Jesus – the Holy One of God 


Now there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, saying, “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are – the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:23-24)

The demon possessing the man in the above Gospel lesson can only imagine one outcome of coming into contact with God: that God will destroy him. It is perhaps the case that the demon is so involved in destroying others that he assumes all others are equally devoted to destroying things. [It is like politicians who are always accusing others of fraud, or lying, or cheating. Sometimes they think that of others because that is how they run their own lives and campaigns and so assume others do as well.] What the demon can’t imagine is that Christ is there to love him, save him, change him. So he cries out in terror assuming Christ is there to destroy him. But Christ doesn’t destroy him, He only orders the demon to depart. The New Testament gives us plenty of ideas of why Christ our God in on earth and none of it has to do with destroying anything.

25928735224_de18f80c4d_wThe thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

If any one hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. (John 12:47)

For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.  (Luke 19:10)

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:17)

The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners… (1 Timothy 1:15)

The demon in the above Gospel lesson does call Christ “the Holy One of God.” Here is an unusual case of a demon speaking the truth. Orthodox theologian Peter Bouteneff offers further explication of Jesus as God’s Holy One:

Rather than seeing Jesus Christ as a trinitarian person who irrupted into linear history 2,000 years ago, the patristic and apostolic perspective is that of Jesus Christ as the foundation of all history (‘by whom all things were made’ – Nicene Creed),


the center of creation, and the image of God (Hebrews 1: 3; Colossians 1: 15), according to whose image we are made – and not just as a ‘preexistent Logos’, but eternally as the crucified one, the ‘Lamb slain from the foundation of the world‘ (cf. Revelation 13:8), ‘destined before the foundation of the world but made manifest at the end of times for your sake‘ (1 Peter 18: 20): ‘For in [Christ] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, … all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first born from the dead‘ (Colossians 1:16-18). Jesus saves, indeed, in and through his life-giving Passion, as the foundation of creation, as the one in whose image humanity is made. He saves both in history – ‘crucified under Pontius Pilate’ – and also as the foundation of history.  . . .


An ancient and enduring codification of the dimensions of salvation – dating  back to at least the early fourth-century Eusebius of Caesarea and drawing on earlier Jewish sources – describes Christ as fulfilling the three vocations at which human beings failed: prophecy (the understanding and proclamation of truth), priesthood (the offering of the world to God) and kingship (stewardship and humble dominion over the world).  (THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY, p 96)


Christ came into the world to save, not destroy. Some do preach a God who only wants to destroy. Our God is also Savior – coming to redeem, restore, resurrect, transfigure, transform, save.  God comes to love us, something some, like demons, don’t seem willing or able to believe.

In Christ, We Are a New Creation


… He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.  (2 Corinthians 5:15-17) 


Theodoret of Cyrus, writing in the 5th Century, notes that the new creation will not be fully realized until after the general resurrection of all happens in the eschaton. It is only then that we and creation will be freed from corruption. In this life, even the deified still suffer corruption and die. The incorrupt and immortal life will be ours only when God’s Kingdom is fully established. Until then, even though God’s Kingdom is breaking into this world, we still do not experience the fullness of the new creation.  Once the new creation happens, life will be nothing like we know it today.  That is a joyful experience which we must await. Theodoret says:  

He [St Paul] said this also in writing to the Corinthians: ‘So that if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Now, by new creation he refers properly to the transformation in things coming after the resurrection from the dead: at that time the creation will be freed from the corruption affecting it, and human nature will be clothed with immortality. He shows saving baptism to be a kind of image of the future realities: in it we lay off the old person and are clothed with the new, and by setting aside the burden of sins we receive the grace of the Spirit. (COMMENTARY ON THE LETTERS OF ST PAUL Vol 2, p 24) 


In Baptism we put on Christ, yet in this world and in this life, Baptism remains but an image of the future reality of the new creation. St Paul wrote: “Not all of us shall sleep, but we shall all be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51). God’s Kingdom will come before all humans have died. All of us will not experience death (sleep), but all of us will experience the transfiguration of becoming the new creation in which corruption, suffering and death have all fled away. Life in the Kingdom will not be just an endless version of life in this world, but a new creation which we cannot even imagine. 

