Chaos and Logos, by Fr Alexander Men

Chaos and Logos

This is an excerpt from On Christ and the Church the book of conversations in homes translated by Fr Alexis Vinogradov. pp 89-96

The universe is formed and develops along two principles: the universe evolves on the one hand according to the vision of God and on the other hand it is constantly penetrated by the elements which oppose this principle. I will formulate the notion with the following short statement: Blind is the one who does not see the harmony of the world, but equally blind is he who fails to see the disharmony of the very same world. If the harmony of the world proceeds from the highest vision of the Creator, if God sees it in the creation of the world from a point outside of time when he says that the world is extremely good (the Hebrew expression tov neod (טוב מאוד) which is hard to translate) then there is God’s vision; but in the historical process there is still the clash of the polarized forces, polarized within creation itself. The fact that there are forces which contradict God’s own idea is a self-evident fact. These forces are always described in the Bible symbolically through images, a pictorial language: the raging sea as an image of chaos, the dragon who becomes a personification of this sea, the snake which tempts Adam, and so forth.

On the level of the physical world, let us refer to this force resisting creation as chaos, as a current carrying the world towards death, to a state of entropy. Thus the history of creation, the genesis of the cosmos, becomes the history of conflict, the conflict between Chaos and Logos, God’s wisdom which codifies his ideas of the world. Why do the dialectics of Heraclitus, the dialectics of Hegel, reveal opposition in the world? How did the Zoroastrian religion already intuit the conflict of light and darkness in the world? Because the world is bi-polar: one pole proceeds from the creative God while the other proceeds from the degenerative force in creation. Here we may ask, what is the root of the movement away from God, of this flight into nothingness? To describe this in rational terms means to make sense of it but to make sense of what is meaningless is impossible. It can only be described conditionally. Only poetry, only the fruits of artistic creativity, can provide for us a picture of this irrational drive towards nothingness; for example, the portraits of evil painted by Dostoevsky and Baudelaire show us that there is a tendency towards evil but that it is impossible to demonstrate this logically.

The flight into darkness

A more interesting attempt to explain this came from Berdiaev, who based his approach on the teaching of Schelling and Jacob Boehme. This viewpoint proposed the following: freedom as an absolute potential, as an absolute possibility to go in any direction including into the abyss of non-being, does not depend on God because it exists as a reality not established by God. This is why, when God establishes the world, this polarity remains and in some way constantly poisons creation. But Berdiaev expresses himself through mythology as does Schelling, he is clearly using a mythological language. Jacob Boehme says that this “ungrund”, this primitive, inexplicable, indescribable abyss in which the divinity exists and from which God comes forth as a personality, contains a certain mixture of evil and good. This is an intuition, a vision, a poetic interpretation, mythology, not something which can be rationally described.

The fact remains that in God’s creation there are conflicting primordial powers as creative as the rest, but opposed to God and for some reason permitted by God. We can, of course, guess why, Creation is one entire whole, and in order to repel this anti-divine vector, this impulse towards darkness, creation itself must remain free. But essentially creation per se does not contain freedom. Only the one who personalizes creation is free, and this one is man. But man appears after the conflict between chaos and the logos, after the birth of organizing structures, of the basic laws of elementary particles, at the formation of life which disintegrates but which relays its baton along to its descendants. At the creation of man, life already transmits its information further without a genetic code, simply transmits it.

I very much like the words of the German poet Novalis: “Man is the Messiah of nature.” Man is introduced into nature, man’s spirit is joined with flesh in order to carry within each of his cells the sea of all living things and plants. We are, after all, a microcosm; we carry everything inside us; all creatures live within us and we are called to participate in the battle between Chaos and the Logos, into illumination. But man failed to accomplish this mission; and here God begins to act himself, through man. Not only the Divine “Information”, not only the creative Logos, but the Logos who becomes incarnate in man, begins to act in the world.

“In the beginning was the Logos and the Logos was with God and the Logos became flesh”—this is what we read in John’s Gospel. “Became Flesh”— what does this mean? Became a man. In Biblical language the word “flesh” means man. In a way the evolution of the world, if we can put it this way, is stimulated constantly by God; and in a particular way he stimulates it to the creation of the spiritual creature, man. And finally, when He himself enters the process of the world, assumes the evil of the world as his Cross, he pushes the world further along towards the Kingdom of God. Christ takes upon himself the suffering of the world. For the first time God involves himself in this battle, but he does so according to a divine principle. This divine principle is: constant humiliation, a kind of diminution of the divine power before the face of creation, to give it the freedom of manifesting itself, the freedom to become what it is. And man enters a world in which he is forced to do battle, to fight with temptations and with the surrounding nature in which evil rules. … He was not a priest (take note, as one writer pointed out, that the only true priest was never actually a priest), He was not someone in authority, He belonged to no specific category and his royal lineage was strictly symbolic. He didn’t study in any special academies, he lived as any average person, he sank to the very pit of life, he was spat upon by the crowd, he was judged by a civil religious court and, finally, he was condemned as a blasphemer and a rebel—He took upon himself all the sufferings of the world. He made himself a participant in these sufferings. In this way two worlds became united, the divine world and the world of suffering humanity and creation. God reclaimed the world; and carrying the cross, Christ in a certain sense continues to bear in himself all the ensuing development of mankind. He ascended, and this means that he permeated all aspects of the universe. We repeat these very important words in the Creed, “and sits at the right hand of the Father.” This clause means that Christ is there where God is, and God is everywhere.

In this way the God-man becomes the flesh of the world; and the flesh of the world, the universe, becomes the flesh of the God-man. He sanctifies all things. You see, the man Jesus who walks in the desert is not an isolated phantom in the cosmos but a being who is part of the biosphere, of the noo-sphere, part of nature. Connected with it, he eats, he drinks. At the same time, inasmuch as he is united with the oneness of the universe, through him the Divine becomes involved in its creation. For this reason, the redemption becomes an act, a mystery which furthers the act of creation. There is nothing here of the notion of medieval satisfaction, of a juridical trade, substitution, game or process. There is no legal process, but there is a process of the healing of mankind which is linked with the larger vision of creation.

If God heals matter, placing within it the forces of progression, if he heals that which is dead giving it the impulse towards life, if he heals the dying life, placing within it man who carries such spiritual and immortal information—finally he redeems the history of the world and of man by entering into it Himself. This indeed is the mystery of redemption of the human race and of the whole world for the Apostle Paul gives these wonderful words: that the whole creation groans until now and suffers, waiting for the revelation of the sons of God, that is all of nature finds itself in such a sickly state of imperfection and incompleteness, groaning and anticipating this day. Although Christ appeared for mankind, since he was incarnate in this world, sooner or later His redemption will permeate the whole universe. This is confirmed by the words of Holy Scripture: John the visionary saw not only the new man reborn and resurrected, reclaimed according to God’s plan—but he saw a new Heaven and a new Earth, for the old had passed away. Here is the whole meaning; here in a few words, is the meaning of the Redemption, but again these are all words and symbols so inadequate to convey the reality with clarity.lev_and_ksenia_pokrovsky_with_fr._alexander_men


Christianity, by Fr Alexander Men.

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Alexander Men’s final lecture, given on September 8, 1990 the night before Fr Alexander’s assassination. It was at the opening of the Alexander Men Open University and all in all it is a writing of extraordinary importance. The source is our own First hour and the translation of Steve Griffin.

And so together we have reached the end of our journey which has taken us through the ages, around the world philosophies, and we have come to the summit, to that sparkling mountain spring wherein the sun is reflected which is called Christianity.

While Christianity arose as a challenge to many philosophical and religious systems, it at the same time fulfilled the expectations of the majority of them. In fact the greatest thing in Christian spirituality is not negation but affirmation, inclusion, and completion.

As the passion for salvation and deliverance from evil permeates Buddhism (the Buddha said that as the waters of the sea were saturated with salt, so too his teaching—dharma—was permeated with the idea of salvation), so the thirst for, and indeed promise of, salvation is inherent in Christianity. Similarly in Christianity one finds as in Islam, absolute devotion to a God who is sovereign ruler of the cosmos and mans destiny, and the notion in Chinese thought that heaven (Tien) provides man with a compass in life, even in its details and various traditional nuances. Even the Brahman belief in diverse manifestations of the Divine, or the notion in pantheism that God is in all, and that He, like a mysterious force, permeates every drop, every atom of the universe (although it does not restrict the work of God to this all-encompassing presence), are to be found in Christianity.

It would be a mistake, however to perceive Christianity as an eclectic world view of the sorts which simply gathered together all elements of former belief systems. On the contrary, it forcefully manifested something new, which was to be found less in doctrine and more in the breaking-through of another life into this everyday life of ours. The great teachers of humanity, like the authors of the Upanishads, Lao Tse, Confucius, Buddha, Mohammed, Socrates, Plato and others understood Truth to be like the top of a mountain to which one ascends with great difficulty. And they were right, because Truth cannot be obtained effortlessly, but is rather like a high mountain that one must climb, short of breath, clambering about the ledges, occasionally looking back, and feeling that a steep climb still lies ahead. I never shall forget that remarkable comment made by a simple Himalayan highlander, a Sherpa tribesman by the name of Tenxing, who climbed Mt Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary. He said that one must approach mountains with reverence. So too with God. Indeed, the greatness and beauty of mountains are understood only with a special attitude of soul. Truth is hidden from those who seek it irreverently and who are unprepared to proceed regardless of the dangers, precipices, and clefts.

One might question the image of human history as an ascent, of course, pointing to all the regressions. To be sure, at first glance there are more steps backwards than forwards; more people have slid back into the abyss. But what matters to us is that man has in fact scaled the heights of intellectual and spiritual contemplation, for his greatness lies in his ability to ascend, as Pushkin put it, to “God’s vicinity.” We have two homelands: the earth, where we are born and raised, and that precious world of the Spirit which no eye can see nor ear can hear, but to which we belong by nature. We are children of the earth and at the same time guests in this world. Through religious quest we cultivate our higher nature far more than when we wage war, plough, sow or build. Even termites build after all, while ants sow and apes wage war (in their own way of course—not so maliciously as humans). But no living creature apart from man has ever pondered the meaning of life, risen above natural physical necessity, or demonstrated the capacity to risk his life for the sake of Truth or that which he cannot grasp in his hand. And thousands of martyrs from all times and nations are a unique phenomenon in the history of our solar system.

