Join us in this Bible Study co-hosted by the Bucknell University Orthodox Christian community and St. John’s Russian Orthodox Mission Church in Lewisburg, PA. Video summaries follow below of our “live” Bible Studies usually held on Sundays at 2:30 p.m. at the Bucknell University Barnes & Noble Bookstore Cafe (to confirm the schedule, please see stjohnthewonderworker.com). All are welcome regardless of background and no homework or previous knowledge is needed! (For video summaries of our earlier Bible Study, “Genesis and Job in the Orthodox Tradition,” please look here.)
Learn how the Church Fathers and Orthodox Tradition provide truths that go far deeply beyond the famous 1956 American film The Ten Commandments (which in many ways represented the high-water mark of what is called American “civil religion”), by drawing on Scripture and Tradition that date back across cultures and geography and generations to the days of Moses in the 16th century BC, accounts from more than 3,600 years ago, to find their fulfillment in our Lord’s Orthodox Church today. For biblical study we as Orthodox Christians turn to the holy elders, saints, and prophets of the Church, seeing in the Old Testament the prefiguring of the full realization of its accounts in our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ (still the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, “He Who Is”), and His Church as the new Israel, leading us out from the bondage of sin and death and freeing us from Pharaohs ancient and modern. We read the Bible both literally and, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the Church, symbolically, while we pray and struggle together to put into practice unworthily but with God’s grace what we learn.
As the Apostle Paul puts it: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (II Timothy 3:16). And the Holy Prophet Solomon: “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield unto them that put their trust in Him. Add thou not unto His words, lest He reprove thee, and thou be found a liar” (Prov. 30:5-6). To which St. John Chrysostom adds: “This is the cause of all evils: the ignorance of the Scriptures. We go into battle without arms, and how ought we to come off safe?”
Archive of our community Bible Study during the 2022-2023 academic year on “Genesis and Job in Orthodox Christian Church Tradition,” held on 2:30 each Sunday at the Bucknell Barnes & Noble Cafe, 4th and Market Streets in downtown Lewisburg, PA. All are welcome! A video archive of summaries of our discussions follows below. Our motto is from St. John Chrysostom in the 4th century: “This is the cause of all evils: the ignorance of the Scriptures. We go into battle without arms, and how ought we to come off safe?” Our prayer is to live in our lives what we learn from Holy Scripture under the guidance of the Church Fathers. May the Lord give us unworthily good strength and wisdom in this effort! Glory to God! For video summaries of our 2023-2024 Bible study on “Exodus and Isaiah in the Orthodox Christian Tradition, please see here.
Videos of the series below are posted in sequence, starting with an introduction to the study of Genesis in Orthodox tradition and chronography, and then our first conversation on Genesis 1 and beyond. Your video guide, drawing on conversations with the ensemble of our in-person Bible Study participants, Deacon Paul Siewers, Ph.D., unworthily strives to use for his own guide Orthodox Church Tradition including commentaries of the Fathers of the Church. He teaches the Bible as Literature course at Bucknell University, where he is on the Literary Studies faculty with a specialty in early literature and patristic connections. An ordained Deacon in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, he holds a Diploma in Pastoral Theology from St. John of Kronstadt Orthodox Pastoral School, as well as an M.A. in Early British Studies (history, language, and literature) from the University of Wales, a Ph.D. in medieval English literature from the University of Illinois, an MSJ from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern, and a BA in History from Brown; he also was Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life at Princeton’s James Madison Program, 2018-2019. But Church Tradition and biblical commentary by those holy people experienced in the noetic life of the Church, not educational certification, are the gold standard for Bible study, which should be approached with prayer and struggle to practice the unfolding of God-given truth there. Prayers for beginning the study of Scripture can be found here.
A note on Translations: Genesis 26:32 in the Septuagint Greek text of the Orthodox Church notes that Isaac’s servants did “not” find water in digging the Well of the Oath (Beersheba). The Hebrew Masoretic text states that they “did” find water. However, the Orthodox Study Bible follows the Hebrew without noting the difference. St. Ambrose of Milan, an early Church writer, cited the Septuagint version in commentary indicating the spiritual meaning of the account of the wells in Genesis 26, referencing their names of Injustice, Enmity, Room Enough, and Oath. It perhaps could be taken as prophetic that the well marking the reconciliation of Abimelech of the Phllistines with Isaac would be dry, in light of future relations in the Old Testament between Isaac’s descendants and the Phillistines. The reference to oath for a dry well also could symbolize the ultimate inadequacy of human oaths and alliances, and the need for faith in God. The Fathers indicated also the relation of the role of wells in this section of Genesis symbolically to baptism, including the well at which God arranged the meeting between Abraham’s eldest servant with Rebekah to arrange the marriage of her with Isaac with her consent. The wells helped mark historically and symbolically the pilgrimage and sojourning of Abraham’s family and of his seed as leading to the establishment of the land in which our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ would be born, in the Incarnation of God as man.
I recently saw that Dumbarton Oaks at long last had re-issued its full English translation of The Periphyseon: The Division of Nature by John Scottus Eriugena, translated by I.P. Sheldon-Williams and John J. O’Meara (this occurred in 2020 but I just caught up with it). I have spent a fair amount of time with the older out-of-print version of that book, and Latin editions of the original, in my scholarship. Spellings and pronunciations of his name differ a bit in English but John Scottus Eriugena is not Duns Scotus as commonly confused. Rather, he is the ninth-century Hiberno-Latin philosopher who, according to later medieval tradition, exchanged puns at dinner with the Frankish King Charles the Bald, founded Oxford University, and was stabbed to death by the pens of his students.
In my 2017 thesis for a diploma in pastoral theology (linked below) from the St. John of Kronstadt Pastoral School of the Chicago Archdiocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, drawing on my Eriugena research, I examined the question of whether Eriugena’s work had been treated fairly by modern scholars labeling it heretical (with the scholars being both favorable and unfavorable to that conclusion!), and how his work may or may not be considered by Orthodox Christians today as an Irish philosophical addendum to that of the Church Fathers of the first millennium
My conclusion: Eriugena’s work has been misunderstood in significant ways in the West, because of a lack of fuller understanding there historically of his heavy reliance on Greek Fathers, especially St. Maximus the Confessor, in his synthesis with Augustine’s writings, the latter also clouding the view of his work by some modern Orthodox scholars. While, given unknowns about his life, and ambiguities in his Latin, it is best not to call him a Church Father per se, nevertheless he can be seen as an early medieval Orthodox Christian philosopher, and his work as a kind of apologetic bridge today between Western heterodoxy and Orthodox Christianity as the latter spreads again in the West. In this sense, his writing as Orthodox philosophy is somewhat parallel (in a much earlier Western context) to philosophical writers such as S.L. Frank and Ivan Ilyin in 20th-century Russian Orthodox tradition.
In a newer publication, an essay forthcoming entitled “From Eriugena to Dostoevsky: Christian ‘Universalism’ in Hiberno-Latin Contexts and its Continued Significance,” I also take issue with what I see as the misuse of Eriugena by philosophers such as David Bentley Hart to support modern universalism. That newer essay is in proofs now for a collection entitled Sources of Knowledge: Studies in Old English and Anglo-Latin Literature in Honour of Charles D. Wright (Brepols, forthcoming, 2023).
My delight in that latter volume, as an outlet for recent insights from my Eriugena research a quarter century on, is that it honors a brilliant scholar of Anglo-Saxon and early Irish literatures, Charlie Wright, who also was such a kind and generous mentor to me in developing my interest in early Insular Christianity. My studies of early Irish and Welsh Christianity in particular with God’s grace contributed to my becoming unworthily an Orthodox Christian after years of wandering in the American religious wilderness. With that, my conversion involved also much needed penitential struggle, alongside finally finishing my reading of The Brothers Karamazov (represented in the above-mentioned forthcoming study, too). As a further literary note on that, when some years ago I literally ran into the translator of the edition of The Brothers Karamazov I had read, Richard Pevear, an Orthodox Christian, in a corridor on campus during a visit. I told him effusively that “oh your translation helped bring me into Orthodoxy.” “Oh,” he said, “I shall have to be more careful in future.”
Glory to God for all things!
John Scottus Eriugena in Context: Heretic or Last of the Western Church Fathers? — St. John of Kronstadt Pastoral School Thesis 2017
A paper given at a seminar on “The Egocentrism of Human Rights? A Reflection with Christos Yannaras on the Polis and Ecclesia” at Ohio State University Center for Bioethics, February 26, 7531 [March 11, 2023 on the civil calendar]
A year ago, faculty at my secular American university voted on a motion to adopt the so-called Chicago Principles of academic free-speech rights for our campus. They voted 191 to 31 to prevent any discussion at all on the free-speech measure and to require a super-majority to ever bring it back to the floor, a ritual slaying. Some of their critiques might echo parts of Christos Yannaras’ book The Inhuman Character of Human Rights. The leading opponents argued that the whole liberal idea of individual rights and any enforcement of ideas of open civil debate and discussion on campus were based on the global West’s systemically racist, and patriarchal- cisnormative model of the human subject, and thus wrong. In supporting the failed measure, I was thinking partly of the need to protect free-speech rights on behalf of people such as the Ethiopian Orthodox student who had withdrawn from the university because of the campus culture’s aggressive secularism. And my conservative Catholic student last year who did likewise. And a conservative Jewish colleague and friend who was pushed out of the Jewish Studies program she had founded because secular colleagues said her work on religious Jewish texts was too religious. And I could go on about such on-campus doings but won’t, because it is Lent. In supporting the free-speech measure I concluded that aspects of Christian tradition resonate with American founding documents in a duty to protect the dignity of others whose voices and lives otherwise could be lost. In Yannaras’ own terms, affirmation of rights tactically and strategically could protect a humanized element, in the case of higher education in the liberal arts tradition, reflective of Christian charity, anthropology, morals, and apologetics.
I would like to examine the paradox of defending a critique of rights in individualistic classical liberalism by those who vehemently oppose Christian faith, while also asserting the need of rights to Orthodox worship, practice, and teaching in secular societies. This argument will consist of three sections: 1. The issue of rights in relation to Christian belief in American tradition. 2. How Russian Orthodox philosophy in the past century provides additional insights into the issue of rights in the West. 3. How Orthodox models of family and marriage inform adaption of Orthodox ideas of personhood to secular contexts involving rights in America.
The issue of rights in relation to Christian belief in American tradition.