… because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:21-23) 


Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2) 

The Beheading of St John the Forerunner 


Today in the Orthodox Church we commemorate the Beheading of St John the Forerunner (see Matthew 14:1-13). St Gregory Palamas ruminates that St John’s purpose and message was to prepare us and all people for the coming of Christ. We are called to prepare ourselves to accept Christ, this is not Christ’s work. Christ is ready to enter into our hearts and lives if we have prepared ourselves for Him. St John’s call to us to prepare the way of the Lord is an essential message. Repentance, that changing our outlook about the world and God, is the means to prepare ourselves to receive Christ. Repentance is not merely enumerating our sins, it is a change in how we understand ourselves and the world around us—making ourselves aware of God’s immanent presence in our lives. 


St Gregory writes: 

47926733322_18b72a4303_wBefore all else, brethren, I beseech you, let us hear with understanding that the Lord did not say that He went out to plough the human fields, or to break up the ground two or three times, dig up the roots of the weeds and smooth out the clods of earth, that is to say, to prepare our hearts for cultivation, but that He went out immediately to sow. Why? Because this preliminary work on our souls prior to sowing ought to be done by us. That is why the Forerunner of the gospel of grace, anticipating this fact, says with a loud voice, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’ (Matthew 3: 3), and ‘Repent ye: for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 3: 2). Our preparation and the starting point of repentance is blaming ourselves, confession, an abstention from evil. He also issued a warning to those who had not made themselves ready in this way to bear fruits worthy of repentance (c.f. Matthew 3: 8, Luke 3: eight). ‘Every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire’ (Matthew 3: 10).  (THE HOMILIES, p 371) 


Being Forgiven: Opening My Eyes to Me


Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt…” (Matthew 18:23-27)

Archimandrite Aimilianos makes interesting use of Christ’s Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:23-35) to see himself as he is: a sinner. He says our experience of God’s holiness and glory helps us understand what it is to be human gifted with a good place in God’s created universe. When he applies Christ’s parable to his own life, he is able to see what kind of person he is.


“Seeing and feeling the holiness and glory of God, I begin to understand the nature of my own nakedness and nothingness. I understand that I am a sinner—that I am nobody, nothing, mere dust and ashes (Genesis 18.27) —and thus I fall down at the feet of Christ, and that falling down will be the expression and confession of my nothingness. It is the vision of the glory of God, in other words, which enables me to see myself, to recognize my true self and to gain practical, experiential knowledge of myself.


For example, let’s say that I’ve offended one of you. But you remain calm, and when I see your graciousness, and how readily you overlook my bad behavior, and how quick you are to forgive me, then I say: ‘What a rude and insensitive man I am!’ When I see that you’ve forgiven my debt of 10,000 talents (c.f. Matthew 18.24), then I’ll say: ‘What sort of person am I, who won’t even give 5 denarii to someone else?’

In the face of God’s glory and holiness, I acquire empirical, experiential knowledge of myself.” (THE WAY OF THE SPIRIT, p 25)


The spiritual experiences we have of God, God’s love and forgiveness, or the forgiveness from anyone we know, open our eyes, hearts and minds not only to God, and to the other, but also reveal to us our own faults and our need to be forgiven. Others don’t see me as sinless and faultless as I may see myself, so they help me to see me as I am, or perhaps as God sees me, not as I think I am.

Those To Whom It Is Given 


But Jesus said to them, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given…  (Matthew 19:27)

In the above saying of Jesus, Christ affirms a concept which was accepted in the spiritual tradition of the Church: namely, that people have differing capacities to hear and understand portions of Scripture. Consequently, not every verse in Scripture is intended for everybody. Rather, people will find in Scripture verses geared toward their level of understanding –their spiritual gifts—with some verses being more important to some individuals than to others. What is required from us is the wisdom to know whether a verse or lesson applies to us or whether we are best leaving it for others to wrestle with.  As it says in Psalm 131:1  –  “O LORD, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.


