In Creation: God or Satan? 


Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; “and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. So the evening and the morning were the fourth day. Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.” So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” So the evening and the morning were the fifth day. (Genesis 1:14-23)


The Genesis creation narrative is very clear that there is only one God who created everything.  There are two different creation stories in Genesis 1-2 which seem to reflect slightly different theologies and concerns. Both, however, are in the Bible and are meant to be read together – neither presents creation as a battle between good and evil. God alone creates everything else that exists – including angels, spiritual beings, Satan, demons, gods.  All these spiritual beings are simply creatures like us humans. None are all powerful, none eternal, none immortal. Also, all the objects in the heavens (stars, planets, the sun, moon, comets, etc) are created by God and themselves are not gods, nor can they portend to tell us about our future as they are inanimate creatures lacking intelligence. Nor are any animals gods, no matter how huge or awesome they may be for they too are merely creatures, not even as spiritually elevated as humans.


All creation, visible and invisible, serves God.  Unfortunately, some Christians are so concerned about evil in the universe that they treat evil/Satan as an equal and opposite power of God. This dualism is pointedly rejected by Genesis and also by Church Tradition. However, it is also wrongly embraced by some in the Church. Currently, the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill seems to embrace this dualism, seeing Satan as gaining power everywhere and Russian Orthodoxy alone as fighting against Satan. It is a theological error sometimes made by monotheists who cannot come up with an explanation as to why they are not succeeding and/or why their ‘enemies’ are. And the danger here is obvious, for Kirill justifies the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine in these terms and is giving Russian Nationalism a rationale for using its nuclear arsenal to defeat Satan. It is godlessness, not theology.  And to imagine the military or nuclear weapons can defeat Satan is idiocy which many different rulers have expressed through history.


The Genesis creation narrative, read at the beginning of Great Lent, is very clear that there is only one Lord God and Creator, who has no equals. Orthodoxy theology is clear that Christ defeated sin, Satan and death. Weapons of mass destruction are of no use in attempting to defeat Satan. It is a spiritual warfare in which Christian are to engage (see St Paul’s argument in Ephesians 6:10-18) not a military one.


Genesis and Orthodox Tradition are clear that humans are God’s center point or high point in creation: not angels and certainly not rebellious angels.  Note in Genesis 1-2, no angels are even mentioned at the creation of the world. Humans are God’s main love and concern. There are no angels mentioned in Paradise until after the Fall!  Paradise was not created for angels but for humans. (And hell was created for Satan, not humans – Matthew 25:41; no where in Genesis does it ever say God sent Adam and Eve to hell). The Genesis creation accounts aim to help humans realize their relationship to God and to all of the cosmos – to bring us back into a relationship with our Creator rather than in one with Satan who is powerless (doesn’t even have power over swine is what we pray at the exorcism in baptism).


Even the very images in which original sin is described are not chosen at random, but are related even to the substance of sin, as the idolatrous perversion of a creation destined to lead one to God. A comparison with the preceding chapters is remarkable in this regard. The first chapter of Genesis was an argument against the worship of heavenly bodies, animals, and trees. They were demythologized and reduced to the state of creatures, still retaining their hierophantic value. This polemic continues here in amplified form. The sacred author denounces the sin of man who, from the start, instead of recognizing the true God across the realities of the cosmos, made the latter the object of his worship and perverted their value; and more still, who made the supreme accomplishment of God, man himself, an object of adoration. There is original sin, that of a creation which closes in on and revolves around itself instead of opening itself to grace.  (Jean Danielou, IN THE BEGINNING . . . GENESIS I-III, pp 56-57)


Reading the Genesis creation accounts at the beginning of Great Lent is supposed to remind us that we humans have a purpose in this world and we also have a destination to which we are to sojourn.

