Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Modes of Future Thought: Can strategic concepts move beyond
ideology? Political Ideologies and “Global Thought”: Can there be a Synthesis of Scientific Theories and Spiritual Traditions?

    Big History encounter a universe’s movement into greater complexity rather than its entropy.
We are engaged in studying the great difficulty and limitedness with which such an apparent
anomaly occurs. Our own biosphere, which, following the thought of Panov1 and others, includes
human civilisations and technologies, is one island of this increasing complexity. Such complexity
brings with it fragility and vulnerability, and this is a theme that should be of special interest to us,
as our own biosphere is at the point of a singularity which must be examined in all earnestness.

A Definition

The term “singularity” will be defined in different ways by some of the disciplines that speak
at this conference. We all agree, however, that our biosphere is at a critical point, which we generally
refer to as a “singularity.” In terms of the overall subject of Big History, a singularity is a
convergence of compound crises on a global scale. For the context of this paper, we will define the
1. Panov, Alexander D., Singularity of Evolution & Post-Singular Development (2011, unpublished).
“singularity” as a crisis of transition from Axial I into Axial II, from the First Axial Era into the
Second Axial Era. Here, “singularity” designates the critical point in a phase transition which creates
a structural conflict among differing premises for the conceptualization, interpretation and
expression of systems.

Models and Models of Reality

Since we will also be using the term “models of reality” and “models” let us offer a definition
of the manner in which we are using them. Models may be used as constructed metaphors for
expressing meaning beneath surface appearances. Models help us create a common ground and
vocabulary to enable conversation, providing an economy of expression. A specialised model can
make it possible to communicate more quickly and smoothly once its meaning has been agreed upon
(not without built in hazards, of course). A carefully developed model gives us the common ground
on which dialogue and consensus may occur. Models also give us a base upon which to build and
develop working concepts and make predictions.
Models of reality must be seen on more than one level. A model may represent something we believe to be true based on the best information available to us at a given time and place. Models are also used to express concepts or constructs the explication of which exceeds ordinary language. An example of this is the use of mathematical formalisms in physics. In the context of Big History, models are educated presumptions upon which we hope to base predictions, hopefully after having reached a general consensus on their meaning . Models of reality are also used to form ideologies or to dogmatize ideas. We saw an example of the latter in the trial of Galileo.
    Models which rely too much on science and do not have sufficient regard for culture and various
world-views and spiritual traditions can not only create a mechanistic and dehumanizing view of
humanity, but can render predictive efforts vain and undependable. Certainly our considerations
about these matters should not be merely Eurocentric, but should embrace as many dimensions as
    I find Ortega’s definition of “theorems” and his limitation to them useful in explaining the
use of models:
              Theorems are imaginary figures with contours of geometric
              neatness. But reality never exactly coincides with theorems. And
              yet there is no other manner of understanding reality than to fit, as
              best we can, its perpetually shifting shapes into such prefabricated
              molds as our imagination produces. Theorems allow us to take our
              bearings in the chaos of reality. They may even supply the means
              to determine the discrepancy between reality and the cobweb of
              our ideas.2

 The history of all that exists is written in atoms and deciphered by physicists. The long-term
history of our own species is also written in our DNA and genes, and deciphered by scientists.
Archaeologists and geologists add the textures and colours to the picture. There is an advantage to
the history written in subatomic particles, as David Helfand says, “Atoms are not culturally biased
2. Jose Ortega y Gassett, Concord and Liberty. (The Norton Library, N.Y.,1963. Tr. Helene Weyl) pp.35-36
as human historians are.”3 History also comes to us through written texts, inscriptions, myths and
traditions. All of these have their own particular place and value.
So many sciences and approaches to the history of mankind, the earth, indeed the universe,
are focused on the effort to establish these stories that the past is continuously becoming more
clarified. Nevertheless, the past is a foundation, not a destination.
We are in the midst of a “singularity” which we defined above. Part of our effort here, and
in Big History in general, is to reflect on the nature and roots of this singularity, as defined by each
of the speakers at this conference, coordinate our study and analysis of it and, together as a collective
of disciplines, project into the future. Big History is a phenomenon rather than a discipline. It has
no boundaries and is limited by no “compartments.” It takes us from the Prime Singularity, through
the present and into the future. The power of Big History lies in the coordination of all disciplines,
integrating or melding them in such a way that we uncover a more complete and profound meaning
than each alone could manifest.
    We are projecting forward up to 2045, though we might suggest looking toward 2050 when
the present population of the earth will have doubled, exacerbating many of the crises we are
analyzing today.
    Reality at all levels and in every dimension is a mystery. I will not suggest that the world we
experience with our own senses is not reality; nevertheless, what we perceive is the surface of reality,
which is penetrated only with great effort over time. The more deeply we penetrate into this
perceived reality, the greater the mystery becomes. As with every human excursion into the nebulous
realm of reality, we can at best create models of systems and seek to make predictions based upon
3. Helfand, David J., The Physics of History (The Teaching Company, 2009) p.1.

them. We cannot function without “models.” The complexity of systems requires a model dependent
view of reality, and all our projections into the future are based on models of systems. It is important
to realise this, and vital that our models be kept flexible, resilient and able to respond rather than
react. Models of reality that become rigid and narrow generally collapse into erroneous ideologies
about reality, and this can lead to a doctrinalized ignorance, a “systems failure” and often to cruelty
and violence. The economic near-collapse in America during 2008-2009 was, to a large degree, the
result of a false model that had become an ideology of deregulation and the withdrawal of
governmental oversight.
    Aside from predictive models for economics, other models must relate to ecological systems,
financial and management systems, as well as interactive models for governmental jurisdictions and
communities. Our work is to integrate the models and elucidate the interdependence of all these
systems. Without predictive intervention we are faced with a gradual entropic implosion of economic
and social structures. We must, however, always beware of distorted or preconceived models,
particularly those which are self-serving or ideological.
    Single or limited discipline models often suffer from cascading, in which results are projected
and extrapolated as universals or as models of regularity and consistency. Such cascading inevitably
gives false results. What we mean here is that a model which proves accurate in one place and under
one set of circumstances cannot necessarily be applied under other circumstances or in other places
nor can it give an accurate picture of the overall state of affairs at any given time. This can present
serious distortions and false conclusions. In tracking pandemics or in food safety, for example, this
could be disastrous. Not recognising the interdependence of complex systems is crippling and
prevents both sound predictions and meaningful action. Dirk Helbing has conceived a comprehensive, computer based modelling and predictive programme that takes every possible
discipline and force in our biosphere into account and synthesizes them. This produces a matrix for
prediction and predictive interventions. It cannot, however, assure us that we will be aware of an
impending major geo-catastrophe or other unheralded and unexpected asymmetry. Intersecting
vulnerabilities are also difficult to predict.
    In speaking of such predictive models, we would suggest that the Helbing System,4 which
is compelling, appears to have a weakness other than the ones mentioned above. This is one that
ought to give us some humility in our efforts to be predictive and project into the future with
over-confidence. The difficulty with forming predictive models is the fact that the whole model may
be shattered by the unpredictable actions of a single, often non-descript, person or incident. When
a deranged Serbian student stepped out of the shadows in Sarajevo on Vidovdan 1914, and fired his
pistol he set off a cascade of events, long in the making, that ultimately led to two world wars,
destroyed empires and changed the face of Europe and the world. Yet who today remembers Gavrilo
Princip? In a singularity of compound crises such as those that encompass our world today, there is
sufficient powder everywhere that a single, non-descript person or action lighting a fuse can set it
to explode, collapsing the best formed models, predictions and plans. Bio and cyber technology are
benign in and of themselves, but the more they develop, the more they are open to being used by
some brilliant but deranged person to create a catastrophes far more serious than do those that cyber
hackers or the people who take delight in creating computer viruses and causing havoc. The remote
intervention in the Iranian nuclear programme by either America or Israel is an example of the
4. The brilliant Dr. Dirk Helbing has presented a theory of mass computer analysis and prediction, taking into account every discipline, force, event and power. He is an expert in stochastic processes and doubtless has worked this into his computer model proposal. The unpredictability of human emotions, especially when motivated by a defence of deeply held beliefs and values, would seem to be the main weakness in Helbing’s system, as it must be in all predictive systems.