But when we turn to the gospels we find ourselves in a different realm: not one which provides an array of stirring quests or surges into heaven, but one where we find ourselves before the mystery of responsibility. Prince Siddhartha Gautama, the future Buddha, spent twenty five years in ascetic discipline to achieve enlightenment. In the same way yogic masters, philosophers and ascetics have also labored intellectually, spiritually and psychophysically. But Jesus Christ who emerged from a simple village where he led the life of a common man, never had to climb anywhere: in Him all was ready. Instead he condescended to humanity.

Every great teacher has been aware of his ignorance. Socrates said “I know that I know nothing.” The greatest saints of all times and nations sensed their own sinfulness more than we do because they were closer to the light; each blemish on their life and conscience was more evident than in our murky life. Christ however, knew no sin. Neither did he come as one who had achieved something, but as one who brought to humanity that which was in him by nature from the beginning.

I should immediately draw your attention to the fact that Jesus Christ did not teach Christianity as some sort of concept. That which he proclaimed he called besora, in Greek, εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion), which means “good news.” What was this good news?

Man has the right to distrust the universe, to feel he is in a strange and hostile world. Modern writers like Albert Camus, Jean Paul Sartre and others have spoken of the terrible absurdity of existence. We live in a cold, dead or dying world which we cannot trust because it is threatening, inhuman, meaningless and absurd. Of course these writers, novelists, dramatists and philosophers spoke as atheists (Sartre and Camus spoke from the standpoint of atheistic existentialism), and seemed to have overlooked one thing. When they said that the world was absurd and meaningless they knew this only because man possesses the opposite notion of meaning. The person who does not know what meaning is does not feel, nor will he understand, what meaning is. He will never rebel against, nor be disturbed by, absurdity; but will live in it like a fish in water. And the fact that man revolts against the absurd and the meaninglessness of existence speaks for the existence of that meaning.

The ancient scriptures teach that we can change inwardly and say “yes” to our existence: to trust what seems terrible and frightful. When we do, the eye of God like the sun through dark clouds appears through the chaos, absurdity, and monstrosity of life. And this God is personal, for his personality is reflected in each individual so that contact with him is possible as between like beings. Man finds ultimate meaning in the fact that he is made in the likeness of the one who created the world. While Charles Darwin did not perceive the world mechanistically, as a process, he still found it hard to understand how blind coincidence could have brought about our enormously complex world, and wondered whether some form of reason like ours (indeed endlessly surpassing our reason, one might say) lay behind it.

Old Testament religion developed the notion of faith as trust: not as a theoretical, philosophical or religious conviction, but as a break from deathly and absurd reality, when man says to God “I accept and take heed.” In this way the ancient covenant or union between God and man came about.

But of course the union between primitive, ancient man and the divine could not be final and perfect, but represented only man’s infancy or period of nurturing. The human race’s youth would be announced in the seventh century B.C. by the prophet Jeremiah. “Behold the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant (brit hadasha or new union) with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt…I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts.” Seven hundred years later twelve men gathered in a small room and a sacrifice was offered. Usually the sacrifice was a blood sacrifice, symbolizing life, which belongs only to God. The custom from ancient times among all peoples,right up to the late primeval time and paleolithic man,was to sprinkle the members of the community gathered together with the blood of the sacrificed animal. So Moses, as he contracted the covenant with God and His people, sprinkled everyone with the blood of a lamb. But on that night in the Spring of the year 30A.D. Jesus of Nazereth surrounded by the twelve memorialized the freedom which God grants; for there was no blood, but instead bread and a cup of wine. Jesus took the bread and gave it to his disciples saying “This is my body”, offering it as the sacrificial lamb on behalf of the people. Then he offered them the cup saying “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

Thus at this holy table God and man are united not in real physical blood but in the symbolic blood of the earth. Grape juice (or wine) is the earth’s blood, while bread is the earth’s fruit. Nature, which feeds us, and God who offers himself as a sacrifice for humanity. Since that holy night when Jesus of Nazareth performed this sacrifice, the cup continues to be raised and the eucharist celebrated. This sign can be found in every current of Christianity, in all churches and denominations.

It is sometimes said that Christ taught a new ethic when he said: “This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you.” While the commandment “Love thy neighbor as thyself” had been given before through Moses, Christ gave it a completely new sound with the words “as I have loved you” because he remained with us in this filthy, bloody, and sinful world out of self-giving love. For this reason he said that the one who would follow him must deny himself (not his personality—for that is holy—but his ego or false self-affirmation), give himself up, take up his cross, which is to say his service in suffering and joy, then follow him.

Christ calls humanity to bring about the divine ideal. Only near-sighted people can suppose that Christianity has seen its time. Christianity has only taken its first, I would say timid, steps in human history. To this day many of Christ’s words are incomprehensible because we are still moral and spiritual neanderthal men. The gospel arrow is aimed towards eternity, and that which we call Christian history is in many ways a series of clumsy and unsuccessful attempts to bring Christianity about.

One might ask then, how have we had such great masters, like unknown iconographers, Andrei Rublev and the like? Of course, there have been great saints: precursors who stand out against a black sea of dirt, blood and tears. Apparently that was the main thing that Tarkovsky wanted (perhaps unwittingly) to show in his film Andrei Rublev. Just imagine the circumstances in which that most magical tender and divine vision of the Trinity was created! The wars, torture, treachery, violence, fires and barbarity depicted in that film were true. Against such a background man, without God’s illumination, could only create Goya’s Los Caprichos. But Rublev created a divine vision, which meant he drew it not from the world around him, but from the spiritual world.

Christianity is not a new ethical system, but a new life which brings humanity into direct contact with God through a new union or covenant. How is this mystery to be understood? How are we to comprehend the way in which humanity is attracted like a magnet,to the person of Jesus Christ, even though he came into the world in humility, without the mysterious quality of the Indian sages, nor the poetic exoticism of eastern philosophy?

Everything Jesus said was plain and clear. His parable illustrations were taken from everyday life and he used simple words to reveal the mystery. When in the gospel of John we read how Philip had asked to be shown the Father (or the One the Greeks called ἀρχή (arkhē), “the first beginning”) Jesus answered as no philosopher on earth had ever answered: “Have I been with you so long and yet you do not know me Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Jesus spoke such words on other occasions, and many turned their backs on him and left in indignation because these words were always a call. One had to grasp the special mystery, which Christ never formulated directly, but instead asked: “Who do the people say that I am? A prophet, the resurrected John the Baptist? And who do you say that I am?” “You are the Anointed One, King, Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” they answered. This revelation must be experienced internally. And he still asks each person the question, because God speaks with human lips.

Jesus Christ is the human image of the Eternal, Ineffable, Boundless, Inscrutable, Nameless One. And Lao-Tse was right when he said that the eternal name is the one we do not utter. If God is Nameless and Unfathomable, in Jesus Christ he becomes not only nameable, but he can be known even by name, even a human name, as the one who carries with us the burdens of life. Herein lies the center and axis of Christianity.

When we move from the gospels to the Acts of the Apostles and epistles we focus our attention on the second personality of the New Testament. As one French scholar said, the New Testament is made up of two biographies, that of Jesus Christ, and that of his follower Saul of Tarsus: the Apostle Paul. Of course, any of us, turning from the gospels to Paul’s epistles, falls from heaven to earth, as it were even though Paul in many ways surpassed the gospel writers. He was a man of immense talent, spiritual strength and learning who created very personal works; his epistles are written with his heart’s blood. But to compare them to the gospels is difficult, in any case, because the gospels reflect not so much the literary talent of their authors, but the very Model that they saw before them. And while the apostle Paul stands before us as a mere man, Christ is the revelation of God.

But why is St. Paul important for us, and why did the Church place him beside Christ in the New Testament? How do we account for the fact that the majority of the epistles bear his signature, and that his life plays a major role in the Acts of the Apostles?

The fact is that Paul, as far as we can tell, never encountered Christ during his earthly life, although it has been suggested that they might have crossed paths in Jerusalem (for Paul was born in the first years A.D. in Asia Minor, but studied in Jerusalem, when he might have seen Jesus). In any case it is unlikely that he ever saw him. This fact, I think, attracts the Church to Paul, for neither have we seen Jesus. But Christ appeared to Paul so authentically, far surpassing any superficial physical encounter. For even Christ’s enemies saw him, as did the scribes, pharisees, and Pilate, but that did not save them. Paul too was an enemy, until he encountered Christ on the way to Damascus and was called to be an apostle. That event changed not only his life but the destiny of the entire early Church, because as “apostle to the nations” (or “apostle to the heathens”), Paul became one of those who carried the Gospel from Syria and Palestine throughout the world.

Educated in the Jewish faith, Paul knew that one cannot merge with God: that one is mistaken if one believes, according to the eastern notion, that to experience ecstasy is to merge with the Absolute. One can only make contact, for in the heart of the Divine there burns an all-consuming, everlasting fire. Between the Creator and creation, as between what is absolute and what is conditional, there is an abyss which one cannot cross either by means of logic or existentially.

But there is a bridge which extends across that abyss. Paul himself felt it because he encountered Christ and joined with him internally, in endless love, so that he sensed that he carried Christ’s wounds within him, and that he died and was resurrected with him. As he wrote: “No longer I live, but Christ in me. I died with him and with him I am raised to life.” If one cannot merge with God then one can with the God-man for he belongs to two worlds simultaneously, ours and the eternal.

And the entire Christian mystical tradition from Paul to the present is built on this: that the way to the Father is only through the Son. Christ said “I am the door”, the gateway to heaven.