Archbishop Lazar Puhalo wrote that the book of Genesis…

… commences with, ‘In the beginning God created…” and ends with the words, ‘… in a coffin in Egypt.‘ These first and last words of the first book of Moses, Genesis, are in themselves a summary of man’s spiritual history, for God is ever saving and man is ever falling; God is ever delivering and man is ever becoming enslaved; God is ever giving life and man is ever choosing death.  (THE CREATION AND FALL, p 3)


The creation account is about God the Creator and His love for His human creatures who often choose evil over good. The world we live in is not one created by Satan, but is God’s good creation occupied by humans capable of both good and evil. Thus, our history is not all good. God for His part has ever tried to encourage us with His love to seek Him and His Kingdom despite our proclivity to self-centeredness and sin. The Genesis accounts of creation are read to help us refocus our existence on our Creator, not on Satan who has been defeated by Christ.

Seeing God in My Heart


“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. “Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:16-18)


In the above passage, the Prophet Isaiah offers us some ideas about what repentance looks like, this time in terms of justice for vulnerable populations like widows and the fatherless (see also my post ‘The Things Well Pleasing to God’ for other short lists detailing what God expects from us). Isaiah puts repentance in very broad terms – cease doing evil, learn to do good and seek justice.

St Augustine offers us a reason to repent and what a repentant heart should be like. Repentance is like house cleaning – we should remove from our hearts anything that might sadden God. And we should do this because God wants to abide in our hearts. Just as we clean our homes when guests are coming to stay with us, so we need to clean our hearts to prepare for God’s arrival.


You say to me, ‘Show me your God.’ …

I answer you, ‘Take a look at your heart. Everything you see in it that might sadden God, remove. God wants to come to you. Listen to Christ your Lord: ‘My father and I will come to him and make our home with him‘ (John 14:23). That is God’s promise. If I were to tell you I was coming to stay with you, you would clean your house. Now it is God who wants to come into your heart. Do you not hasten to purify it? How could he dwell with avarice? … God has commanded you to clothe the naked. But avarice induces you to strip the one who is clothed … I am looking at your heart. What do you have in it? Have you filled your coffers but thrown away your conscience? … Purify your heart.’  (THE ROOTS OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM, p 167)


Augustine advocates that we take inventory as to what is in our hearts. This requires self-awareness. Then we have to remove from our hearts those thoughts, ideas, feelings which are offensive to God – or as Augustine puts it we need to remove from our hearts anything that might make God sad.  Augustine too understands God wants us to treat others justly and so he sees sin as that which fails to show compassion and empathy with the needy. Purifying our hearts is to get rid of anything that prevents us from having compassion and sympathy for others.


St Isaac of Nineveh writes:

Holiness befits your house‘ (Psalm 93:5). This has the same sense as ‘What is holy is given to the holy.’ For we rational beings are the House of the Lord, and when, as befits the Lord, we keep his House pure by keeping away from all evil, then his holy presence comes and resides in us – because what is holy is suitable for the Holy through a willing consent. (Headings on Spiritual Knowledge: The Second Part, Chapters 1-3, Kindle Location 2667-2671)

God-given Paradise or My Possessions? 


On the Sunday before Great Lent begins, the Church commemorates the expulsion of Eve and Adam from Paradise – the very events which put into motion the world of the Fall that we currently live in and experience. St Gregory Palamas explains that humans created in God’s image, shared both in the divine/spiritual life as well as in the physicality of material creation. We were created to rise further into the divine life, but by the sinful choices humans have made, we allowed ourselves to become enslaved to the inferior, mere materialistic physicality. Still, the soul has the ability to rise about this inferior existence by embracing Christ and accepting the forgiveness and mercy which He gives to us through His incarnation, death and resurrection.


After our forefather‘s transgression in paradise through the tree, we suffered the death of our soul – which is the separation of the soul from God – prior to our bodily death; yet although we cast away our divine likeness, we did not lose our divine image. Thus when the soul renounces its attachment to inferior things and cleaves through love to God and submits itself to him through acts and modes of virtue, it is illuminated and made beautiful by God and is raised to a higher level, obeying his counsels and exhortations; and by these means it regains the truly eternal life. Through this life it makes the body conjoined to it immortal, so that in due time the body attains the promised resurrection and participates in eternal glory. But if the soul does not repudiate its attachment and submission to inferior things whereby it shamefully dishonors God’s image, it alienates itself from God and is estranged from the true and truly blessed life of God; for as it has first abandoned God, it is justly abandoned by him.