possibilities. What could such a person do to an artificial intelligence system? These are all things
that we in the Big History movement need to discuss among ourselves and others in seeking to
construct predictive models.
    We might be able to speak of a technological era but it would be foolish to presume a “Post-
Religious” era or an era not profoundly affected by religio-political ideologies. Many of these have
powerful impacts on economic, ecological, social and geopolitical prognoses. This impact appears
in ways that are often unpredictable. It is as yet not possible to predict with accuracy the direction
and flow of human emotions under sets of variable circumstances. When people are guided by
powerful religio-political ideologies, such predictions are even more unstable and complex.
One of the ideological models that we must surely overcome is the notion that people who
are in some way different from “us” can be defined as “the other.” There is no “the other,” there are
only variations on a theme in the great symphony of humanity. If we accept the proposition that
some human beings are “the other,” by which one always means “inferior” or “defective,” then we
become part of the crisis rather than the solution. We are, all together, related organically to every
star that lights the heavens, every planet that circles every sun, every moon, every asteroid, every
comet that arouses our wonder and every meteor that falls from our sky. Resolving our critical
singularity depends, in part, on our realising this truth and convincing mankind that it is so.
Science and other disciplines are quite capable of developing ideologies that can cause their
experts to make biased conclusions. Science alone cannot bring about a greater potential for unity
of understanding and purpose. This is why Big History seeks to encompass so many disciplines and
give consideration to so many forces and energies. Spiritual traditions, from the aboriginal to the
most contemporary, are certainly among these forces and energies.


    In the list of subjects for discussion at this conference, I had chosen aspects of two of them,
since they are intertwined. Modes of Future Thought: Can strategic concepts move beyond
ideology? Political Ideologies and “Global Thought:” Can there be a Synthesis of Scientific
Theories and Spiritual Traditions?
We would cautiously, and with caveats, suggest that the answer to both these questions is
“yes, perhaps.” We have probabilistic brains, inclined to interpret probabilities, not certitudes. When
certitudes are forced into theoretical dimensions, we end up forming strong ideologies, and
ideologies are always crippling, never completely true, and often the sources of dissension and
    Can we, as individual thinkers or as a collective of disciplines, form strategic concepts that
move beyond ideology? We can, we must, but will we? So much of the problem is that often we do
not believe what we see, rather we see what we believe. Can we help each other move beyond this?
We are gathered here today to test that possibility. If we are sincere and have any sense of the
humility that we deserve, then we should be open to each other’s critiques so that we can help one
another avoid developing ideologies. Let us suggest that the biggest enemy of this endeavour is the
human penchant for pettiness.
    On a larger scale, strategic concepts can move beyond ideology, but only with considerable
education and the kind of rethinking that generally takes place only as a result of some catastrophic
event. During the Cold War, many science fiction stories and cinemas had the theme of an extraterrestrial
threat that forced America and the Soviet Union into cooperation. Both of them had to
yield in their ideologies for the sake of survival. In the course of such stories, the two sides
discovered the equal humanity of each other.
    We are not presently facing an extra-terrestrial threat (though one is possible), but rather one
that we have planted ourselves, and of which we are now reaping the harvest. We are at a point at
which we can still turn back the threat of an ecological collapse that is every bit as dangerous as a
nuclear war. Even at the point of this crisis, nations are taking actions or avoiding them on the basis
not only of national self interest, but also of religio-political ideologies.
    Differing and often conflicting models are at work. If I am expected to make a prediction at
this point, then I would suggest that we must come to the edge of a great precipice before there will
be any consensus on meaningful actions and that even then, national self-interests will hinder the
common action necessary for resolute, cooperative action.
    Overcoming political ideologies involves dislodging the deeply held national mythologies
which have developed and been nurtured as part of the self-identity of every nation-state. The
European Union is a bold experiment in this direction, an experiment which is being sorely tested
and may fail. Can a lesser experiment of concrete global cooperation without integration succeed?
Of course it is possible, but I would predict(since we are supposed to do so) that it is not probable.
Indeed, I want to assert that in many areas in developed nations, the economic and social structures
are in such dire condition, the gap between the wealthy and the poor so great and the middle class
so disenfranchised and relgio-political conflicts sufficiently intense that violence of a revolutionary
nature is a real possibility. The social injustice of consumer capitalism is becoming of such
magnitude that some completely unexpected event could set off a great explosion. The present world
economic system can survive only on over-consumption, and fewer and fewer citizens are financially
able to fulfil this “obligation” and we can only consume so much for so long before there is little left
to consume. Moreover, the population of the earth is increasing rapidly, but our free market,
consumerist system presses for technological innovations that will leave more and more people
unemployed. The economic system needs to evolve to something more rational, but I predict that
common greed and power lust will hinder this until a catastrophic meltdown occurs. Consumer
capitalism is supported by strongly held ideological formations.
    Let us turn to the second part of my subject, an area which, I submit, is the least predictable.