As Christian ascetics recite various prayers they, in certain respects, resemble their eastern or Indian counterparts who recite various mantras. But one of the most important prayers of the Christian ascetic tradition is called the “Jesus Prayer” where one continually repeats the name of the One who was born, lived on earth, and was crucified and resurrected. The Christocentrism of this foundational Christian prayer radically distinguishes it from all other meditations and mantras, because through it an encounter takes place: not mere concentration of thought or submersion in an ocean or spiritual abyss, but a personal encounter with the face of Jesus Christ, who stands both in and on the earth. I recall one of Turgenev’s “Poems in Prose”, where he stood in a village church and suddenly felt that Christ was standing beside him. Turning around he saw an ordinary man, then when he turned away again he felt that He was there. Indeed the Church of Christ exists and grows because He stands within it.

While Plato left his Dialogues, Moses the tablets with the Law inscribed on them and Mohammed the Koran, Christ left behind not a single written line. Neither did he form orders, as did Gautama Buddha. Instead he said: “I am with you always to the close of the age.” When his followers sensed that they would part with him he pronounced those prophetic and eternal words: “I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you.” And he continues to come even today.

On this only is Christianity founded; everything else amounts to superficial layers. In every other respect Christianity is like any other religion.

World religions are cultural expressions which develop together with man’s spiritual impulse towards eternity and transcendent values. In Christianity, though, the current is from above. For this reason a theologian of our century could say: “Christianity is not one religion among many, but the crisis of all religions.” It raises itself above all others because, as St Paul said, no one is saved by works of the Law, but only by faith in Jesus Christ.

In conclusion, I must explain to you these words of Paul. “Works of the Law” are a system of religious rites and rules, necessary as a means of nurturing. They are man-made, sometimes through great insight, other times through the force of tradition, but in some cases through delusion. In the Old Testament they are revealed, but are meant for a specific phase of intellectual and spiritual development. To be “saved” means to unite one’s ephemeral, temporal life with immortality and God. The thirst for salvation, or desire for union with the divine life, is found inside each one of us. It is hidden, and we can conceal it deep within, but it is there all the same. The apostle said that the Law is holy. Indeed the Old Testament law which God gave is holy and good, but one can join in the Divine life only by faith in Jesus Christ.

What does it mean, however, to have faith in Jesus Christ? Does it mean to believe that such a man lived on earth? That would not be faith but knowledge. The fact that he lived was recorded by his contemporaries and the gospel writers left reliable evidence. Today’s historian will agree that such a man was a real historical figure. Attempts to assert that Christ was a mere myth have long been refuted, except, of course, in our country, where the notion has been upheld as in a wonder preserve.

So what does it mean to believe in Him? Does it mean to believe that he came from the world beyond? This is also true, but only theory all the same. Here we must recall that faith which was declared in the Old Testament: faith as trust in being.

When Abraham said “yes” to God, more accurately, did not say it but silently obeyed His call, this was when faith was born. In ancient Hebrew the word “faith” is “emuna,” from the word “aman,” faithfulness. Faith is an understanding very close to the understanding of faithfulness. God is faithful to his promise, man is faithful to God; weak and sinful, he is nevertheless faithful to God. But to which God? Secret and awesome as the universe, sometimes as far from man as the ocean.

But if the God to whom man was then faithful was a secret and awesome, sometimes remote Creator God, Christ revealed through himself a new dimension of God. He hardly ever used the word “God” but instead addressed him as his “Father.” And in his earthly life he used the tender and affectionate (but untranslatable) word that children in the East use when addressing their father. Christ reveals God as our heavenly Father, and in so doing he creates brothers and sisters, for brothers and sisters are possible only where there is a common father.

So our common spiritual Father is God. And the mystery of the Gospel is this: an openness of the heart to the news of Jesus Christ. This is because each of us knows very well how weak and confused we are, and how every manner of sin and disorder has built its nest inside us.

Of course there is a strength which Christ gives freely. In Russian it is called благодать (blagodát’) a blessing which is given, not earned. We must make the effort, as well as struggle with sin and strive for self-perfection, as long as we remember that we can only do the preparatory work. Herein lies the fundamental difference between Christianity and Yoga, which maintains that man can reach God and become part of Him of his own accord, so to speak. Christianity teaches, on the contrary, that while man can perfect himself, it is impossible to reach God as long as He himself does not come to man.

So grace surpasses the Law. The Law is the first stage of religion, which begins with childhood, where do’s and dont’s are necessary until grace comes through an internal encounter with God. That encounter is like love, rejoicing, victory and the music of the spheres.

Grace is new life. St Paul tells us of the dispute which arose between those who wished to keep the ancient Old Testament rites and those (Greeks) who did not. And in fact the only thing that was ultimately important was a new creation, and faith, which acts in love. This is authentic Christianity. All else—everything associated with culture—is historical wrapping, frame, and environment.

I am speaking of the very essence of Christian faith: the limitless value of human individuality, the victory over death and decay, and a new covenant which grows like a little acorn into a tree, or which does to history that which leaven does to dough. And today God’s kingdom mysteriously manifests itself among us as we do good, show love, contemplate beauty, or feel the fullness of life.

Jesus taught that the Kingdom is not only in the distant future or a futuristic contemplation: it exists here and now. The Kingdom of Heaven will come, but it has already come. The world will be judged, but is already being judged. “Now is the judgment of this world” said Christ when he proclaimed the gospel for the first time. Elsewhere he said “and this is judgment that light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light…” The judgment began during Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, and spread to Jerusalem, Golgotha, the Roman Empire, Europe in the Middle Ages, Russia, and into this century and beyond. The judgement will continue through human history, because history is Christian as the world keeps step with the Son of Man.

Finally, the essence of Christianity is found in God-manhood, or the joining of the organic and temporal human spirit with that of the Eternal and Divine. It is found in the sanctification of the flesh, for the world and nature, which is the birthplace of the Son of Man as both man and God-man, was not cast away or degraded, but elevated to a new level and sanctified ever since the Son of Man took upon himself our joys and sufferings, our creation our love and labor.

In Christianity the world is sanctified, while evil, sin and death are conquered. But the victory is God’s. It began on Resurrection morning and will continue as long as the world remains. (Icon is Rublev’s Icon of The Trinity)

Why worship?

Divine Worship as a Synthesis of the Arts by Father Alexander Men


This lecture was given in December of 1989. The translation, published in First Hour in 1997, is by Steve Griffin.

Divine worship is what you can see when you enter a church in which a worship service is being conducted, and that with which you inevitably, whether you are a believer or not come into contact whether you are a believer or not as you watch this peculiar religious rite. One person finds it lovely, mysterious and enigmatic, while another finds it incomprehensible—rather like watching a theatrical performance in a foreign language. To still another it all appears very archaic and ancient like a fragment of hoary antiquity. Perhaps each is right in his own way.

Divine service is what our Russian Orthodox Church has preserved throughout her entire existence, even during the most difficult times. It was performed in the first days of Christianity in Russia, throughout the Tatar yoke, and in the twentieth century during Stalin’s tyranny, when church life was limited to it.

Divine service is the center, the pivot, if you will, the cultural foundation of church life. It is an interesting fact that the earliest recorded witness of divine service was by a non-Christian, Pliny the Younger whose letters were published not long ago, was a wonderful, cultured man who had no idea of the new force which was coming out from underground, as it were. In one of his letters he writes of Christians who appeared in his province in Asia Minor, in present day Turkey, about 70-80 years after Christ’s crucifixion. There he describes divine service, whose basis was the same principle we have even today, and which has been present since Christianity’s beginnings. And any cultured person who would learn something of, and join even to a small degree with, the cultural inheritance of his people and of the many of peoples of our country (for Christian culture has cultivated the civilizations of the Caucasus, the Baltic region, and Western Ukraine) should have some sense of this.

You’ve probably noticed that scenes form divine service often appear in contemporary films. Whether in the film versions of Russian classical literature or in paintings of pre-revolutionary years, here and there the events are given color by a wedding ceremony, a service for the dead, divine service itself, or the singing of canticles. This singing can now be heard on TV and radio. While I sometimes find it strange to hear the Cherubic Hymn over the Moscow radio network, it is nevertheless appropriate because it belongs to the greatest artistic, cultural and spiritual tradition.

I don’t pretend to be able to articulate the essence of divine service in this short talk. I wish to speak of two things: first, why this form of worship is called divine service, and second what takes part in it.

The title of our discussion is taken from an article by the famous scholar, theologian and philosopher Pavel Florensky who entitled his article “Divine worship as a synthesis of the arts.” Clearly, the arts do not occupy the highest place in every individual church, nor can their synthesis be practically achieved in any perfect way. But we’re concerned here about what is central and most important.

So we ask, why the term “divine service”? Does man need to serve God? One recalls the ancient pagan who believed that the deity was in need of his sacrifices and offerings, and that in rendering to him a part of what he had captured or harvested he was serving him. For “to serve” meant to serve a meal, as when it is said that a woman “serves at table” when feeding her guests. When pagans conducted their ceremonial meal they believed that the deity was present, and that they entertained him not merely to feed him, but to make him a brother, someone dear, and so that he would take his place among them.

But if in ancient times this was natural and in order, for today’s Christian mind it seems quite strange. Even in pre-Christian times, several centuries B.C.E. the Old Testament prophet said: “Do you really think that God needs your lamps. He has lit all the Heavenly bodies. Do you really think that God needs all your sacrificial rams? All the wild creatures in the mountains and forests are his creation.” These and other examples show that people understood that God required something else. Thus Hosea the prophet, who lived seven centuries before Christ, could say on behalf of the Creator: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” As it turns out the greatest gift one can give to the Creator is mercy, humanness, goodness. Nevertheless the principle of divine service has remained in Christian culture. Why is this so?

Age-old Christian tradition and the Bible assure us that divine service is the greatest gift we can offer to the One who gave us life and who created the world and humanity. And the greatest gift to the Creator is our response of worship and love. Divine service is man’s dialogue, if you will, with the universe, with the invisible one, with the Cosmos, with the Divine. It is for this reason that we return to something ancient. Man calls upon the Supreme Being so that he might draw near to him. This is a great and marvelous mystery, and the reason why Christian churches throughout the ages have never been schools, or places where people merely read, received and learned information, and went home. Instead they have been places where people are united by something, strong powerful and spiritual: a faith which is never handed on only in words.