[According to Palamas God allowed the serpent to speak to the humans so that the humans themselves could recognize the difference between the Word spoken by God and the inferiorness of what Satan had to offer. Unfortunately, humans allowed themselves to be deceived by the talking serpent (whom they trusted more than God) and thus submitted themselves to the inferior rather than to divinity which sent humanity on its downward spiral away from God.]

God permitted this so that man, seeing the counsel coming from a creature inferior to himself – and, indeed, how greatly is the serpent his inferior – might realize how completely worthless this counsel was and might rightly reject with indignation the idea of submitting to what was clearly inferior to him.  (THE PHILOKALIA Vol 4, pp 363, 365)

The serpent was not only inferior to God but even inferior to humans, and yet the first humans were so enamored by the talking animal that they allowed themselves to be seduced by his deception and thus, submitted humanity to futility and inferiority. Not only were the humans no longer “like God”, they were not even superior to a serpent. How humanity had fallen!


One of the hymns for the day says:

The Lord who formed me took clay from the ground and by life-giving breath he gave me a soul and I became a living being. He honored me and gave me dominion on earth over all that can be seen, and made me dwell with angels. But the deceiver Satan, by means of the serpent, enticed me by food. He drew me away from God’s glory; he handed me over to earth and to the abyss of death. But, Lord, in your compassion call me back again. 


The above hymn is in the first person, “I”, so can be heard as words being attributed to Adam, the first human. On the other hand, Adam’s story is the story of each human being and our spiritual stories are his and Eve’s. So, the “I” in the hymn is also me – each one of us. Each of us is faced everyday with being enticed away from God by things in the world for which we lust. Each day we are deciding to give glory and thanksgiving to God for the blessings given to us by our Creator, or we see the things in the world as rightfully belonging to us – we earned them and so they are our possessions, not gifts from God. Like Adam and Eve, we have to choose how to relate to the things of this world and whether we see God’s hand in them and choose to give thanks to God for the world, or we grasp these things and claim them as our own and begin claiming self-preservation as we defend to death the things we think we own. In the spiritually distorted world of the Fall, my net worth becomes who I am rather than what God has gifted to me. Yet, Death says, “You can’t take it with you.” You don’t really own it, but only use it for a short while, though often it owns you and you are its slave.

Looking into the Lord’s Prayer 


In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. (Matthew 6:9-13)


Biblical scholar Dale Allison comments on the references to God’s kingdom in the prayer, noting that in the ancient world kings and kingdoms were valued for helping to bring order to the nomadic world which was seen as dangerously chaotic with roaming bands of marauders. The king and kingdom help bring stability and protection to the vulnerable and defenseless. [*see note below]

In the background may be the ancient Near Eastern idea of kingship, which was soteriological. The sovereign, ‘with the power given him by God…  puts an end to the chaotic period when there is no king, so that also the weak, widows and orphans also have human rights and can exist as human beings’ (so Alfons Deissler, in Petuchowski and Brocke, eds., Lord’s Prayer, 8). In the Lord’s Prayer God is similarly envisaged as becoming the eschatological king (cf. Isaiah 52:7-10; Ezekiel 20: 33). This is something only God can do, and something human beings can only pray for.  (THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT, p 122)


The biblical notion is that it is God Himself who sustains the universe and keeps the chaotic forces of nature in check. Praying for God’s Kingdom to come is our appeal to God to keep all forces in the universe in check (including human ones of power and hubris) in order to help those who are least powerful exist. Without God, the world would be even more chaotic than it is.


St John Cassian points out a spiritual issue that arises from our praying that God not lead us into temptation. For Cassian, temptations reveal our hearts – whether we are children of God or whether we choose rather to follow our own wills. So, he doesn’t think we are asking God never to allow us to be tempted for how else can we know or how else can we show that we love God’s will and commandments unless there is a real free will choice presented to us? For Cassian, what we are really asking in this petition is that God be with us every step of our life’s journey so that we choose well.