    We are well aware that when one begins a discussion of the taboo subject of religion, one is
walking on thin ice over a pit of quicksand. Religion and evolved culture are powerful forces in our
biosphere, and one can ignore this aspect of the world only to the detriment of all that Big History
is attempting to accomplish. In speaking of spiritual traditions, we should also have culture in mind.
Matters of spiritual traditions and cultural concerns are intense aspects of our world, and large
vacuums in our thought and projections would be left were these not included as integral aspects of
our efforts.
    With regard to spiritual traditions, there is good reason to believe that there can be a
symbiosis with scientific theories. My own efforts in this direction, aside from several essays and
lectures, are my two books, Evidence of Things Not Seen and On the Neurobiology of “Sin.”5 One
must be much more cautious with regard to religious bodies, many of which no longer have a strong
5. Synaxis Press (Dewdney, B.C., 2005; 2010 respectively)
consciousness of their own spiritual traditions. Such creative forces have been overgrown with rules,
regulations, laws, ideologies, power structures and other hubris. As an example, while we can
appreciate the advanced cosmology in the Hindu tradition, it is difficult to separate it from the caste
structure. When we take the cosmology as a spiritual tradition that transcends the system itself, we
can certainly find a complementarity. There are similar qualities in many spiritual traditions. In some
traditions, spirituality is based in the concepts of energy and light, and the idea that energy is about
relationships. This fact and the common use of theoria in both Orthodox spiritual tradition and
quantum theory clearly invites a complementarity. This is only possible when the spiritual tradition
in mind is maintained with some integrity.
    How is it that a spiritual tradition can lose its manifestation as a life-giving landscape of
meaning and collapse into a relgio-political ideology? The same way that science or any other
discipline can follow a similar path and forfeit its integrity. Entities concerned with power, profits
and corporatism can preempt both spiritual traditions and science to foster their own ends.
Governments are as adept at manipulating science as they are and subverting religions. In both cases,
for religion and science, we need to remember that when you dance with Caesar, Caesar always
leads. Spiritual traditions, however, are often reduced by the same enemy we mentioned above –
pettiness. A penchant for overlaying an original synthesis with a super-structure of abstractions,
with concepts of an “absolutes” is a danger to both science and spiritual traditions.
The interweaving of the religious systems into the national mythos of a nation contributes
to undermining the actual spiritual tradition and shifting the religion into a component of religio-political
ideology. The greatest civilisations are capable of great injustices and cruelties, and both
the misuse of science and religious ideology is capable of the same. Combine the two into a national
mythic ideology, and one has a powerful force for violence and injustice.
    Left intact, as a formation of a deep human intuition, spiritual traditions could very well form
a symbiosis with scientific theory, and greater harmony in the efforts to stabilise our world can be
attained by a synergy between science and spiritual traditions. There are some dimensions which
both together can provide but which neither can offer alone. The concepts of human rights, social
justice and an egalitarian ethic, for example, were elucidated by the great religious “refuseniks,” or,
as Robert Bellah 6 calls them, “renouncers,” of the First Axial Era, and they drew their ideas from the
best of their spiritual traditions, which generally have transcended the outward religious structures
themselves. From Confucius to Zarathustra, Isaiah and Joel to Hesiod, the spiritual traditions of that
great epoch shaped the theories of natural rights, responsibilities to the defenceless and destitute, a
concept of human equality, and social justice. It has taken centuries, wars and revolutions for many
of these concepts to be realised, and it remains that part of our efforts to resolve the crises we speak
of rests in breaking down ideological boundaries and completing this great task.
    If these traditions can be brought out of the hobbles and leg-irons of ideologies and absolutes
and find their transcendent spiritual plane and content once more, then they can be of great service
in helping to resolve the confluence of crises in which we find ourselves, and assist in moving us
into the future with more hope. Personhood and interpersonal relationships are at the heart of many
spiritual traditions, and such concepts can help bond us together and give us common ground for
working out existential crises. Being freed of ideologies and antique models of reality, they can form
a symbiosis with scientific theory that is creative and which satisfies some of the deepest
psychological needs of mankind at the same time.
6. Bellah, Robert N., Religion in Human Evolution (Belknap-Harvard, Cambridge, 2011) p.573
The first caveat with regard to religious bodies is that, in systems which are highly structured
and internally considered to be “absolutes,” models are often built on preconceptions and outdated
understands or information, and manipulated in order to certify them, often even in the face of clear
proof that they are untrue. This is a fault found in all systems. “Absolute” is a synonym for tyranny,
not for truth. The conflicts between science and religion, and between science and political
ideologies appear to always be interrelated in some manner. I submit that such conflicts are the result
of a combination of inflexible models of realty and common fear. Anxiety and fear are sources of
ideology and motivators for its defence. In encountering religio-political systems, we are almost
always encountering deep-structural fear and anxieties, and we should be aware of this. When
erroneous models of reality are called into question and doubt is created about them, we should
remember that the greater the doubt, the stronger the impetus for advocates to fall back on the
preconceived ideas and rigid ideological thinking. These latter two projections may help to explain
why religio-political ideologies have been at the root of so much violence, persecution and human
destruction in much of the world.
    Nevertheless, in any integrated curriculum focused on Big History, it is important to include
the study and analysis of the development and influence of religion and political theory. Let us
suggest only two reasons for this inclusion. First and most immediate to the singularity we have
defined is the inevitable entanglement of religious and political ideology. This is a symbiosis
which must be encountered and taken into consideration in all predictive efforts. Many of the
“unpredictables” in the unfolding of world events and “future history” will be framed in the realm
of the religio-political, and will be driven by specific ideologies and inflexible models. It does not
appear to us to be possible to fulfil the mandate of this conference, or of Big History in general,
without a regard for these matters. The possibility of one or two more theoretical theocracies being
added to our geopolitical landscape in the near future should alert us even more urgently to this need
to encounter such issues and factor them into our considerations.
    The second aspect of our proposition is that the study of the development of religious
systems demonstrates both commonalities and the degree to which borrowing and sharing of religiopolitical
and philosophical concepts and ideas has moved among societies from the dawn of
humanity. This has been especially true since the advent of writing, but shared myths and traditions
have been handed down from the earliest human settlements. A crude form of globalisation, it would
seem, has been with us from the dawn of human civilisations. Globalisation is an evolutionary
process which is increasingly fed by shared crises. A symbiosis of spiritual tradition with scientific
theory could help in promoting this Mondialisation in part by easing some of the anxieties and fear
that arise from new knowledge and dramatic changes.
    Religion continues to have a direct impact on geopolitics, economics and our responses to
such phenomena as global warming. It is, therefore, important to study the sources and nature of the
religio-political ideologies which have helped shape our singularity. Such ideologies must surely
impact upon both our struggles for the resolution of major issues and our predictive efforts. Some
of these ideologies are manifested in a war against science, particularly in America, while others
seek a complementarity between science and spiritual traditions. Our goal is to explore the most
productive and creative ways to integrate the deeper role of spiritual systems in the shaping of our
projection from our current singularity or event threshold. We contend that such systems cannot be
ignored. Rather, they can be integrated into the scope of Big History in ways that utilise their gifts,
overcome the rigidity of ideology and static models of reality, and offer them a more creative role
in the unfolding that is before us. Religion is an integral part of our biosphere and it will continue
to be so. Let me emphasize once more that one of the areas in our present world that is the most
unpredictable and destabilising lies in that of religio-political systems.
    The higher sphere of spiritual traditions associated with religious systems can undoubtedly
form a symbiosis with scientific theory. Let me suggest that approaching the deeper spiritual
concepts, and seeing them in relation to the great cosmic and ecological considerations of our new
Axial Era offers an alternative to conflict. Cosmologist George Smoot offers a basis for the
symbiosis of spiritual traditions and scientific theory:

         The religious concept of creation flows from a sense of wonder at the
         existence of the universe and our place in it. The scientific concept of
         creation encompasses no less a sense of wonder: we are awed by the
         ultimate simplicity and power of the creativity in physical nature–and
         by its beauty on all scales.7

    The origins of religion lie in the quest for making sense of the universe, our place in it, and
natural phenomena. Science pursues the same quest, but with testable, predictive theory and in a
more convincing manner, even when it is clearly offering models of reality, not professing to
explicate reality itself.
    It is up to the Big History movement to help develop this symbiosis. It is not going to be
reasonable or productive to exclude it. This is something that my colleagues, Canadian philosopher
David Goa, physicist Stoyan Tanev and I8 have been working toward for several years. We are
7. Wrinkles in Time (Morrow, 1993) p.297
8. e.g., Goa, David, A Regard for Creation (Synaxis Press, Dewdney, 2008); Tanev, Stoyan, “Essence and Energy – an Exploration in Orthodox Theology and Physics,” Logos - Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, Vol. 50, No. 1-2, 2009, pp. 89-153. The language of Orthodox theology & quantum mechanics: St Gregory Palamas and Niels Bohr,” paper presented at the International Conference
Orthodox Theology and the Sciences.

framing our research in the context of Big History and of the singularity in which we find ourselves
in this epoch. We would hope to see our work incorporated into the Big History movement.


    We are in a Second Axial Era. The first Axial Era was deeply concerned with the conflicts between
permanence and change, the nature of personhood and questions of good and evil. That era was
shaped in conflicts both philosophical and military. The quest for certainty and stability in the midst
of change and violence, and an explanation of constructs such as good and evil, and the desire to
make some sense of the pre-scientific world, meant that the conceptual formation would be
essentially religious. The Second Axial era is similar in many respects, except that the conceptual
bases are science and technology. It will be more productive if we can look into the future and seek
commonalities and complementarities, including spiritual traditions and systems into “Big History”
in order to come to understand the unfolding, radical changes that are taking place, and will only
accelerate with each year. Ironically, we find ourselves facing one of the major paradigms of the
First Axial Era: the conflict between permanence and change. The idea of time as an emergent
property or reality as being a state that is not constant, are among these “conflicts.”9 Our work is
“predictive,” and should deal with change with dynamic models, not static models of reality. The
future will continue to distance itself from the past in ways that will be dramatically and violently
resisted by some, enthusiastically embraced by others. Nevertheless, the change will come, and we
need to anticipate it, looking into the future, and developing a viable concept of “futurology,” which
9. Time is change. The concept of time is meaningless if nothing changes, and no change can happen unless time passes. These two concepts are equivalent so time is simply the fact that reality (whatever it may be) is not in a constant state.
is based in every discipline, power and force. Ideological conflicts are to occur and can interfere
with this work, and they can be destructive. The future of mankind, however, may well depend on
a concerted effort toward a multi-disciplined “futurology” which looks well into the future in a
creative and dynamic way. Developments such as artificial intelligence and the discovery of lifeforms
on other planets or moons of our own solar system, perhaps even sentient life-forms in other
parts of the universe, are certain to occur and will create new ways of thinking and alternative
conceptualizations of humanity. A creative harmony between scientific theory and spiritual traditions
can have a stabilizing effect and should be an important aspect of futurology; Big History can
contribute to this aspect of the predictive dialogue. Spiritual traditions and the scientific theory can
form a creative synthesis, but only when not hindered by either political or religious ideologies. The
concept of a “singularity” also invokes a vision of an explosion of new developments in technology and in the way humans think and react, even evolutionary changes in the human brain.
    We should be looking into the new epoch that is already unfolding before us with both optimism and caution, and peer beyond 2045, beyond 2050, into long term implications for mankind and for our biosphere.

