Orthodox Theology and Quantum Physics (II)

Beyond These Horizons, Quantum Theory and Christian FaithJohn Breck in his book, BEYOND THESE HORIZONS: QUANTUM THEORY AND CHRISTIAN FAITH, makes an effort to form a synthesis between Orthodox theology, quantum theory and a theory of human consciousness.  This is the 2nd post in a series building upon his book to give further thought to how theology and scientific theory are related.  The 1st post in the series is Quantum Theory and Orthodox Theology.  In that post I suggest that quantum theory actually gives support to an idea not only of consciousness (the observer) but of free will.

Dealing with another of the surprising aspects of the quantum world, Breck notes that humans as observers of the quantum world affect the results of what we are observing.  “Only when we pin down a wave function through observation—that is, measurement—does it ‘reduce or ‘collapse’ to become an actual particle with a specific location on momentum.” (BTH, p 11)   This is one of the stranger aspects of quantum mechanics – at the quantum level ‘things’ have both the properties of a wave or a particle, and our observation of them or our measurements of them, determine what they appear to be – in effect observation determines reality.

Since the universe was unfolding billions of years before there were humans, theists have no problem understanding how God influences the created order on the quantum level.  God is the universal observer watching the entire cosmos unfold.  So there always was an observer watching the quantum world, from the beginning.

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But this aspect of quantum thinking also provides an answer to another question raised by both ‘faithists’ and agnostics.  That question is how it is possible that some see a miracle while others see an event as having a natural explanation, some observe spiritual events while others deny they ever happen.  Is there objective reality or is it all subjective experience?  Or as one of the apostles quizzed Jesus:  “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?”  (John 14:22).  There is a quantum answer to this – it depends on what the observer is looking for.

Pseudo-Dionyius (6th Century) describes why it is that different people can come to different conclusions while observing the same event: “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 … sends forth upon all things according to their receptive powers, the rays of its undivided Goodness” (THE DIVINE NAMES, p 87, emphases not in the original text).  What one sees, even in relation to something as big as the sun depends on the observer’s receptive powers.   What is the observer capable of seeing or understanding?  What is the observer looking for?  What does the observer believe he or she is looking at?   The observer effects what is seen or understood just like in quantum mechanics.  St Maximus the Confessor (d. 662AD) alsoMaximosConfessor accepted this as a fact of life.  “This fact is indeed of great importance, since for Maximus the Trinity remains a mystery, opening itself only to the believer” (Lars Thunberg, MAN AND THE COSMOS, p 33).   How is it that believers can see the hand of God while non-believers see no sign from God while observing the same event?   It is related to the fact that the observer effects what is seen, what is manifested.  It no doubt explains how a saint can perform a miracle – the events are shaped by what the saint is able to observe even when others can’t observe it.

Continuing with the more mysterious characteristics of the quantum world, Breck writes: “Qunatum superposition entails the linear combination or sum of two or more physical states that produce another quantum state … the duality that marks quanta enables an electron to act as either a particle or a wave” (BTH, p 122).  Such a superposition might be an explanation for John 20:19 in which Jesus seems capable of entering a room despite the doors being closed and locked.  “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”  The resurrected Jesus appears to His disciples both showing He is physically present and yet somehow despite having a material body appears not to be limited by the laws of physics.   He seems to be in two states of existence at once.  At the time of the disciples, no one knew the science to understand how this is possible, but now physics offers a scientific way to understand a ‘miracle.’

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Existing in two separate states of being at once is not just a quantum thought but a theological concept as well which was contemplated by the Patristic theologians.  As Lars Thunberg queries in his book on St Maximus the Confessor referring to the logoi (that aspect of God which is in all created things):   “Are the logoi transcendent or immanent, are they created or noncreated?  … In a certain way they are, both transcendent and immanent.  Yet, this immanence does not invite us to conclude that they are created.  … As realized in the existence of things, they materialize in the created order.  Yet they are certainly not themselves created or part of that created order in the sense that they are bound by its material appearance or actual realization”  (MAN AND THE COSMOS, p 138).  Many of the mysteries related to the incarnation of God in Christian Trinitarian theology require ‘things’ to exist simultaneously in two different states.  St Maximus himself stated: “Indeed, the scientific research of what is really true will have its forces weakened and its procedure embarrassed, if the mind cannot comprehend how God is in the logos of every special thing and likewise in all the logoi according to which all things exist…”  (MAN AND THE COSMOS, p 140).  Divinity is in everything and yet everything is not divinity.  All of creation participates in divinity and yet has a nature different than that of divinity.   Both the concepts of incarnation and theosis require a superposition of ‘state.’