[From] ‘Lead us not into temptation’ … comes a problem that is not a minor one. If we pray that we be not permitted to be tempted, where will that constancy come from for which we are to be tested? There is the scriptural statement that everyone who has not been tempted has not been approved of. There is ‘Blessed is the man who endures temptation.’ So this cannot be the sense of ‘Lead us not into temptation.’ It is not ‘Do not allow us ever to be tempted’ but rather ‘Do not allow us to be overcome when we are tempted.’  (THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT, p 130)


[* The biblical narrative of creation in Genesis 1 has God bringing under divine dominion the powers of chaos, which the Scriptures suggest God continues to control for the sake of His human creatures. The idea that kings or kingdoms can help guard individuals from the chaos that threatens to break into the world may have been a force that helped the development of human civilizations which worked to tame the chaotic elements threatening humans (whether natural or other humans). I think this is idea behind St Paul’s words in Romans 13:3-4 – For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer.

The Great Alone: A Novel A novel that captures this sense of the various types of chaos threatening to be unleashed on humanity is Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone.  In Hannah’s book, there are many chaotic forces at work in the remote part of Alaska to which the family has moved – the long dark nights of winter, the weather, wild animals, family dysfunction and mental illness (the last two are certainly part of the ‘demons’ they faced). The main characters in the family see ‘others’ (including government) as the darkening threat but the book is clear there are many threatening forces at work. While several see “the government” and other people as the greatest threats, it is others who help save them from themselves.]

The Things Well Pleasing to God 


These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace, do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, says the Lord. (Zechariah 8:16-17)

We find in various texts of the Old Testament exhortations on how we are to live, such as we see in the above Zechariah text (see also for example Deuteronomy 10:12-13 and Micah 6:8). All 613 laws of Torah are not always mentioned nor are do they represent all of the virtues God encourages, as we see in the above quote. There were ‘simpler’ exhortations which mention fewer requirements but still tell us there are behaviors which God blesses and others which are not acceptable to Him. Even Christ Himself summed up all 613 laws of Torah in two laws: love God and love neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40). The beginning of Genesis with Adam and Eve in Paradise also had a rule for the first two humans which made no mention of Torah. Following God’s commandments has been a challenge to humans from the beginning. Orthodox biblical scholar Theodore Stylianopoulos comments:


There is more to the story of Genesis. Paradoxically, a crafty serpent, working by deceit, appears in a perfect garden. Although innocent and pure, the first parents knowingly abuse their freedom and succumb to temptation. They persist in their self-deception and guilt, choosing to hide rather than to admit and correct their evil. Soon evil passes on and engulfs humanity as Cain murders his brother. These subtleties suggest that evil and suffering involve larger and mysterious aspects beyond human understanding. The Genesis story, which is the story of humanity throughout history, conveys a twofold message. On the one hand, men and women are universally culpable and suffer self-inflicted wounds. On the other hand, they are also caught up in an incomprehensible tragedy, helpless before the mystery of evil, which they perpetuate in spite of their lofty dignity and noble intentions. Nevertheless, God’s care toward his weak and wayward creatures does not cease. Even after the expulsion from Eden ‘the Lord God made garments of skin for the man and for his wife, and clothed them‘ (Genesis 3:21).


The book of Deuteronomy takes a less nuanced approach to evil and suffering. Deuteronomy expounds at length the principle of retributive justice: in this life good is rewarded and evil is punished.  . . .  The concept of retributive justice answers a profound human need for intelligibility and stability in the universe, in opposition to absurdity and chaos.  . . .  The acute problem with retributive justice is that, as the book of Job demonstrates, too many good people suffer and too many scoundrels prosper in this world.  . . .