I’ll start by noting that the etymology of right and rights in English unpacks an older view of right as meaning a straightness, a righteousness if you will. This is similar to how biblical Greek uses terms in which right and justice are synonymous. It is also similar to how to “be free” in early English meant to be generous, with the terms for freedom and friendship sharing the same linguistic root. The volume The Rudder, a collection of Orthodox Church canons, in a lengthy Editor’s Foreword in its 1950s English translation put it this way: “…the Church is defined to be the community of men in faith founded upon the New Man and His rights” (referring to Christ as the New Man). I’ll argue here that the idea of rights reflected in the U.S. Constitution types this view to an extent when combined with Christian belief. When the Orthodox philosopher Christos Yannaras calls for religion with a socially based ontology to ground new Western humanization of the idea of individual rights, his critique partly shares ground with current critiques of Western and Eurocentric thinking in secular anti-racist and queer-gender political movements. But his critique looks to Orthodox Christian theology, anthropology, and cosmology, as the basis for the political philosophy he unfolds. Similarly, the idea of rights itself can be seen in America either in the secular sense he critiques, or in a Christian sense, which, although from heterodox culture, still can carry some weight for Orthodox Christians.
There are peculiar things about rights as defined in the American constitutional tradition that make that tradition the target of secularists. They may be symbolized by the very signatures on the Constitution. The U.S. Constitution unlike French Revolutionary or Soviet models ends with the signatory declaration, “In the Year of our Lord.” Abraham Lincoln, like many American leaders having ambiguous and non-Orthodox religious feelings, tending toward Unitarian theism and universalism, nonetheless had the King James Bible as one of three volumes always on his desk (the other two being the Complete Works of Shakespeare and what was at the time the one-volume book of U.S. federal statutes). His increasing engagement with Evangelical Protestant culture in America during the Civil War era recently has been documented by Joshua Zeitz in his book Lincoln’s God, which argues that Lincoln bridged the so-called separation of Church and State in the U.S. and forged a kind of civil religion based in heterodox Christianity that lasted nigh on a century. Its monuments can still be seen in places such as the Gettysburg National Park and Cemetery, the Lincoln Memorial, the much-debased National (Episcopalian) Cathedral, and monuments expressing biblical faith in countless town squares across America. Lincoln’s oratory fused the Constitution with the Declaration of Independence’s statements about God: All men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, with the source of those rights in God, and those rights a synonym for dignities that require a duty of us to God and to our neighbor as members of a Christian republic. Then there are those odd and controversial provisions of the Bill of Rights guaranteeing free exercise of religion, and separation of powers, which reflect Classical ideas adapted by a predominantly Christian culture.
The Orthodox culture of duty to God as rights includes recognition of the rights of others in a godly way. This can link to a Christian reading of America’s founding documents, influenced by Classical ideas, with what the historian Anthony Kaldellis called the Byzantine Republic. Kaldellis argued that the Christian Roman Empire remained a republic in civil spirit and forms, and this would include the ancient sense of duties as rights. This too sets a model of sorts for rights as recognizing the dignity of others in the context of the American republic, however imperfect its Protestant civil religion. The latter however heterodox may still parallel pagan ideas offering nectar to be gathered by Christians to make honey, as suggested by St. Basil the Great.
2. How Russian Orthodox philosophy in the past century provides additional insights into the issue of rights in the West
Let us consider briefly also what Russian Christian perspectives offer. The notorious Russian philosopher Alexander Dugin critiques secular Western individualism and ideas of rights in his studies of Heidegger. Dugin, following a line of Russian Christian philosophy, says Heidegger highlights how the global West has falsely identified beings with Being, confused beings with ideas and Being, Western particularisms with universals, to shape a virtual sense of secular reality revolving around an illusion of individualism. He sees this crossing the spectrum of neoliberalism, fascism, and communism. Dugin’s work itself draws partly on earlier writings of Russian Christian philosophers from exile, as exemplified by Ivan Ilyin and S.L. Frank, both forced to leave Communist Russia after the Revolution.
Ilyin’s work drew on his extensive writings on Hegel and on what he called “legal consciousness.” He drew on Russian philosophical sensibilities informed by Orthodoxy to interpret Hegel’s dialectic as more intuitive and dialogic in nature than often read in the West. Ilyin did this through emphasis on Hegel’s focus on God and an expression of the concreteness of God and humanity in Hegel’s writing, somewhat paralleling development of what was called Sophiology in early twentieth century, but without the heretical ambiguities of Sophiology. The latter were pointed out by Marcus Plested recently and by St. John Maximovich in Ilyin’s time. Rather than dialectic being an ultimately interiorized process of rationalistic thought, Illyin emphasized it as melding with intuition in terms similar to the American philosopher Charles Peirce’s idea of abduction, in effect a merging of deduction and induction in the experiential hunch, so the dialectic becomes an embodied dialogic rather than the dialectical materialism of Marxist-Leninism. Epistemologically this incarnational dialogic or abduction also relates to Orthodox soteriological ideas of synergy, ecclesiological ideas of conciliarity in union with hierarchy, and the social principle of symphonia of Church and State.
Ilyin’s legal consciousness, with its intuitive dialogic sensibility, aligns too with the idea of sobornost current in Russian Christian philosophy of his day, while suggesting the identification of sobornost with Orthodox natural law. Sobornost is a term that developed from a root word used to translate catholic in the medieval Slavonic version of the Nicaean-Constantinopolitan Creed. It has a meaning of deep spiritual unity and solidarity, a catholicity in the sense of both Creation and time as well as embodied anthropology, which goes beyond the Western spatial sense of catholicity, but more of a cosmological deep dive. It matches with the older sense of freedom mentioned earlier, aligned with friendship and generosity and self-emptying. In all this the idea of sobornost supports an Orthodox approach to rights as duty to God empowered by His grace, and, from that, duty to the dignity of one’s neighbors. As Ilyin noted in later writings, such duty in sobornost does not preclude the use of force against evil for the sake of sobornost, in defending others who are vulnerable and the community of the Church herself from evils such as Bolshevism. Ilyin indicated that such use of force must only be used discerningly in prayer in line with the canons of the Church, and with repentance and confession, and should not over-ride the need for individual love and forgiveness. The right of defense in this case, as Ilyin saw it, was in effect a community right, an application of sobornost in oikonomia.
There is a parallel between Ilyin’s approach and Dostoevsky’s keen sense of the limitations of the legal system explored in his greatest novels, The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment. We are all in part responsible for one another’s sins is a message in both. The legal actions featured in the stories are inadequate to comprehend this. Yet his novel Devils highlights in its satirical tone the question of why no one stopped the nihilist-anarchists before violence erupted, and the inadequacy of the official legal system. In The Brothers Karamazov it seems that illegal action may spirit away Dmitri who has been unfairly convicted, while Alyosha expresses penitence for not having prevented the murder of his father even as he doesn’t fully understand at the time the actual mechanism of the killing. In Crime and Punishment the horrible violence of Raskolnikov itself forms part of his story of repentance and rebirth. In Dostoevsky’s greatest works, rights are realized in duties for others that yet may in Ilyin’s terms require resisting evil by force, shadowing or bringing forth deeper providential plans.
Ilyin wrote: “One who has lived under the burden of a totalitarian regime and terror; who has thought over the essence of material inequality and understood the regular connection between the sizes of the harvests in a country and the quantity of crimes against property; who is acquainted with the essence of the previous Russian suit for divorce; who has been in a convict prison and has heard the rattling of chains on human beings; who knows what corporal punishment is, and has had contact with a person condemned to capital punishment; who saw all that and understood that it is also carried out in accordance with law—such an individual possesses sufficient psychic motives to no longer trust in a single formulation of the problem of the spiritual justification of law.” (148–49)
The late Herman Engelhardt of blessed memory called natural law in Orthodoxy, glossing the words of St. Basil the Great, the spark of divine law within the human heart. Ilyin wrote that “Law in its original, “natural” sense is nothing other than a necessary form of the spiritual being of a human. It indicates that order of equal, free self-sufficiency of each in which alone spiritual life is possible on earth. From this it follows that law in this sense could be extinguished or become unnecessary only if the basic mode of human existence were to change, that is, if humanity ceased to be a multiplicity of self-sufficient subjects, united by a shared basis of external life.” (158)
The Greek term logos has a range of meanings in English that include principle, in a sense law, as well as harmony. As St. Maximos the Confessor wrote of the logoi of the Logos, or the Words of the Word, both constituting and redeeming man, so too we can think of the laws of the Law, the Logos. It is ultimately the law of love involved in this, as Professor Engelhardt’s articulation suggests, in which the Great Commandments of the Gospel are of course to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and our neighbor as ourself.
Dovetailing with the ethos of both Dostoevsky and Ilyin, the Russian exile philosopher S.L. Frank developed a social philosophy based on the idea of sobornost, which he put in a tension or balance with obschestvennost. The Frank defined as the mechanistic and individualistic sense of life. It was an organizational sense of life if sobornost was organic as in the body of Christ. Yet it seems to be for Frank an inevitable aspect of human life, the whole system of what might be called the state yet incorporating what in America would be called the private sector too, but one of the twin heads of the double-headed eagle of Orthodox symphonia, the other being the Church. The balance between sobornost and obchshestvennost in his view must be symbiotic and synergetic and embodied. It requires a sense of rights akin to Peirce’s abduction and based on the Gospel’s Great Commandments, not John Locke’s so-called Locke box of individual interiority.
For Frank, it is the traumatic uprooting of his life from Russia that highlights both the difference between sobornost and obschestvennost and the necessity for an overlay of the two for a meaningful life and survival spiritually in the modern world. It is that awareness of the separation of worldliness from home, mingled with a spiritual sense of home that is always present, that for him seems to form the basis of rights. Living in such an overlay landscape with a spiritual dimension, through Christ, involves for Frank what might be called allegiance to the Kingdom of God. Now sobornost as mentioned is deeper than the Western sense of spatial universality and partaking in the Greek sense of communion as koinonia, for the root is related to council or sobor and cathedral, the seat of the bishop where the faithful gather. The Book of Revelation says that in the Kingdom of God believers will be kings and priests unto God, but in the Gospel there is also a sense that our relationship with God’s kingdom is that of servants or slaves as well as through Christ friends of God. We are also termed in the Church members of the body of Christ. Right here is in sobornost a harmonization with God rather than again an assertion of self, while again involving a duty within that harmonization to protect others.