Saturday, January 4, 2014



There are many facets to the Hebrew Scripture or, as we call it, the "Old Testament."
Perhaps one of the more important, though neglected, aspects is the personal one, the fact that it speaks to each one of us as an individual.
    It is important to see the Hebrew Scripture as more than a history of the short-lived Kingdom of Israel and the remnant of Judea. The Old Testament is a chronicle of humanity, but it is also the story of each one of us, of our own spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical struggles.
    As we navigate the narratives of this great book, if we pay attention, we constantly find ourselves in familiar surroundings; the depths of love and hate, the corrosive effects of egoism, bitterness, malice, envy and self-focus, but also the heroic struggle of mankind, the presence of hope and joy. There, we find the same constant tensions between constraint, self-discipline and self-control, and the chaos and destructive energy of unconstrained desires and passions. All these are present in the daily lives of each one of us, and in the society and culture around us. Join me in examining the ways in which the Hebrew Scripture tells the story of each one of us, of our parishes, our families and our communities, as it unfolds the history of Israel.
    There is a notable detail in the creation narrative. Light exists before those heavenly bodies that we usually associate with the source of light. This is something that has to be the case, whether one is speaking in strict scientific terms or in spiritual understandings. The energy of creation, formless, void and in chaos, gradually formed into the stars, including our sun, as form and order began to permeate the universe.
    The separation of light from darkness is the result of the rotation of the earth on its axis, but there is spiritual revelation here. We are told that God-the-Word separated the light from the darkness. Let us begin then, with God, our Lord Jesus Christ, separating light from darkness in the universe. This should be the most profound image that we carry with us, for on the Cross, God-the-Word once more separated light from darkness in the hearts of mankind


In the Symbol of Faith when we confess, ‟One Lord Jesus Christ .... without Whom nothing was made that has been made,” we are referring to God the Word as the One Who made all things. In the creation narrative, when we talk about the separation of light from darkness, this has a very profound meaning that will echo down throughout the whole period of human existence, up until the end of human history. Christ Jesus separates light from darkness. The light is necessary for life, and the darkness is also present in life. Our Lord Jesus Christ is always striving to separate the light from the darkness within mankind. While both light and darkness have their proper place in our lives, they are also used symbolically. In the light, we can see clearly, while in the darkness we can only grope our way along, we cannot see the realities of life, and there is always a certain danger in the darkness. Within each one of us our hearts have to be recreated by the presence of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Our Lord stands without, desiring to enter into our hearts to separate light from darkness within each one of us. We must see both the light and the darkness so that we can make a clear choice. Much later we will hear that men desired darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil, but that the light was in the world and the world could neither comprehend nor overpower it. That light was present, calling upon everyone to let it shine in their hearts, to separate the light from the darkness within them and having separated it, to make it clear what is darkness and what is light. The more filled with the Divine Light that our heart becomes, the more it becomes the Kingdom of God (Paradise) within us, as Christ promised. When Our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, two thieves were on crosses together with Him. The two trees in the Garden of Eden are in fact a prophecy and type about the Cross, because one thief looked upon Christ on the Cross and saw in Him "the good" and then recognized for the first time his own wickedness. So the Cross of Jesus Christ became, at that moment, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil for this brigand. When the man said, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom,” the Cross of Jesus Christ became the Tree of Life for him, because Jesus Christ is the fruit of the Tree of Life, the One Who can bestow upon us everlasting life. On the other side of Christ’s Cross was a man of equal guilt as the first thief; but he does not repent, in fact he reviles Christ. In this we see that the Cross of Jesus Christ becomes a dividing line between light and darkness, between the heart that has become illumined through repentance and the heart that remains in darkness because it will not repent and open itself to the grace of the Holy Sprit. Here on the Cross, Christ separates light and darkness visibly before us, and the two thieves are a type of the light and the darkness that constitutes the inner struggle of everyone
    We see this struggle flowing throughout human history and throughout our own personal history, because the Cross of Christ still stands within and before each one of us as the dividing line between light and darkness. This dividing line was present when Christ created the earth and made it habitable. The grace of the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters bringing forth life, and there the light of God's grace shone in the Garden of Eden. St John Damascene tells us that the Garden was Paradise because it was filled with light, the Uncreated Light of God’s Glory. Unfortunately,  mankind chose darkness rather than that light and departed into the outer darkness, away from the light of God's love and glory. Jesus Christ will use that formula sometimes in His parables, “Cast them forth into the outer darkness, where there be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” We see this in the prophecies, we see this reflected in the New Testament, and we see above all that there stands before each of us the choice between light and darkness, life and spiritual death. We see the Ark as a dividing line also, between those who laughed at Noah and those who were on board the ark with him.
    We are all called upon daily to open ourselves to the light and try to root out the darkness that is within us. Our Lord Jesus Christ and the grace of the Holy Spirit are there to help us, because the light of Christ’s love and glory shines into the heart that opens itself toward Him and the Grace of the Holy Spirit fills the heart with the illumination of that glory the more we struggle to acquire the Grace of the Holy Spirit and to unite ourselves with Jesus Christ and to live a life in Christ.
    A person can be very religious and still be filled with darkness, because being religious does not necessarily mean that you have faith. We can be religious to such a degree that we become cruel, destructive, full of hatred for others, full of malice and convinced that we are absolutely right and the rest of the world is absolutely wrong. Yet it is never we who are right; it is the Church that is right, not us. We have to choose even within the life of the Church our position – whether in light or in darkness, whether to be simply religious or whether to have a living and vital faith and struggle for a life in Jesus Christ. The light and the darkness both stand together until the end. This is the Mystery of Paradise in the end, that the light fills everything, all in all. That it illumines and gives life to the faithful and to those who rejected Christ and those who are brutal toward their fellow human beings or are indifferent toward their fellow human beings, that light of Christ’s love and glory will burn them like an everlasting fire. Therefore, let us, as we proceed through the Old Testament, consider its meaning and consider the meaning of the separation of light from darkness,  and of the meaning of the knowledge of good and evil. Let our lives be consecrated to the struggle to acquire light and cast out the darkness from our own hearts and our own minds. This means not only our egoism and self-centredness but those things that are created because of them:  all of our prejudices, our ill will, our evil feelings toward others and all of those things that constitute this spiritual darkness. This is what the creation narrative begins with: the separation of light from darkness and the begetting of life, and this is how our lives have also to begin anew in order to become authentic lives; the separation of light from darkness within us, the choosing of light, the struggle to drive out the darkness by increasing the light of the grace of the Holy Spirit and Christ’s Presence within us. We cannot do this just through religion; we can do it through a living and vital faith in Our Lord God and Saviour Christ.

The ego as the root of evil
Fall into an unauthentic life

    As we understand the creation narrative, God created humanity from perfect love. This means that He also created us with freedom. Love demanded without freedom is a psychosis, it is not love. Love given without freedom is an obsession, it is not love.
    With authentic love, there is also trust. God demonstrated His authentic love, with its freedom of will and trust, by placing before mankind a choice. Why? Because without choice, there is no freedom. Even in marriage and friendships, love unfeigned requires freedom and trust, as any successful marriage demonstrates.
    The "two trees" in the garden are certainly a metaphor and prophecy, not something to be taken literally, as if one could eat an apple and suddenly know the mysteries of good and evil, or a pomegranate and live forever. Are the trees not rather a fore-image of the Cross, upon which God-the-Word would once more separate light from darkness? Had not God already planned for our redemption even before we fell?
    In Eden humans lived in an atmosphere of unselfish love. God had created them in His own likeness and image, so they had freedom of will, unselfish love and virtue, and humility.
       The "tree" that Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat from is a metaphor, a symbol, and also a prophecy about the Cross of Christ, so we will not discuss it here. The important thing is what the temptation was about and what its results are.
      Satan tempted the humans by offering them a counterfeit of something that God had  already given them. "Don't trust God, He's just being selfish and does not want you to have knowledge. If you have this knowledge you will be like God."
    The humans forgot that they were already "in the image and likeness" of God. Satan painted a false image of God as being vain and egoistic so he created a counterfeit; a false image of God and of what it meant to be "like God."
    Satan had set the fire of egoism, self-love and self-centredness in the heart of mankind. Once Adam and Eve had accepted this temptation, they fell into this egoism and self focus  –  they accepted the counterfeit instead of the Grace which God had given them.
    This is the root and base of all human tragedies, murders, robberies and deception. It does not matter whether you take the entire "Eden narrative" literally, as allegory or as a mixture of both. The story is about each one of us both as individuals and collectively.
    The temptations we fall to are almost always counterfeits for what is real, and we yield to them because of our own ego and self focus. This is the greatest spiritual struggle for each one of us, and this is the ultimate meaning of the story. As with Adam and Eve, so often what we accept is a counterfeit of something that God has already given us. We choose the counterfeit and lose the gift of Grace. The "Garden of Eden" narrative is about you.