Of course you all know that the word is a great and powerful force. But there are other things that are equally capable of expressing our states and experiences, such as music, sculpture, painting, or the fine arts. And over the centuries it has happened that the Christian Church has indeed, at her best, become the synthesis of the arts. This is seen for instance in the way in which the church’s architectural lines (as Florensky stressed) give even the censer’s smoke a certain plasticity, so that a certain movement is created as the incense flows under the arches. So too the church walls speak, as it were, as they interact with the words and music of the canticles.

It must be said that throughout the two thousand years of Christian history, and the millennium of our Russian Orthodox Church the architectural structure of churches has changed, as have some rites and melodies. These have changed because life, with its traditions and culture, has developed. While much has changed, however, what has always remained is the tendency to pass on the ineffable: to bring people together to unite their hearts as well as their minds. Here we do not find an artificially invented theater or script, but something that arose naturally and organically.

The churches of old Russia and Byzantium were distinctive models of the universe. Every level of the universe participates in them:animals, plants, constellations, human and sacred history, the creation of the world the end of human history, and images of saints. In ancient churches all these were selected according to a strictly determined artistic and semantic structure. Everything, including the paintings of sacred history on the walls and the images on the ikonostasis, was directed towards a great whole: everything united the altar with the entire church.

Here we then ask, what is an altar? When you enter a church the first thing you see in front and in center are closed gates. These are called the Royal Doors. When these are opened one sees a cubic table called an altar. The cube is an ancient symbol which represents the whole universe. n every church you will find behind this cube seven candles, or, as is the custom in our churches, seven lamps:and Old Testament symbol which stood for the starry heavens. At the same time the number seven, whose symbolism is complex and deep, represented the whole church, throughout ger history, according to the Revelation of St John. The altar, on which the Chalice stands during the central divine service in Christianity, is the focus of everything.

It’s a great shame that in our lack of culture (here I am thinking of believers as well as unbelievers) we often behave irreverently in church. Tour guides have spoken to me of the difficulty that they had in getting people to remove their hats even in the Kremlin’s cathedrals. We act as barbarians in these buildings which are hallowed by centuries, prayers, traditions and history. Even if we forgive such behavior in conquering soldiers (as when Napoleon’s grenadiers built stables in the Kremlin cathedrals), how are we to understand it in the descendants of those who with such reverence and great craftsmanship created these buildings?

So I stress once again, for believer and atheist, that when one enters a church one must above all feel respect and reverence, for it is a house of prayer. Centuries are here present. The walls depict thousands of years of people from all tribes and nations. The priests’ vestments, canticles, and the ornamental pattern surrounding the icons all came to us from Judea, Syria, Egypt, Byzantium, and Ancient Rome. They developed in Old Russia, and were then transformed in Russia. So much is combined here that it is truly living history. I stress the word “living” because it is not a museum, but living history.

Many art specialists have noted that even the great icons like the Vladimir Mother of God or Rublev’s Trinity lose their effect when hanging on a bare museum wall, and not in a church. Of course it is wonderful that these icons have been saved, restored and displayed. But in any event an icon is an organic part of this synthesis of arts.

We refer to our main service of divine worship the Eucharist, or thanksgiving. Thanksgiving—as any person with a thankful heart senses—is a holy word. A certain French writer, an atheist, not long before his death said: “I’ve lived a wonderful life. I don’t know whom to thank, but I give thanks with all my heart.” In the verses and songs which you all know, such as “I love your, life,” there is the unconscious sense of gratitude on the part of man for all that happens.

For us Christians this is thanksgiving to God. It is the most noble, most sublime prayer when a person is full of high feelings and understands just how undeservedly he has received the amazing gift of life, love, friendship beauty, labor, reason, everything that makes life rich and splendid. One is grateful even for life’s trials and difficulties because these fortify the strong and true soul. You recall Pushkin’s words: “So the heavy hammer, while it shatters glass, forges the sword.” (Poltava. Canto 1) So we give thanks for everything, but above all because that which is eternal, unfathomable, and boundless has come into our life.

Christianity’s uniqueness lies in the fact that, while it acknowledges an eternal supreme being who is indescribable in human terms, at the same time it knows that this being has a great and intimate relationship with us and that we as persons in one way or another have a deep relationship with eternity. Each one of us, feeble infirm vertebrates with a short life span, at the same time carries a star, an unending spark of eternity. And above all this is linked with the coming of Christ, who revealed to us the image of eternity, and who became for us the human face of the Divine.

It is very important, after all, for us to see a human face because we are people, and not trees or flowers—although we can perceive the boundless beauty of eternity in them. Recall the epilogue of Turgenev’s famous novel “Fathers and Sons”, in which the flowers on the grave were there as if to speak of reconciliation and life eternal. Nevertheless a flower cannot say to us what a person can. And that’s why the appearance of the divine in human form in Jesus Christ becomes the center of our thoughts, life, and faith.

On the night when Jesus was betrayed, by his closest disciple, knowing already that enemies had taken up arms against him and were preparing for him an unlawful punishment and a shameful death, he gathered together his disciples, anticipating the ancient Passover. The feast was celebrated in memory of the Israelites—the Old-Covenant Church’s—deliverance from slavery.

The religion of the Bible begins with a proclamation of freedom, for God is one who sets people free. Recalling this deliverance, then, people for nearly thirteen centuries gathered at the holy table with belief and hope that the inscrutable God was also present at the table as a guest. And God became a member of this community, this brotherhood of the Old-Covenant Church. Christ acknowledged this ancient thirteen-century- old tradition and transformed it into a new one:now the Paschal rite was being preformed as bread and wine, symbolizing our food, human life, and human labor, stood on the table before the disciples.

At this table with people whom he loved but who still understood him so poorly, He said to them: “One of you shall betray me.” And they grieved and began to nudge one another asking in confusion: “who could it be?” And each asked himself: “Is it I?” But he said nothing in response. Only to one of them he whispered: “The one to whom I give this piece of bread.”

According to the ancient Paschal tradition, to give a piece of consecrated bread to someone meant to express one’s love, one’s respect, one’s earned affection. And here Jesus reaches out, takes the consecrated bread, and gives it to a man called Judas, Judas Iscariot. Judas then takes the bread—a sign of friendship and love—and at that moment in him all flares up. As St.John writes, Satan entered him, and he got up and left.

When you are in Leningrad, in the Russian Museum, have a look at Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge’s painting “The Last Supper.” This moment is captured very dramatically in that work. Christ, lost in thought, no longer has his eyes on Judas. The disciples are looking at one another in confusion, while Judas is throwing on his cloak as he makes his way outside. As Judas leaves he hears the Master’s words: “Go and do what you have intended to do.” The rest assume that he has sent him to purchase something for the feast, for on the following day they would celebrate Passover, and all the shops would be closed. When Judas is gone, eleven men remain in a dark room, amidst lamps, bread and wine.

When in ancient times the people of God made a Sacred Covenant with Heaver, they brought a lamb as a sacrifice, sprinkling its blood over all the people as a sign that all were blood brothers and that God himself was a participant in this festival. The blood was the holy blood of a sacrificial animal.

The Old Testament, the ancient Covenant, was about Mount Sinai, lightning, thunder, the people in terror, and Moses’s stern words: “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me. Your shall not make for yourself an idol. Remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy.Honor your father and your mother. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not bear false witness. You shall not covet.” These words became fixed on the consciousness of people two and a half thousand years ago. That was the Old Covenant.

But Christ establishes a New Covenant. He does this with just a few individuals, but for the benefit of a vast number of people— indeed not just for one nation, but for all of humanity. And he says: “Here there is no sacrificial animal’s blood,” then breaks the bread saying: “This is my body.” He then pours the wine, and gives the cup to his disciples saying: “This is my blood.” His blood united his disciples. His body would be pierced within hours. His death was that which would unite Him with them and them together. Thus he remains with them forever. “Do this in remembrance of me,” He says to them.

“In remembrance of me,” not simply as a memorial of something that happened long ago, but because “I am with you always until the end of the age.” His presence here is the most important thing in the sacrament of thanksgiving. Whether on Golgotha, at His death, during the disciples flight, or throughout the astonishing Passover events which dispelled their fear and caused Christianity to spread throughout the world, Christ’s presence among his disciples has always been sustained by the one sole act of gathering together to break bread and share the Cup of wine.

This, dear friends, is the basis of the sacrament of the Eucharist— the presence of Christ among us—which was to be found in the catacombs of ancient Rome, in immense Byzantine churches, in tall Gothic, and magnificent Baroque cathedrals, in stern 19th century churches, and even today in the churches of our city, and throughout the world and always.

For this reason we use ancient garments and sing ancient canticles. Old and new are here united:the present with antiquity. Eternity knows no age: she looks upon everything from the same vantage point high above. She remains with us. And I am convinced that in this very thing is found the power, essence, and only basis of Christianity. For Christ says of himself: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” And no matter how terrible the altar on which the Chalice and paten with the consecrated bread stand, no matter what form the Chalice takes (one finds authentic jewelers art), no matter the language of the text—whether Greek or Old Church Slavonic—it is always, in essence, the same thing.

And no matter the religious processions, services of prayer, or requiems; no matter the ceremony, whether wedding, infant baptism, or numerous traditions and rites, our entire life is carried out within Church tradition. But the Eucharist remains the pivot and most firm foundation for divine service in the Church.

Art arises from spirit, for it is spirit that gives birth. Great art cannot be bred by soul-less beings. Thus the art which adorns the sacrament of the Eucharist, born throughout the two-thousand year old Christian tradition, is born of spirit. So before entering a church, whether you are a believer, an atheist, a doubter or a skeptic, try to bear these things in mind. Remember that for these people gathered something very important is taking place: here present is the One who began all this, and who is invisibly present here and always. (                                                                                                    1-                                                                   2-                                                                 3-                                                       4-                                                                  5- file:///C:/Users/markc/AppData/Local/Temp/religions-07-00127.pdf

The Sanctity Of Marriage, by Chauncey Giles.