3. How Orthodox models of family and marriage inform adaption of Orthodox ideas of personhood to secular contexts involving rights in America
The filioque was taken as a marker by the psychoanalytic theorist Julia Kristeva of individualism in the modern West. For her the filioque marked a confusion of the Father and the Son in a greater individualism that instrumentalized the Holy Spirit. As Orthodox we don’t see psychological analogies as correct in explaining the Trinity, but she saw the change of the filioque as reflecting human cultural psychology. In that view, the cultural sense of self not marked by the filioque was more the permeable or porous self of Charles Taylor’s philosophy, and the sense of self with the filioque was more what Taylor has called the buffered or distanced self of modernity. In hyper-individualization, as the psychoanalytic scholar and practitioner Matias Desmet notes, the process of what Hannah Arendt characterized as mass formation accelerates. A kind of atomization and isolation easily lends itself to re-formation into group identities that leads toward totalitarian culture, or what Zuboff describes as its new form as instrumentarianism, that is the use of everyone as instrumental to the technological system.
But in Orthodox terms, to conclude, the family and cosmic symbolism of marriage illustrate the application of an Orthodox Christian sense of rights to rights as understood in American political tradition. The idea of the family as a little Church and also a little kingdom, overlapping the spiritual and civic worlds, is a familiar trope in Orthodox culture. The deeper cosmic symbolism of marriage is seen in the symbolic understanding of Christ as Bride and Church as Bridegroom. To have God as Father, one must have the Church as Mother, as a familiar saying goes. The reciprocity inherent in Orthodox marriage as between one man and one woman is a mutual sacrifice that is both hierarchical and conciliar, and which exemplifies and personifies sobornost.
The early American President John Quincy Adams pointed to virtuous marriage as the basis of the constitutional republic. He wrote that “the social compact, or body politic, founded upon the laws of Nature and of God, physical, moral, and intellectual, necessarily pre-supposes a permanent family compact formed by the will of the man, and the consent of the woman, and that by the same laws of Nature, and of God, in the formation of the Social Compact, the will or vote of every family must be given by its head, the husband and father.” His father the founder and President John Adams noted, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Freedom as the basis for rights in the Christian republic must be, as SL Frank wrote, voluntary service to the truth, the truth being wholly realized in the person of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. But today the Orthodox Church as a minority in the West faces a parallel threat to that typed by the experience of heterodox American Protestant founders, namely that of theological and ascetic dissipation from within. The assertion of rights in the modern Western secular sense of self-assertion is at the doors of Orthodoxy in America in the form of academics claiming to act within the Church asserting the rights of sexual identities. We see this in a few academic publications in recent months and in a forthcoming one. The methods and often the axioms and tone and style of these efforts reflect an attempted Americanization of Orthodoxy, often led by assimilated Orthodox Christians from historical ethnic backgrounds. Ironically they accuse their critics of being too Americanized by engaging in culture wars instead of affirming individual rights. The identification of politics with cultural difference is a frequent error or strategy of those seeing identity in secularized and materialistic terms. As St. Gregory the Great noted, it is the best intentions and efforts of Job’s friends, sometimes speaking truth while abusing him who is like the Church, that betray how they operate like heretics. Likewise, the increasing turning of Protestant and Catholic churches to pansexualism and self-objectification and individualization of sexual passions is a greater threat of heresy than materialism. For those looking to American heterodox religious cultural examples in a negative inversion of cultural apologetics would attempt to use them to disarm and pervert the Orthodox mission here.
Yet we also can as Orthodox Christians and must accept the biblical call to recognize the dignity of the other, as the Holy Apostle Paul did in the case of Saint Onesimus the slave in his epistle to Philemon. This is not only a haunting of the land by Christ in poetic terms, but, as Ivan Ilyin wrote a call for action grounded in the Holy Tradition of the Church and Scripture. When protecting the dignity of others even unto force as a duty, Ilyin described the paradoxical position of the hero as: “he [who] is not righteous, but right” (5:208). That perhaps expresses the limits of American traditional rights within an Orthodox context as well as the Venn diagram in practice. Ethically for Ilyin, human life, is tragic, requiring endurance and brave acceptance of a mission at times unrighteous in the sense of forcefully standing up for the dignity of others. Ilyin writes: “A person who has smothered the image of God in himself, does not stand in need of a weak-willed, sympathetic ‘Yes,’ but of a severe, condemnatory ‘No,’ and this ‘No’ that restrains him and brings him to his senses can and ought to have, as its genuine source, love for God in heaven and for the Divine in our fallen and spiritually extinguished soul.” This protects the Church, Christian culture, the vulnerable including especially children, and the sinner himself, but Ilyin notes this must always be done in any physical sense as a last resort with penitential trepidation, and not to try to force love or spiritual growth, but rather as a protection to others.
In medieval studies, a crux (from the Latin term for Cross) as mentioned in the poem is a textual passage that elicits puzzlement and perhaps metaphorical suffering on the part of the reader, who may pounce, like the cat in the poem on its prey, in seeking to find an answer.
In prayerful Orthodox study of the Bible, such a crux becomes a small reminder of the Cross as a living and real symbol of self-sacrifice in Christ rather than self-assertion. That’s because in Orthodoxy biblical “hermeneutics” it is considered normal to 1) first pray before study; 2) seek guidance from the Church Fathers and a spiritual father or other experienced Orthodox Christian in the Holy Tradition of the Church; 3) consider it normal to approach such a passage with the contemplative humble view “it’s a mystery”; and 4) to accept in faith both literal and symbolic explanations together. The mystery of such a passage itself can convict us as readers of pride; it asks us (myself the most) to unpack meaning to exemplify in our lives, however unworthily, rather than to engage speculative abstract assertions to which us modern secular academics can be prone.
One such Biblical passage, Joshua 5:13-15 came up for discussion in our mission parish’s coffee hour, while our regular Bible Study was on temporary hiatus between finishing Job and starting Exodus this summer.
One participant mentioned that he had seen online discussion calling out the Orthodox Study Bible footnote to the passage as wrong for explaining the “chief captain of the host of the Lord” to be the Holy Archangel Michael according to tradition, rather than a theophany of our Lord Jesus Christ, as understood elsewhere in the Old Testament by Church Fathers. Along those lines, another in our informal coffee-hour discussion noted textual evidence in the translation that the “Lord of Hosts” as a name for God seemed equivalent to the description of the figure as “chief captain”; that the Orthodox Study Bible capitalizes “Master” in the address by Joshua to the figure, as if referencing God; and that the figure tells Joshua, just as the theophany of Christ told the Holy Prophet Moses according to tradition, to “Lose the shoe from your feet for the place on which you stand is holy.” A third at the coffee table asked whether it wasn’t unusual for a theophany of Christ to be described as holding a sword, the latter associated with the Holy Archangel Michael in iconography of the Church. Also, it could be added, that in the earlier opening of the Book of Joshua, God is described directly as speaking to Joshua, as God, rather than an angel, and whether that might provide context, too.
Here is one unworthy attempt to gather insights from the Fathers on this passage. Additions and corrections welcome!
And it came to pass when Joshua was in Jericho, that he looked up with his eyes and saw a man standing before him, and there was a drawn sword in his hand; and Joshua drew near and said to him, Art thou for us or on the side of our enemies? And he said to him, I am now come, the chief captain of the host of the Lord. And Joshua fell on his face upon the earth, and said to him, Lord, what commandest thou thy servant? And the captain of the Lord’s host said to Joshua, Loose thy shoe off thy feet, for the place whereon thou now standest is holy.
First, the Orthodox Study Biblenote indeed cites “the tradition” of the figure being the Holy Archangel Michael, but without citation.
The biblical language in the Greek Septuagint includes a term for the figure αρχιστράτηγος, translatable from the Septuagint Greek as “commander in chief,” and indeed he is addressed as Lord or Master, in a way that could be taken either as a superior of some kind or indicative of God. Angel means messenger in Greek, related to Evangelist. The Greek indicates that Joshua fell on his face before the figure but does not have a more specific verb with regard to the reverence.
An Orthodox compiler of exegesis from the Fathers, Johanna Manley, includes in her Wisdom Let Us Attend: Job, The Fathers, and the Old Testament(out of print but hopefully available through libraries) a short section on the Book of Joshua, which quotes from the twentieth-century St. Nikolai Velimirovich’s compilation the Prologue of Ochrid on the passage:
Let me ponder on the miraculous appearing of the archangel to the son of Nun when he set out to conquer Jericho: 1. How the chief captain of the heavenly host appeared to Joshua with a drawn sword in his hand. 2. How he told Joshua to put off his shoes. 3. How we, in the battle of life, must not rely on our own feet and our own equipment, but on Him who fights for us.
The Catena App included this short passage from St. John of Damascus’ On Divine Images 1.8, from the first millennium:
Joshua, the son of Nun, and Daniel bowed in veneration before an angel of God, but they did not adore him. For adoration is one thing, and that which is offered in order to honor something of great excellence is another.
I found some online references to Saints Augustine and Jerome having called the figure the Holy Archangel Michael, but have not gotten to actual citations yet.
In the Holman Ancient Faith Bible (which does not follow the Septuagint but has a lot of helpful well-cited commentary from the ancient Church Fathers), there are a couple citations from other early Christian writers indicating that this figure was a theophany of Christ, or of “Divine Providence” in a less specified way. Eusebius of Caesarea, a famous fourth-century Church historian, writes that the Word of God appeared to Joshua “with an unseen sword and with divine power, the fellow soldier and fellow combatant of his people. wherefore he gives himself the name of Chief and Captain of the Lord to suit the occasion” (Proof of the Gospel, 5.19). Suspected of Arian sympathies, Bishop Eusebius was never made a saint of the Orthodox Church, however.
St. Isaac of Nineveh wrote, in his Ascetical Homilies 5.31-21:
Divine Providence surrounds all persons at all times, but it is not visible except to those who have purified their souls of sin and think about God at all times. To these it is luminously revealed at that time, because when they have undergone great temptations for the sake of truth, then they receive the faculty to perceive sensibly as if with eyes of flesh also when necessary, even palpably, according to the kind and cause of the temptation, as if for great encouragement.So it was with Jacob and Joshua son of Nun, Hannaniah and his companions, Peter and others to whom the form of a man appeared to encourage them to console their faith.
This would indicate that the figure expressed the Divine, and the examples of Jacob and Hannaniah would suggest a theophany of Christ, although not so much the example of the Apostle Peter.
