Reflections on St. Gregory’s Dialogue V

[Previous reflections, including a brief historical context, are to be found here.]

These are the reflections of someone particularly ignorant about such deep matters, let alone of this specific Church Father. There are others who are much more knowledgeable than me. What I will attempt with these reflections is to bring together the deep theology they explicate and some thoughts of a more practical, hopefully somewhat ascetical, bent. That is to say, what I want to attempt is to reflect on these things as a way to better my living of the faith, and my prayers. I’m happy to be corrected by those who discern errors in my thoughts here.

In this reflection, I will first quote an extensive section from the dialogue—the thought of which, once I began to grasp the distinctions, forcefully revealed to me that Orthodoxy is the truth. My fumbling grasping of this one truth is what solidified my conversion to Orthodoxy.

XXV. . . . [Orthodox] So we venerate one divinity with three hypostases but not as if it would be devoid of grace and power and activity, so that which does not proceed from God is the same as and similar to that which proceeds from God and that manifests itself is the same as that which remains hidden. For such is the talk of idiots. And just as we say that power and wisdom are common to the Father, the Son and the Spirit, and contend also that the Son is the power and the wisdom of the Father [1 Corinthians 1:24], but existing independently [authupostaton], and nevertheless venerate wisdom and power as one in the highest and venerate trinity—for the enhypostatic [enupostatos] power and wisdom of God is one; and when you speak about the common power and wisdom of the three hypostases, that one is also one—in the same way we honor the divinity of the three (hypostases) as one. For which one you speak about, the three have only one. The essence is existing independently [authuparktos] and is, in all respects, unthinkable; but the power which is around it in a physical way [phusikos] and which is understood by us according to our faculties on the basis of the creatures and which is named and praised appropriately on the basis of those things which are created from non-beings and which are composed and improved in agreement with that (essence), as foreseeing, creative and theurgic, is contemplating and directing everything. “For,” the great Basil says, “the creatures demonstrate the power and wisdom and skill, but not the essence itself.” [Against Eunomius 2, 32]

XXVI. B[arlaamite]. But you say that also that common theurgic power and grace are enhypostatic [enupostaton].

O[rthodox]. But not in the sense of independent [authupostaton]. Come on! In that respect too we once again follow the fathers. For they say that the light of the deifying grace is enhypostatic [enupostaton], but not in the sense you wrongly understand it. But since “enhypostatic” [enhupostaton] has many meanings, just as “anhypostatic” [anupostaton], they believe that the grace of deification is enhypostatic [enupostaton], not in the sense that it is completely independent (authypostatic), but that it remains together with the persons in which it comes; it is not, like lightning and thunder, born at the moment of passing away, and abolished together with its manifestation in the objects. “For,” he (Basil) says, “the light works in those for whom it shines, continuously and uninterruptedly.” But let us add a few words more to the unicity of the divinity. What do you think? Is the Spirit, one part of the trinity, not to be venerated by us? But we also call the grace of the Spirit which is a common characteristic of the Father, the Son and the Spirit, “spirit.” And God Himself, too, who is worshipped in the trinity, is spirit. Will we, on that account, be hindered from worshipping one spirit? And will someone because of that accuse us of saying that there are many spirits to be venerated?

XXVII. B. Not at all.

O. So then we know that both God’s essence and His activity are called divinity and nevertheless we are worshippers of one divinity. For Isaiah also said there are seven spirits which another prophet (Zechariah) called the seven eyes of God. [Isaiah 11:2; Zechariah 3:9; 4:10] And the divine Maximus says that these exist in a physical way [phusikos] in God the Son and Word of God. [Against Thalassius 63] Just as the seven spirits do not take away the oneness of the spirit—for they are the emanations and manifestations and powers and activities of the one holy spirit—so the oneness of the divinity is not annihilated by its manifoldness. For the divinity of the three hypostases is one, namely a superessential nature and essence, simple, invisible, imparticipable, in all respects unthinkable. . . . All these things, then, are emanations and manifestations and powers and activities of that one divinity; they are with that divinity in a physical [phusikos] and inseparable fashion. The person who separates them from it and drags them down to make them creatures also drags the divinity down along with them . . . .