In the prophetic books of the Old Testament, the same basic principle of just rewards and punishments is fundamental and applied to Israel as a nation. The prophets raised their voices against the domination of the weak by the strong, the exploitation of the widow and the orphan, the mistreatment of stranger, and the worship of idols; they censured Israel for its wickedness and moral decadence. Their righteous indignation was particularly directed against the leaders of the people – the kings, wealthy landowners, and priests. (ENCOURAGED BY THE SCRIPTURES, pp 165-166)


God ever encourages us to move toward the Kingdom of Heaven by the choices we make in our lifetimes. It isn’t necessary to know all of the laws of the Old Testament to do God’s will for obviously at various points in the Scriptures more concise lists of what God expects from us are offered to us to make it possible for us to choose life, namely, God the giver of life.


I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; for that means life to you and length of days… (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

Father, Forgive Them 


And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots. (Luke 23: 33-34)


This portion of the Gospel lesson from the passion narrative in Luke’s Gospel seems critically important for our salvation for in it Christ pardons even those who crucified Him. His death is for the salvation of the world.

And yet, this text is barely referenced in the Church’s liturgical services, even during Holy Week when the Gospel lesson is proclaimed in the 8th Matins Gospel reading of Holy Friday (which rightfully belongs to the morning of Great Friday but in Orthodoxy today is usually served on Thursday evening). During Holy Week, I think there is exactly one hymn which makes reference to Christ forgiving those who crucified Him. It occurs during the Vespers of Holy Friday as one of the “Lord I call…” verses. Even more sad, this Vespers service is often poorly attended if it is served at all, so Orthodox don’t even hear the one hymn which mentions Christ forgiving His murderers:


Today the master of creation stands before pilot. Today the Creator of all is condemned to die on the cross. Of his own will, He is led as a lamb to the slaughter. He who fed his people with manna in the desert is transfixed with nails. His side is pierced, and His sponge of vinegar touches His lips. The Redeemer of the world is slapped on the face. The Maker of all is mocked by His own servants. How great is the Master’s love for mankind! For those who crucified Him, He prayed to His Father saying: ‘Forgive them this sin, for they know not what they do.’ 


St Paul, no doubt influenced by Christ forgiving His antagonists, also offers some excuse for those who crucified Christ because he sees them as being not malicious but ignorant of who they were crucifying. In Paul’s mind, had the rulers at the time of Christ understood who He was, they would not have crucified Him. They acted in ignorance and thus their sin is forgivable.

But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:7-8)


Both Christ and St Paul see His opponents as acting in ignorance rather than malice. What they did was thus forgivable, and if done in ignorance not intentional sin at all. Jesus taught that anything spoken against Him, can be forgiven by God (Matthew 12:32; Luke 12:10). This is in contrast to what the Orthodox hymns of Holy Week imply, for in them the Orthodox Church piles a lot of condemnation on Judas and the Jews. That Christ forgave them is barely mentioned during the services. This is a spiritually imbalanced diet to feed people year after year.  We all enter into the joy of our Lord only through His forgiveness.  His words are meant for everyone and thus are essential for our own salvation for we are saved only in the same way as all other sinners, including those who crucified the Lord of Glory: that is by God’s grace and mercy rather than by our own righteousness (see Romans 9:30-33). If Christ forgives those who crucified Him, then it is certainly possible for Him to forgive us as well as any sinners and to welcome us into His Holy Kingdom. Since Christ forgives them, then we should as well, and we should be celebrating that fact during Holy Week. As the Blessed Theophylact writes:


“No matter what kind of sorrow the Lord faced – the disciple’s denial, the soldier’s mockery, the blasphemies of the bystanders- the devil found Him to be unconquerable. Not even the grief of crucifixion could induce the Lord to hate His murderers, the Jews. Instead, He loved them and prayed for them, saying, ‘Father, lay not this sin in their charge.’ See how He conquered by the very means which seemed to accomplish His defeat! Therefore the cross has become His exaltation and his glory.” (THE EXPLANATION OF THE HOLY GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST JOHN, pp 52-53)


Theses words come from someone who also wrote some strongly anti-semitic tropes. Theophylact sees Christ’s glorious victory being His forgiving those who rejected Him and murdered Him. Because Christ forgave His enemies, He conquered Satan rather than being conquered by the devil. If Christ’s victory and glory is found in His forgiving those who hated and killed Him, then during Holy Week we should be celebrating that victory of Christ over revenge, justice, retribution and all such devilish sins rather than blaming Judas and the Jews for Christ’s death. We will be forgiven as we forgive (Matthew 6:12; Colossians 3:13).