St. Jerome notes that Joshua, whose name parallels that of Jesus, is a type of Christ, who in arriving at the Promised Land by parting the waters of Jordan, thus surpassed Moses who symbolized “the Law.” “When, therefore, we enter into the kingdom of heaven, we shall have no need of sandals or for protection against this world, but–to give you a new thought–we shall follow the Lamb that has been slain for us” (Homily on the Exodus, 91).
As Joshua has arrived in the Promised Land (which Moses has not reached) he is told he is on holy ground, the ground of the Holy Land of Israel, which itself becomes a type fulfilled by our Lord God’s Church in the New Testament. So there is a typology of Christ at work as well in Joshua, according to the Fathers, which intersects with the literal meaning, and perhaps complicates the symbolism of the encounter with the mysterious figure.
Again, Orthodox Christians read the Bible both literally and symbolically. In Joshua 5 the combination of both points to a mystery relating the typology of Christ to experience of a message from God. Contemplation of this crux can lead the Orthodox Christian reader unworthily to find a model for synergy of grace and virtue in the figure of the Holy Prophet Joshua. By God’s grace, loosing the shoes from our feet as we stand unworthily at the entry vista of the promised land in His Holy Church, may we gird ourselves for spiritual warfare, through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God have mercy on us!
(From a paper given at the first Paideia Conference, on May 7, 7531 [May 20, 2023 on the civil calendar], at Antiochian Village in Bolivar, Pennsylvania)
Summary: Monothelitism is a heresy that asserts that Jesus Christ has only one divine will, not divine and human wills united by His Person, as Orthodoxy teaches. Thus it devalues the Incarnation, its relation to embodied human salvation, and human free will. This paper argues that in the modern “Global West” a “spiritual but not religious” form of monothelitism holds sway, in which the will of the individual is claimed to be all-divine and the human ignored. This is the source of racialist and sexualist techno-identitarianism in our Artificial Intelligence age, and a sign of the spirit of Anti-Christ, demeaning embodied life and sobornost or spiritual unity in the Church as the Body of Christ. The result is a narcissistic spiritualized hyper-individualism, which feeds global cultural totalitarianism today.Just as monoenergism echoed monothelitism in ancient times, so too the type of technocracy developing in AI reflects this new self-centered monoenergism. Orthodox apologetics needs to address these reemergent ancient heresies and is well-equipped to do so from Holy Tradition.
Identity Narcissism as a Global Pandemic
Raskolnikov the double-murderer dreams feverishly near the end of the Orthodox Christian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, of a plague spreading globally. “Some new trichinae had appeared, microscopic creatures that lodged themselves in men’s bodies. But these creatures were spirits, endowed with reason and will. Those who received them into themselves immediately became possessed and mad. But never, never had people considered themselves so intelligent and unshakeable in the truth as did these infected ones. Never had they thought their judgments, their scientific conclusions, their moral convictions and beliefs more unshakeable… Everyone became anxious, and no one understood anyone else; each thought the truth was contained in himself alone, and suffered looking at others, beat his breast, wept, and wrung his hands. They did not know whom or how to judge, could not agree on what to regard as evil, what as good. They did not know whom to accuse, whom to vindicate. People killed each other in some sort of meaningless spite. They gathered into whole armies against each other, but already on the march, the armies would suddenly begin destroying themselves…. In the cities the bells rang all day long: everyone was being summoned, but no one knew who was summoning them or why, and everyone felt anxious. The most ordinary trades ceased, because everyone offered his own ideas, his own corrections, and no one could agree…. Here and there people would band together, agree among themselves to do something, swear never to part—but immediately begin something completely different from what they themselves had just suggested, begin accusing one another, fighting, stabbing…. Everyone and everything was perishing.” (547)
(Above) Raskolnikov dreaming: A type of the modern digital Global Westerner.
Raskolnikov’s dream might be taken as symbolic of materialistic nihilism. But more than that I think it prophesies a spiritual problem of which extremely materialistic individualism is but a symptom. Raskolnikov’s dream symbolizes today’s identity politics in the West, in what used to be called proudfully Christendom. Here former dreams of progress, technological solutions, colonialism, racialism, sexism, and cultural supremacy lie tattered but morph zombie-like into even more soulfully dangerous self-assertiveness that is spiritualized in a sense but which hyper-accelerates elements of all the aforementioned past sins of so-called Western civilization. It is a spiritualized narcissism comprised currently of race and sex narcissism that meld with a type of techno-narcissism in which the enticing mirrors of technologies such as AI threaten to swallow us up in a sea of twisting and entwined conforming transgression. This hyper-narcissism—racialist, sexualist, and pan-techno all at one–is more dangerous because it is a portal for AntiChrist as understood by our holy elders and Church fathers.
The Apostle John described the spirit of AntiChrist’s identifying mark as the denial that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh as God, and thus a denial of his message in the theologian’s same epistles that God is love. It might be assumed that this denial would come in the form of extenuated outgrowth of Arianism, that is a humanistic view of Jesus that led to blasphemous denial of His divinity. Yes, this is of course part of the cultural story of the modern so-called global West. But more subtly it is a type of monophysitism that is the danger, because it is less detected. It is a monophysitism that sets up a counterpart vacuum or focus space for the coming of AntiChrist to be that Monophysite futile enemy of Christ. It is less detected because the vehicle is the setting up of the individual will as a false melding of a self-divinity and the human, in which the human claims to be subsumed by the self-divinity. A specific vehicle for this is a modern version of Monothelitism, or the heresy that in ancient times held falsely that Christ had only one will, thus negating His two natures, taught by the Church to be unconfused yet united by His Person. What has happened is that the divine Will, taken to be all-encompassing and erasing of human will in Unitarian Theism and its offspring scientism in the West, has become without God a narcissistic and ultimately demonic spiritualism. The successor heresy to Monothelitism, Monoenergism, both targets of Ecumenical Church Councils in the first millennium of the Church, finds representation too in the technocracy of our age such as AI.
The modern roots of this, as pointed out by the Orthodox philosopher Seraphim Foltz in his paper so well at this year’s first Paideia Conference (5/20/23), are traceable to Rousseau in eighteenth-century France, the great proponent of a romantic narcissism, a high-minded type of idealism coupled appropriately but grossly with masturbation. For Rousseau, each of us has an untouched deep core of purity and goodness with which we need to get in touch, which helped give rise to what Charles Taylor followed by Carl Trueman call expressive individualism, both considering this trajectory (from Catholic and Presybterian traditions respectively) deeply un-Christian. There were earlier roots, of course, though, for this individualizing of the cosmos, which traces back all the way to the Garden of Eden through the Tower of Babel and Noah’s Flood and Sodom and Gomorrah and Cain’s legacy. The medieval rise of neo-Aristotelian Catholic Scholasticism had paved the way for Rousseauian-style Romanticism by emphasizing the individual substance of things, including people, in ways that would be idolatrous for earlier foundational Church Fathers of Orthodox Tradition, such as St. Ephraim the Syrian, St. Dionysius the Areopagite, and St. Maximus the Confessor. Galilleo took this further, Foltz observes, by projecting geometry onto a world stripped of its own subjectivity, and opened in theory to the grid-making individual will, ultimating in our twenty-first century sense of the world as not a link to a spiritual reality but a coded mathematical cipher to be manipulated by our individual will. Thus, Foltz noted, the world lost the ability “to bear the weight of theophany.” Nature as a book, instead of St. Anthony the Great’s Orthodox Christian meaning, became for Galileo a conceptualized tract to be deciphered by a “great mind” such as himself, Foltz noted.
But let’s return to the familiar problem of identitarian-narcissism in our society today, descended from Aquinas, Galileo, and Rousseau. Its global trajectory is summed up in the title of Ethan Watters’ 2010 book, The Globalization of the American Psyche: Crazy Like Us. Watters, a journalist, traveled to various countries in Asia and Africa to explore how Western psychological systems have been replacing indigenous expressions of mental health and madness. Watters wrote this: “Our golden arches do not represent our most troubling impact on other cultures; rather, it is how we are flattening the landscape of the human psyche itself. We are engaged in the grand project of Americanizing the world’s understanding of the human mind” (1). He concludes: “…in other places in the world, cultural conceptions of the mind remain more intertwined with a variety of religious and cultural beliefs as well as the ecological and social world. They have not yet separated the mind from the body, nor have they disconnected individual mental health from that of the group.” (255) Meanwhile we all are on our individualized devices yet so conformist in ways we are being molded into online mass culture. This claims to be the global norm.
Literally this can be seen as a fulfillment of Raskolnikov’s nightmare. Social scientists have coined an acronym to describe it, namely WEIRD, meaning Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic (https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1601785). This is a bias noted in modern social science research, which takes secular Western culture as a false universal norm. Psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist in his two-volume 2021 study The Matter with Things has described the virus in this way: “As a society, we pursue happiness and become measurably less happy over time. We privilege autonomy, and end up bound by rules to which we never assented, and more spied on than any people since the beginning of time…. Everywhere that management ‘culture’ holds sway… when things go wrong it is never that we have been travelling in the wrong direction, only that we have not gone far enough… [which] helps make clear the relationship with the left hemisphere mindset, not only because of its relatively blinkered vision, but bedause of its preferenc for simple linear algorithms and procedures that ‘logically must’ lead to a certain outcome. Those who have such procedures think they must be in the right, even when the outcome ought to compel them to the opposite conclusion.” (vol. 2, 1313, 1315) The conceptualized virtual reality, which has taken on new life now in AI, becomes more important than the real world, as if an extreme form of autism has become the new psychology of global humanity. Charles Taylor earlier described the development in modernity of a buffered or distanced self, as opposed to the permeable self of premodern cultures.
Take a major example of this virtual reality of self today in the sexual realm. It became a common precept that people are born LGBTQ+ in whatever variety, to justify same-sex marriage and legal protections. Then practically all expressions of sexuality became legalized and promoted in America and exported now globally. What happened? Looking at just one measure, according to the US Census Bureau Household Plus Survey, the rate of Gen Z women identifying as men in the US has skyrocketed to about twice that of Gen Z men identifying as women, flipping formerly male-dominated statistics for gender dysphoria. This is roughly quadruple the rate of millennial women who identified as male. In fact, according to recent surveys, almost 1 in 30 Gen Z women now identify as men, and a further 1 in 25 identify as nonbinary. Gender dysphoria went from a problem diagnosed for a small less-than-one-percent percentage of the population to what some researchers describe as social contagion. Meanwhile, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in a survey that three out of five teenage girls felt persistent sadness or hopelessness in 2021, an upsurge that significantly out-raced any increase in such feelings among teenage boys, while the phenomenon of transgender identification skyrocketed among women as well. From the category of homosexuality, which the CDC a generation ago had defined as perhaps involving 2.5 percent of the U.S. population, today a fifth of young people identify with being somewhere on the broadened LGBTQ+ spectrum according to some surveys. All this is not a biological phenomenon but a cultural one.