The Syrian monk now called Pseudo-Dionysius (late 5th or early 6th Century) writes:

For as our sun, through no choice or deliberation, but by the very fact of its existence, gives light to all those things which have any inherent power of sharing its illumination, even so the Good (which is above the sun, as the transcendent archetype by the very mode of its existence is above its faded image) sends forth upon all things according to their receptive powers, the rays of Its undivided goodness.  (THE DIVINE NAMES AND THE MYSTICAL THEOLOGY, p 87)


Whether speaking of our solar system’s sun or speaking of God, we know that things have differing capacities to receive their light—whether absorbing in or reflecting it. The light is the same, it is only our capability to receive it which changes. Not everyone is given the same receptivity as we each are differently gifted by God. So, Evagrios, the 4th Century Egyptian monk writes:

All those who wish to embark on the toils of the virtuous life should train themselves to the task gradually, and keep on until perfection is achieved. Do not be confused by the many different paths our forefathers exemplified, and do not try to copy all of them exactly, for this would upset your way of life. No, you must choose a way of life that suits your lesser abilities. Travel your road and you will find life there, for your Lord is merciful, and he will find you acceptable not because of your achievements, but because of your heart’s intention, just as he receives the poor widow’s gift (Mark 12:43).  (STANDING IN GOD’S HOLY FIRE, p 53)


Evagrios like other Patristic writers does not believe there is one-size-fits-all spirituality. God reveals Himself to us according to our abilities, which are also gifts from Him and differ for each person. We each need to find our path in life – we cannot simply try to imitate what saints in other lands or in past centuries did. We have to find our path in our life and world today. I shouldn’t judge others who perhaps focus on different aspects of the Gospel than I do.  Conversely, I don’t need to focus on everything other Christians focus on, and I shouldn’t worry if they judge me. When we are on the path which God wants us on, we will find eternal life. It may be an arduous path, and we may need wisdom to navigate the choices before us. God will guide our hearts, if we have good intentions and good will.


The good news is that God loves each of us and has gifted each according to His love. I don’t need to worry that my interests and abilities are different from the saints or from my fellow Christians. God has blessed me with my gifts, talents, resources, personality and expects me to use them according to the abilities He has bestowed on me.  I don’t need to be concerned that I don’t have the spiritual gifts of some of the saints, for God gifts me with what I need in my life, my lifetime, my world. As St John Chrysostom joyously proclaims in his Paschal sermon:

If any have toiled from the first hour, let them receive their due reward;

If any have come after the third hour, let him with gratitude join in the Feast!


And he that arrived after the sixth hour, let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.

And if any delayed until the ninth hour, let him not hesitate; but let him come too.

And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.

He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.

He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.


The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together!

Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

Looking for Things Unseen 

The James Webb Space Telescope recorded new images of the Cartwheel galaxy. This one is a composite made with two tools, the Near-Infrared Camera and the Mid-Infrared Instrument.

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

Looking for the things not seen—which are eternal—is how many of the Church Fathers read the scriptures. The readily seen things are the literal readings of the text which might be obvious to anyone. This level of understanding requires no faith or love as even a nonbeliever can comprehend it. The ‘unseen’ things, which are eternal, require us to look even deeper into the text, beyond the literal, to find that which is the mystery which God has hidden in Scripture. For in that which is not readily seen by the naked eye, they hoped to see God in what God was choosing to reveal to us in His love. This looking requires faith, hope, wisdom and love. The ‘unseen’ is made visible by God in His love to those who are capable of seeing.

Clement of Alexandria points out that God reveals Himself through mystery to help make us into seekers, those who choose to be Christ’s disciples and who wish to commune with God.

The meaning of Scripture is hidden for many reasons: first, that we might be seekers (zetetikoi), and ever on the watch to discover the words of salvation; secondly, because it was not fitting that all should know this meaning, for fear they might come to harm through misunderstanding what was said by the spirit for their salvation’ (Strom VI, 15:126,1). (GOSPEL MESSAGE AND HELLENISTIC CULTURE, p 253)

Because God’s mystery revealed is divine, it is possible for some to misunderstand it. God reveals to each of us according to our abilities. So, it is possible that to protect some from falling into error, that it is better for them that certain aspects of God’s revelation remain a mystery. God will give them to know what they need to know, but there may remain some things beyond their comprehension. This is OK because God in His love reveals to each what they need to know for their salvation.

The Light Shining Out of Darkness 


For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

[Just as aside – I find this verse so intriguing because Paul has God commanding light to shine out of darkness, rather than into it. God needs nothing to create His universe and is even able to shine light from out of the darkness. Of course, this is not meant to be just a literal text describing empirical creation. He is expressing a spiritual truth about the spiritual reality of the universe. Even darkness is created by God and is part of God’s creation and so serves His purposes.]