Read here: Sanctityofmarriage                                                                                                                                                                This is a serendipitously lovely read. A mixture of Theology, poetry, sound psychology and Scriptural anthropology written in rich old-fashioned prose. Very different from Fr Raymond Collins’ Accompanied By A Believing Wife, which is rigorously academic and copiously footnoted, but they fit together tremendously well. There are some points in Giles’ book which complement the Biblical and Orthodox vision beautifully. Inspired by Swedenborg, who we may see as a kind of Holy Fool: there are some genuinely Holy parts and some genuinely foolish parts. Certain distinctions and divisions are unmerited and overly ‘romantic’, relative to romanticism and the errors and excesses of that time whilst others do fit with the Biblical account. The idea that we have soul mates who we will be with ultimately, no matter what, and that everyone gets one, doesn’t sit well with the drama of salvation, which involves more emphasis on this particular life, I would suggest; even though it sounds nice and would probably appeal to a lot of people today. It’s comparable to purgatory in some ways. Which at least most Orthodox reject. However, the fact that we do make ‘soul mates’ through God’s grace and our actions, by loving our particular husbands and wives, and in response to God’s call(Our vocations) is correct. And that this is not merely formal, or this-worldy, and that it includes Body and Soul, in this life and the life to come, makes paramount sense. The biblical understanding of Nephesh and the Resurrection makes this clear. Communion is not just for this life and not just bodily or not just ‘spiritual’, but both. He’s right to point out that marital love is particular and universal simultaneously and that in The Resurrection, our love and wisdom in God will also be manifest in particular forms and universally commensurately. Giles mentions that we receive reality as a gift from God and references how the eye receives light, the ear sound, etc to embody this insight that our whole existence is a gift which we can receive or even reject from God, as we can close our eyes to the light. This was another lovely haiku-like part of the book. The juxtaposition of Love and Wisdom throughout is refreshing and follows another scriptural motif, making it similarly and deliciously incarnate. On the negative side: The lack of ecclesiology is disconcerting from an Orthodox perspective and acting as if the Churches role is merely functional, if taken literally, could be a problem but his skepticism for ‘mere formalities’ helps us stave off the idea that the Church is some sort of magic-worker; proclaiming that true Mariage involves the active loving participation of the couple internally as well as externally. Correct. Another problem is the exclusive eschatological emphasis on Marriage, which should not replace an exclusive emphasis on Celibacy. While it is one beautiful charism, is not the only one, as Eric Fuchs rightly recognises in his book Sexual Desire and Love. Some people aren’t called to Marriage as others are. The emphasis on the particular form of marital love is most welcome, as this is the great gift of Marriage particularly. It has it’s place alongside the more ‘universal’ or general love that celibates bear witness to. Their charism is an ‘evangelical’ one as they are ‘free’ to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth and love in a different way from the married. This should help us read St Paul more effectively. Both involve a mixture of the different types of love however and the disciple can incorporate both. The Lord’s great commandments to ”Love God” and ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ includes both, loving the particular and loving any neighbour who may be placed with us- strangers becoming friends. The great merit of this book lies in the acknowledgment that God will not abandon the particular in favour of some more general love, which would abolish particularities, but will include each in The Kingdom, as indeed He does at present, in the Kingdom breaking into the creation- through The Mystery of Marriage, the witness of Celibates, etc. Marital love and brotherly love and fatherly love and motherly love, etc. There is a place for various types according to the Scriptures. Family Redeemed, by Rabbi Soloveitchik, similarly appreciates this. Each mutually enriching the other. Giles is also most insightful in suitably placing marriage as integral to the cosmos itself. Recognising marital patterns throughout the creation and seeing them as partaking in the ultimate Marriage. Between God and His people. This fits the Biblical pattern of both/and and refers to a universe with which we organically fit; whilst not collapsing into some solipsism, atomism or pantheism. This is, as Peter Kreeft says in the Humanum Documentary*, “A much happier Philosophy.” I’d say better yet, a much happier Theology.                                                                                                                                        Below are some of my favourite parts but there are other beautiful sections:

“…This general principle running through all, separating all, combining all, gives unity in infinite variety. The union between man and woman, which we call marriage, is only an eminent instance of the universal marriage by which each is bound to all, and all to the Lord. Marriage, therefore, has its origin in the Lord, and its highest and universal form in the union between love and wisdom, or good and truth. Marriage originates, derivatively, in the inmost degrees and principles of man’s spirit; in the germs and beginnings of his nature as a human being. God created man male and female. God joined man and woman together as He joined heat and light, affection and thought, heart and lungs, love and wisdom. Marriage has its origin, therefore, in God; its highest, inmost, fullest created form and manifestation in man and woman. As marriage has its human origin in the first principles and most interior forms of man’s nature, it consists essentially in the union of two minds or souls. The human spirit is the subject and theatre of its operation. It is, therefore, spiritual in its nature. It is not in itself a civil or legal contract; it is not effected by ecclesiastical sanction. It is as impossible for the state or the church to marry a man and a woman, in the essential meaning of the word, as it would be to join light and heat, or make two material substances combine which had no affinity for each other. The state may throw restraints around marriage; it may prescribe legal forms and conditions for its natural and visible consummation; it may protect and conserve it by the sanctions of its authority, as it is its right and duty to do; but it can neither unite nor separate human souls. The church may give its sanction, and consecrate its consummation by solemn ceremonies; it may instruct the people in its nature and use, and the proper steps that lead to it; but here its mission and power end. It cannot touch the interior and invisible bonds that bind soul to soul, either to confirm or dissolve them. God alone can join human souls together, and of the twain make one.

This fact, that real marriage can be effected only by Him who created man male and female, will appear more clearly, if possible, when we consider the nature of that power that conjoins the man and woman and of the two makes one. The power which draws man and woman to each other, and binds them together, and unites their souls, is love, which is spiritual attraction, and, like the attraction between material bodies, it operates in interior ways. Love effects and consecrates the real marriage. The degree and nature of the love determine the degree and nature of the marriage and the plane of man’s nature in which it is effected. This is an essential truth, and has a most important bearing upon the whole subject. It is impossible to understand the essential nature of marriage without some knowledge of the fact that there are distinct planes or degrees of the human mind, each of which has its distinct faculties and qualities. It is from ignorance of this fact that the church has believed and taught that sex is merely a physical distinction and marriage a temporary relation whose bonds are dissolved by the dissolution of the material body. When it is nothing but a civil contract for worldly and natural considerations, the dissolution of the material body will sever all its bonds, as it does every bargain and civil bond. But if the marriage is a union of souls, nothing but the destruction of the soul itself can sunder the ties which unite them. …

”The imperishable nature of sex is a necessary consequence of its origin. If it had originated in the material body, it might perish with it. But it did not. It has its origin in the Divine nature. This is clearly taught by the Lord in the words, ” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” Man – and by man is not meant one masculine person, but the human race – was created male and female, and he was created in the image of God. The distinction of sex must therefore continue forever. The masculine and feminine elements of man’s nature must have been one of the particulars in which he was made in the image of God. The love which draws husband and wife together must be Divine and heavenly in its origin.. When man lost that image he became divorced from the Lord, and marriage became a merely natural relation. As he regains that image the relation becomes spiritual, and the Lord calls Himself a Husband, and He calls regenerate man – the church – His bride and wife, and the relation between Him and His church a marriage. The history of humanity also uniformly testifies to the truth that the marriage relation becomes pure and sacred in the degree that man and woman become heavenly minded. Evil lusts and false principles degrade man and interpose the only obstacles that hinder a perfect union between husband and wife. As our natures become elevated by the knowledge and practice of Divine truth, all that is pure and lovely in womanhood, and all that is true and noble in manhood, is more fully developed, and the union between husband and wife becomes more intimate, and the bonds that bind them together are strengthened. As heaven descends to earth and its principles become embodied in human lives, marriage rises in the purity of its motives, and approaches more fully a heavenly state. Being Divine and heavenly in its origin, marriage becomes true and complete as man and woman become regenerate. Is it probable, therefore, that when they come fully into that state, when all that is evil and false is removed, when men and women become truly angelic, when the image and likeness of the Lord into which they were created is restored, that the love that binds husband and wife together will be dissolved? That would be directly contrary to the operation of heavenly principles in this life, and subversive of the end for which man was created. The Lord cannot contradict and work against Himself. His kingdom is not a kingdom divided against itself.