A second related example is obsession with racialist narcissism in the global West. Today race is seen both as a social construct and an essential identity grouping with mystical significance, solidified by martyrdom and scapegoated otherness. Categories of race are now flipped from earlier Enlightenment-based biases in the West. A mystical essentialist grouping of “people of color” or “voices of colors” is made superior and in effect infallible, due to historical victimization, even when any finely grained personal experiences of “Latinx” people or “Black” people, let alone “people of color,” reveals distinctions that following biblical expectations would be impossible to agglomerate. The suburban tenured high-salary immigrant university administrator “of color” whose children are on track to Ivy League educations and cultural ratification in elite corporate or other bureaucratic-style professional leadership positions is not comparable either to the African-American tradesman dealing with high crime and bad schools experienced by him and his children in an urban neighborhood or to the white-working-class small-town mechanic struggling to find his children a place in the new economy. Class war is replaced by racialist and sexualist cultural and economic war in the ideological mysticism of this cultural Marxism, a term used both by proponents and decried by opponents as shorthand for an anthropology blaming Christian tradition and traditional family structure for racist and sexist “patriarchal oppression.” It seeks to replace embodied realities known to longstanding cross-cultural organic traditions with conceptual grids that lump people into categories of the elect and the damned, while utilizing technology to keep them in those categories. It ignores cycles of tragedy in history, whether the Islamic-African slave trade or Communist slavery, in its presentism. Its shaming and scapegoating has, in relevance to the Orthodox Christian diaspora (which experienced the greatest persecution of Christian history in the twentieth century at the hands of secular zealots under Communism and Turkish nationalism), generated explicitly Russophobic attitudes that predate the Ukraine conflict, because they lean heavily on antipathy toward Orthodox Christian anthropology and cosmology of sex and family, which are presented in Russian contexts as existential threats to the global West.
McGilchrist calls out the obsessive left-brain nature of this modern individualism for its disconnect of concept from reality, creating a virtual reality of manipulation. This is seen too internationally in the many deaths and great destruction currently ongoing in Ukraine. The West decides that Ukraine needs democracy and helps to overthrow its elected government. Then the West decides that it must uphold peace in Europe through Ukraine, and draws the new Ukraine into its economic and military circles to defend its own spheres of influence. This actually intrudes on Russia’s longstanding sphere of influence in Ukraine. Then a terrible war erupts in which the West insists on warfare as its tool for peace and prosperity globally, even as so many are killed, Ukraine is laid waste, and nuclear war is risked. The virtual reality does not match the real world situation. The day before our conference, May 17, was international Day Against Homophobia, and the Secretary General of NATO addressed the world on Youtube declaring that NATO fights homophobia. You know this term is applied consistently now globally to traditional Christian practice and teaching of anthropology and cosmology basic to our faith. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0BM0hr1i_Y
2. Leviathan and the Spirit of AntiChrist
Long before the Ukraine conflict, the controversial Russian philosopher Alexander Dugin, in his studies of Heidegger, called the emerging virtual reality of the global West an historical misidentification of beings with Being, and of ideas with beings, and thus the particular with the universal, leading toward a kind of cultural genocide project against any multipolar sense of the world. Dugin argued that the twenty-first-century global West has sought to impose psychology or optics based on Western individualism onto the whole globe regardless of different cultures and traditions. This is much like the old illustration of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan in that work’s original frontispiece, in which a body packs together all people within it.
(Above) The frontispiece of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan (1651)
The administrative corporate-government-techno-cultural system in the West has become that Leviathan in an infinitely more extensive way, seeking to operate within our heads as a giant psyops project. The controversial but insightful anti-dystopian paleocon Sam Francis’ work Leviathan and its Enemies, appropriately feature the Hobbesian illustration on the cover of its dissection of the modern administrative state; a parallel critical model of the modern corporate-state system was projected into the digital era from the Left end of the political spectrum by Shoshona Zuboff’s The Era of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. From an Orthodox Christian perspective, the body of Leviathan, as its biblical use suggests, is a Satanic parody of the Body of Christ detailed in St. Hilarion Troitsky’s most rewarding study, On the Dogma of the Church.
Within the false body of the digital Leviathan system today, given sophisticated control and behavior modification, it seems strange to see the emergence of racialist and pansexual norms that appear so tribal in nature and so primitive in narcissism, and immaturely masturbatory at their core. Yet that is woven into the phenomenon. The social construction of identity is integrally bound to the objectification of identity, amplified by technology such as AI, which atomizes society while binding it into categories divorced from God the Logos and hence irrational. The lie of individual autonomy promoted by Satan in the Garden of Eden cannot sustain itself in real or psychological terms, but must become subsumed in collectivism cloaked in self-serving concepts such as “voices of color” or “queer people,” which themselves claim to materialize into a Leviathan body of transgressiveness of norms of Christian family and anthropology that is nonetheless the ultimate in conformity. Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s colleague Igor Shafarevich in his study The Socialist Phenomenon traced collectivist virtual realities back to ancient biblical times and called them ultimately the expression of what Freud called the death drive, a drive toward self-destruction within the human psyche.
3. A New Monotheletism
Indeed, there is nothing new under the sun, as Ecclesiastes tells us, and this global psychological contagion, vividly foreshadowed by the pandemic dream of Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov, can be seen to be a new version of ancient heresy, produced by so-called Old Christendom in a West of schismatics and heterodox-heretics, in a way that it could not have emerged from less Christianized or more Orthodox Christian cultures. It is significant in this regard that Raskolnikov’s name itself comes from raskolnik, meaning “schismatic.” Richard Pevear notes this means “one who has split away from the body of the Church’ but he is also divided against himself.” As Konstantin Mochulsky noted, Raskolnikov is “a demon embodied in a humanist.” (xv)
The ancient heresy of Monothelitism emerged during the era of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, an expression of the Monophysite heresy, which also echoed on in Monoenergism. It was addressed specifically in the Sixth Council but the antidote to it emerged from the Fifth Council also and in writings of St. Maximus the Confessor that bridged the two councils. St. Maximus’ writings in this were an unfolding expression of the teachings of the One Holy and Catholic Apostolic Church from the start, based in the inspired teachings of the Councils. The Fourth Council, the Council of Chalcedon, had formulated the Person of Christ as one Person with two Natures, unconfused and undivided. Non-Chalcedonians understood the Person of Christ wrongly as emerging from the union of the Word and human nature, rather than correctly understanding in Orthodox terms how the Person, God the Logos, effects the union of the divine and the human in our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. As with all such distinctions in Orthodox dogmatic theology, this mystery has great significance, as do deviations from it. The heresy of Monothelitism emphasized one Will denigrating the distinction between the divine and the human in Christ. What may seem esoteric condemnation of heresy to us from the past has proven prophetic.
It is the attraction of the will overcoming reality that lies behind tendencies in heterodox Western Christianity first toward a Monothelitism in its view of deity, and then toward transferring that abstract sense of higher reality to the interiorized individual will and a mystical sense of group identity, such as today people of color and queer people. The first phase tended toward Unitarian Theism and a legalism evident in movements such as Puritanism, represented by figures such as John Milton and Isaac Newton, which morphed into Unitarianism as seen in the wholesale conversion over time of historic Puritan buildings and colleges in New England to Unitarianism. Sole fide and sole scriptura encouraged a Unitarian theistic and fideistic view of Deity divorced from the Orthodox Church’s Apostolic Tradition, further encouraging individualistic and heterodox faith. The changes in this over time can be seen in what could be called (in terms of Old Testament focus by heterodox Christianity) Judaizing aspects of Protestantism, emphasizing cultural exceptionalism and colonialism, construction of a utopian matrix erasing the reality of Creation, and a kind of Dispensationalism that became politically allied with Zionism in supporting the state of Israel but in anticipation of a Protestant sense of the end times on earth. This was all based in heterodox Christian misreading of the Old Testament through monothelistic tendencies, while emphasizing Masoretic texts over the Septuagint used by the Apostles and the Orthodox Church. The Masonic movement and American Transcendentalism grew from and encouraged Unitarian Deism, which shaped an individualistic sense of spirituality that paradoxically became both rationalistic and romantic, expressing the individual will. Ralph Waldo Emerson famously posited himself as an invisible eyeball, setting a false philosophical basis for our AI age in the spirit of AntiChrist. He wrote, “I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part of God.” The expression of the counterfeit of divine will through the individual outside the Church and not including the realities of God’s Creation shaped a utopianism on earth that is a lie, and demonic, not expressive of the Incarnation and the Body of Christ.
It was St. Maximus’ speaking out and writing against Monothelitism, when it appeared as a supposed imperial compromise between Chalcedonians and the Monophysites, that resulted in his persecution and cruel torture resulting in removal of his tongue and right hand, making him a Confessor physically silenced but still powerful in his writings and intercession. The Fifth Ecumenical Council whose findings later were championed by St. Maximus, had upheld the Virgin Mary as the Theotokos and not merely the Christotokos, and also condemned any notion that the Theotokos ever lost her virginity. It thus further supported the Orthodox dogma of the Incarnation. It also had condemned Origenist doctrines of pre-existence and universalism, which undermined a distinct human created state involving free will by promoting false notions of mystical agglomeration of the divine will superseding and erasing the human, thus setting a basis for Monothelitism.
The Council in condemning such false doctrines also anathematized Origen, indicating the seriousness with which it took the danger of heretical tendencies tending in future toward Monothelitism. Indeed, universalism and Unitarianism are rightly seen as paired heresies today. Coming out of the Fifth Council, the two natures defined at Chalcedon became further articulated as two sets of attributes possessed by the Person of Christ as the Second Person of the Trinity. At the same time, Origen’s self-castration became an illustration of false substitution of so-called divine will for the human in Creation as falsely filtered through fallen individual will outside of Church Tradition, which canonically forbids self-mutilation as desecration of the image of God in human beings as embodied icons of Christ, our bodies being temples of the Holy Spirit. That has special relevance today amid the spread of so-called transgenderism and its mutilation of bodies including those of children.