And it must be noted that in Orthodox icons of the resurrection, Christ is raising Adam and Eve with Himself.  It is the image of God forgiving Adam and Eve for their rebellion against God.  Christ’s resurrection brings forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all the human race, including Adam and Eve whose life sent the entire world into the Fall, brought death to humanity and to the Christ. Christ’s death and resurrection conquers death, Satan and all that separates humanity from God. The forgiveness of sins and sinners should be on our minds throughout Holy Week. Adam and Eve are restored to God in Jesus Christ, and they represent all humans from the beginning of creation.

The Lord: Gracious, Merciful, Slow to Anger


So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm. (Joel 2:13)

The words of the prophecy from Joel, read in preparation for the coming Great Lent, reflect very closely words found in the Psalm sung in many Orthodox Churches as an antiphon in the Divine Liturgy:

The LORD is merciful and gracious,

slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

He will not always chide, 

nor will he keep his anger forever. (Psalm 103:8-9)


Both scriptural texts remind us of God’s kindness and desire to save us, not condemn us. St Isaac the Syrian says:

Just because the terms ‘wrath’, ‘anger’, ‘hatred’ and the rest are used of the Creator in the Bible, we should not imagine that He actually does anything in anger, hatred or zeal. Many figurative terms are used of God in the Scriptures, terms which are far removed from His true nature. (THE WISDOM OF ST ISAAC OF NINEVEH, p 38)


We hear about God’s anger and judgment and that we should therefore ‘fear the Lord.’ However, that is not the full picture found in Scripture and certainly not the only possible interpretation of these biblical verses as St Isaac reminds us. Orthodox theologian Olivier Clement tells us not to read into passages mentioning ‘divine anger’ ideas related to human emotions because God does not react to what we do (reaction implies change and God is unchangeable), rather God always acts towards us according to His nature – in love. We know what human anger is, but we must not read those ideas into words applied to God.

Divine anger is shown to be love, rejected love, love powerless before the errant freedom of man, love in waiting, until finally there is a woman who is able to and wills to welcome it in. ‘The incarnation is not only the work of the Father, His strength and His Spirit: it is also the work of the will and the faith of the Virgin’ (St Nicholas Cabasilas).  (TRANSFIGURING TIME, p 87)


Clement points out that while God is angry about human sin, God’s ‘response’ to our sin is to send His Son into the world to die on the cross for our sins. God’s anger does not translate into human ideas of revenge and retaliation. God’s ‘anger’ regarding sin leads God to search out the Virgin in order to have His Son become incarnate to save the human race.

Denying and Dying 


And a certain servant girl, seeing Peter as he sat by the fire, looked intently at him and said, “This man was also with Him.” But he denied Him, saying, “Woman, I do not know Him.” And after a little while another saw him and said, “You also are of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” Then after about an hour had passed, another confidently affirmed, saying, “Surely this fellow also was with Him, for he is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are saying!” Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” So Peter went out and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:56-62)

Although St Peter boldly proclaimed he was willing to die with Christ (Matthew 26:35), when the moment came to put this to the test, Peter fearfully went into self-preservation mode and denied he knew Jesus at all. St Luke’s description of the event is quite profound for in the moment Peter denies Christ for the third time, Jesus turns and looks right at Peter reminding Peter of His prediction which reduces Peter to tears.


Jesus Himself practiced self-denial (Philippians 2:5-8), giving up His place in Heaven with the Father in order to come to earth to die for our sins and to save us from death. He does not ask more of us than He Himself did.

