence of these proper ontological categories, recognised in the Orthodox Christian Church, Personalism developed in the quest for the resolution of irreconcilable paradoxes in the understanding of the individual as part and whole of humanity. That is, in our Orthodox perspective, the human person shares the common human nature, but that nature can be known only in individuals. He shares in the common human nature, but he possesses a "particular essence," which is evident from his ability to develop himself and seek and develop his relationship with God. So we (from an Orthodox point of view) assert that he is both part and whole of humanity.
....Mounier would not have us confuse Personalism with Individualism. The latter is a conception of the self as an object, and this is not the purpose of Personalism. For Mounier the individual is an object without interiority; he is a mass of emotions agitated by the senses. Individualism, therefore, blocks the road to social participation; in fact, it is an enemy of the community, for if the individual is the supreme value, his interests are subordinated to the interests of the many. In its extreme form, individualism leads to solipsism or the belief that only the individual is real. It is a kind of self-deification. Mounier wants no obstacle to his autonomy and demands the right to act freely, but not in the form of a radical individualism. For him, the individual defines himself as independent of any social bonds. He opposes rights to duties. But Mounier is not being self-contradictory. The irony of individualism is that, as Plato said, it will morph into a collectivism, where the individual will also be on his own, perhaps only an object in the communal landscape.
.... For Mounier, the only answer to individualism and collectivism is Personalism. Mounier offers its creed in the Personalist Manifesto. Although he admits that Personalism presupposes certain principles or may be viewed as the necessary effects of ultimate causes, Mounier denies that it is a philosophy expressed in ideas. Furthermore, there is a Personalist understanding of the universe that is seen from the perspective of a "free and creative person." In terms of these principles and effects, he describes a person as "a spiritual being constituted as such by subsistence and independence." The Personality adheres to a hierarchy of values "freely adapted, assimilated, practised by a responsible faithful and self-committed self." Each human being unifies all its activities freely for the purpose of developing his own personhood. His decisions and creative acts—each with his own vocation—shows that he is a moral being.
....Mounier did not place his trust in political parties. He also rejected the notion that Personalism requires violence in order to transfigure contemporary institutions. It may be "revolutionary," but only because it seeks a new social order — that is, for the order first enunciated by Christ in his Sermon on the Mount. Such a point of view seems inconsistent with his advocacy of the liberal democracy and the universality of human rights. A liberal democracy ultimately and ironically guarantees anarchy, and the demand for a universality of human rights without any contingent expression of a universality of human responsibilities ultimately undermines democracy. The demand for a universality of human rights without a clearly defined universality of human responsibilities is based on unsustainable presuppositions of man as "a human being with natural rights." Human rights are defined by human societies, they are not "naturally occuring." The "certain inalienable rights" prescribed by the founders of the American state are defined by them, not mentioned by the Creator. Man was created with the freedom to form his societies and to define the rights and obligations of those societies. The boundaries of those rights are not agreed upon by all members of any society, even the most democratic, and in some cases they are sharply debated by substantial numbers of those members. Personalism my advocate a system of rights that it considers to be "natural human rights," but if some group which they disapprove of demanded equal "natural human rights," then one would find many of them advocating that those "certain inalienable rights" exclude that particular group (Thomas Jefferson did not free his slaves, after all).
....In advocating the Personalist cause as something that calls upon humanity to fulfil the improbable task of living "in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus," Mounier is either incognizant of or indifferent to the power of sin and evil. His optimism is laudable but naive, for these are forces which must be encountered and dealt with in any process of striving to fulfil such a lofty calling. Utopian movements typically collapse because the fallen nature of mankind is not taken as a reality.