The dissolution of the marriage bond by the entrance of man into heaven would be directly contrary to all the Lord’s methods of accomplishing His purposes. It would be descent from a higher to a lower instead of ascent from a lower to a higher state. It would be passing from a particular, intimate, and special union to an indefinite and general one.” …”Now, according to the common idea, this intimate and personal bond is dissolved by death, and the soul returns into a state of a general and universal affection. Many suppose the distinction of sex will be obliterated. The wife and husband will be no more to each other than any other beings. There will remain only the common bond of love to the Lord and the neighbor. Supposing the distinction of sex to remain, men and women lose that specific and personal affection which constituted their most interior and exalted delight, and return to that indefinite and common one, which was the first blind movement of the soul towards that union of heart and life. This is the entire reversal of the Divine method of perfecting man’s nature and filling his soul with the blessedness of heaven. The heavenly life, instead of being an advancement along the paths of the Divine order, reverses man’s course, and leads him back to the blind and chaotic state of his first years in this life. But this cannot be. The Lord always works like Himself. Spiritual laws are immutable. Man’s whole nature must be changed before he can find his highest happiness in a general affection. Every principle of his being tends to the specific and the personal. A common affection partakes more of the nature of the instinct of animals than the rational and specific forms of human love. It is therefore entirely in accordance with all the principles of man’s life, and with all the methods of the Divine wisdom, that the marriage relation should remain, and the union between husband and wife should become more specific, personal, and interior; and the more fully each one becomes the other’s self, the more exalted, interior, and perfect will be their happiness.If we regard the subject from the nature of marriage, we shall be led to the same conclusion. Marriage is essentially a union of souls. It is an interior and spiritual union. The ceremony performed by the minister or the magistrate is nothing more than the sanction of the church or of the state to the real marriage. The love that binds husband and wife together is the real marriage. This love has its origin in the Lord, and is His perpetual gift. When a man and woman find in each other the complements of their own being, God joins them together. Their thoughts and affections coalesce. There is really but one will and one understanding between them. The union is of the same nature as that which exists between the will and the understanding in each individual mind. We all know how happy we are when we love to do what we know we ought to do. The will and the understanding are one. There is no conflict within; there is no ground for any conflict, for all the elements of our nature perfectly blend and act in harmony. When there is perfect harmony between the will of one person and the understanding in another, both natures flow together as one. Thought meets affection and affection blends with thought in the most particular principles. There is a blending of life with life. God joins them together in the beginning or in the first and inmost principles of their being. It is impossible to separate them without destroying the life of both. You might as well separate the heart and lungs in the material body, or tear the arteries and veins from their minute and special conjunction with each other, or pull out the nerves from the body, and still preserve its ability to feel and serve as the material instrument of the mind. To destroy the marriage relation, then, would rupture the inmost principles of our being and sever all those ties which bind the two halves of our life together. Marriage has its seat in the spiritual plane of life, the plane that comes out into open consciousness when we enter heaven. To destroy it, therefore, when it exists between two beings, would destroy heaven itself for them, for it would destroy all ability to receive the life of heaven.Imagine a husband and wife who have found in each other the counterparts of their own nature, who have gone through this life together sharing each other’s joys and sorrows and bearing each other’s burdens; whose souls have grown together by the constant interchange of thought and affection, so that they have the same principles, the same purposes, the same methods;-suppose husband and wife to have this unity of life broken, to lose sight of each other, or to become nothing more to each other than they are to the whole multitude of the angels; what can they find in heaven to compensate for this loss? Every link in life is broken. They are cut off from the attainment of heavenly happiness, because the Lord does not communicate life and blessedness to us immediately from Himself, but through others; and by the supposition the closest and most intimate bonds of association have been severed. They are like an organ in the material body, cut off from its direct and normal connection with the heart. The possibility of happiness in heaven is destroyed.In heaven, we are taught and love to believe, all are drawn together by mutual affinities of nature. And these are not general alone. They are personal and specific. Those who have the strongest attachment for each other are drawn the nearest to each other. Those who are the counterparts of each other come into the most intimate union. They must live one life. They must live together. They are united as the branch to the vine, as the heart to the lungs. The union is established in the order of infinite wisdom, and no circumstance, no power, no man, and no angel can put them asunder.There is not, therefore, the slightest foundation in reason for the belief that the marriage relation will not exist in heaven. On the contrary, everything leads to the conclusion that it will. It is heavenly in its nature. It is the best type and example of that union with the Lord which constitutes heaven. It has its origin in the Lord and descends through heaven from Him. It is also in perfect harmony with man’s nature in its least and greatest principles, in its lowest forms, and in its purest and most exalted state. There is not the shadow of a reason against its existence in heaven; but everything in nature, in man, in heaven, and in the Lord proves not only its existence, but its absolute necessity. It has already been shown that the words of our Lord in regard to marriage in heaven do not deny its existence, but point to the elevation and exaltation of marriage to more interior and perfect forms than those in which it has its beginning in this life.” …”When a husband and wife are conjoined by this love, each one desires to give himself and herself wholly to the other, to be the other’s self. They twain become one, and they go forth to their daily uses of life as one. Neither desires to invade the sphere and do the duties of the other; each one desires to become perfect in his own sphere, and to do all in his or her power for the other. While, therefore, they grow more entirely one, they become more distinctly individual and personal. The unity is not gained by sameness, or by the merging of the being of the one with the other, but by distinctness. Self-love desires to be served; marriage love to serve. Self-love desires to have every one conform to it; marriage love continually breathes after conformity with the other. Self-love can only love others in itself; marriage love can only love itself in others. Self-love is only happy when receiving; marriage love when giving. Thus they are the opposites of each other in every particular. And as we all know something about self-love, we can form some idea of the nature of marriage love by remembering that it is the opposite in every respect of the love of self.Now, the Lord’s love for man is of the same nature as marriage love, though infinitely above it in strength, in purity, in tenderness, and in every quality which composes it. “There are three things,” our doctrines teach us, “which constitute the essence of the Lord’s love: 1. The love of others out of or without Himself; 2. The desire to be one with them; and 3. The desire to make them happy from Himself.” It is the inmost and infinite desire and constant effort of the Lord to give Himself to men, to give them His own life and blessedness in the highest and fullest degree possible. He desires to give them all His own to be their own in the fullest manner possible. The Lord never had a thought, or put forth an act, that was not intended for human good, and that was not directed to that end by infinite wisdom. There are no exceptions to this truth. Even what appears as the Lord’s hostility to man and as punishment from Him; even those sufferings which seem to us to be unmitigated evils, have their root in infinite love; and if we could see them in all their relations, we should see that they could not be prevented or removed without causing greater evils than themselves. Within and above them all is the Lord’s infinite desire to communicate Himself, and to give His own life, His own thought, His own power, His own riches, to others in the largest, the fullest, and the most varied manner possible to infinite wisdom and infinite power. If such is the nature of the Divine love, the Lord must seek conjunction with man. The inmost principle of His being requires such union. The Bridegroom and Husband of the church must be His appropriate name. Marriage must express the Lord’s specific relation to the church better than any other human relation. It reveals the same truth so often expressed by our Lord while in the flesh, – His desire that men should be one with Him. ” Abide in me, and I in you.” ” That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us . . I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one.” This desire to give Himself to humanity, and to dwell in them and to be one with them, caused the Lord to assume a human nature and come among men in the flesh, that He might meet them everywhere, on every plane, and give to them in every form all that they could receive. He came to betroth men unto Him in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies.” …

”Man when considered in himself is nothing but an organic form, capable of receiving life from the Lord in various degrees. Man is a form to which the Lord can conjoin Himself, a form which can consciously receive and reciprocate the Divine love. If we look at ourselves with a little attention, we shall see that it is so. If we look at the material body, we find that it is a series of organic forms. The eye is an organic form for the reception of light, the ear for the reception of sound, the lungs for the reception of air, the heart for the blood. This power of reception is not inherent in the eye, or any other organ. It is the Lord’s gift to the body through the soul, which is its life. The Lord is conjoined to the body by an outward way, through air and light and other material substances, and by an inward way through the soul; and so He gives Himself in all the fullness possible to the material body.

The soul, or spirit, is also an organic form, but spiritual, capable of receiving spiritual life from the Lord. It has no more life in itself than the material body. It has no power to think or love. All mental and spiritual activities are the effect of the Divine love and wisdom flowing into man’s spiritual organism and setting it in motion, in the same manner as seeing and hearing are caused by the influx of light into the eye and of air into the ear. The universal relation of man to the Lord, therefore, is that of the receiver to the giver, of the effect to the efficient cause.

While it is absolutely true that man, from the inmost principles of his being to the most external organism of the material body, is a form, and only a form, capable of receiving life, and of being made alive by the forces flowing into him from the Lord, yet the Lord so communicates this life that it seems to be inherent in man, to originate in him, and to be self-derived. Man calls it his own; he uses it as his own, and it is his own to all intents and purposes, though momentarily derived from the Lord.

And the Lord desires to have man use life as his own. This is according to the very nature of His love. He desires to give all His own to others, not as a loan, not to place them under any obligation to Him, not for His glory, but to be their own in the fullest manner possible. He does not wish to make man a slave or a vassal, to cringe and fawn and feel mean and destitute. He wants him to be free, to know and feel that he is free.

Therefore the forces by which man is created and the consciousness of life and freedom are communicated to him come from the Lord by a way of which he has no consciousness. He is created by the Lord and endowed with life by Him, and this life comes to him by such secret paths that he has no perception in himself of its origin, and, therefore, he can use it with the same freedom as he could if it were self-derived.

Having created man and made him capable of loving and knowing, the Lord comes to him in another way and offers him love and truth, and seeks conjunction with him. He seeks to be so united with him that man’s will will act in perfect harmony with the Divine will, and his understanding with the Divine wisdom. The Lord seeks conjunction with man as a spiritual being in the same manner that He seeks conjunction with him as a material being. No man creates his own eyes. The Lord creates the eye and then fills it with light. So man has no agency in the first instance in creating his understanding. The Lord creates it and then fills it with light. Man can shut his eyes against the light, and he can destroy them, if he chooses. The Lord does not compel a man to see. He only gives him the power to do it. So man can close his understanding against the truth, or he can so pervert what he receives that his power of receiving the truth is destroyed. The Lord gives man the power to see the truth, but He does not compel him to see it. In the same manner the Lord has given man the power to receive His love, but He does not compel him to do it. He gives him the power to receive it or to reject it in freedom. Man is not, therefore, a passive recipient of the Divine life. There is a mutual approach, a reciprocal relation. The Lord offers man His love, and man can voluntarily receive it and love the Lord in return; and when this is done there is conjunction, union. There is a marriage. The Lord betroths man unto Him in righteousness. The union is of the same nature as that which takes place between husband and wife when the marriage is real, and not merely formal. The Lord gains a real hold upon man. It is not formal. It is not legal, but real. It is as real a hold as the magnet has upon the iron, as the sun has upon the earth, and as the earth itself has upon all the objects upon it. According to the degree of this power the Lord can draw man towards Himself and pour new life into him. He can protect him from the danger of evil and falsity, and fill his mind with light and peace. This is the heavenly marriage.” …