Interestingly, the Sixth Ecumenical Council, which actually condemned Monothelitism, also anathematized as part of that the Pope of Rome Honorius II, thus prophetically also rebuking the heretical later Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility. The link between Monothelitism and hyper-individualism as exemplified in the figure of the Catholic Pope was thus highlighted. The heretical doctrine of the filioque in the West accordingly also supported the development of false notions of individual autonomy. This is because in effect the filioque tended toward a melding or merger of the Father and the Son in the Trinity, placing the Holy Spirit in a subordinate or instrumentalist role, similar to the way in which secular Monotheletism ultimately would shape a sense of Creation as instrumentalist to the will of the super-individual in the West.
It is worth noting here that the false doctrine that had affected Raskolnikov as a schismatic by name and deed involved seeing himself both as a super-human along Nietzschean lines and a potential super-historical individual figure like Napoleon. While the Nietzschean notion lent itself to a ruthless revolutionary like Lenin, and might be unacceptable to modern middle-class and neoliberal/neoconservative feelings, the aspiration to dream big and go for your dreams even unto the point of being a “success” (however dubiously) like Napoleon could be as acceptable as a Disney movie or careerist ethos today among the most activist Gen-Z social justice activists, showing underlying paradoxical affinities between secular monothelitsm in the modern West on both the Left and the Rgiht.
Correlative with the Fifth Council, St. Justinian’s hymn still used in the Divine Liturgy after the Second Antiphon significantly upheld the human nature together with the divine nature of Christ, in Theopaschist terms. “Only-Begotten Son and Immortal Word of God, Who for our salvation didst will to be incarnate of the holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary; Who without change didst become man and was crucified; Who art one of the Holy Trinity, glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit: O Christ our God, trampling down death by death, save us!”
4. St. Maximus the Confessor’s Witness
St Maximus in his texts On Difficulties in the Church Fathers, known as The Ambigua, articulated significant Orthodox theological, anthropological, and cosmological arguments against Monothelitism, in support of positions of the acts of both the Fifth and Sixth Councils, written in the era between them. He wrote of Creation that in the Incarnation God “recapitulated in Himself, in a manner appropriate to God, all things, showing that the whole creation is one, as if it were another human being… according to one, unique, simple, undefined, and unchangeable idea: that it comes from nothing.” (ii 41.9; 115) This expresses the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church as the Body of Christ, and also man as described in Genesis 1, made according to the image of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. In Genesis 1 we are told man is so made, and then that man is made by God male and female.
St. Maximus wrote of the overcoming of the difference and division of male and female as part of that recapitulation begun in the Incarnation, together with the overcoming of the division of uncreated and created nature, of the intelligible and the sensible, and between heaven and earth, and between Paradise and the inhabited world or oikumene. The overcoming of these binary divisions by Christ in His Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, Ascension, and in His Second Coming to come, expresses what in Slavonic is called sobornost, a noun formed from a medieval gloss on the term “catholic” in the Holy Symbol of Faith. It involves catholicity that is not only spatial as in modern Western understanding, but through time, and inclusive of all aspects of human identity, body and soul.
The sobornost of overcoming division in the Incarnation, discussed by St. Maximus, does not involve a negating of the archetypes of male and female as living embodied symbols of Christ and His Church. But as in the mystery of marriage it involves a recognition that such differences had been instituted by God in anticipation of the Fall for the cosmic theosis to come, which was to be made possible by the Incarnation of Christ. Just as it is rightly said to have God as our Father we must have the Church as our Mother, so too the mystery of Christian marriage in the Church embodies the intimate love of God for His people, and reciprocal sacrifice that overcomes any divisions, as ultimate in the Eucharist.
As the man is to be head of the family and to be obeyed by the woman, the man is to model Christ in His family even unto giving his life for his wife and family. Christian husband and wife are united in hope of salvation together but not erased. In this sense, as the Apostle Paul notes, in Christ there is neither male nor female. Commitment is not merely to one another but foundationally to Christ. In Christ Himself as archetype, there is no erasure of human and divine wills but rather their unity, overcoming any seeming division, within the Person of Christ Who brings them together. In such unity too of Christ and His Church, the free will of the human is preserved, to enter into said union with Him or not. Both marriage and the free will of each person illustrate how in God’s grace there can be a Divine Will at work and a human will through Christ, in unity through free choice, yet maintaining distinctions. However, there is no identity based on sexual-pleasure grouping, no homosexuality and no hetereosexuality or other varieties, as developed in modern sex narcissism. The fundamental Orthodox anthropology is also cosmology and ecclesiology and soteriology all in one.
St. Maximus in his Ambigua articulates this through his writing on the logoi or words of God the Logos. Logos capitalized here refers to the Logos of the opening of the Gospel of Joohn, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God, Christ. Translating the Greek term Logos can involve a variety of meanings in English including harmony, story, discourse, word, reason, purpose, principle. The logoi of the Logos for example thus could be translated the harmonies of the Harmony. Within these words of the Word are found, St. Maximus writes, the many and diverse perceptions of objects in Creation. “So, too,” he writes, “when the intellect naturally apprehends all the logoi in beings and contemplates within them the infinite energies of God, it recognizes the differences of the divine energies it perceives to be multiple and – to speak truly—infinite.” (Ambiguum i 22:2; 449). He goes on to conclude that “every divine energy indicates through itself the whole of God, indivisibly present in each particular thing, according to the logos through which that thing exists in its own way.” In unity God as Logos of the logoi “is truly all things in all, never going out of His own indivisible simplicity.” Yet mortals cannot discern through their minds or concepts “even the lowermost creature in terms of the logos of its being and existence.” (Ambiguum i 22:3; 451)
If the logoi can be considered the reason and purpose for each particular person and thing in creation, yet in the logoi in beings can be contemplated the infinite and uncreated energies of God, then the logoi and the uncreated energies or divine grace are a spectrum of sorts. In them one could say that the willings of God and the willings of man can interchange in dynamic synergy. Thus virtues with God’s grace can become expressive of otherworldly grace in human life, finding fulfillment in the model of Christ ultimately through theosis. Virtue in this way could be seen as an expression of human nature engaged with the divine in the same way that the logoi could be seen as an expression of the divine engaged with the human and all creation. The virtue of the Theotokos expressed otherworldly grace in both condescension of the Holy Spirit to her and in her assent to the Annunciation and her purity to be tabernacle for the Incarnation so to speak. It is no coincidence that St. Maximos traditionally is considered author of an early life of the Theotokos. Maximus quotes St. Gregory the Theologian as saying of Christ, “This is what leads the heretics astray: the coupling of the attributes [of the divine and the human], since the attributes overlap because of the intermingling.” The intermingling, St. Maximus notes, occurs owing to the one Person of Christ. Yet, he adds, “not willing to endure such a distinction, heretics then and now do not cease to blaspheme the only-begotten Word of God, some reducing Him to the level of a creature on account of His human attributes, and others confusing the dispensation by denying the natures of which He is composed.” (ii 27.4; 29).
St. Maximus writes of “the one Logos as many logoi, indivisibly distinguished amid the differences of created things, owing to their specific individuality, which remains unconfused both in themselves and with respect to one another… seeing that all things are related to Him without being confused with Him, Who is the essential and personally distinct Logos of God the Father, the origin and cause of all things.” In this sobornost or unity of Christ and Church, man is fulfilled in being made according to God’s image and through free will in His likeness. “The essence in every virtue,” St. Maximus writes, “is the one Logos of God.” (Ambiguum 7, 95, 103). That virtue can lie in a manliness accessible to both men and women, not negating their identities, but finding realization in the man made according to Christ’s image and likeness. On the one hand, St. Maximus writes, the Logos “is neither called, nor considered, nor is, in His entirety, anything that can be attributed to anything else, since He is beyond all being, and is not participated in by any being whatsoever,” by which the Confessor means I believe God’s Essence. Yet, he adds, “when, I say, we set this way of thinking aside, the one Logos is many logoi and the many are one.” Thus, the Divine and the Human wills, exchanged in Christ, afford salvation through free will and synergy of right effort to man. In none of this Orthodox Tradition is there provision for the lies of the false so-called justice proclaimed by identity narcissism today, with its meld of racialism and pansexualism, which together claim to exalt human will, through the pleasure of skin and genitalia linked by yawning surface desire, into the divine with no God, no Christ, no logoi of the Logos, no grace, and only ultimately demonic chaos preparing a claimed vacuum for the blasphemous effort of the Antichrist to reign in futile mockery of God.
5. The Witness of Orthodox Apologetics
In all this, the denial of Christ’s Incarnation, which the Apostle John says is the mark of the spirit of Antichrist, is also denial of the Church, Christ’s Body. What should we then do as Orthodox Christians in this current cultural situation of a so-called Christendom given over to heresy beneath its façade of caring about social justice? First of course pray within our Lord’s Church, devote ourselves liturgically and ascetically to worship of Him. Be familiar with the teachings of the Church and include the refutation of secular Monothelitism in our preaching and teaching and lives. Also be aware of how I think Orthodox teaching of what is sometimes called dythletism in tandem with sobornost, against Monothelitism, relates to Orthodox social teaching of symphonia, or the proper relation between Church and State as symbolized by the double-headed eagle, not merged but harmoniously united. Today’s administrative state becomes in effect its own religion and this is a transmogrification of the West’s Caesaro-Papism, which accompanies its cultural trajectory of monotheletic individualism. In this, while clear-eyed about the current disastrous state of American and Western civilizations, sinking like Atlantis or Tolkien’s Númenor, the global West as Tower of Babel, we can also see aspects of Christian culture still embedded in the founding framework of America’s founding documents. The Declaration of Independence referenced God four times, the Constitution ends with the statement signed on the Day of our Lord, Lincoln’s Gettysburg address highlighted the idea of one nation under God linking the documents. From the monarch-like presidency to the arcane aspects of the separation of powers and checks and balances, it reflects traditions going back to classical times that the historian Anthony Kaldellis has illustrated were also present in what he called the Byzantine Republic. America with Russia is the major power with the largest Christian influence in culture, but in America of course that influence is overtly in decline and in deep structure heterodox, influenced as noted by secular monothelitism tending toward AntiChrist. Yet the attack on traditional Constitutional frameworks in the US is the equivalent of attack on Christian monarchy a century ago and for our neighbors and our worship communities and families we must do what we can to resist evils of globalization that seek to erase that legacy completely.