....Let us make clear what we mean by "sin and evil." Orthodox Christianity does not understand sin as "breaking a law." Rather sin is the habitual misuse of our energies, a misdirection of our freedom. This misuse and misdirection is not corrected by a mere act of will, even with the best intentions. It takes moral struggle aided by grace to strive for regeneration. Living fully in accord with the justice and charity of Jesus is no simple task. Personalists are speaking of social justice, and the Hebrew prophets spoke about it also. The concept of the justice of Christ is a type of social justice, but it includes much more, a kind of mercy that exceeds social justice and which, were we to truly attempt to live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus, we must also fulfil. The justice of God is, in the understanding of the holy fathers, diametrically opposite of all human forensic or juridical notions of justice. It is not about punishment, but about rebalancing the kind of moral "rightness" that embraces the needs and failures of others in a healing and supportive manner, without destroying the essential freedom of any. This is perhaps best expressed by the Greek theologian Dr. Alexandre Kalomiros who reminds us that:

This is a theme which "needs to be preached with great insistence [for] not only the West but we Orthodox have departed [from it] in great numbers, causing men to fall to atheism because they are revolted against a falsified angry God full of vengeance toward His creatures...We must urgently understand that God is responsible only for everlasting life and bliss, and that hell (gehenna) is nothing else but the rejection of this everlasting life and bliss, the everlasting revolt against the everlasting love of God. We must urgently remember and preach that it is not a creation of God but a creation [i.e., product] of our revolted liberty, that God did not create any punishing instrument that is called hell, that God never takes vengeance on His revolted creatures, that His justice has nothing to do with the legalistic `justice' of human society which punishes the wicked in order to defend itself...That our everlasting spiritual death is not inflicted on us by God, but is a spiritual suicide, everlasting because our decision to be friends or enemies of God is a completely free and everlasting decision of the free spiritual beings created by God, a decision which is respected by God eternally and absolutely."

As Abba Isaak the Ninevite says:

As a grain of sand cannot counterbalance a great quantity of gold, so God's use of just judgment cannot counterbalance the likeness of His mercifulness. As a handful of sand thrown into a great sea, so are the sins of all flesh with respect to the likeness of the providence and mercy of God. And just as a strongly flowing spring is not obstructed by a handful of dust, so the mercy of the Creator is not stemmed by the vices of His creatures."

And again he tells us:

Now by this as in an image the Spirit depicts the design that God has had everlastingly. But the man who chooses to consider God an avenger, presuming that he bears witness to His justice, the same accuses Him of being bereft of goodness. Far be it that in that Fountain of Love and Ocean brimming with goodness, vengeance could ever be found!...For He wills that we should rejoice not as it were in what is His, but as it were in the recompense of our own deeds. For although all things are His, yet He is not pleased that we should consider them His, but that we should delight in what is as it were ours.

St Dionysios the Aeropagite also says:

The divine justice in this respect is really true justice because it distributes to all, the things proper to themselves, according to the fitness of each existing thing, and preserves the nature of each in its own order and fitness...the nature of each in its own order and capacity.

....Evil does not have any ontological "being." There is no amorphous evil. Christ did not say to pray "deliver us from evil," but "deliver us from the evil-one," that is, the one who wilfully and intentionally misuses his energies in a destructive and malicious manner. Evil is not a "thing" in itself, but a corruption and deeply ingrained addiction to the misuse of one's energies.
....Mounier believes that Personalism may adopt Francis of Assisi as the Personalist icon, while, at the same time, ignoring the Faith that motivated Francis. This gallant defender of the papacy would never have allowed himself to be set in opposition to "the clerical order" of his Church. I doubt that Francis would have endorsed Lev Tolstoy's subjective and anti-Church understanding of the biblical words, "the Kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21–" µ "). Tolstoy understood the words, "the Kingdom of God is within you" in a secular, utopian sense which Francis would never have conceived. Mounier was more attuned to Tolstoy's concept than to that of the peaceful monk of Assisi.
....Necessarily, then, leftist Personalism demands a secular "revolution." Advocating, as it does, "the daily works of mercy" (hence the building homes for the homeless, farming communes, discourses of love, etc.) as noble as it is, does not permit us to identify these acts of mercy with those prescribed in Christian revelation, for they are based in concepts of secularism. Christianity advocates the same thing but does not divorce them from the process of the regeneration of man. The twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew's Gospel makes it clear that entry into the joy of Christ, the Heavenly Kingdom, depends on the fulfilment of such care for others, motivated by unselfish love. Christian revelation does not, however, suggest that we can create a secular "people's paradise" on earth and lose sight of the Heavenly Kingdom and the age to come. When they collapse into ideology, neither utopian philosophies nor Christianity can sustain these high ideals in practice. But let us not denigrate the works of mercy just because they are fulfilled in the context of secularism and not mindful of the process of regeneration. They are still inspired by Christ. Perhaps one could rather use the injunction of Christ, " these you ought to have done, while not leaving the other undone" (Mt. 23:23). One cannot claim that being Christian guarantees the fulfilment of either one.