-–St. Gregory Palamas, Dialogue between an Orthodox and a Barlaamite which Invalidates in Detail the Barlaamite Error, XXV-XXVII (Global Publications/CEMERS, n.d.; tr. Rein Ferwerda).

It is not easy to overestimate what the concepts the Saint presents here did, and have done, for the theology I now espouse and the life in which I strive. I can, without hesitation, affirm that my beliefs about God have changed in light of the things the saint here presents. These changes are not mere fashions, or affectations, but are, indeed, such that I cannot return to previous mores without a change in identity. And the differences between the former and the present are not subtle.

I will be speaking of my experience, and will be critical of it. I am well aware that those who identify themselves by that which I criticize may think that my criticisms of my former beliefs, with which they may identify, are rightly called “straw man” and “unfair.” In another context, they may well be right so to do. But here I wish to trace the differences in my own thoughts, and, more importantly, the effects on my living.

When I was a Protestant, I could not but help think of salvation in dialectical terms. Either God alone accomplished my salvation, or I in some way had a real affect, by my own acts, on my salvation. Even though as a Restoration Movement Christian, I did not in any way buy into the heresy of monergism, which does its violent best to the text in James to explain away the relation between faith and works, and was in a movement that was strongly oriented to explicating biblical doctrines and eschewed systematic theologies—still, it was hard to escape a dialectical paradigm. If God alone did not accomplish my salvation, if my own works played some part, then what basis for assurance did I have of salvation? Further, If I had a real effect by my own acts, in some way, on my salvation, then how was that not, in some way, salvation by works?

Since I implicitly took in the dialectic of salvation as a (Protestant) Restoration Movement Christian, I found myself forced to accept prima facie readings of the biblical texts which really stretched that dialectic to the breaking point, and left one such as myself rather anxious.

The anxiety, of course, stemmed from the fact that my soteriological dialectic fed a dialectical theology. In other words, the God of my theology was made up of a lot of binary concepts: one, not many; simple, not partioned. But that led to significant impasses: how could a just God remain just while applying mercy? Indeed, how could an utterly simple God have more than one attribute? If God loved all men, why did he save only the few? If God was all-sovereign, how could man have free will? I was left to assert these contradictions (or, as I called them, paradoxes) without any clear rational argument. I asserted them on fideistic grounds alone.

What I did not then possess was the framework both to see the problems of this dialectic and to see through them. I would not have been able to articulate these problems as stemming from the paradigm of absolute (or definitional) divine simplicity. But even if I had the terminology, I would not have had the capacity to resolve the impasses.

What I needed, and what the Orthodox Faith gave me, was the classic Christian understanding (documented in part at the Energetic Procession blog, but see also here) of God that has become formulated in the essence/energies distinction, the distinction noted by the Saint in the citation above. It is a distinction which links God’s Persons, attributes and essence. And because Orthodoxy (being this classic Christian Faith) gave me this understanding of God, it also gave me the experience of God.

One of the problems I had as a Protestant is that God always remained external to me as a person. Oh sure I would talk about God living in me, about Jesus sitting on the throne of my heart, and so forth, but I could not, and often did not, mean such words except in a figurative or, at most, a spiritual (that is to say, nonphysical) way. And even then, if I would have examined my thought a bit, I would have seen that my theology would not have allowed such participation. Specifically: God was truly and really holy, I was not. That is to say, my holiness was mostly nominalistic: God declared me holy, but I still sinned. Justification was primarily about (if I may say it this way) God faking himself out. I was taught quite explicitly that my justification was God viewing me “just as if I’d” never sinned. “As if.” My holiness and forgiveness was dependent upon God’s ability to deny my sinful reality. And its effect was negligible: I continued to sin every day. But if God was holy and my holiness was nominal, then how could God and I relate? Adding Jesus to the mix (God the Father sees me through Jesus-colored glasses) only complicated matters: God was split against himself, and it still didn’t answer the question of my relationship to a holy God (whether the Person of the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit–for talk of the Spirit taking up residence in my heart simply moved the problem).