    "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death."
            "Yet here too man makes a gain, namely death, and the cutting off of sin that evil may not be immortal."
    Man was never immortal by nature. Neither his body nor his soul were ever immortal by nature. Man is a created being and only God can be immortal by nature. It is, therefore, necessary for us to understand that there is a difference between death and mortality.  The late Greek theologian, Fr John Romanides remarks:

    "It would be highly illogical to try to interpret Pauline thought with the presupposition [1] that death is normal or, [2] that at most, it is the outcome of a juridical decision of God to punish the whole human race for one sin, [3] that happiness is the ultimate destiny of man, and [4] that the soul is immaterial, naturally immortal and as directly created by God at conception, normal and pure of defects."

    Man was created for communion with God. He found his complete fulfilment in a life of communion, praise and giving glory to the Creator, living in a unison of love with God, by love drawing nearer to Him toward sharing in His immortality, in His deity. Man was not created for death even though, as a created being he is mortal. Man was created to live, through unity with the Creator.
    Why, then, does God warn Adam and Eve that if they turn from Him in disobedience and learn the conflict between good and evil, they will "surely die;" for this is just what He means by, "For on the day you eat of it, you shall surely die." This was no threat of punishment, for death is by no means a contrived punishment, rather it was a simple statement of reality. Immortality is a property of God alone. Man cannot possess it. He can only share in it by grace. We said that man was created for communion with God, and thus, he was created for life. Evil, which causes death, was not in his nature. By disobedience, man turned away from God and thus from life and the Source of Life, and so death became his destiny, for his nature became corrupted and he was no longer in direct communion with life.
    By accepting sin into his nature, man fell, not from the high state of perfection ascribed to him by Augustine, but from a state of harmonious existence in which he was growing and maturing toward perfection in God. The fall resulted in a change in man's nature. It now became disharmonious, full of internal conflict, and dissonance. Death is in itself the arch-manifestation of this disharmony and dissonance; death is the “sin of this world,” the means by which the world and man fall short or “miss the mark” for which they were created.  Death is an automatic result of separation from God, and sin is the cause of this separation. Death and sin are interacting and co-supportive, for "death is the wages of sin," while "sin is the sting of death." In order for one to be conquered, the other must be overcome. Thus, the "Only Sinless One," Jesus Christ alone was able to conquer death and liberate man from its bondage, making the struggle for "perfection" once more possible. For, sin sets up a complete internal disharmony, and death completely shatters the natural organism, the psychophysical organism that is man. The soul does not depart the body lightly, nor into a new world of purification and experience. Rather, the soul tears itself away from the body unwillingly, with anguish over the apparent destruction of its organism by the unnatural division of its components. It is not the body which holds man in bondage, but death itself and "him who has the power of death."
    Death is the "last enemy" of both God and man. It is the direct result of man's separation from God, and man is separated from God by sin. Satan increases and perpetuates this separation, and thus he has the power of death in his hands. To be in the hands of death means to be out of the hands of God. How great this enemy is, the Saviour Himself reveals to us. He wished us to know how great a gulf He was bridging for us, and yet how completely, how absolutely He was willing to suffer for us, and so on the Cross, He cried out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" This means that the Human Christ truly tasted death __ He placed Himself, as a man, in the hands of death: and to be in the hands of death is to be separated from God. Thus, the human body of Christ tasted death for us. Christ, as God, entered the realm of death and truly conquered it. He returned from death, removed His human nature and body from the hands of death and restored it once more to the hands of God. Thus, the dominion of death and, consequently, the effective power of Satan, has been shattered. (All that is left to him is the power of deceit and delusion). There is now one resurrected Body, the Body of Christ __ that fully human body which is united fully with God. In it, the power of death is shattered once and for all. One participates in that victory over death by uniting oneself with that one resurrected Body in which the victory is complete and certain: by uniting oneself to the Body of Christ. For this reason, in the Divine Liturgy, we partake of that one Resurrected Body and unite ourselves to it. For this reason, too, the Orthodox Dogma of the Church is, for us, central and vital to our lives and salvation. The Church is the Body of Christ, as the Apostle clearly says. We unite ourselves to that Body of Christ, the Church, in the rebirth of Baptism, which in itself is a living manifestation of the victory over death, and within the Church, we receive the very Body and Blood of the risen and ascended Saviour, and in faith unite ourselves to Him, and participate in the liberation from the fear of death with which Satan has held mankind in bondage all his lifetime. Being truly liberated from that bondage, one can take up where Adam and Eve left off, in the struggle to mature in perfection: only now, it is a very great struggle indeed. Thus, salvation consists in the union of the faithful with the life of God in the Body of Christ (the Holy Church), where the evil-one is being progressively and really destroyed in the life of co-suffering love. This union is effected by baptism (the grace of regeneration) and fulfilled in the Holy Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, and in the mutual, cooperative struggle of Orthodox Christians against the power and influence of the evil-one. This is precisely why the last words of the "Lord's Prayer" are, "deliver us from the evil-one," and not "deliver us from evil."



The story of Cain and Abel amplifies what we are taught about the fall of mankind and our own condition. Egoism and self-focus are at the root of the violence in our world. Every war, every murder, every act of violence begins in the heart of man. Those who lead in creating such violence and wars, pogroms, attempts to destroy those who are “not like us” are people without empathy, people who cannot or will not identify with the sufferings and struggle of others. Murders arise from greed, from envy and pride.
    This narrative portrays the first such crime amongst humans, and a crime made worse because it was the murder of one’s own family member.
    We are told that the two brothers brought their thanksgiving offerings in due season, to offer to God. Abel, who offered from the heart, had his offering accepted. Cain’s offering was not accepted because it was not offered from the heart, from love, but rather because of a law, a rule, a regulation, and he offered it, not in heartfelt thanksgiving, but from obligation. The difference in the “first fruits” being offered was not the issue. God tells Cain, “If you had rightly offered, your sacrifice would have been acceptable.” He did not say “If you had offered the right thing...”
    Cain lost nothing from the fact that his offering was not accepted this time. Had he struggled to correct himself, all would have been well but, alas, ego and self-centredness received the upper hand. God will later remind him that he, as the firstborn, was the leader and head of the tribe, that because of this he had dominion over his brother. This was not enough. Cain’s ego and pride were offended. Moreover, the righteousness of Abel was a censure to his conscience.
    The solution to the situation should have been repentance and a striving to correct himself. Instead, his pride and ego overcome him and he does the unthinkable: he murders his brother. Remember that the Ten Commandments begins with a reference to murder and end with forbidding us to be envious. Envy is born of ego and self-focus, and it unleashes great fires and great tragedies. We are all subject to this deception, and none of us should think that we are immune to its excesses.
    This story is about us; about us as individuals and as societies, and perhaps this is why we are told that Cain built the first society, the first village (hardly a city by today’s standards, but a complex human society).
    This is also a story of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Notice that after murder has been committed, God does not come down in a fury of vengeance and outrage. Rather, He comes to Cain with love and attempts to lead him to repentance. In the Garden, although God certainly knows where Adam and Eve are, He nevertheless calls to them to come into the open and repent. Now, He asks Cain, “Where is your brother...” Does God not know all that has taken place? Certainly He does, but He calls upon Cain to confess his horrible deed and repent. Indeed, following the narrative, one can almost hear God speaking with tears of sorrow and compassion as He makes every effort to lead Cain to “turn from his sinfulness and live.” God even goes so far as to prevent Cain from being killed by others, because so long as he is alive, he can repent and return to God.
    Cain, the story tells us, went yet farther away from God, just as we ourselves do when we do not repent of our sins and falls. The story is about us, and it is also about God’s infinite love and mercy.