....According to Mounier, Personalism is quintessentially "a philosophy of hope." Yet, it is genuine futility to believe that the majority of people will dedicate themselves to the Personalist responsibility of changing human institutions without there being first a regeneration of human nature. We have heard before the motto "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need." Mounier has merely assumed that man has an unimpeded free will and that, with an appeal to his better side, he is able and willing to realise the Personalist agenda. It is a "hope" no better than the vision of Socialism. To use the words of Christopher Lasch, Personalism is nothing but a "culture of narcissism."
....There is nothing unique about Mounier's Personalism. It claims to disdain Socialism and Marxism because they deprive man of his dignity and value. Yet in its own definition, Personalism reduces man to a "being with rights." Claiming to be Christian, it equates, for all practical purposes, the biblical idea of imago Dei with this conception, as if the image of God in man was the sum total of "natural rights." Mounier's Person is a philosophical notion that is found nowhere in the Christian Tradition. It was futile of him to associate his secular philosophy with the "psychology" of Francis of Assisi and Augustine of Hippo. He may proclaim joyfully that Personalism has nothing in common with Descartes' cogito ergo sum which he has replaced with I love therefore I am; but in both cases the self is the source of truth. Besides, "love" is easier to say than to do and some very wretched deeds have been carried out in the name of love, especially when "love" was part of the "white man's burden."
....Moreover, undismayed by the criticism of their philosophy, Mounier and those with him are convinced that Personalism is the solution to the world-crisis. They perceived the task on a grand scale: "Contrary to what takes place with many petty reformers our programme must be cut in a pattern of large dimension. Historically, the crisis that presses upon us is more than a simple political and/or economic crisis." We are witnessing, he lamented, the collapse of a whole area of civilization. The old world was initiated towards the end of the Middle Ages, and climaxed in the industrial age "capitalistic in structure, liberal in ideology and bourgeois in its ethics." It is a criticism of the post-Christian West that we have heard before, not least of all from Karl Marx.
....Admittedly, the Personalist answer differs from materialism by virtue of its spiritual dimension and its call for human cooperation in the solution to that perceived crisis. This is better than depriving the individual man of his moral value in the mill of economic violence and struggle. It is clearly superior to materialism which has no cognizance of man as a spiritual reality. Materialism views the "crisis" as social and economic deprivation. Personalism calls for a spiritual and cultural renovation by common social action whose first principle is the moral value of every human being. Both philosophies believe that "salvation" comes by human effort, without any thought of revelation and grace. Personalism is auto-soteric. One might be interested to have a detailed map of what is considered to be the "moral value" of every human being. One answer that Orthodox Christianity would give is that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God and, moreover, since we all share in a common human nature, we must all have the same intrinsic value as human beings. When we speak of Personalism as being auto-soteric, we cannot express the meaning of this in purely Scriptural terms of salvation (which for Orthodox Christians means deliverance from the bondage of death and power of the Evil-One, and a restoration to the household of the Father). Personalism (though not every one of its professors) would see salvation rather as a positive evolution of social order, and enshrining of one or another concept of human rights (even though one concept of human rights might exclude a portion of society whose rights are not deemed "natural.") This is one of my main objections to the concept of "natural human rights." "Human rights" is a concept created and developed in human societies, and not without conflict and violence. But the concept of human rights is almost never universal; there are generally some who are omitted from this "universality."
....In vain does Personalism seek to reverse the deleterious effects of Scholasticism, the dehumanizing consequences of the Industrial Revolution and of capitalism, rampant irreligiosity, and the conventional ethics of the bourgeoisie. Nor does it adequately resolve the contradiction between morality and moralism.


Personalism emerged philosophically linked to the German Idealism which invaded the United States in the nineteenth century. German Idealism held that material things do not exist independently of the mind, but are constructs of the mind. More significantly, it teaches, it is by the categories (ideas) of reason that phenomena are formed. We become aware of the relationship between thought and being by the interaction between thought and the external world. It would appear that Mounier was not much interested in Idealism although its tenets were fundamental to Personalism. As with the teachers of Idealism, however, he was opposed to materialism which reduces the individual to something impersonal.