The Orthodox understanding of God, however, resolved these dilemmas. It answered the philosophical and theological problem of the one and the many. It answered how it was that a simple God could have distinguishable attributes. It answered how my participation in God, and my attendent holiness, could be more than metaphorical, and how soteriology was necessarily synergistic. As the Saint writes:

Just as the seven spirits do not take away the oneness of the spirit—for they are the emanations and manifestations and powers and activities of the one holy spirit—so the oneness of the divinity is not annihilated by its manifoldness. For the divinity of the three hypostases is one, namely a superessential nature and essence, simple, invisible, imparticipable, in all respects unthinkable. . . . All these things, then, are emanations and manifestations and powers and activities of that one divinity . . . .

God’s being transcends any binary categorizations. His essence superabounds and is dynamic. To the degree that we can say anything about God’s essence, we know that it expresses itself enhypostatically–not hypostatically (as in its tri-Personality), but in a matter that, like the Persons are distinguished from God’s essence, and yet are unutterably one with that essence, so God’s attributes are distinguishable from God’s essence and yet are ineffably one with that essence. So that experience of God’s energies provides a unified experience of God, not simply of some quality external to himself, his essence. And yet, since that expressed activity of his essence is distinguishable from that essence, and not simply a nominal distinction from that essence, we maintain the utter unknowability of God as he is in his essence.

As Jesus says: God sends the rain on the just and the unjust. A holy God has real relationship with his fallen creatures, even those who sin. His energies (those divine activities expressing the divine essence) bring, in love, all his creation into his manifold grace. A grace that is, in certain ways, saving, without denying the freedom of creatures whose volition also allows them to resist that grace. And for those of us initiated into the union with Christ via the Sacraments, that saving grace accomplishes that union in a real participation that involes the whole of the human person, body and soul. The Spirit really does take up residence in one’s heart, both the physical and the metaphysical heart; really does seal the believe with a spiritual reality of pervasive personal effect.

Only the Orthodox Faith offers a particpation that matters, a real participation in God that is transformative precisely because it is real.

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20 thoughts on “Reflections on St. Gregory’s Dialogue V

  1. Benedict Seraphim,

    Wow, it’s fortuitous that I came across this today. I’m really new to the Orthodox world (I’ve been attending an Antiochian parish for several months now), so all of this is really over my head.

    Anyway, I had a discussion over breakfast this morning with my parents (I’m 23) about salvation, and my dad spoke in these very terms you use above; namely, the dialectic. It started with eternal security, but soon progressed (or regressed, depending on how you look at it) to all the big soteriological issues: predestination, free will, works, grace, Christ’s salvific work, etc. He’s a pretty staunch Calvinist (he’s all about Spurgeon, Edwards, Piper, Owen and the gang), so you can probably understand where he was coming from. But it all centered around the dialectic, as you and others call it: predestination, not free will; grace, not works; eternal security, not any fear lest we fall; Christ’s completed work on the Cross, not our work; and the list goes on. And yet, despite it all, he still wanted to affirm human responsiblity, so he left it all up to ‘mystery’, and chastised me for even trying to reconcile what he thought was irreconcilable. And of course, all of this was ‘clearly’ taught in Scripture — and one can’t really argue with that. Not to mention these are my parents, so through the whole discussion I tried to maintain deference. I’ve been reading Perry and Photios’ blog now for a couple of months, and so I’m clued in enough to understand ‘dialectic’ is a buzzword, but I can’t seem to get my mind around it; you know, why it’s such a big deal and all.