The theology required to understand the Trinity and the incarnation is helped by quantum thinking as the world is not as ‘black and white’ as physics once imagined it to be.  Reality is full of mystery which is supported by the best of science today.

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Breck also noted that some of Orthodox theology seems to provide a bridge to scientific thinking enabling us to better understand Patristic theology.  “In classic Christian terms, that divine Force or Power which issues from the Godhead can be thought of as ‘divine energies’ that are manifested in time and space by the Persons of the Son and the Holy Spirit” (BTH, p 62).  In my my reading of this, ‘fields’ and ‘waves’ which the physicist’s say underlie all that exist also are the very place in which the non-physical and physical interact – the interface between the immaterial and the empirical of the created cosmos.   Fields and waves are not particles but are an immaterial reality (belonging to the created order) which we can detect and account for by mathematics.  It seems to me that it should not be a problem for physicists to imagine an immaterial reality or to know it can exist.  They will no doubt still see this in scientific terms as waves and fields, but for theists it is an easy step to accepting that there are not only inanimate forces but also forces based in a consciousness, forces that are part of a being, which are personal not just mathematical and whose mystery or unpredictability is because they are from a personal immaterial being.  All that theism allows is that besides a created immaterial order, there is an uncreated/eternal order which is the source of all that exists.  Quantum physics is showing us that particles (empirical reality) emerges from fields (immaterial reality).  Theism acknowledges this and sees the created immaterial reality as then being the interface with the uncreated immaterial reality known to us as God.

Next:   Quantum Theory and Orthodox Theology (III)

The Faces of the Flock

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“And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so.

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And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. ”   (Genesis 1:24-25)

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Genesis mentions God created the birds of the air, but there are also birds of the ground whose creation is not mentioned in the beginning of the Bible.  But then the Bible does not mention everything that exists, and in fact does not tell us everything we can know about creation.

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“So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the human to see what he would call them; and whatever the human called every living creature, that was its name. The human gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field…”  (Genesis 2:19-20)

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According to Genesis, Adam got to name the animals and God who created the animals seems to have been interested in seeing what names the human might create for these newly formed creatures.  Was Adam more of the “Indian rhinoceros” mind or of the “Rhinoceros unicornis” mind or of the “greater one-horned rhinoceros” mind?  The Bible again doesn’t tell us, so we can imagine what we like.    Did he think “scimitar horned oryx” or was he more of a “Oryx dammah”  man?  “Sichuan takin” or “Budorcas taxicolor tibetana“?  God found joy and goodness not only in the animals God created but also in this human and in the names Adam created for God’s animals.   Humans were created to be creative – to share in God’s joy and to give God joy.

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Genesis 30:40 mentions “the faces of the flock” which Jacob cleverly uses to take advantage of his deceptive father-in-law Laban.   I think God’s flocks include all the animals God has made on earth – some of their faces are below:

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All of the photos were taken in September 2019 at The Wilds of Ohio as I took time to visit and see the animals in the wild, though not in their native lands.  All look to God wherever they may be.

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You can see all my photos from my 2 hour visit at The Wilds 2019 Photos.

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The Transcendent Myth

This is the 3rd and final post based on my reading of  John Breck’s short story, “A Life-giving Myth,” found in the book, THE LONG JOURNEY HOME.  The previous post is A Life-giving Myth (II).  This post is my taking Breck’s points from his short story and reworking them a bit and connecting his ideas to baptism.

Faith is the search for that language that can describe the relationship between heaven and earth, between God and humankind. It is a relationship which ordinary language is incapable of revealing and expressing. It is a relationship which though ethereal is not merely emotional. And so we rely on ritual and symbol to lead us beyond the limits of human language to put flesh on that which is spiritual. Ritual and symbol are the interface where our physical existence encounters and is transformed by that which is outside the physical, that existence which touches us and envelopes us and yet like flowing water is impossible to grasp.  Ritual, icons, poetry and symbol together enable us to express the narrative which guides our understanding of this world.