....For a theoretician of this philosophy, we look to Borden Parker Bownes, Professor of Philosophy at Boston University. He was the founder and popularizer of American Personalism. He was also keenly devoted to elaborating its metaphysics. Reality, he wrote, is known by persons, society is a community of self-conscious persons, a society of "interacting persons." Put another way, human reality is the person that acts on or which is acted upon by another. All persons, whether individually or collectively, share in "the living experience of intelligence itself." But is not such "reality" only an adjective masquerading as a noun?
....Bownes described himself as a theist. He referred to God as "world-ground" and, therefore, "implicit in everything" and "the postulate of our total life" (perhaps something like Paulo Coelho's "world spirit?"). For Bownes, God is "the Supreme Person" to which human persons are analogous. Bownes rejected the idea that God is the impersonal Absolute of Hegel, if only because the Absolute is completely devoid of moral attributes. It is fatal to religion which is essential to the personal development of human beings. Moreover, he asserts, if in God there are any limitations, they are self-imposed. Bownes was careful not to let divine omnipotence tread upon human freedom. To those who argued that the existence of evil placed restrictions on the divine Will, he replied that the problem of evil has no "speculative solution."
....Bownes offers arguments for theism. The universe is intelligible with its order, design, teleology, and the fact of man's finite intelligence. In fact, any evidence of intelligibility in the universe is a clue that the external world is intelligible to the mind; and, on account of the rationality of the universe we have a convincing argument for theism. Furthermore, he argues, unless we assume that the world is essentially a realm of thought, there can be no knowledge at all. The fact that the mind has categories is no evidence that categories explain the mind. Accordingly, the "active intelligence" shows the validity of metaphysics' deduction of the unity, identity and causality from the idea of being. If, Bownes asserts, we concede to someone like Herbert Spencer (1820–1903) that the Deity is "unknowable," we must surrender any hope of morality. Indeed, an unknowable God is no better than no God and, as Dostoevsky says: "if there is no God, then all things are permissible, even murder." Bownes seeks to protect himself with the appeal to the idea of mystery.
....Bownes held that we must recognize the existence of God as "the Supreme Person" (a personal Being), because as Being He interacts with His creation, with time, which gives time relevance, and His Power alone can explain world-order in relation to world change (evolution). Orthodoxy would argue that God is "beyond being," but would not suggest that He is not a "personal God," nor that He does not commune with and sustain His creation. However, in theistic Personalism we can detect a flavour of pantheism, firs of all because it does not distinguish between energy and essence.
....For Bownes, we have no proof of human freedom without God. At this point, Bownes attempts to answer another objection to his theism: how can man be free if God knows everything he does? He replied that God does not know a person's specific choices. Might it not have been better for Bownes to have postulated that God has chosen to be ignorant of human actions? In this case, however, the Omniscience of God would suffer. Only the theory of a "limited Deity" is left to him. As we shall see, it was the position taken by Berdyaev.
....With this theology in hand, Bownes developed an ethics to which most Personalists would not object. Asceticism is not central to it and the reality of sin is no impediment to the service of the general good. He does seem to have considered that the impartial and unselfish will is not only an uncommon phenomenon, but its application is often impeded by mood or passion, public indifference or political opposition. He is certainly right that abstractions such as "virtue" or "happiness" or "pleasure" are worthless unless human will and intellect have contacted reality – whatever, philosophically, that may be. Is this reality a metaphor for the unknown, or still and adjective aspiring to be a noun. Bownes was equally correct to believe that the greatest need of ethical practice is the serious and thoughtful application of the mind to the problem of life and conduct. In all this, the basic flaw was failure to ascertain the nature of the God to whom he had related his ethical theory. Perhaps he leaves us with a form of Kantian autonomous morality and a deity who does little more than nod his head in approval or wistfully shake his head in disapproval, but nothing more.