Orthodox theologian Olivier Clement uses Paul’s words on God commanding “light to shine out of darkness” to understand the nature of Tradition in Orthodoxy. The “darkness” is all around us – it is that thinking which attempts to understand the cosmos without God. That is all of the scientific, political or philosophical thinking which assumes God doesn’t exist. This thinking is perhaps the height of what human reason alone can discover about the universe. It may all be perfectly true as far as it goes, but by denying God and the spiritual life, it is blind to some of the truth that can be known about the cosmos. Out of this “darkness” God shines His light, His revelation about the divine, moral and spiritual dimensions of the universe. God is not denying the existence of this darkness, nor what it contains, but is showing it to be just part of the entirety of existence. God is not declaring this worldly “darkness” to be totally false or useless, rather God chooses to shine out it, meaning God acknowledges its existence and uses it for His own purposes.  After all it is God who makes even the darkness (Jeremiah 13:16; Amos 4:13; Psalm 104:20).


Tradition is therefore the unique mode through which revelation is received, as Vladimir Lossky stressed. Tradition is not the substance of revelation; it sheds light on that which has become apparent. ‘For the God who said: “out of the darkness light shall shine,” has made a light in our hearts for the radiance of the knowledge and of the glory of God in the face of Christ’  (2 Corinthians 4:6). ‘See to it that there shall be no one to steal you away by philosophy and by empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the fundamentals of the world, and not according to Christ‘ (Colossians 2:8).  (TRANSFIGURING TIME, p 148)


Tradition is that which helps us understand what God is revealing to us. It is there to help us see the Light and not just sink into the darkness of a cold, indifferent, random universe. Rather, we come to see God at work in everything. For, as the Psalmist says, God even made the darkness (Psalm 104:20).

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,

and the light around me become night,”

even the darkness is not dark to You;

the night is as bright as the day,

for darkness is as light to You.

(Psalm 139:11-12)


The Written Word Kills 


… God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:5-6)

St Paul sees the new covenant (the Gospel) as not consisting of scriptures but rather of the Holy Spirit alive in Christians.  He goes so far as claiming the written letter kills, only the Spirit gives life. It is therefore amazing that Church leaders have tended to put much more emphasis on the written word than on their members as witnesses to Christ.  Our Lord Jesus didn’t leave any written words (though He was literate – Luke 4:17-20), rather choosing disciples to be witnesses rather than leaving us any written text. The Protestants emphasize the written bible, Roman Catholics the decrees of the Popes, and the Orthodox have their typikons, patristics, canons and Rudders.  In a world of literacy, the written word is important, but then we might remember St Paul’s words that “the letter kills.” Reliance on the written word enforces the unchanging character of religion. It seems more reliable than the members who keep the faith with varying degrees of diligence or laxity. But for St Paul, the members are the best scripture. (See my post Being an Epistle.)


Origen, martyred in 254AD, warns about a danger of overly relying on the written word, especially when it is read too literally. In one of his polemics with the Jews, he blames their over literalness for being the reason they don’t come to faith in Christ. He points out there are many things in the Scriptures that were not literally fulfilled by Christ, but only if you read them in a wooden, literal fashion.

51636059286_865fa8b929_wAfter having spoken, as in summary, about the inspiration of the divine Scriptures, it is necessary to proceed to the manner of reading and understanding them, since many errors have occurred from the fact that the way by which the holy readings ought to be examined has not been discovered by the multitude. For the hard-hearted and ignorant of the people of the circumcision have not believed in our Savior, thinking they follow the language of the prophecies regarding him, and not seeing him visibly proclaiming release to the captives, nor building up what they consider to be truly a city of God, nor cutting off the Chariots from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem, nor eating butter and honey, and before knowing or preferring evil, choosing the good; and thinking it was prophesied that the wolf, the four-footed animal, was to feed with the lamb and the leopard to lie down with the kid, the calf and the bull and the lion to feed together, being led by a little child, and the ox and the bear to pasture together, their young ones growing up together, and the lion to eat straw like the ox – seeing none of these things visibly happen in the sojourn of him believed by us to be the Christ, they did not accept our Lord Jesus, but they crucified him as having improperly called himself Christ.” (ON FIRST PRINCIPLES, pp 246-247)