”The two essential elements of the Divine nature are love and wisdom, and they are the two essential elements of man’s nature. In the Lord these two are perfectly united. They are one mutually and reciprocally. There is no excess of one element over the other, and they go forth hand in hand in the creation and become embodied in it. Man was created in the image and likeness of God, that he might receive love and wisdom from Him, with their blessedness. Man’s will was formed to receive the Divine love, and his understanding the Divine wisdom. When they were received in true order, there was the same union between man’s will and understanding that there is between the Divine love and wisdom in the Lord. There was no excess of one over the other. They were married. Man could not think of anything which he did not love; whatever he loved, his love caused him to perceive and understand. As this love and wisdom came from the Lord and were received by man in their true form and order, they conjoined man to the Lord at the same time that they conjoined the will to the understanding in man. Truth or wisdom is the form of love, and they have a mutual affinity for each other. So long, therefore, as man received the Divine love and wisdom in their unperverted forms from the Lord, he was drawn by them to the Lord. Everything in man’s nature responded to the Divine nature. He was drawn to the Lord by the love he received from Him. He was conjoined to Him; he was one with Him. There were no points of disagreement or opposition or difference in kind. Man was indeed finite and the Lord was infinite. But so far as man had any life, any affection or thought, so far as he was capable of any action, he was in perfect union with the Lord. The Divine life flowed into him, and every organic form in his will and in his understanding, from the highest to the lowest, vibrated in harmony with the inflowing life. There was no jar or discord in his whole nature. Every thought was the form of an affection, and every affection embodied itself in some perfect form. The Divine love and wisdom reached every faculty in man, penetrated it, enfolded it within and without, filled the intellect with light and the affections with love, and bound them together in heavenly union. Man’s whole nature was a married land. Man was at one with the Lord. He was united to Him as the branch to the vine, and the Lord filled his whole being from center to circumference with ineffable peace and blessedness. When the Bridegroom came, and in every form and state in which He came, man was ready, and went in with Him to the marriage.

But man fell from this state of perfection and union, and became divorced from the Lord. This conjoining love was lost, and his only connection with the Lord was by lower, more general, and circuitous paths. The higher planes of his being which were the seat of this specific conjoining love were closed. There was no conscious life in them, that reciprocated the Divine life. The Lord did not change. He did not turn away or withdraw from man. Man changed. He turned away from the Lord, and closed his mind against Him, as he closes his eyes to the light. Then, also, his will became divorced from his understanding, and the elements of his nature rose in conflict with each other. He lost this perception of truth; his whole nature became perverted and darkened. He became spiritually blind, lame, deaf, and dumb, and every spiritual faculty was paralytic. This was the condition of humanity when our Lord came into the world, and to a great extent it is the condition of humanity to-day.

. The Lord came to restore these severed relations with man, that He might give His own to man, and again live in him and be conjoined to him. He came to make an atonement, an atonement, the nature of which has been strangely mistaken by man. He came to make man again at one with Him by reopening his disused and paralyzed faculties. He came to renew the marriage bond. For this reason the kingdom of heaven is compared to a marriage. The Lord sends out His servants everywhere to invite men to the wedding, that it may be furnished with guests. He came into the world that men might have life, that they might dwell in Him, and He in them.

This marriage is effected according to the laws of the Divine order. Let us see how this is. Marriage in the Lord takes place between the Divine love and the Divine wisdom. The true marriage in man takes place between the will and the understanding; and, universally, spiritual marriage is effected between love and wisdom, or goodness and truth. Marriage between the Lord and man must be a union of truth with love. If there is no truth in the understanding, there is nothing in man to receive the Divine love and to be conjoined with it. There is nothing for the Divine love to grasp. The Lord can no more be conjoined to man while he is in evil and falsity than He can be united to a dead body or to a stone in the street. There is nothing to react to His love. There must be something inserted into man’s mind or nature with which the Divine love can be united, and that is the Divine truth. Truth is the form of love, as thought is the form of affection. When, therefore, the Divine truth has been received into the understanding and become a part of man’s being, there is something in him that can receive the Lord’s love and reciprocate it. So the Lord finds a lodgment in the human soul by the truth implanted there, and the reunion between man and the Lord begins to be effected. It is feeble at first. The soul is bound to the Lord only by a single thread. It will bear but a little strain, and the Lord adjusts His power to its strength. But when the communication is opened the Lord increases and enlarges it. He sends His messages of love and life along the electric chain of the Divine truths, and excites man to learn more truths, and so the bond grows. We discern evils and falsities in our nature which hinder the reception of the Divine love, and we put them away, just as we put away those habits of thought and life which impede our union with those we love. As we put them away we make room for larger measures of the Lord’s love, and we begin to reciprocate it more fully. We begin to love the Lord, to lift up our thoughts and affections to Him. Our love may be feeble, and our light dim, and our thought vague. But they increase in power and scope. We become united with the Lord as His love becomes united with His truth in our lives. This is what the Lord has always desired and labored for. The Lord always says to us, “All mine are thine,” to the extent of our ability to receive. And we begin to say, feebly, hesitatingly, and with many lingering looks, perhaps, to the flesh-pots of Egypt, ” Some of mine are thine,” and as the marriage bond grows, ” More of mine are thine;” and finally we can say, “All mine are thine.” Then the marriage is consummated. The bride hath made herself ready.

Every genuine marriage between man and woman is a gradual process. The husband and wife grow towards each other. The woman becomes more and more a wife, and the man more and more a husband. Obstructions to their more interior and complete union are being continually put away, and new bonds are forming, and old ones are strengthening, and each desires to become more fully and unreservedly the other’s. This is a beautiful and perfect picture of the soul’s marriage with the Lord; the processes are the same, for all marriage love is a finite form of the Lord’s infinite love.”


Memory Eternal splendid Sister Wendy.

The late, great Sister Wendy Beckett was an amazing woman and Christian witness… whether waxing lyrical and expressing her passionate love for Art, with contagious enthusiasm, or sharing spiritual insights drawn from a life of Prayer. Watch her series’, such as The Story Of Painting or American Collection, and permit yourself to be taken on an aesthetic adventure guided by her effervescent presence and moving commentary.                                                                                                                                                                          Sister Wendy’s work is even more rewarding if you watch it or read it after someone like Roger Scruton or Robert Hughes. Her zest for life and the good of Art perhaps justifies their skepticism for much of what passes as ‘art’ today. Without proper context, this may otherwise appear inordinately pessimistic. Sister Wendy helps show how and why the fall has been so prodigious.                                                                                                                Alongside her achievements as an art critic, she also established herself as a humble spiritual guide, who, never drawing undue attention to herself, wrote competently on different areas of Christian living. And who, like any of us, clearly knew pain and the passion of life but gratefully grasped onto the Joy of the life in Christ, coruscating His light for others to see.                                                                                                                                                             ”God never sends suffering. Never. It is never “God’s will” that we should suffer. God would like us not to suffer. But since the world brings suffering, and since God refuses to use His almighty power and treat us as foolish children, He aligns Himself with us, goes into Auschwitz with us, is devastated by 9/11 with us, and draws us with Him through it all into fulfillment. This is a high price to pay for our human freedom, but it is worth it. To be mere automatons for whom God arranges the world to cause us no suffering would mean we never have a self. We could not make choices.”                                                                                                                                                                           “This is the real power of joy, to make us certain that, beneath all grief, the most fundamental of realities is joy itself.”
Wendy Beckett, Sister Wendy’s Meditations on Joy

Marriage, Sex and The Kingdom of God.


Marriage and Sex are two of the most misunderstood facets of the life in Christ, by Christians and non-Christians alike but shockingly there is Good News about them. These books are some of the most helpful in addressing these topics that I’ve read so far. I don’t endorse many of them entirely (Beattie-Jung and Boyarin swallow modern and postmodern notions of sex and gender rather uncritically, whereas Neuer’s views on sex and gender are too ideastically rigid and confuse the ideal with the fallen. Similar criticisms may apply along the pole.)

Yet, all of these books add certain nuance to a conversation which, when it even happens at all, is remarkably stunted and simplistic within Christian churches and without. Worse, it’s without eschatological content, is not Incarnate or Pastoral and results in much nasel gazing and utilitarianism. By eschatological, I mean that Marriage and Sex are meant for The Kingdom- participating in part now but fully in the age to come. This must follow the Biblical pattern, finely balancing the particular and universal, as Bauckham and Giles help us to see it. So, particular married men and women partake in that eschatological Mystery in this life. They, as unique persons, will do so as a particular couple in the end times. The well-intentioned but trite response that “there’s only one marriage in the kingdom” is insufficient in my humble opinion. Fr Schmemann, by acknowledging that symbols partake in what they represent helps us here. Even though he never applied his own insights with regard to human sexuality. (This is my impression in reading his work and from a short dialogue I had with Fr Cleenewerck). Ultimately, they are Paschal.

See my previous blog posts on these topics here and here.                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Some of the books recommended below only look at our topics in part but are worthwhile for certain key insights.                                                                                                   There are a number of key articles to be found in my previous linked posts as well, which help us greatly. Especially from Fr Behr on Marriage and Ascetism and Dr Guroian in response to ‘same-sex marriage’.1 The anonymous ‘contrarianchristian’ posts have helped me immensely too and I’m grateful to that unseen presence. Witherington’s corrective to misreadings of Luke and other gospels on marriage in the end times has been most helpful but even he has failed to acknowledge the full eschatological significance of Sex and Marriage in The Kingdom. Some of the others help take us across the line. Start your reading list with Eric Fuchs’ book, Davidson’s Flame Of Yahweh, Giles’ The Sanctity Of Marriage and/or Family Redeemed by Soloveitchik as they help to contextualise the others, with their bigger-picture lens.  Jonathan Grant’s Divine Sex comes from the other end by comprehensively deconstructing contemporary sexual idolatry and might also serve as a point of entry.

My linked posts are still all over the place, thanks to my impassioned ramblings and De-Facto contempt for the strictures of referencing, so I’ll try and tighten them up over the next year, God willing.