....Bownes claimed to have been a theist, but His God was not identified, as it was in the Personalism of Jacques Maritain or Jean Danielou, with the Holy Trinity. In any case, no Personalist worshipped the God of the early Church fathers, and this fact is reflected in their understanding of the man and his good. Bownes would have agreed with Pope John-Paul II that self-mastery not self-assertion is the index of a truly human freedom, but Bownes gives us no programme for the attainment of the first and the purgation of the second. Neither he nor the Pope seem to have any notion that self-mastery is much more than repressing what is natural to our nature. "Thoughtfully and freely channelling the natural instincts of mind and body into actions that deepen my humanity" is impossible if undertaken without recognizing man's "darkened mind" and distorted will which he cannot himself alter. Indeed, repression may only make the darkness more stifling. It can created in man a building pressure and frustration that can explode in most unpleasant ways. Repression is not synonymous with self-mastery. One may call upon men to act together in order to participate in common thought and action, but the experience of the human race has demonstrated that, without Divine intervention—which Bownes does not clearly kneed into his philosophy—human cooperation is generally very brief and often leads to greater evil.

Nicholas Berdyaev

....Nicholas Berdyaev was an associate of the Solovevian brotherhood which was ejected from Russia after the Communist Revolution. He brought with him to Europe a philosophy of Personalism which led William Miller to describe him as "the prophet of the Catholic Worker Movement." Others went further, and Paul Maurin lauded him as "the Prophet of the twentieth century." Berdyaev did not bring a social agenda or a political schema to the cause, but its metaphysical, romantic if not Gnostic, presuppositions. Berdyaev should not be thought of as representing Orthodox Christian theology; indeed to think of him as an Orthodox Christian at all is to give the term a very elastic definition.
....Berdyaev's Personalism begins with a critique of the Western world. We are, he correctly observes, passing through "the crisis of the Christian world," that is, "a crisis within Christianity itself." As it is presently practised, Christianity is no longer relevant; and in fact it has contributed to the present dilemma. It has encouraged, if not spawned banality and bourgoiseity, legalism and rationalism, collectivism and individualism. Berdyaev sees Christianity as not concerned with an earthly future but rather as stalled by its worldview. We are, as it were, in an entr'acte and for that reason are experiencing a time of suffering. We are living in an era in which man is deprived of his dignity and freedom and, therefore of his happiness and perfection.
....There is something more: if man is to regain the lost virtues of dignity and freedom, he must be redefined; and indeed so must God and reality. Our clue to all these truths is Christ Himself: the God-man. The great error of Western Christianity was to place the task of regenerating the world either in the hands of God or man. The truth ought to be found in the cooperation between God and man, a proposition that sounds deceptively similar to the Orthodox Christian doctrine of synergism. Berdyaev has a valid point, but not a valid conclusion. Even worse, Berdyaev thinks, there has been a failure to recognise the reason for the tragedy or to raise any questions about it. Christians, he surmises, should have turned to the Gnostics who were long ago aware that revelation and absolute truth are adapted to the men who receive it, but, for some reason, Christianity has chosen to ignore this fact. In other words, we are now compelled to reevaluate, if not transform the Christian Faith, because its present form it is irrelevant. Traditional Christianity was given to another people at another time.
....Berdyaev's synergism (cooperation) appears more as a project shared by God and man for the restructuring of human institutions. Philosopher David Cain reminds us that synergism between God and man is always radically asymmetrical." Orthodox Christianity fully acknowledges man's freedom. God offers His love and grace for the regeneration and restoration of man, and man may freely chose to cooperate with that love and grace in working out his salvation. The idea that God and man cooperate in creating a utopian system on earth is in no way an aspect of this synergism.
....Berdyaev describes the man who, with Christ, hopes to transform the world as a genius, the creator of new things by his freedom. He is beyond the good and evil which are the proper condition of the fallen man. He may not be perfect, but his imperfection is a spur to excellence, towards greater creativity (which, incidentally, was Berdyaev's concept of freedom). "True creativeness" is linked to the Holy Spirit. It is always in the Spirit, he observed, for only in the Spirit can there be that union of grace and freedom which is inherent to creativity. Of necessity, therefore, acts of freedom are also acts of the works of the Spirit. Hence, it is no great leap in logic to describe those acts as "ethical."
....To begin with, ethics must inquire into the moral significance of all creative work, even if it has no direct relation to moral life. Art and knowledge have a moral significance, like all activities which create higher values. There are, of course, personal values: a belief, a mission, principles; and, also, cultural values which are norms of acceptable thought and behaviour. For Berdyaev, such values are created and, considering the moral and spiritual condition of most men, creativity must be the privilege of the genius. He refers to such creativity as "theurgical" (the creation of being). The "new man" must work together with God to produce the "new age." And here, any relationship to the Orthodox Christian concept of synergism collapses.