Our real fortress and redoubt lies not in any tattered flag of Americana but in our Lord’s Church, the Body of Christ. The late bioethicist Herman Engelhardt of blessed memory called natural law in Orthodoxy, glossing the words of St. Basil the Great, the spark of divine law within the human heart. The wonderful Orthodox apologist Ivan Andreyev of Jordanville, an alumnus of Solovetsky prison under the Soviets, a psychiatrist and philosopher, then exile seminary professor, himself ultimately a martyr of sorts to modern American urban crime, wrote of how the synergy of divine grace and the human in Christ, the antidote to the monothelitism described, can shine in our apologetic lives as Orthodox Christians with God’s grace. He wrote in his Orthodox Apologetic Theology: “As distinct from all other philosophical and religious conceptions of the world (which for the most part provide only lifeless, abstract theoretical structures) the Christian’s world view conveys a life-giving method which generates and bestows spiritual vitality upon the intellectual and ethical activity of man in the world. For this reason, the basic method of Apologetics consists, first of all, of a positive, vital representation of the basic truths of Christianity, and the ascertaining of the deep inner bond of these spiritual truths, thereby demonstrating their complete organic unity. The radiantly bright image of Christian truth, unfolding before the spiritual eyes of the listener in this manner, convinces him to a much greater degree than the more exact logical proofs.”
Homily for the Sunday of the Holy Fathers, the Sunday before Nativity, at St. John Russian Orthodox Mission Church in Lewisburg PA, 12/20 7531 [Jan. 1 2022 on the civil calendar]
Beloved to Christ,
The verses with the Beatitudes today referred to the Wise Thief who recognized the hidden God being crucified next to him.
Today as we look toward the coming birth of our Lord and Savior and God Jesus Christ, to Christmas this coming week, it is the birth of the hidden God, hidden in plain sight, the Divine Word become flesh in the cave at Bethlehem, the Creator Whose handiwork we are and Who governs and sustains us, in Whom we live and move and have our being as the Apostle Paul put it. We dwell in Church today hid with Christ in God and in the branches of His family tree.
We gather on this Sunday of the Holy Fathers to commemorate together the ancestors of Christ with the righteous in the Old Testament Church who rightly can be called the friends of God.
This memory is in the mind of the Church, which is the Body of Christ, of which He is our Head.
It is a reminder of how we find our true family in the Church, the Body of Christ, in the quietness of the heart. This quietness lies both our spiritual ancestry that we remember today in the cloud of witnesses with whom we seek a renewed year, not amid a crowd on New Year’s.
We dwell not only among the ancestral pictures of the Holy Saints of every age as iconography, but also with them as intercessors among our family praying for us, with whom we worship our Lord Jesus Christ.
Just so we ask His Holy Mother, Our Lady the Most Holy Theotokos, to intercede with Him for us. We ask her as the greatest of saints and our Mother in the Church, She who is identified with the Church.
We do this apart from materialistic crowds but hidden in plain sight, tending the seeds that our Lord has planted in us and in our local region here.
This afternoon our humble community Bible Study will mark the new civil year discussing the book of the Holy Prophet Job the Patient, one of the Holy Fathers commemorated today. We will do so amid all the consumer commerce of the secular holiday in a corporate supermarket, in a small room dedicated to civic purposes there.
Yet the room is named St. Mary’s Room after old St. Mary’s Road by the shopping center, a name that symbolizes in Protestant terms the Holy Mother.
As we pursue our community Bible there, we gather with our icon and our incense in the almost hidden St. Mary Room to study a text that goes back thousands of years, to Job the grandson of Esau, thus great great grandson of Abraham the friend of God.
We learn about it through the three volumes written on the Book of Job by St. Gregory the Dialogist about 1,500 years ago, written from Rome in Latin, inspired by the Holy Spirit flowing through the apostolic succession of our Church that breathes on the waters of our baptism still today and comes down in the Eucharist upon the Body of Christ of which we will partake physically soon at Nativity, God willing.
It was the same St. Gregory who sent missionaries to our forebears in Anglo-Saxon England from Rome before the Schism. Indeed, the royal St. Alfred the Great of early England would write an introduction to one of St. Gregory’s writings.
Now as we gather in central Pennsylvania, we look toward Old Christmas next weekend, the date that our own forebears here in northern Appalachia celebrated Christmas into modern times, Dec. 25 on the Julian calendar, Jan. 7 on the current civil calendar. It reminds us of the hidden nature of God’s liturgical time. We celebrate the coming of 2023 on the civil calendar, yet we also live in the year 7531 on the biblical calendar developed by Byzantine Orthodox Christians, once used in Russia and still used on Mount Athos. We celebrate the civil new year, yet our Church new year is Sept. 1. We mark the liturgical timelessness of God’s beyond-time given to us by grace in the Church, the Body of Christ. As the Anglican writer C.S. Lewis, an admirer of Orthodoxy, put it, we walk every day among immortals although we know it not, among each of our brothers and sisters here today, in time yet beyond time, hid with Christ in God.
We hold our Deacon Liturgy here partly hidden from the world, in a rented space downtown from a back-alley entrance.
Indeed, we are hid with Christ in God, with His Holy Fathers.
Brothers and sisters, we celebrate our Lord’s birth away from the hurly burly of the commercial consumer calendar this coming weekend on Old Christmas, partly hidden. Yet we are part of the leaven at work in our Lord’s Church and in the world at large as we commemorate the Sunday of the Holy Fathers. One of them, the Prophet Job, is as mentioned known as the patient and long-suffering, awaiting the
This past week we received new-year encouragement for our building and outreach projects from our Metropolitan Nicholas, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. His Grace in Apostolic succession through the grace of the Holy Spirit stands in a line back through the Russian Church to the Byzantine Church to the Church of the Holy Land and of the Apostles and of Pentecost and of the Old Testament Church– all the way back to the friends of God whom we commemorate among the Holy Fathers of Jesus Christ. His Grace Metropolitan Nicholas encouraged us to build our temple according to plan as soon as possible this year, and blessed continuing our outreach work in the Bible Study. Although our efforts may seem partly hidden, the gates of hell cannot prevail against our Lord’s Church. The signs of the times are around us of cultural and social decline and apostasy even from the heterodoxy of the Western religions. But thank God we are here. Orthodox Christianity is here in Union County and at the Susquehanna Confluence. In 2023 we will see God willing our new temple arise and open, and new changes in our mission with it, as we come forth more than ever locally into view. There will be spiritual challenges with this too.
In the readings from Job for our Bible Study this afternoon there is a verse that speaks of Job’s wish to join those who reposed in desolation. Often superficial modern readers merely take this as an expression of despair. But St. Gregory corrects this. He relates the reference, in the context of Job’s righteousness, proclaimed by God, as being to the state of desolation of holy men, the holy Fathers. In their solitude they do not fall into lives of self-assertion that paradoxically keep us always living in a crowd like the Legion of Demons while also in lonely despair. Those living in the mass of people, in the consumerism and worldly cares of the world’s Dec. 25 and New Year’s, think they do so individually. But they fall into a million different realities of manipulation and power plays reflected in deceptive illusions of the fallen selves of one another, on cyberspace and in delusion.
Those who live hidden spiritual lives, however unworthily, are in solitude lifted in prayer to real communion with God and with one another in His Holy Church, in patience like Job, for as our Lord Jesus Christ put it, “in patience posess ye your souls.”
We seek quietude at this time of worldly holidays not in a virtual mob nor a New Year’s crowd apart from Church.
During crowded rush-hour traffic a few days ago I was in a crash as many of you know.
A truck driver had a diabetic seizure and rammed my car. It could have been fatal. But God’s hand was with us as we both separately spun across lanes amid heavy traffic. Getting out of our vehicles and later meeting, it turned out that driver and I, who had never met, recognized each other as Russian Orthodox Christians. We thanked God together. Of the mass of drivers on the road that evening in Harrisburg, we two, one in health distress, came together in shared quiet of our faith.
Brothers and sisters, in patience and long-suffering dedication like Job, watch this space this year as unworthily with God’s grace we God willing bloom forth and proclaim the hidden God more than ever from the solitude God gives to us in the quiet of His Church. Amid our family with our Lord’s Holy Fathers, from the loving Church family of our brothers and sisters, beyond the crowded loneliness of this world, may the Lord strengthen us in offering love to others.
Truly, we are hid with Christ in God. It is marvelous in His eyes.
Glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit! Amen.
Join us for a weekly Bible Study on the Holy Prophet Job, Sundays at 2:30 p.m. in the Bucknell Barnes & Noble Cafe, at Market and 4th Streets in downtown Lewisburg PA, beginning Dec. 18, 2022– December 5, 7531 on the Orthodox Church calendar. All are welcome and no homework is needed. We will follow St. Gregory the Dialogist’s classic sixth-century commentary.
The Holy Prophet Job, grandson of Esau and King of Edom, living near Arabia, a Gentle who exemplified virtue in the time of the Old Testament Patriarchs, spoke in his patient long-surffering words that are with us at every Orthodox Divine Literature: “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” His Feast Day on May 6 was the birth day of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II who came to reflect the Prophet’s patient long-suffering as well.
Below is a homily introducing the Prophet and his writing.
Today our Orthodox Church celebrates the holy and much-contested Job, the righteous Job. Why? Because he contested much, he was in many contests. He received many crowns, he brought many victories. Where? In the sea of life. And we see in his biography, that this Saint, in the time he lived, in those years when there was no Orthodox Church, Christ had not come down, God the Word had not incarnated, the world did not see the life of Christ, no one saw God in the flesh, they did not see His miracles, they saw nothing. And yet, with a simple faith in the Creator, in the Maker, he became the Great Atlas of God. With a simple faith, seeing the creation, the operation of creation, he saw the upper world, the stars, the seasons and everything he saw working perfectly, from time immemorial, without anything created going astray from its creation, not in the slightest. How is it possible, he said, for material things to be made with such science and to function with such scientific precision without a Creator? Reason, conscience, made him submit to unwavering faith. With this awareness, of faith in the Creator, he became a great believer. Establishing his faith on these things and hitting rock bottom, he was confronted by the great Dragon, the deceitful Devil.
Job was, as God Himself confesses, blameless, righteous, God-fearing, the best man on earth. He had seven boys and three girls, ten children in total.