    One thing he did say that I didn’t really have an answer to was this: his brother has rejected Christ, and he has not. They are 13th months apart, they received the same Christian upbringing, and yet they’re miles apart now. He attributes this to divine election and reprobation; God gave my dad faith and didn’t give my uncle faith. I tried to say that maybe he just chose to walk the path of obedience and faith, whereas my uncle didn’t, but he would have nothing of it. For him, to even say such things attributes salvation to something ‘in us’, to something we do, which is an affront to him. He said ‘I know myself too well; I know I wouldn’t choose God on my own’.

    Okay, I’ve rambled for too long. Could you elaborate some more on this whole subject?


  2. In other words, I’m not quite following how the essence/energies distinction solves the problem of the soteriological dialectic, nor even why the soteriological dialectic is even that bad in the first place.

  3. Andrew:

    The essence/energies distinction solves the soteriological dialectic on a few different fronts.

    1. It eliminates the collapse of personhood into nature; or, to state it positively, it retains the essential connection and real distinction between person and nature, both on the theological and anthropological levels.

    2. As a corollary of 1. it also retains human freedom of choice/action as well as the universal extension of the Fall.

    3. It resolves the nominalistic error of juridical theories of the atonement, by making salvation real and not just declaratory; that is to say, by eliminating the nominalistic error it eliminates the unbiblical dichotomy between justification and sanctification.

    4. It retains the necessity of human activity with regard to salvation (synergism) while at the same time eliminating the error of exaggerated merit.

    5. It resolves the theological error of a psychologically bifurcated God who, though described as love, yet also hates a subset of his fallen creation.

    There are probably others that can be enumerated, but those occur most immediately to my mind.

  4. Benedict Seraphim – let me echo Nathan’s comment!

    One of the Orthodox concepts I’ve been having trouble grasping is the nature of the relationship God has with all mankind. As an evangelical, I’d say that God’s common grace is described in what Jesus said about the rain falling on the just and the unjust, but, as you know, common grace isn’t thought of as saving grace. Yet, it seems that the Orthodox thought is that God has a baseline relationship with every person which is somewhere in between common grace and saving grace (at least, it seems that way to me), it’s just that believers fully participate in saving grace. Am I close?

  5. Lee:

    Sort of.

    The problem is that your evangelical notion of what constitutes “saving” grace does not map on to the Orthodox view. The evangelical view sees salvation along very limited parameters, largely juridical. So, either one is saved (declared righteous, justified) or one is not.

    The Orthodox view of salvation is much much more encompassing. It does, of course, include the juridical aspects (as the NT clearly expresses), but it goes beyond those. The Orthodox view of salvation is primarily in line with the metaphor of healing (which is another way to translate sozo in the NT).

    The Orthodox understanding is also synergistic, which makes it much more dynamic and active, including progression and regression. We cooperate with God in our salvation, so although the grace of God manifest in the sun and rain brings healing grace to all, not all cooperate with that grace. Some complain of the rain and turn away from the opportunity to embrace God in his grace in the rain. Some grumble about the sun and likewise lose the opportunity to cooperate with God in his grace. But they experience God’s grace nonetheless and experience the benefits of it, missing out on the fullness of what they could enjoy. Similarly, one could rejoice in the sun and rain and take in more of the benefits and efficacy of this manifestation of God’s grace.

    This is just to say that ALL of God’s relation with his creatures is love and grace. Some accept it. Some reject it. And most of us go through cycles of acceptance and rejection, slowly forming our charater, firming our souls, in the ultimate decision to either fully accept or fully reject God’s grace–a decision God ratifies at our judgment. That is why some Christians will be damned–because they ultimately reject God. And that is why some whom we did not know to be Christians will be saved, because they accepted God’s grace in all its manifestations to them.

    This is not universalism, mind you. There will be those who reject God’s grace and will be eternally damned. Nor is it to say that some will be saved apart from Jesus. No one will be saved apart from Jesus. But Jesus’ saving work is cosmic in scope and we cannot exhaust its infinite breadth and depth. We can only say what we know, which has been revealed to us, and leave the rest to mystery.