....Berdyaev writes beautiful and his philosophy is enticing. He tells us that to reach that time, that "new age," we must struggle to open the way for the development of the Person whose heart will not rest until it abides in that transcendent realm of beauty and freedom. This is the reason, incidentally, that Berdyaev rejected both Capitalism and Communism. The former, he said, destroys man's eternal spirit but forces labour to depend on power to achieve his ends. The latter has "killed God" and, therefore, takes the religious element out of his life. Of course, both deny that Personality is the central category of value, the value of the Divine and human existence. They deny that the Person of man is the analogy of God. It is inevitable, then, that in these systems the Person is relegated to an "individual," that is, a naturalistic and biological category, while in fact, Personality is a religious and spiritual one. "The individual is part of the species, it springs from the species and may isolate itself without conflict. It is a biological process: it is born and dies. But Personality is not generated, it is created by God. It is God's idea, God's conception which springs up in eternity."
....To repeat the essence of Berdyaev's thought in this area, Personality creates itself, and exists by its own destiny. The individual is the objectified moment in nature's evolutionary process. The enemy of Personality is the community, because the socialization of man abrogates the freedom of spirit and conscience. "The socialization of morality implies the tyranny of society and of pubic opinion over the spiritual life of man, and his moral valuation," asserted Berdyaev.
....Berdyaev distinguished between collectivism and soborny, the Russian word given prominence by the nineteenth century lay theologian Alexis Khomiakov. Berdyaev does not use the term, however, in a strictly Orthodox Christian sense as Khomiakov did.
....Soborny, in its Orthodox context, is community in the sense of "commonweal," the common good. It recognises both the personhood and individuality of each, and the positive aspect of the community. I want to suggest also, the idea that we know ourselves only in relation to other people. The fulness of our personhood includes our relation to others. The broader concept of soborny includes such concepts, although literally translated it would indicate the Greek concept of catholicity: a Eucharistic fulness of community which does not impinge on the personhood of the participants in the community. Collectivism drowns the Personality in the crowd of individuals who are in fact, spectators. In terms of the Orthodox Church, soborny refers to a visible unity of Persons, who share the unity of the Holy Spirit. The Sprit is the realm of freedom wherein the human will acts effectively in the realization of the ends which the Person was intended to achieve and enjoy. It is an association of free persons who are unified by the Holy Spirit in the common cause of the Eucharist. Nowhere is there a loss of free will.
....Berdyaev's philosophy is attractive if unrealistic. His religious vision is open to valid criticism from an Orthodox point of view. We have yet to examine his idea of God and man, the so-called "mystery of human life" which he identified with "the mystery of Godmanhood." We must not be led astray by his fascinating allusions to the Trinity and the Incarnation. He offered exciting ideas about man as a spiritual being whose free will (creativity) is essential to our understanding of man and his destiny. As we shall see, however, Berdyaev's triadology and christology calls his Christianity into question. What we have seen thus far is only the surface of a theology. His ideas about human dignity and freedom are not conventional, nor is his teaching about man, good and evil. To comprehend Berdyaev's philosophy we must look to "the dialectic of the Divine and the human in German thought" to which he was devoted. The father of this "dialectic" and, therefore, all German Idealism is the Gnostic, Jacob Boehme (1575-1624), without whom there would have been no Fichte, Goethe, Schelling, Hegel, and no Berdyaev.
....The basic assumption of Berdyaev's philosophy is "the coincidence of opposites" (coincidentia oppositorum) which applies not only to man and nature, but to God or Trinity. He emerges from the Abyss, the Absolute, the infinite, incomprehensible and bottomless nothing (Bogchestvo, Gottheit, Theotes, and Deitas). Thus the "birth of God" (theogony) is the beginning of the world-process. There is no creation from nothing, for "nothing" has no meaning outside the Absolute. The world is, therefore, erected from the mutable substance of God. He is the "unfolding God" out of which all things come; and all things are born, directly or indirectly, from Him (cosmogony). God lives so long as the world exists, because the explication of God in time is merely the evolution of man and the cosmos. The one cannot exist without the other.