Yet by his denial of the world he had conquered the world and established his everlasting kingdom, in which he invited his followers to share by also denying the world, taking up their own cross, and following him.  (Jaroslav Pelikan, JESUS THROUGH THE CENTURIES, p 110)


Christ asks us to deny ourselves as He denied Himself for our salvation (Mark 8:34). Peter showed us how difficult this can be, especially when we get into self-preservation mode. As Dn John Chryssavgis notes we are not always willing to die to the self. Peter could have practiced self-denial just by staying silent when he was accused of being a disciple of Jesus. [Jesus Himself was silent before His accusers, not practicing self-preservation – see Mark 14:61 and Matthew 27:12-14. Jesus taught His disciples not to worry about what to say when on trial – instead to let the Holy Spirit speak through them. Peter didn’t give the Spirit a chance.]  Instead, Peter decides to preserve himself and so speaks up in order to deny Christ. The event is made worse for Peter because it is  a young girl servant (Greek: paidiske) who accuses him, and being a slave, female and little girl her testimony would not mean much in any trial. The otherwise rugged Peter panics anyway reduced to fears and tears by a little girl and so he denies Christ to save himself.


And so we are tempted to speak; we break the deafening silence. Words are ways of affirming our existence, of justifying our actions. We speak in order to excuse ourselves, within ourselves and before others; whereas silence is a way of dying – within ourselves and in the presence of others. It is a way of surrendering life, always in the context and in the hope of new life and resurrection.  (IN THE HEART OF THE DESERT, p 46)


Archimandrite Aimilianos further notes:

You can deny God, but you cannot hide from Him. If you fail to see the glory of God, it’s not because God refuses to reveal Himself to you, but because you are unwilling to receive His warmth and light.  . . .  If you wish, you can hear His voice, feel His heat, and so receive His revelation. If you deny Him, however, you will deny a fundamental part of your own life. No one can hide from God.  (PSALMS AND THE LIFE OF FAITH, p 240)


St Peter denied Christ, but couldn’t hide from Him – Jesus looks directly at Peter when Peter denies he is Christ’s disciple. Peter could feel Christ’s ‘heat’ but instead of dying to himself, Peter denies Christ and thus part of Peter dies. So, he goes out and weeps bitterly for his own failure and his ‘death.’ His tears do lead to his repentance as Christ predicted (Luke 22:31-32; see also John 21:1-19) and Jesus will restore him to fellowship with the other disciples.


The Last Supper and Liturgical Worship 


And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you. (Matthew 22:19-20)

Biblical scholar James Dunn connects the thoughts of St Paul to the Last Supper event:


And in the case of the Lord’s Supper he [Saint Paul] both ties it into the body of Christ language and imagery, and likens it to the sacrificial meals of the Jerusalem cult and of pagan temples (1 Corinthians 10:18-21). But the point of comparison all the way is the corporateness and the sharing (the thematic words are koinonia/koinonos = ‘participation/partner or sharing/sharer’, and metechein = ‘to share or participate in’); not the idea of sacrifice or of a cult meal, nor, it must be said, any implication of a meal requiring priestly administration. Hence too the ambiguity of what soma Christou (‘body of Christ’) refers to in 1 Corinthians 10-11: the bread (10:16; 11:24, 27), or the company of Christians (10:17; 11:29?). The oneness of the Christian group was constituted by the act of sharing the one loaf in the context of a shared meal (10:16; 11:23 – only the cup was ‘after supper’).  (THE PARTING OF THE WAYS, p 103)


For Dunn, St Paul’s vision of the Last Supper/Eucharist has more to do with the unity of Christian community than it has to do with liturgical sacrifice/priesthood. However, there is a way in which the Eucharistic meal is related to worship and sacrifice as we see in St Paul’s words in Romans 12:1- ‘present your bodies as a sacrifice, living, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (logiken latreian)‘. Dunn continues:

… Paul saw this commitment of daily life as the Christians’ equivalent to the priestly service of the Jerusalem cult. His exhortation is to the effect that each believer is to be engaged in the priestly act of sacrifice; but that is to be carried out on the altar of everyday relationships.  . . .