    Now, I have been speaking of “general” grace. What has been revealed to us (“specific” grace) is that God’s saving grace is powerfully manifest and efficacious in the Sacraments, primarily the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, but also Confession, Marriage, Chrismation, Healing, and Ordination. Herein are objective markers and experiences of God’s grace. Whether we feel it or are aware of it or not, God works in the Sacraments, in the faith of the Church, and we receive that activity by faith.

    These Sacraments cleanse us from sin and its effects and unite us to the divinity and immortality of Christ, healing us soul and body, heart and mind, spirit and flesh.

    In the Sacraments, of course, only believers (Orthodox) can participate. So in a sense, yes, only believers can experience these “fullnesses” of God’s grace. But even then, none of us experience the fullness of grace until the Parousia. That is why St. Paul groaned to be free of this mortal life and to embrace the life in Christ.

    Hope I didn’t confuse you even more.

  6. Benedict Seraphim – on the contrary, your explanation is quite clear and helpful! Thanks for your detailed response.

    I have several follow-on questions, if I may:

    1. When you wrote: “That is why some Christians will be damned–because they ultimately reject God”, you were using “Christian” in the nominal sense, correct? Since they were ultimately goats, they couldn’t have ever been sheep – or is that still too evangelical a reading? (Do the Orthodox believe one can “regress” out of a state of salvation?)

    2. I appreciate, especially, your clarification on universalism – my interaction with another Orthodox believer left me confused on the Orthodox position on universalism. I’m curious on your use of “cosmic”, however – was that simply to show its inclusion of those already in Heaven?

    3. When you describe “specific” grace, are you at the same time touching on God’s energies, as described by Orthodox theology? Or are the Sacraments “merely” specific avenues by which the Orthodox participate in God’s energies as related to those specific activities, and God has more energies than those?

    4. Am I correct in thinking that this describes Theosis in a nutshell: “These Sacraments cleanse us from sin and its effects and unite us to the divinity and immortality of Christ, healing us soul and body, heart and mind, spirit and flesh”? (Not that Theosis would be limited to the operation of the Sacraments.)

    5. So then would the Orthodox say that it is possible for a non-Orthodox person to be saved, since it appears that there are degrees of experiencing the “fullness” of God’s grace (and since nobody will experience the fullness of grace until Christ returns)?

    Thanks again!

  7. BTW, I’ve recently started reading Light from the Christian East by James Payton, and am already getting a better picture on the historical differences in emphasis on the judicial vs. non-judicial aspects of the NT for the West vs. the East, respectively. That alone (I’m not yet even 30 pages into the book) has helped me to better (but certainly not completely!) understand the posts and comments over on Energetic Processions. I’d be interested to know your thoughts on that book, if you’ve read it. (So far, nobody following the EP thread where I also asked about that book has read the book or, if they have, they haven’t responded to my question.) Next up is the new edition of Timothy Ware’s The Orthodox Church

  8. Lee:

    Regarding your five series of questions:

    1. On the contrary, I was using the term “Christian” in the full sense of the word. Orthodox, having a synergistic view of salvation, do believe it is possible for true Christians to ultimately fall away into eternal damnation.

    2. Well, yes, cosmic includes heaven, but it includes all aspects of the created order. On Epiphany, for example, we teach (via our hymnography) that by his baptism Christ sanctified all the waters of the world. We are a very creational faith: matter matters, in Orthodoxy, because God created matter. There is no Gnosticism/Manicheanism in Orthodoxy. Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, which is why Orthodox refuse to cremate the bodies of dead Christians.

    3. Yes, God’s energies, since they are a manifestation of his infinite essence, are innumerable and are more than just the Sacraments (i.e., his love and mercy are energies–or divine activities inseparable from his essence–as are the manifestations of his grace in the Sacraments).