God allowed the Devil to taunt him, without disturbing his mind. And the hard trials began, the great temptations. His children were killed, he lost all his possessions, he was deprived of his health for many years, and he glorified God.
There was nothing left for Job. No friends, no wife, no children, no property, no health, nothing. He was left with only his mind, which had not been disturbed, and faith in God. He was a man. And our Christ, when He lifted the Cross, fell on His knees as He ascended Golgotha. And when He was crucified and was at the peak of pain and suffering, to show that man comes to moments of falling to his knees, He said: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Not that He had been abandoned, but simply, from a human point of view and because He wanted, by His example, with His life as a model for us, to show that man has a measure of endurance, patience and knowledge. A finite mind, a finite effort and endurance. And just as Job was in a difficult moment, being psychologically crushed, he thought and said: “May the day perish on which I was born, and the night in which it was said, ‘A male child is conceived.’ May that day be darkness; may God above not seek it, nor the light shine upon it.”
As soon as God saw that he was about to fall on his knees, He came and held him up and said to him: “Wait, do you know why I have tested you? Do you know why I allowed all this to happen to you? To make you a saint. To show you as a great example of patience for all generations. And from your example and suffering to benefit the later generations of people to remain steadfast in the trials of life.” And then He begins to give him a paternal and scientific rebuke and asks him: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? … Who can number the clouds by wisdom?” Where this and who that.
Job answers and says: “At first I heard with my own ears that You are merciful, You are this and You are that, but now I have seen You with my own eyes, I felt You in my heart and I saw that I was worthless, that is, I insulted myself internally and I said: I am nothing but earth and ashes. I am nothing but dust and ashes that is trampled. That’s who I am. I am nothing important.” And after this God blessed Job and his faith and humility, he automatically cleansed him of his sickness and gave him more good things than before.
I admire the difference of choice, the mental endurance, but also the diametrically different difference of faith of the much-contested Job with our current endurance and I take from my personal point of view how much difference we have. Because we saw from the facts that Job had a simple faith in God, with what he saw only in nature, with its operation. And we, on the other hand, have so many, innumerable aids, unshakable, indisputable, divine, holy, personal from life and so much more, and yet we have a tremendous difference in dealing with the sorrows, temptations and trials we endure.
We have the awesome example of Christ as a model. We have the holy Martyrs, the holy Apostles, the Ascetics. We have the aids of the Orthodox Church. We have the Holy Mysteries and this Mystery that is performed in every Divine Liturgy, which we receive by spiritual transfusion of the Body and Blood of our Christ through the Mystery of the Divine Eucharist, we receive the Body and Blood of Christ and become one with Christ.
Nevertheless, while we have all this inconceivable help that is too numerous to count, we find ourselves before Job like insects in front of an elephant. This is our difference. He endured so many tortures and we, when a little pain comes, either from a tooth, or from another body part, or a sadness from family troubles or whatever, and we see ourselves, and I am the first of all, we fall on our knees in despair, in loss of hope, and say: “Now, I’m lost.” This is while we have so many terrific examples to establish our own faith, to face the test, to achieve even a minimal victory.
May the whole life of the much-contested Job become a shining example in our lives to face any sorrow, that comes from any side, with patience and faith. “May it be done unto you as you believe.” As we believe, so it is done to us by God. When we believe that we can, by the grace of God, overcome A or B grief and sorrow and situation, we will be able to do it. We will not be able to do it if we do not believe it.
Today people come and say, “We can’t raise so many children.” And we see, in the past, our grandparents with so many children and in so much poverty, and they overcame and fed all their children. Now we say we cannot. Because we calculate things based on our strengths. Because we do not have living faith. But in the man who believes, the power of God comes and faith is strengthened and God saves them.
Here, with natural care, the birds and all the animals are saved by God and are not deprived. We humans, by our reason, base things on our reasoning and not by faith, and we end up wrong and therefore insist we cannot do it. However, even today we have bright and remarkable examples, with large families and yet they are poor people.
But, you will tell me, all the children helped out, were fed less, and not all became scientists.
Well, of course, they cannot become scientists, they will become craftsmen, they will become something different, but all the children will live. But we have made life in such a way that we cannot be natural, because when we want all the children to study or to give them everything they want, of course the wallet is not enough, and therefore we are deprived and therefore we are violators of God’s command “Increase and multiply, and fill the earth”, and all that.
Well, may the shining example and the intercessions of our much-contested Job, who is celebrated today, help us, so that his contests, his crowns, his medals, give us more strength and endurance, trying, even from afar, to follow him and reach the final goal which is the rest of the ages unto the ages, the Jerusalem Above.
From a talk given at the “Faith at Work” event for students at Bucknell University, sponsored by the Bucknell Faculty Staff Christian Association together with the Bucknell Orthodox Christian Fellowship among others, on Nov. 13 7531 (Nov. 26 2022 on the civil calendar).
My life in academia has been bound up with my life as an Orthodox Christian.
It started when I alternated between reading The Lord of the Rings and the Bible under the covers as a junior-high nerd while praying in secret as my sister suffered from an ultimately fatal illness. I had grown up in a basically agnostic household, nominally Unitarian and unfamiliar with the Bible, and in high-school would convert to the Christian Science of my mother’s family, where the model of The Christian Science Monitor led me into journalism after studying history at Brown. As urban affairs writer at the Chicago Sun-Times I became focused on writing about regional landscape and spirituality. When I returned to graduate school it was to study early Celtic literary landscape and Christianity. My master’s thesis in Wales was on the early Christian traditions of the landscape of Glastonbury in the West Country.
By the time I was working on my Ph.D. dissertation on early Christian literary landscapes, I had been baptized into the Orthodox Church, convicted by the beauty of a faith in which, as Dostoevsky put it, beauty will save the world, ultimately the otherworldly mysterious beauty of Christ. Of six books I have authored or co-edited to date, the first was entitled Tolkien’s Modern Middle Ages and my contribution was an essay on “Tolkien’s Cosmic-Christian Ecology.” My next was a book called Strange Beauty, which dealt with the overlay landscapes of early medieval Britain and Ireland in relation to the Christian doctrine of theosis. I edited a book collection called Re-Imagining Nature, for which I wrote two essays relating Orthodox Christian theology and cosmology to the developing field of ecosemiotics, looking at Creation as living mysterious symbolism of God. Subsequently I co-edited a book on the centennial of the Russian Revolution, related to my Russian-American family’s faith. I also have co-edited two books for Orthodox seminary presses in America on the poetics of Christian marriage and gender expression. Such poetics are little understood in our culture. Christ is considered the Bridegroom and the Church representing humanity is considered the Bride. The husband is considered the head of the family but charged with laying down his life for his family like Christ. This is a cosmological iconography of self-emptying rather than self-assertion.
Just as Marxist professors study Marxism, feminist professors study feminism, and Critical Race Theorists study Critical Race Theory, I am a Christian unworthily who studies and teaches Christian literature in light of the theology and philosophy and cosmology of formative thinkers of Christianity dating back to the first millennium. I also am ordained in the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, an autonomous Church formed by refugees from the Red Terror in Russia. I help lead worship weekly at St. John’s Orthodox Church in downtown Lewisburg and on campus. My courses have titles such as the Bible as Literature, offered next semester; there are still seats available! My current research involves writing the history of the novel as a Christian art form.
Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov is an outstanding example of the Christian tradition of the novel as a teaching machine for personal transformation in Christ. In it the character Gruschenka, a woman of bad reputation but a loving heart, tells the fable of the onion. A miserly spiteful old woman died, and her angel tries to find a reason why she can be saved and not be in hell. She once gave an onion to a poor person. In the fable, the onion is handed to her in hell to see if it will be enough to pull her out. Others see the angel pulling her out of hell on that onion. They grab onto her feet. She kicks them away telling them it is her onion. The onion breaks and she falls into hell. All my life, says Grushenka repentantly for her sins, I have just given one little onion. That was when she reached out with heartfelt feeling to the protagonist Alyosha who was grieving over the death of his monastic elder, and the pure-hearted Alyosha responded to her with love, surprised to find the care emerge from behind her hardened persona. She in turn responded with heartfelt tears. Later Alyosha has a dream-vision of his dead monastic elder celebrating at the biblical wedding at Cana. I am here, the elder says, because I gave a little onion. You did too, he tells Alyosha, when you reached out to that spiritually hungry woman. Now, he says, start on your work.
So we work. Maybe we will give an onion, we hope, and I pray unworthily. But it’s not always easy even just to give an onion for myself the sinner as a Christian academic in the humanities today. I probably would not be hired and receive tenure today as a literature professor because of my faith. Atheistic models predominate, the poetics of Christianity are cancelled. The irony is that Christian traditions in the US now are much more reflective of global multicultural backgrounds than when Bucknell was a Baptist school. But today perhaps only 5 percent of Bucknell students and faculty are practicing traditional Christians of any kind, in terms of daily prayer and Scripture reading, regular worship, and a worldview that is primarily Christian rather than consumerist or careerist. There is little recognition of Christian backgrounds here as adding to diversity at a time in the world when Christians are the largest number of victims of physical violence in religious persecution worldwide.
My own religious tradition saw millions killed in the past century by bigoted secularists. Not long ago a friend who is an elderly Russian Orthodox priest in the US received a brain injury in a hate attack. Not long ago three full professors at Bucknell supported the malicious public labeling of me as Lewisburg’s Rasputin, a stereotyped villain associated with Russian Orthodox Christianity, deserving to be killed. One previously had said that practicing Christians on campus should not be employed at our campus but should be ostracized personally and professionally. His remains a leading faculty voice, helping recently to engineer a propaganda attack on a Catholic staffer who had written an article outlining traditional Christian teaching on homosexuality in a campus newsletter for Catholic students. This effort to silence her occurred at the same time that the U.S. Congress moved toward repealing the Defense of Marriage Act while rejecting a measure to protect religious freedoms.
As Christians we must look to the Cross each day in our work. We know unworthily that we must suffer and forgive our enemies, even as we sometimes need to call them out to prevent vulnerable people from being harmed by hate, because that too is loving our neighbors. I have witnessed an African Bucknell student withdraw because he felt his Ethiopian Orthodox faith not welcome here, as did a conservative Catholic American student. The problem cuts across cultures. On a global scale, 100 million dead around the world is the toll in the past century of rule by radical atheists. Yet in solidarity we as Orthodox Christians still can say, “Glory to God for all things.” Carrying the Cross every day is our daily work, along with giving an onion whenever we can.