Paul was thereby attempting to redefine the cultic markers of the covenant people, which were no longer to be understood in terms of or focused in the sacrificial cult at Jerusalem. The Christian is also priest and also engaged in priestly ministry; the language and what it stands for is important and not to be set aside. But the priestly ministry Paul has in view is the priestly ministry of a disciplined social life in the world. The cult has been secularized: or, alternatively, the marketplace has been spiritualized. At all events, the boundary between cult and the world has been removed. The space where the priestly worship of God is carried out is no longer to be conceived as a tightly controlled sacred space, but as the world itself. (THE PARTING OF THE WAYS, p 105)


I think Dunn’s idea is related to what Fr Schmemann taught as well: the wall between the sacred and profane has come down in and because of the incarnation of God the Word. The sacredness of all of God’s creation has been revealed in Christ the God incarnate – creation is capable of being united to God. Thus, a dualistic separation between sacred and secular no longer makes sense. The God-given holiness and goodness of creation is revealed in and through the sacraments. Consequently, all of God’s people participate in the priesthood of all believers. God is experienced as revealing Himself through creation, reuniting the cosmos with the Creator. The incarnation of God and the deification of humans is the same event – it is in fact, or salvation.

How Will We Be Judged? 


As Orthodox Christians prepare to enter into Great Lent, they are called  by the Church to reflect on how they will be judged by God at the Last Judgment. Today’s Gospel Lesson is Christ’s teaching about the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46).  There is a big surprise here.  According to Christ, the Last Judgment does not focus on sin and transgression or breaking commandments, but rather focuses on righteousness which is about justice, mercy, charity and our humanity (see my post from yesterday, The Lover of Humanity). We are going to be judged, by what our Lord Jesus teaches, on how we cared for the poor or ignored the needs of our neighbors. This is the main idea to be on our minds as we enter Great Lent – not how well do we fast or what we eat or abstain from, nor even what transgressions we committed, but rather what opportunities we have been given to minister to Christ in His needy brothers and sisters. This Gospel Lesson is given to us at the beginning of Great Lent to remind us what is important in what we are doing in these days preparing us to celebrate Pascha, the Lord’s triumphant victory over sin and death. Jesus taught about our appearance before the awesome Judgment Seat:


Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (25:34-40)


The eloquent fourth-century bishop St John Chrysostom invites us to take a closer look at Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. The beginning of this story is familiar: (Matthew 25: 31-46) ‘When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.’ To those on His right he will say, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ But those on the left will hear, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.


St John points out that what is prepared for humanity is a kingdom; God’s will and intention is that we come and be with him. The ‘eternal fire‘ is not prepared for us, but for ‘the devil and his angels.’ (Note, too, that the devil does not rule over hell and torment humans; Rather, the devil is confined in hell to suffer.)

Eternal suffering is not God’s plan for any child of Adam and Eve. We fail to enter the kingdom because of our own choices, and in spite of the urgency of God’s mercy and his continual attempts to draw us back. Pray today for those who are far from God, and who cannot perceive His mercy.  (Frederica Matthewes-Green, FIRST FRUITS OF PRAYER, pp 114-116)


St John Chrysostom has Christ the King say to the righteous who showed mercy on their neighbors and on the needy:

‘You received Me,’ He said, ‘into your lodging. I will receive you into the Kingdom of My Father. You took away My hunger, I will take away your sins. You saw Me bound, I see you loosed. You saw Me a stranger, I make you a citizen of heaven. You gave Me bread, I give you an entire Kingdom, that you may inherit and possess it.’  (ANCIENT AND POSTMODERN CHRISTIANITY, p 47)


It is those who live in this world and in this lifetime according to the values of the Gospel and God’s Kingdom who will enter into Paradise following the Last Judgment. We don’t have to wait for the Kingdom to arrive to live according to its values. We can live the divine love now in our hearts, homes and neighborhoods no matter to what values the world around us subscribes.

And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25: 46)