    4. Yes.

    5. Again, we have to be careful in using the word “saved” here since evangelicals understand it in one sense and Orthodox in a much fuller sense. From the standpoint of final and ultimate salvation (in the Parousia), yes, there will be non-Orthodox persons who are saved. And there will be Orthodox persons who are damned. Such ultimate destinies, however, are in God’s hands, and are an unrevealed mystery to us here in this mortal life. This is not salvation by degrees, but it is to affirm two seemingly contradictory things: in the Church is salvation (because it is the Body of the living Christ), and the Holy Spirit blows where he wills and operates outside the visible (to us) boundaries of the Church.

    Hope that helps.

  9. Benedict Seraphim – thanks for your response!

    1. Wow. I guess I haven’t yet gotten around to this aspect of the synergistic approach. This leaves me wondering about an exchange that I believe Nathan had a while back with some Orthodox folks on his blog on the topic of assurance of salvation…. Suffice it to say, there’s much we could discuss here! But I think I’ll leave that for another time 🙂

    2. That’s very interesting – I hadn’t heard of that before (Christ sanctifying all the waters in the world by His baptism). It seems like that’s on the far opposite side from being Gnostic or Manichean, but that’s probably just my evangelicalism showing again!

    3. Thanks for the clarification.

    5. I think we see “ultimate destinies” in the same way in that we will see some we perhaps didn’t expect to see in Heaven, and some who we may have expected to see won’t be there – but filtered through our respective views on question 1.

    Yes, your answers have been very helpful!

  10. Lee:

    Assurance of salvation is such an ironic topic. I know evangelicals (typically Reformed) who say that Orthodox have no assurance of salvation (since we believe that it is possible to fall away from salvation into eternal damnation). And such evangelicals usually emphasize salvation from God’s sovereignty.

    But in reality, it is such evangelical/Reformed Christians who have no assurance of salvation, for while it is true that God assuredly saves, Christians who have such views can provide no objective measure that an individual Christian would have so as to determine whether or not he or she is truly saved (and therefore can rest in such sovereign assurance). That is to say, by removing nearly all efficacious aspects (if not all such aspects) from within the believer (so as not to promote works righteousness or in some way “lessen” God’s sovereignty in salvatioin), they also remove any objective measure of salvation. All such Christians are left with, then, are subjective impressions: burning in the bosom if you will.

    But Orthodox Christians do not have such dichotomies, for while we definitely affirm God’s sovereignty in salvation, we do not deny the efficacy of the agent’s acts. Thus, when the individual Christian looks to assurance of salvation, he need not look to himself and his subjective impressions. Has he confessed his sins and received the Sacrament of Forgiveness? Has he been baptized? Has he partaken of the medicine of immortality (i.e., the Eucharist)? If he answers yes to these questions, then he need not trouble himself overmuch as to whether he feels anything, or as to whether he can subjectively measure his “progress”? Even when his own faith falters, he has reliance on the faith of Christ and his Church.

    In fact, the objectivity of the grace Orthodox encounter in the Sacraments and by being objectively members of Christ’s Church, eliminates any “need” for the penchant for navel-gazing, and helps to guard us against spiritual delusion. We can take assurance in God’s sovereignty and in that, to the best of our ability, we have done that which has been asked of us, though certainly not assurance because we have done that which has been asked of us. That is to say, our assurance is not based on the notion that we have salvation as a reward for our deeds, but that our salvation motivates such deeds. “We unprofitable servants have merely done our duty.”

  11. Benedict Seraphim – I can understand what you are saying, but I don’t see that we are really that different when it comes down to assurance. If you truly do not rely on the Sacraments as works but as God acting in and on your heart/body/mind/soul, then you are trusting by faith in what you believe to be God’s promises to you with respect to objective measures of your true salvation. Protestants, highlighting different portions of Scripture, believe that there are objective measures in a changed life – in freedom from sin (no small thing!), in a desire to live for and serve a Holy God, in a love for His Word, in the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Do we sometimes tread a fine line of unhealthy introspection vs. healthy, honest self-evaluation in light of Scripture? Yes. But that is when God uses Scripture, applied by the Holy Spirit (or a sermon, or a spouse, or a trial, or He moves a brother or sister in Christ to ask just the right question …) to rouse one out navel-gazing and into actively pursuing holiness. And we, too, can only fall on our knees before a Holy God and claim naught but the blood of Christ as the reason that we should be granted access to Heaven – not because we have, as you say, done that which has been asked of us. It is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance, His incredible mercy that protects and sustains us, and His love that motivates us to live lives pleasing unto Him.