.... Freedom and evil also leap from the Absolute independently of each other. God, freedom and evil have no control one of the other. They possess the unchanging Absolute; and, therefore, they are, because of their relationship to the Absolute, both changing and unchanging. The Absolute alone is immutable. Moreover, man contains all three dimensions which means that God is not responsible for evil in the world; nor can he prevent man from choosing, thinking, or acting. At the same time, man may resist God and evil by his freedom. "Personality is not generated; it is created by God. It is God's idea, God's conception, which springs up in eternity. From the point of view of the individual, Personality is a task to be achieved."
...."In other words, the existence of Personality presupposes the existence of God; its value presupposes the supreme value: God. If there is no God., Personality has no moral value and man has no inherent dignity. There is merely the individual entity subordinate to the natural life of the genus," Berdyaev continued. "Personality is the moral principle, and our relation to all other values is determined by reference to it. Hence, the idea of Personality lies at the basis of ethics. An impersonal system of ethics is a contradictio in adjecto. Personality is a higher value than the state, the nation, mankind or nature; and indeed is not part of that series." In other words, because the Personality comprehends all things within Itself, It is a microcosm.
....Furthermore, Personality develops by virtue of its communion with other Persons (soborny). It is nurtured by fellowship "within its genus." The complexity of man lies in the fact that a man is both an individual and the Person as a spiritual being, especially in his freedom. On account of his unique place in the universe, his Personality, man has supreme place in the hierarchy of values, He is the mediator between God and himself. It is clear from Berdyaev's metaphysics that man — specifically the Personality — is divine. He sought to protect himself by arguing that the human species was created by God, but God with His limited powers could not create anything out of nothing (ouk on). There is no "nothing." The only "nothingness" (me on) is the "nothingness" of the Absolute or Abyss from which God, evil and freedom spring. It is for that reason that Berdyaev contends that all is ultimately meonic. He described freedom as "meonic freedom."
....We need go no further in our treatment of Berdyaev's theory of "freedom." He complained in his "philosophical autobiography" (Dream and Reality) that a certain Orthodox cleric referred to him ironically as "the captive of freedom." He was "captive" of much more. He failed to think outside the perimeters established by Western philosophy. In this regard, Berdyaev was a rationalist. It may be argued, also, that although he invoked the names of Christ and the Trinity, His "God" is not the God of the Orthodox Church into which he was baptized. It would be better to call him a pantheist. His Personalism is a testament to his loss of faith.


....At the beginning of this paper, I mentioned that Personalism arose within the Western heritage. The principles upon which its doctrines stand were born of the categories and values of a mind-set whose ancestry is the Latin Middle Ages. Not a few Roman Catholics credit Augustine with having developed the first Christian Personalism. In any case, there is an historical truth in the emergence of Personalism: the inseparability of God and man: alter your conception of God and you will inevitably alter your conception of man. I am convinced that the reverse is also true. This is the trail followed by modernity, of which Personalism is an offspring.
....To be modern, wrote one philosopher, is to "think modern," to believe that modernity is in possession of "blossoming humanity." Necessarily, then, modernity has abandoned all "tradition," that is, the Greek and Christian ideas of God and man. The old idea of God as providential and revelatory or man as a "political" or "rational being" are supposedly bankrupt. Even more repugnant to moderns is the fact that man is a "substance," a fixed nature. And, of courses, there is nothing more abhorrent to modern thought than the ascetic and his devotion to "the supernatural state."
....Although he may live in a country, obey its laws and pay its taxes, the ultimate loyalty of "the new man" is this world: to live in it and to perfect it. There is nothing more precious than "freedom" or "liberty." He was eventually defined as "a being that has rights." Under these conditions, he is at liberty to work for the establishment of a just social and moral order, which, as Hobbes observed, neither the Greek nor Christian Commonwealths ever provided. He must therefore, have "an entitlement of rights" which involves the fundamental right to exist and, consequently, the ability to develop his own personality. This requires a new political order, an order that is impossible if we fail to replace the Christian idea of the city with another. This can be achieved only if the West's Scholastic legacy is utterly eviscerated.