Commentary on Cain and Abel

    We should not think that any of us are completely exempt from such a possibility. We are all human beings, we are all capable of great wickedness; and we are all capable, with God’s grace and our struggle, to also become people of genuine holiness and sanctity.
    Think about how this applies to you in your daily life and even in the practice of religion. Remember that religion is not what the Orthodox faith is about, it is about a living faith in God, not a "system." Faith does not consist in coming into accord with a system of facts; faith is an orientation of the soul toward the will of God.
    This is how the second story of Cain and Abel plays out in our own personal lives. God’s heart is always open to us. as it was to Cain. Note that God’s heart was open to him even  though he did not repent, but this is not going to do Cain any good, because he himself will not return to God’s heart. In fact he departs further from God. The designation "he land of Nod" evidently comes from a Chaldean word that signifies “to wander.” So he wanders farther away from God, and now he has greater alienation, greater separation, and this alienation is going to be the great story of the Hebrew Scripture, our "Old Testament."
     Alienation and the great struggle against idolatry and above all, the idolatry of ourselves and the idolatry of religion; because religion can become a very destructive idolatry. One can be intensely religious and worship his religion without ever having genuine faith and without ever having a real relationship with our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ, with the community of the faithful. This is one of our great tragedies. It comes about from that venom of Eden, the fall into egotism, self-centredness and self-love. The real result of the fall then, and what we call sin, is an inclination to habitually misuse our energies, a proclivity for the misuse of our energies. Religion without a living, transforming faith, is a form of idolatry. This misuse of our energies is what sin really consists of.
    My mentor, Father John Romanides, once said that “religion is a neurobiological illness, and” Orthodoxy is its cure” (I did hear him say once that “faith is its cure”). This is a very telling statement, because here we have two brothers who were obviously religious. They offered the thanksgiving sacrifices that, according to religion, they were supposed to offer. That was the religious thing to do, a religious act. One of them, however, had love and faith and the other one did not. They both believed of course, but belief is not the same as having faith. Faith in God means to have love and trust in God, to desire a relationship of love with Him, to express that love in ways that we, even in our weakness, are able to; knowing that despite the insignificance of the offerings that we make, God receives them lovingly when we offer them from the heart in love.
    Here, then, we have this problem of religion without faith, and we will see it again in Christ’s parable about the Publican and the Pharisee, and the failure of the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son.
    Let us pause now and look at ourselves. How often are we fulfilling things in externally because we are "supposed to," because it is expected, because it is the Law (or Canon)? Even in our religious life, we can be observant of rules and codes, but still not have faith. We can be quite diligent in the external practice of our religion, and never have a relationship with God. This is a great tragedy for us, and this is what the story of Cain and Abel is telling us first of all. Do you see what your ego can bring you to. Your ego and self-love can so corrupt you that you can murder your brother, and then try to hide from it and cover it up. You may not actually murder your brother in the strict sense, but you may try to destroy him with gossip and slander, or in some other way, but all the same, you are guilty. Ah, foul envy, foul jealousy, and all are a product of our ego and our self-focus, which is sometimes self-love and sometimes self-hatred.


Cain has introduced murder into the life of mankind. That is where egotism, self-centredness and self-love can lead us to. When we add self-righteousness, which is a form of narcissism, it is even worse.
    Do not think that anyone  of us is completely exempt from the possibility of committing such a crime. We sometimes do it in our minds, even if we do not do it literally. We are all human beings, we are all capable of great wickedness; and we are all capable with God’s grace and our struggle to also become people of genuine holiness and sanctity. People tend to think that one becomes "holy" by means of externally correct behaviour, some even realise that there must be some sort of inner change also. However, the greater part of becoming sanctified is to rid ourselves of our self-delusions about ourselves.
    Think about how this applies to each one of us in our daily lives and even in the practice of religion. Remember that religion is not what the Orthodox faith is about; it is about a living faith in Christ Jesus and His Gospel, not a system of law or a moral code. Faith does not consist in coming into accord with a system of facts or doctrines; faith is an orientation of the soul toward the will of God. Think about how the story of Cain and Abel plays out in our own personal lives. We may not commit actual murder, but the egoism, envy, self-justification that we saw already with Adam and Eve, frequently recurs in our own lives. Moreover, in our idolatry, we see God as a harsh, brutal dictator who creates earthquakes, tornados, floods and other disasters which destroy the faithful and the good together with the unbeliever and the evil. Yet,  after Cain killed Abel, the amazing thing is, you do not see God come thundering down for juridical justice. “I am going to punish Cain, I am going to make him pay! I am going to give him a death penalty, I am going to kill him with anger and fury!” No! God comes down with great gentleness. “Cain, where is your brother?” “Ah! I should know? I mean, am I my brother’s keeper?” And then you can almost see the tears in the eyes of God: “Oh Cain, what is it that you have done? You were the eldest, the inheritance was yours. Why have you done such a thing?” In all of this, God is hoping that Cain will open his heart, hoping that Cain will repent, and God’s heart is open to him should he repent. God’s heart is open to him even if he does not repent, but it is not going to do Cain any good, because he will not return to God’s heart. And in fact he does not; he goes away further from God, and the designation is to the land of Nod, and evidently Nod is a Chaldean word indicating “to wander.”
    Perhaps this does not even mean that Cain went away to a different geographical location, but only that he alienated himself further from God. In any case, he wanders away from God, and now he has greater alienation, greater separation, and this alienation is going to be the great story of the Old Testament. Alienation and the great struggle against idolatry and above all, the idolatry of ourselves and the idolatry of religion; because believe me, religion can become a very destructive idolatry. One can be intensely religious and worship his religion without ever having genuine faith and without ever having a real relationship with our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ, with the community of the faithful. This is one of our great tragedies. But it comes about from that venom of Eden, the fall into egotism, self-centredness and self-love. The real result of the fall then, and what we call sin, is an inclination to habitually misuse our energies, a proclivity for the misuse of our energies. This is what sin really consists of.
    We can reflect on the great Canon of St Andrew of Crete; he does not go into a great deal of detail, but he certainly calls upon us to liken ourselves to the sinners and the disobedient and unbelieving people of the Old Testament. Having examined ourselves, it gives us an opportunity to cleanse the idolatry out of our hearts and to follow God in truth and in spirit, knowing that we can only know God through Jesus Christ, because in the Old Testament we often see God through the lens of the passions of a humanity which, in its idolatry, so often transfers its own passions onto God, because Satan is tempting them to recreate God in their own image, or at least to recreate their concept of God. This idolatry is also part of the great story in the "Old Testament," this is part of the great struggle.
    Now we talked about Cain and Abel and we see that Cain has become the first murderer and that this murderer rose from his own ego. The next such crime we will see is not explained to us: Lamech, who was the seventh after Adam, had killed both a man and a youth. In the Hebrew Scripture it tells us that he beat the young man to death and that he just killed the other man. He has committed these two murders, and he is evidently lamenting that he had done it. We are not sure if he repented, but he is lamenting to his two wives, both of whom appear to have been barren in the beginning. Now we come to this rather confusing part of the Scripture, which we are not going to be discussing at this point, but we are told that mankind has somehow become more and more wicked. This is not surprising, because mankind’s history starts with falling into ego, then with murder, then with the murder of two people and then with whatever kind of wickedness they had fallen into which was so destructive. History informs us of the cruelty and savage massacres of this ancient era, and little is left to the imagination when we read of it in secular history.


Lamech said to his wives Ada and Zila, "Listen to me, O wives of Lamech, and pay attention to my words. I have killed a man, wounding myself, and a youth, harming myself. If Cain was to suffer sevenfold then I, Lamek, seventy and sevenfold."
    One evil piles upon another, and we become imitators of the sins and crimes of our fathers. Cain has initiated mankind into murder, and as seeds sown in a field produce an increase, so the seeds of murder begin to bring forth their crops.
    After the Flood, God warns the children of Noah, "Whoever sheds a man's blood will have his own blood shed by man: For [I have] made man in the image of God." (9:6) And again, in the incarnation, He says, "whoever lives by the sword will die by the sword."
    It is the image of God in man that Satan hates; and it is because of this image that he incites us to commit murder. His target is really the image and likeness of God that is within us — a murder of God by proxy. It is for this reason, also, that Satan strives to corrupt mankind. He desires to replace the image of God within us with his own image, to remake man in the image of the Evil-One.