Fr Raymond Collins, in Accompanied By A Believing Wife,  highlights with considerable erudite exegesis that St Paul and St Peter, as well as probably most of The Apostles were married, that them leaving their wives and families was not permanent and that there is no place for the elevation of Celibacy at the expense of Marriage in Scripture or the constant undermining of human sexuality that we run up against too frequently in ‘christian’ traditions. The Bible offers both as charisms– a point made by Eric Fuchs in his excellent book- and both appear to be fitting for the age to come; contrary to popular opinion. Fr Collins cautions against literalistic misreadings of key texts. Look for example at his response to the Lukan account of Christ’s response to the question on Marriage in The Resurrection. By contextualising Paul and his general attitude, we see that Christ’s response in The Lukan account and Paul shouldn’t be taken to say there is literally no marriage in The Resurrection. Dr Witherington does so similarly. Look at the greater context of the surrounding texts and The Scriptures In Toto: ‘this letter, “I rejoice [chairō] at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus” (1 Cor 16:17). Nor would he have been able to write “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (chairein meta chaironōn laiein meta klaiontōn, Rom 12:15). And if Christians should act as if they had no possessions, why was Paul so concerned about providing aid for the poor saints in Jerusalem (1 Cor 16:1–4) and why did he apparently dispatch Phoebe to gather the things that he needed for his intended visit to Spain (Rom 16:1–2)?
“Paul’s eschatological perspective is such that he recognizes that the Corinthians must face the everyday realities of life. He nonetheless urges them to take some distance from these realities.”72 As Robertson and Plummer said a century ago, the Corinthians must learn “how to sit loose to all earthly ties.”73 Their lives must foreshadow the coming eschaton and anticipate the Parousia of the Lord Jesus Christ.74 In Fitzmyer’s words, “What in Stoic thinking was an aloof reaction to the world of human existence has now been cast in terms of another world dominated by the Christ-event, with a destiny that is different.”75
Married people must continue to live like married people, but they must allow the Lordship of Jesus Christ, which will be fully manifest at the Parousia, to dominate the married life that they live. (This is the key- their Marriage must be In Christ and give all time Him, before it is given back to us, ”All things will be made new”, in this life and the age to come. (We must kill ‘self-love’ as Giles puts it). This is why Dr Guroian’s prophetic call to restore this great Mystery to The Eucharist is of utmost importance. Fr Ray appears to avoid, by way of these kinds of nuances, a common Roman Catholic mistake; which many Orthodox thankfully do not make; that Marriage is only for this world. As Fr Meyendorff and others show, this is not the case. (Likewise, the eccentric Swedenborg and his fellows. 2) Unless we take these things into consideration, we run the risk of misreading Paul’s advice to The Corinithians in terms of an ‘eschatological reversal’. The texts and grand narrative of The Scriptures do not support this ‘traditional’ view.                                                                                                                                                            Fr Collins makes many excellent points throughout the book and proves a useful partner to bounce ideas off.3                                                                                                                         We can see the fuller eschatological picture for Marriage and human sexuality in a cross examination of the work of Fr Raymond alongside Rabbi Soloveitchik, Fr Behr, Dr Guroian, Eric Fuchs, Giles and The Scriptures themselves. The Orthodox understanding that Marriage is Eternal, echoing The Song Of Songs4, is ultimately vindicated but the malevolent anti-sex narrative of many, and perhaps even especially in the east; is not.                                                                                                                                                          The goodness of God’s gift in Genesis gets better and has it’s place in the age to come, for those whose vocation it is. It’s intimately involved in the pattern of Life, Death and Resurrection.5 6 7 This is why I describe it as Paschal.                                                                                                                                           Merry Christmas!

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The Messiah, Mission and Multiculturalism.

978cfd2558a188181c6a2b8f1176f78f Good Friday Icon                                                                                                                                                           Taken from a lecture by Dr Ramachandra                                                                                                                                                               The Scandal of Jesus: Christ in a Pluralist World

© Vinoth Ramachandra, Karl Reichelt Lecture, MHS, Norway, May 12 2005

The Scandal of the Cross

From the beginning, the Christian message has been distasteful, even offensive. In the Roman empire crucifixion, though widespread, was viewed with universal horror and disgust. It was cruel and degrading, the victim often flogged and tortured before being strung up on a cross on busy, crowded junctions as a deterrent to the masses. It was the most humiliating form of death in the ancient world: the penalty reserved for rebellious slaves and (what today would be called) ‘terrorists’ against the state. No Roman citizen could be crucified. Romans didn’t even discuss the subject, they pretended it never existed. The great senator and orator Cicero declared that ‘the very word “cross” should be far removed not only from the presence of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears.’

Crucifixion was a way of wiping out not only the victim but also the memory of him. A crucified man had never existed. That’s why not a single ancient historian pays attention to crucifixion.

It is in a world such as this that we meet a group of men and women moving around the Roman Empire and announcing that among those forgotten, crucified ‘nobodies’, there had been one who was no less than the Son of God, the Saviour of the world.

I cannot over-emphasise the foolishness of such a message. If you wanted to convert the educated and pious people of the empire to your cause, whatever that cause may have been, the worst thing you could ever do would be to link that cause to a recently crucified man. To put it mildly, that would have been a public relations disaster. And to associate God, the source of all life, with this crucified cr iminal was to invite mockery and sheer incomprehension! This was indeed the experience of the first Christians.

This message, if true, subverted the world of religion. For it claimed that if you wanted to know what God is like, and to learn God’s purposes for God’s world, you had to go not to the sages, the lofty speculations of the philosophers or to the countless religious temples and sacred groves that dotted the empire, but to a cross outside the walls of Jerusalem. The world of the first Christians was every bit as pluralistic, if not more so, than ours- culturally and religiously. But for the Jews a crucified Messiah/Saviour was a contradiction in terms, for it expressed not God’s power but God’s inability to liberate Israel from Roman rule. For pious Greeks and Romans, the idea that a god or son of a god should die as a state criminal, and that human salvation should depend on that particular historical event, was not only offensive, it was sheer madness.

This message, if it were true, also subverted the world of politics. It claimed that Rome’s own salvation would come from among those forgotten victims of state terror. Caesar himself would have to bow the knee to this crucified Jew. It implied that by crucifying the Lord of the universe, the much-vaunted civilization of Rome stood radically condemned. The Pax Romana was a sham peace. Like all imperial projects, it was built on the suffering of the many. And God had chosen to be found among the victims, not the empire-builders. Our salvation lies not in release from this temporal and material world but in the transformation of it to reflect the will and glory of its Creator. The resurrection of Jesus is the Creator’s promise that death and corruption do not have the last word, whether in the lives of individuals or whole civilizations. The Bible ends with the vision not of our going off to heaven but of heaven -the New Jerusalem- coming down to earth, and to which all the nations bring their cultural treasures in worship. Everything good and true and beautiful in history is not lost for ever, but will be restored and directed to the worship of God. All our human activity (in the arts, sciences, in the worlds of economics and politics)-and even the non-human creation- will be brought to share in the liberating rule of God, and this grand vision centres on the cross of Jesus Christ. It is there that a vision of future hope opens up for the world. And you will not find any hope for the world in any of the religious systems or philosophies of humankind. The Biblical vision is unique. And that is why when some say that there is also salvation in other faiths, we need to ask them: what salvation are you talking about? No faith holds out a promise of salvation for the world the way the Cross and physical Resurrection of Jesus do.

The story of the Cross subverts the fragmented stories and tribalisms of the postmodern world. ‘Postmodernism’ has come to mean many different things in different contexts, but one thing that is agreed on as part of a popular postmodern ‘sensibility’ is a suspicion of all overarching, universal frameworks of meaning. We no longer believe in History but only in histories, no longer in Story but in stories (because these big histories and big stories about the world have often been oppressive, suppressing different others). However, these little histories and little stories can be as oppressive as the big ones. For we are left with nothing outside of ourselves to judge our actions, let alone the actions of others; we are left to the tyranny of our own communities; we have no shared language or framework of understanding to make communication with others possible. The postmodern self implodes inwards: for I am now told that there is nothing given about me, I am left to my own devices to form my infinitely malleable identity.

For many people, not only the young, consumerism now becomes the way of constructing an identity. We shop for a self. Our clothing, our houses, and our cars tell the story of who we are trying to be. It is not by accident that the fashion world now calls itself an identity industry. Like a screen-saver on our computers, our postmodern selves are constantly changing into new configurations. For some, a self is pursued through violence or sexual promiscuity or experimenting with new religions or occult techniques. For others cyberspace and virtual reality are the means to self-creation and then we seek recognition for this self by joining virtual communities. Even on the Internet, no less in our physical neighbourhoods, we move towards others who are just like ourselv. If the modern autonomous self imposed a false and suffocating universalism on others, the postmodern self is cut off from those who are truly ‘other’. We may recognize them, even tolerate them, make public space for them, but we cannot communicate with them.

The message of the Cross tells us that God takes us as we are- with all our brokenness and fears, our failings and inadequacies. He takes us as part of our families, our cultures and our occupations. We don’t have to make ourselves or change ourselves to be loved by God. But even though God accepts us as we are, he doesn’t leave us where we are. He moves us on a journey, he gives our culture, our work, and our background (everything that makes me uniquely me, and you uniquely you) a new direction. He links us up with people with whom we would never associate, left to ourselves. Some of these people I may have disliked, or considered inferior, or been unable to talk with. The Cross brings us all down to the same level and raises us up as the children of God.

The same act that reconciles me to God now reconciles me to my neighbour, even my enemy. So at the other side of the Cross there emerges a new human community, in which barriers are being broken down while diversity is honoured, and in which new identities are being formed as we interact together in the presence of the risen Jesus.

‘The biblical story is not only critical of other stories but also hospitable to other stories. On its way to the kingdom of God it does not abolish all other stories, but brings them all into relationship to itself and its way to the kingdom. It becomes the story of all stories, taking with it into the kingdom all that can be positively related to the God of Israel and Jesus. The presence of so many little stories within the biblical metanarrative, so many fragments and glimpses of other stories, within Scripture itself, is surely a sign and an earnest of that. The universal that is the kingdom of God is no dreary uniformity or oppressive denial of difference, but the milieu in which every particular reaches its true destiny in relation to the God who is the God of all because he is the God of Jesus.’ – Richard Bauckham, Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World


Pieces on Mission and Multiculturalism:                                                                                                                                                                 1-

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Theo Humanism