....From the eighteenth century to the present, the God of Christian theology was studied under the assumption that it was the Biblical God who was being examined. He was in fact "the God of the philosophers and the savants." There was something ironical in the proclamation of the Enlightenment that the Divinity created the world and left it to man to perfect. The dualism between thought and being (not nature and grace) as the insuperable reality—a philosophical conundrum which has been the surd of modern philosophy since that time, especially with the "transcendental metaphysics" of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804). He was confident that his philosophy was the sure path to "freedom."
....Nothing was more suggestive to future thinkers than Kant's substitution of "the conditions for the possibility of experience" for the traditional idea of man as a "substance." In addition, Kant did not want to reply upon God for freedom and moral goodness. For him and many of his colleagues the Bible is not the inspired Word of God, but the repertoire of stories filled with subjective and edifying images. For those who find these writings helpful, they might contribute to "the feeling whose special office is to impel the improvement of life." Finally, he left to modernity both skepticism and a dogmatism which reinforce each other in their repudiation of anything which dares to violate or restrict human rights.
....One thing had been very clearly asserted by modernity: its philosophers had demonstrated that a human nature (an inviolable substance) could not be proved to exist. If man has no human nature, he has no fallen nature, the concept of which had for so long deprived man of his rights, especially the right to determine what he was to become. No wonder monarchy and aristocracy were abolished—so interlocked were these with the old theology and anthropology. Mikhail Bakunin was not the only thinker to believe that the existence of the state (monarchy) is linked with the existence of God; hence, with the disappearance of the one will follow the disappearance of the other. If I remember correctly, Albert Camus lamented that the death of the king silenced the voice of God on earth.
....Nietzsche declared the death of God (but in the atmosphere of the idea of the deus abscondidus, why not). Naively, he asserted that man was now free to become whatever he wishes. He can, as one school of Existentialism said, create his own essence. Twentieth century Personalists came to the conclusion that "the cultural death of God" is an invitation to anarchy. It was implicit in their thinking that a man is a being who has rights, but also that this dogma could not have been possible if his being was substantial. The Personalists saw that rights and self-determination had their dangers, not the least of which was a society that forgot its poor, infirm and homeless. The response to this threat came primarily, albeit not exclusively, from the Catholic left. Mounier and the Catholic Worker Movement envisioned a world of freedom with the Sermon on the Mount as its moral guide.
....Whatever its form, Personalism is another non-Christian philosophy. Jacques Maritain, Pope John-Paul II, Nicholas Berdyaev, John Macmurray, J.H. Oldham, and others. hoped to create a Christian Personalism as a possible answer to the contemporary secular environment. It is likely that this is also both the philosophy and the motor that drives the reductionist notions of Ecumenism. Ecumenism solves nothing but only weakens the fabric of the faith, and ultimately contributes much to secularism. We are not speaking about interfaith dialogue, for dialogue is a necessity of all civilised intercourse, just as tolerance is a necessity for any hope of peace. Nevertheless, the idea that Personalism (and Ecumenism) could preserve Christianity by another synthesis inevitably fails, if only because the religion they have espoused is itself only an amplification of defective elements in contemporary Christianity. They had forgotten the fathers of the Church. Unlike them, Personalists no longer believed that Christian truth comes by the Christian tradition preserved and protected by both the Greek and Latin Orthodox Church fathers. Personalists do not seem interested in life eternal, but in a "better world" through organization and ethical conduct. Freedom is the way to that end: freedom as inherent rights, by which each person is free to be whatever he desires in accord with secular ideas freedom—surely a recipe for chaos, cruelty and anarchy. Such things ultimately lead to dictatorships and a complete loss of freedom. One can hardly imagine a greater tyranny than an Ecumenical one world religion, particularly if it had any power to enforce compliance or exercise ostracism.
....But how does the Personalist know that he is free or that the ideals in which he has invested his freedom are true? He cannot create the reality in which he lives. Human experience shows that sometimes our good intentions have evil consequences. Personalists, in general, have not sought to expel the passions of the inner man by grace, as patristic Christianity demands; nor have they even hearkened to the call of the Greeks to bring the passions under the control of reason. They have rejected both in favour of "the third man," the timeless labourer and consumer who may despair of the good, but never of himself. He cannot define the good and he cannot know his end, placing his faith in the force of history. Personalism gives us no idea of what this actually means.