There are many aspects to the stories in the Hebrew Scripture, the “Old Testament.” For the sake of our discussions here,  there are two things that the Old Testament continuously reminds us of and these are things about ourselves. One of them is why we human beings have an inner conflict between good, bad, holiness and wickedness; why we so often fall and the source of our the inner contradictions that torment us so often. The other  is the tendency of humankind toward an idolatry. These facts have much to say about corruption in our societies and the strife and bloodshed in our world.
    Reading about these things will reveal to us why our Lord Jesus Christ instructed us to pray, “...and deliver us from the evil-one” rather than “deliver us from evil.”  God has created mankind in His own “likeness and image,” that is, with freedom, intellect and a will toward virtue. Satan, trying to become more glorious than God, fell and came into an enmity toward God. Now he lures mankind into the idolatry of trying to recreate God after his own image.
    One aspect of the Old Testament is that it tells us about how mankind transfers his own passions, his own cruelties and his own aggressiveness onto his understanding of God. This idea flows throughout the Old Testament. Gnostic teachers such as Marcion and Mani carried this so far that they actually thought there were two Gods: an evil one in the Old Testament and a good one in the New Testament. What is really happening here is that Satan is trying to distort the understanding of God. Satan promised mankind that he could become like God, but instead, led man to think that God is like man. Mankind’s concept of God becomes an idolatry, a kind of self-worship, because he thinks of God as being just a “giant human” or a projection of fallen humanity. If people are cruel and murderous, then they re-image God as being cruel and murderous; if mankind is aggressive and vulgar then they recreate (in their own minds) God as being aggressive and vulgar. So what Satan has done now is to trick people or lead them into a counterfeit of God Himself. God has revealed Himself as being perfect, unselfish love, and being trusting of mankind, so Satan wants to offer a counterfeit. And that counterfeit is a god who is mentally created by man, in man’s own image and likeness, with man’s own passions.
    We should keep this in mind as we continue to look at the way each one of us finds himself in the Old Testament, and we find a picture of mankind itself in the stories we read.


1. Betrayal and Loyalty
    We could refer to Noah as an “apostle.” He preached the truth of God and salvation by obeying God even though people thought that he was foolish for doing so.
    We are told in the story of Noah that the path of wickedness which began with Cain's murder of Abel, followed by Lamech's murder of two men, continued to expand. This is the next narrative that we will look at in order to try to find ourselves within it and to try to discover within our own hearts whether we would have been on board that ark or not. There was a choice to be made then, just as there is a daily choice for us in our relationship with God and our neighbour.
    From the beginning of the creation, we see that God is constantly blessing all of His creation. When mankind began to defile the earth and rob the earth of its blessing, disregarding both God and fellow humans as well the living things and the world around them, we are told the story of Noah’s ark.
    In the story, Noah is told to build a large ship called an "ark" and to bring on board  representatives of every known species of animal, along with several plants. Noah was told that a great flood would occur that would destroy mankind, except for those who were repentant and became faithful to God.  The building of the ark took a very long time, and Noah used the process as a way of warning people and calling them to repentance. Orthodox Christians understand that the Ark is type of the Church. The holy apostles called people into the Church, and away from the sinful and destructive attitudes of the world around them. This is just what Noah was doing in his own time. The flood took place just as Noah had warned, and the earth was cleansed.
    Noah really becomes an apostle of the Living God because he is preaching to these people as he builds the ark. Hearing Noah's words and seeing his actions, the people had to make a free choice. The choice is between God and the corruption of the world, between life and death. Noah is calling them to something else also. He is calling them to struggle to have self-control and self-discipline in order to lead decent lives.
    In the same way, we are called upon to make such choices. We do not need forty days and forty nights of rain in order to sweep us away. We can be swept away from an authentic life and from a life of contentment and a life of inner joy by the passions and corruption of the world around us. We can, on the other hand, pay attention to the actual meaning of the story of Noah and choose the kind of struggle that Noah calls us to, and have an authentic life, a life filled with meaning, hope and love.

2. Our Role in Creation

God  bound man together with the created universe; man was intended to be a point of unity for all creation. Mankind is material, intellectual, spiritual – made up of everything that the universe is made up of, a combination of all the things that occur within creation. By accepting the counterfeits of Satan we began to be more a point of disunity, and all of these wounds and divisions that occur in our human nature developed amongst us.
We must often make a choice between spiritual life and spiritual death. Let us look at the story of Noah’s ark from this point of view, because the ark is a type of the Church, and true spiritual life is to be found within the Church because it is there that the Tree of Life still grows. The altar of the Church is a type of Paradise, where we receive from the chalice the fruit of the Tree of Life, which is Jesus Christ Himself. In the description of the building of the Ark, and the command about what to bring into the ark, we see that all of creation was symbolically represented and encompassed in the ark. A type of everything that exists was there, for God did not just command various clean animals, but clean and unclean animals alike, and plants, particularly those that could be used for food, and birds and creeping things – all of creation was encompassed in the ark and they were all redeemed together with mankind, represented by Noah and his family.
This is similar to what Apostle Paul says:  “All creation is being redeemed together with mankind, because all creation will be set free into the glorious freedom of God’s children” (Rm.8) There is a very close bond between us and the created universe and the ecosystem in which we live. We suggest that this story tells us that we are encompassed together with the rest of creation. We have a role to play as the centre of unity in creation and we have a responsibility to the ecosystem in which we live; a responsibility to humanity and to all life on earth, to preserve our biosphere.
3. Egoism: the Son Betrays the Father
When the ark landed, we find a rather disturbing story of a son’s betrayal of his father. One of Noah’s sons, Ham, found his father passed out drunk and naked. He humiliated and degraded his father. When he mockingly told his brothers about their father’s condition, the other sons of Noah showed their love and respect for their father by entering the room holding a blanket. The entered backward, with their faces away from their father, and covered him with the blanket in order not to shame him.
No matter what family we have, when we begin to raise children, not all of them really follow our teachings and follow our path. Some are led into disrespect, and not just disrespect, but even into a kind of revilement of everything that their parents have stood for. Sometimes a child is right not to accept everything that the parents teach, because they come to realize that some of these teachings are just prejudices or they come to realize that some of us are just too Pharisaical or too full of judgment or condemnation, lacking in compassion and love. But there is this rejection of the whole concept, the whole idea, the whole system of values that the previous generation had,  the complete disrespect for the parent, and therefore the disrespect for the values and the things that were passed on to the children. This always leads to some kind of sorrow and grief, because we do not realize that thousands of years of human experience has formed many of these basic values. Sometimes when a child comes to this point of being completely rebellious against the parents and against what they have taught and passed on, they are not just rejecting what the parents have taught them, but rejecting also thousands of years of human experience which has taught us that certain things are necessary for survival, for the survival of societies, for the survival of communities, for the survival of civilisation.
How does this story  apply to us? We also have to make choices. Each one of us has to make a choice about how to deal with the values, teachings, and the instruction that have been given to us by our parents, our grandparents. To totally reject everything and all the standards that have been taught by the parents leads to a degeneracy in society. From the beginning of the story of Noah’s ark we see the majority of the  people rejecting the revelation and the proper relationship with God and neighbours. It was not just the flood that caused them to be swept away, rather they allowed themselves to be swept away and spiritually drowned by their own passions.Meanwhile,  those who were listening and heeding their conscience, the voice of God, were lifted up in the ark which is a type of the Church carried above this flood. They had the self-control and self-discipline necessary in order to reject what was wrong and struggle for what is good.
When we read in this story about  Ham’s betrayal of his father Noah, and the great respect and reverence with which the other brothers approached their father, we also see something about self-control and self-discipline. The other brothers might have been tempted to look upon their father’s nakedness just out of curiosity, but they did not because they had self-control and self-discipline as well as reverence for their father. This is the problem with Ham; he had no self-discipline, no self-control and therefore no respect and no reverence. Because without self-control and self-discipline, we also cannot have self-respect or respect for others.
There is something yet more pointed about this story, however, and that is our relationship with our neighbours, with other people in our own lives. Rather than expose our brother’s or sister’s sins, we ought rather to cover them. We are here to help lift each other up, not to push others down; to help our brother heal, not to cut his wounds deeper. We, as followers of Christ, must learn to respect our neighbours, our brothers and sisters in the faith and others in the same way that the righteous sons of Noah loved him and covered his nakedness. Too often we behave like the unrighteous Ham and mock and revile our neighbours for their weaknesses and failings rather than entering backward to cover the sins of others. Even when our own weaknesses, failings and sins stand glaring before us, we find opportunity to uncover our brother’s or sister’s sins, mocking them and trying to put them to shame, as if we ourselves were sinless and perfect. Such actions separate us from God, from the love of Christ and from the grace of the Holy Spirit. This is, perhaps, the central lesson for us in the story of Noah, this is where we find ourselves in the story and the point at which the story becomes about us, each one of us personally.