Origen believes one must get outside of a purely literalist reading to understand the mysteries which God is revealing in the Scriptures.  Additionally, the Scriptures report or prophecy things that never happened and things that will never literally happen, even though the imagery is appealing.  A literal reading of Scripture may give you some facts, but won’t reveal God’s mysteries which are the real content of the Scriptures. St Cyril of Alexandria, who wrote in the 5th Century (d. 444AD), reinforces Origen’s thoughts. Commenting of the Genesis texts referring to the Patriarch Jacob, he mentions there are some portions of the text that he doesn’t comment on because they are simply literally true (perhaps historically factual) and have no divine meaning to them.  While these texts are also valuable, they are not the ones Christians need to focus on to understand the revelation of God found in Jesus Christ.

6219061154_d4264b409d_w… the gospel economy, flying around the most colorful elements of the literal account in the manner of bees, gathering from each what is profitable for interpreting the word. If every matter written about Jacob is not included among the spiritual interpretations, let no one be troubled. One should realize that some things that happened at the literal level are just as they are in themselves. Yet other things indeed allow also for reflection upon inner meanings and figuratively present the import of the mystery.”  (GLAPHYRA ON THE PENTATEUCH Vol 1, p 196) 

Being an Epistle 


You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. (2 Corinthians 3:2-3)

St Paul sees the members of the congregations he founded or ministered to as being his true epistles. As he says of published words: “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). More important to St Paul than the Scriptures were the people who joined him in following Christ. This is a truth that the Orthodox Church today would do well to remember. More important than all the scriptures, canons, patristic writings, typikons and rubrics are the members of the Church – the women, children and men who are the parishioners, the living stones of the Church. The members are living scriptures in whom the Word of God and the Spirit of God abide. It is the members of the Church for whom Christ died on the cross, not for perfect rubrics or canons or liturgies. It is in the members of the Church that the Holy Spirit abides. It is the members of the Church who are created in God’s image and likeness. It is the members of the Church whom God loves, sending His Son to die on the cross for them.


For St Paul it is more likely that those who have yet to be evangelized will ‘read’ the lives of the church members rather than any scriptures, rubrics, or dogmatics. How we members live is the best scriptures to offer to non-believers. No wonder that some have felt Protestant Evangelicals are guilty of bibliolatry.

Our hearts should be open to all to read. No duplicity or guile should be part of Christian behavior or witness. Our hearts are the real scriptures, not words engraved on stone monuments.


Sometime in the 5th Century, a Syrian monk now called Pseudo-Macarius wrote the following:

His very grace writes in their hearts the laws of the Spirit. They should not put all their trusting hopes solely in the scriptures written in ink. For divine grace writes on the ‘tables of the heart‘ (2 Corinthians 3: 3) the laws of the spirit and the heavenly mysteries. For the heart directs and governs all the other organs of the body. And when grace pastures the heart, it rules over all the members and the thoughts. For there, in the heart, the mind abides as well as all the thoughts of the soul and all its hopes. This is how grace penetrates throughout all parts of the body.  (Pseudo-Macarius, THE FIFTY SPIRITUAL HOMILIES, p 4)


In a world in which fundamentalist, literalist Christianity is strong, Christians tend to think reading their bibles or handing out bibles is their main form of witness. St Paul would disagree. More important is that our hearts be changed by Christ and the Holy Spirit, and that we personally become the light to the world (Matthew 5:14). Lead by example, evangelize by being a witness that Christ is in your life, your heart, your mind, your home.

The Fragrance of Christ 


Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.


For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. (2 Corinthians 2:14-15)


St Cyril of Alexandria also using the imagery of fragrance to describe Christ and the spiritual life writes: 


The words of the blessing, I believe, denote the spiritual aroma in Christ, like that of a field or a meadow blooming abundantly,


spreading a beautiful and pleasant fragrance from its spring flowers.


So Christ described himself to us in the Song of Songs, saying, ‘I am a flower of the plain, a lily of the valleys.’ [Song 2.1]


He was, indeed, a lily and a rose sprung up from the earth, for the sake of humankind.


Since he knew no sin, he was the most Godlike of those inhabiting the whole world, bringing forth a pleasing aroma through the perfection of his deeds.


Therefore, it likens Christ to a field blessed by God,


and rightly so, as he is the fragrance of the knowledge of God the Father. (GLPHYRA ON THE PENTATEUCH Vol 1, p 27)