  12. Lee:

    I’m sorry for not being clearer.

    The things you mention are “objective” in the sense that they are not part of the internal network of the Christian.

    My point, however, is that in the evangelical schema the only measure by which a Christian can evaluate his salvation is subjectively. He is still forced to measure his internal relations to these objective markers. Yes, the Scripture say “Judge not,” but the individual Christian in evangelicalism is forced to subjectively interpret whether or not his actions were “judgmental.” Indeed, given that most of evangelicalism is non-sacramental, an individual Christian has no objective measurement by which he can determine he’s ever been saved. How does one self-measure one’s understanding and repentance, especially given the human penchant for self-deception.

    The Orthodox Christian is saved from this unassured assurance by the very objective nature of his salvation.

    This is not to say that there is no legitimate place for self-reflection. It is only to say that this is all the evangelical has.

  13. Benedict Seraphim – I don’t think you’re being unclear. I’m purposely trying to equate our respective objective measures. I know that that is not an equation that you support – but I believe it’s valid.

    If you participate in a Sacrament with an impure motive (whatever it may be – to please your spouse, parents, or priest — or something “worse” than those, whatever it may be), does participating in said Sacrament still “count” as an objective measurement of your faith? To focus on one of the Sacraments we share, doesn’t Paul’s stern warning against eating the bread or drinking the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner (and the dire consequences thereof) indicate a necessary prerequisite evaluation of the heart? Who does that evaluation?

  14. Lee:

    First of all, I doubt it’s possible for any Christian to do all things, or even some things, with completely pure motives. Our fallenness is pervasive, after all. (Orthodox are not Pelagians.) So the purity of motives regarding participation in the Eucharist is a distraction here.

    But, you are correct that we must partake of the Eucharist worthily. Doing so, however, is not had by being absolutely perfect–an impossibility for us fallen creatures; but, rather, by doing those things that put us in a worthy state: repenting of sins, confessing our sins (and doing so particularly within the Sacrament of Confession).

    In other words, it is not up to me (solely) as to whether or not I am worthy to partake of Communion the Church (through the local parish priest) gives me the standard–in our parish, once monthly confession, though with the pastoral guidance that we are not to partake of Communion if we have not brought major sins (taking the Lord’s name in vain; masturbation; lying; i.e., the 10 Commandments, the seven/eight major sins) to the confessional. The Church also gives me a prayer rule to follow prior to taking Communion. I can only do so in an episcopally authorized Divine Liturgy. And so on. All of these are standards set not by me but by God in his Word and in his Church. And I can know whether or not I’ve done them. It’s not a matter of doing them perfectly (or even doing them well, really). Just: have I confessed my sins, esp. the major ones? Am I a canonical member of the Church? Have I prayed the prayer rule (or most of it)?

    All of those are easy to answer yes or no to. And based on those standards I know I am (or am not) worthy to take Communion. It’s not a matter of earning the right–I hasten to add–to take Communion, but, rather, to prepare myself properly to receive God into my body and soul. For someone who has fasted from all food for three weeks, to dive in to a 12 oz. steak would create pain and even harm. But if one has prepared, by eating the proper foods in the proper amounts, eating a steak can have beneficial effects. (If you’re a vegetarian, ignore this analogy!)

    Now, it is true that part of this process of Communion does involve, and legitimately, the place of the individual conscience. If there is something bothering our conscience, we can take it to the confessional and to our priest. But in so doing, we are submitting ourselves to an objective judgment on that pricking of the conscience.