    This is the story of Ham and his brothers and the choices made by them, and a story about each one of us and the choices made by us. The ones who had self-discipline and self-control and some reverence and respect. We respect things that we do not necessarily agree with. We should respect elders because they have survived so long, and because at least within the pool of older citizens, not everyone is wise but there is wisdom and experience among them.
    What happens to Ham when he has to face the reality of what he has done? He becomes an outcast. But why is it that he has to serve his brethren? What kind of bondage or slavery does he fall into? Does God make him the slave to his brethren as punishment? Or is there rather something else being said to us? People without self-discipline and without self-control inevitably fall into bondage. Indeed, they fall into many different kinds of bondage. We are not supposed to have a weak will, we are supposed to have a strong will, but a will directed toward the will of God and submissive to the will of God. We need enough self-discipline and self-control to resist peer pressure, to resist the desire to find an artificial way to have some kind of temporary happiness, which could include drugs or alcohol, or to do evil because of our egotism and self love. The Church has given us the path and the means toward proper and effective self-discipline and self-control. We need to have a certain amount of proper self-esteem also, and this self-esteem comes primarily from the knowledge that Christ loved us enough to die for each one of us and to rise again for the sake of our salvation. He took our sins and burdens upon himself and carried them to the Cross for each one of us, and this is the proper self-esteem. This means that we have self-respect which is manifested in respect for others. Having no respect for others, Ham clearly also had no self-respect, but in a kind of self-loathing, he tried to make himself look better by shaming his father and darkening his own heart.


    Let’s reflect that the flood at the time of Noah was generated by the flood of human passions, which had built up to such an enormous volume, that it was able to drown man spiritually, to crush his life and rob humanity of an authentic life except for those who chose to orient their will toward God and toward God’s will. After the Flood and after Ham’s betrayal of his father, we see that the descendants of Noah went into the plain of Shinar and there they decided to build another city. In this city they are going to exalt themselves.
    We know that in the time frame of history, this story is not literal. If that was the case, if these things had taken place according to the chronology of Scripture, the Flood would have occurred at the time when the Egyptians were building the pyramids, and certainly all of mankind did not speak the same language at that time. There is, however, something here that is rather important for us to understand, an that is that it does matter how we use the skills, abilities and talents  we have. It is not appropriate for Orthodox Christians to use them for aggrandizement, simply to give oneself a name, only for our own interest and to exalt ourselves. This happens with people who have a lust for power and who desire, not a peaceful and harmonious life, but who desire to rise up above others and to dominate them or to get ahead at all costs. We see this in the society around us, and can be tempted to follow such a path. We must, however, discover another path.
    The story of the building of the city possibly refers to ancient Urok (Arak) in Mesopotamia. The ruins of this city have been uncovered, together with a ritual tower called a ziggurat. It is important to understand that the theme of this story is a conflict between ego and virtue. This is a conflict that takes place within our own hearts when we follow with our own passions and self-centred desires.
    We are going to talk a bit about what the word virtue actually means and see how it is pitted against ego, then we will see how this story about the building of the city and the tower of Bab’el is about us. Bab’el means “Gate of God.” The tower was going to be built right up to the Gate of God – right up to the heavens, an assault on Heaven itself as it were. The word virtue (Gk. “arĂȘte”) actually means to use our skills and abilities to create something beautiful and useful. A sculptor who takes a piece of stone and sculpts a beautiful statue from it because he wants to create beauty – this is virtue. He has used his skill to the best of his ability, to create something of quality, something of beauty. If a sculptor uses his talents and abilities to carve a statue only to make money or to make a name for himself, it is not virtue, it is simply business. This is the difference between virtue and ego. In the building of the city and the tower, we see that skills and abilities were used for the sake of ego, self-centredness and self-love, whereas the skills could have been used to build a home or a shelter, or something of elegance and beauty for the sake of beauty and usefulness. We will not speculate on alternate interpretations of the motives of the builders because this is a story with a moral to it, and the moral point is made by the way the story is told in the Scripture. We must take the story as we have received it in order to understand its meaning. This story is an analysis of passions of pride and ego and a lack of humility. These are things that can drive a community apart and create deep divisions and enmities.
    Let us continue discussing virtue and the concept of virtue and ego. We are all given some kind of ability and skill, even if that ability is something that does not fit into the marketplace well. Love, for example: the ability to have an open heart toward people and to be loving and kind and gentle can be manifested in many ways. Those people who go out of their way to be kind to street people, to give comfort and consolation to somebody in sorrow, to visit someone in a nursing home; all these things are acts of virtue because we are using the skill or ability that we have within us for something positive, something useful, something good, and not something that focuses on our own ego, lust for money or self-centredness. Every one of us has to face the challenge of whether or not we will examine ourselves and try to see what kind of skills and abilities or talents that we have. Our calling is to do this not in terms of being competitive in the world, and not in terms of seeking a proper job position, or seeking what kind of an education we will get so that we will have marketable and commercial skills of some kind. Those things must be done by everyone in our society, but that is not a path to virtue or to an expression of our Orthodox Christian faith. In this context, we should see what skills and abilities we have which can be put to a good creative and positive use. If a person is very skilled at fishing, then find someone who is lonely, who has no one and would love to have companionship and company and take them fishing with you, share that moment with them. We can use any of our skills and abilities in a virtuous way. Virtue and a virtuous way does not mean  being ultra moral, praying and being in Church regularly. It also is manifested in the use of our energies in a manner which is compassionate, caring and creative, and which reflects the idea that we understand that our energies are a gift from God to be used for the good of others. It may be easier for us to use the same abilities and gifts solely for self-serving reasons and ego.
    It is understood that we have to take care to prepare ourselves for the future, choosing how we will educate ourselves so that we earn our own living and support our families, but we can also plan how to use these skills only for selfish goals. This is the struggle that faced the people who came out of the ark, multiplied and came into the land of Shinar. They were presented with an opportunity for a new beginning; the possibility of faithfulness and virtue was set before them. The story of the tower of Bab’el is reflected so often in man’s repeated failure to follow through on such opportunities. It is the story of our own personal failures also, for the story is about each one of us.    This is the point we wanted to make in this discussion of the Tower of Bab’el and the building of the first city after the settling of the ark. A new society is formed, but formed on the same basis on which Cain built his city –  the a drive toward  egotism and self-centredness. We should not assert that everybody who was there, present and taking part in the building up of culture, society and civilization in that area of Chaldea (Babylon) were disposed in that kind of negative manner. The story is there, however, to emphasize our own struggle, the struggle of humanity in general. War, murder and all manner of wicked ness flow from ego and self-love, and this is the great story, the great warning to us from all these narratives in the Scripture. This is the struggle we must all undertake in choosing the path of our own lives.
    This story is about you, it is about us, it is about us as individuals and us as societies. To use our skills and abilities in a virtuous manner, to create something beautiful, creative, useful to mankind to others, whether it is in a great or small way, it is nevertheless a virtue which helps us in the struggle for our salvation and draws us closer to God, Who created the universe in beauty and made a fit place for man to live creating something that was shared by all humanity and all living things.
Hopefully when we read or hear the story of the Tower of Bab’el, the story of Chaldea (Babylon), we will remember that the story is about universal meaning, about our choices between virtue and ego, unselfish love and self-centredness. Hopefully, we will come to understand that  our great struggle to return to Paradise is the struggle to return to unselfish love, and in that unselfish love, to use all of the gifts that we have in a virtuous manner; that is, to create beauty, harmony, peace, love,  something that will make mankind a little better and the life of the world a little more peaceful. This is what the story is really all about and what it is actually trying to reveal to us, so that we will know that this very struggle is taking place within each one of us, in our hearts every day of our lives.