    I don’t mean to belabor this. And I want to again reiterate, it’s not as though there is no place for subjective impressions and “judgments” in Orthodoxy. But, rather, that the Orthodox have a benefit the evangelical world does not (and really cannot) have: an objective marker (or markers) of salvation.

  15. Benedict Seraphim,

    Absolutely – our motives are rarely, if ever, pure.

    And I think we’re coming to the heart of the matter now: honest self-evaluation and simultaneous influence of the Holy Spirit. I may be blind to both sin and mixed motives, but the same requirement is upon me that is upon you – to confess and repent of sin and prepare for my heart before eating the bread and drinking of the cup. I can understand that the formality of Confession before a priest may help with that, but God will truly know if even all the “major” sins have been confessed and, more significantly, repented of. Fundamentally, our instruction is to “grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption”.

    We’re also at where we have to agree to disagree, since you believe that it is necessary to be a member of the Orthodox Church, follow the liturgy thereof, confess to your priest when convicted of sin, etc., and I do not. I understand what you’re saying concerning all those things being objective markers – but I also believe they can simply become works as well, and will be if the heart is not right. At the same time, I hope you can believe that Communion is taken very seriously at my church, that we are exhorted to be both right with God and those around us before partaking (and those who are not believers are discouraged from partaking), that confession to one another is encouraged, etc.

    Thank you for your patient and gracious interaction with me on my many questions!

    And don’t worry – I’m not a vegetarian 🙂

  16. Lee:

    Of course they’re works. Without works, faith is dead.

    As for the “heart being right”–once again, either you have an objective marker or it is wholly locked up in your own mind and understanding.

    Which brings me to your “honest self-evaluation and simultaneous influence of the Holy Spirit”–how do you know the difference between the two? Where does your self-evaluation leave off and the influence of the Holy Spirit begin? How do you tell the difference between what is you and what is the Holy Spirit?

    You will probably respond that the Scripture is one measure of the difference. To which I reply: but the Scripture is always interpreted, which means, once again, how do you know your interpretation is of the Spirit and not just simply your mistaken opinion?

    Again: as an evangelical you are completely locked up in your subjective impressions with no way, objectively, to know what is truly of the Spirit, what is truly the Scripture’s meaning, and what is your own feelings and impressions and your own fallible interpretation.

  17. Benedict Seraphim,

    Yes, but there are works and there are works… I completely affirm the verses in James, but also have in mind Galatians 3:2-3. Again, we are back to motivation…

    The answer your question about knowing where my honest self-evaluation ends and where the influence of the Holy Spirit begins (not that even the former is without benefit), which can indeed be tricky and entails a life-long process of growth, does indeed involve growing more and more familiar with the whole counsel of Scripture — to cite but a very small number of the relevant verses: Ps. 119:9-11, 104-105, all of Ps. 19, Ro. 12:1-2, etc., etc. But you anticipated that answer 🙂 I would maintain, however, that fundamentally, it’s not that difficult (at least for me) to see my heart revealed in the light of Scripture as the would-be petty ruler of my life: prideful, selfish, lustful, and all too readily pleased to be “making mud pies in a slum”, as C.S. Lewis said.

    The difficult part is the application of what is clearly instructed. Do not lust after a woman who is not my wife. Do not covet another’s possessions. Do not lie. Rather, love my wife as Christ loved the Church. Love my neighbor as myself. Tell the truth. These aren’t difficult concepts to either discover in Scripture, or to understand. Nor is it difficult to see when I have transgressed them (though in some contexts, I do need help to get past my pride, in particular). But whether it is God using my wife to help me see those occurrences, or the Holy Spirit smiting my heart when I recall or read a passage, or God disciplining me so that I open my eyes to the situation, I truly believe that subjectivity is the least of my problems. Obedience to clear instruction is my problem.

    Shall we agree to come back to this discussion whenever it is that we are both perfectly obedient to unambiguous commands and then compare notes on less obvious matters? 🙂

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