In the Old Testament, it is dogmatically clear that God has no form, that God is invisible and transcendent, and yet if God were completely invisible to us, we wouldn’t know of God’s existence at all. God created a world, a physical creation in which we creatures can encounter transcendence. God established a temple to help us experience God. Prayer, chant, icons and incense were all used to help the people experience this transcendent God but to experience God in this altered reality of symbol and ritual and even myth. The chant and the scent of the incense and the smoke wafting through the air are all there to remind us that we are encountering a reality which is physical and yet which cannot be adequately portrayed in language or in art because it is outside space and time.  The flickering candle reveals to us the immaterial world which is yet real.

In baptism, in the church in general, we are endeavoring to open our eyes, the eyes of faith, to transcendent reality, to Ultimate Truth, to the presence of eternity within our time and space, to lead us beyond the limits of space and time, and to the presence in creation and in our lives of an infinitely powerful and all-loving God.
We believe that every atom of our physical being and every movement of our heart is directed by God toward a goal: the goal of life beyond the physical existence, with a full participation in his own divine life.

This God who is ever inviting us to experience this goal, who created a world to allow us to in some mysterious way to experience the transcendent, then enters into our world in the incarnation. God thus not only knows ‘about’ our needs, our suffering and our destiny; God shares actively and decisively participates in them.
So God creates time and space, but God does not leave us to history or history to us. The transcendent God who exists in eternity, outside of space and time, enters into history and shares our history including the pain and sorrow of this worldly existence. He accepts our destiny, becoming one with us, part of the created order. God participates in what is happening in this world and what is going to happen to humanity, to the world and the cosmos. Everything that happens or that God allows to happen has an impact or an effect on God – in fact all of it impacts God!

So God in putting on flesh in the incarnation, takes on our history, and in so doing unites us to eternity. In baptism we put on Christ, we enter into the primordial waters of the Jordan River and become united to Christ and put on eternity. Everything begins in transcendence, in God, but God shares this life with a created order in which we can experience transcendence. God enters into the creation God made in order that we might be completely united to God.  Life in the Church – ritual, symbol, icon, poetic hymns – all point to the transcendent life which is just outside our empirical world, yet breaking into it. It becomes our way to experience the transcendent and to be transformed by God.

As Fr John Breck writes in his short story: “Eternity in fact is ever-present. it is not only beyond time and space, beyond the physical universe. It embraces and penetrates, so to speak, everything that exists, including ourselves.

September 1: Day of Prayer for Creation

creationEcumenical Patriarch Bartholomew several years ago declared that Orthodox Christians should keep September 1 as a Day of Prayer for Creation.  There seems to me little doubt that considering both natural disasters and ones that are caused by humans, it is good for us to be concerned about the planet on which we live and to pray for our world.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”   (John 3:16)

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware says that we humans are eucharistic beings in that we are fulfilled as beings when we gratefully offer creation and the blessings we have received back to God.   However, we interact with the creation we have received and transform what we have received into our common salvation.  We have to cooperate with God for our salvation.  As Metropolitan Kallistos writes: “Note that in the Divine Liturgy, we offer to God not grains of wheat, but bread; not bunches of grapes but wine.  We offer back to God the fruits of the earth, but we do not offer them back in their natural state; we offer them back transformed by human hands.

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In this process of transformation we experience the transcendent life – God active in creation and creation as a means to our communion with our Creator.  We become co-creators with God, transforming not only wheat into bread and grapes into wine, but then transfiguring bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.  In this process we transform ourselves – God enters into our lives and we become united to God.

We are able to vivify, give life to even inanimate objects.  The bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.  Water becomes life-giving in baptism, but it gives eternal life as does the Holy Communion.  One can see this power of love giving life if one only watches a child cherishing its favorite toy.  That toy is imbued with life by the child’s love.  How often children coming to venerate the Cross at the end of services have their favorite stuffed animal kiss the cross as well.  That toy is given life through their love.  They are not pretending, because they do not understand that yet.  They have an innocence which enables them to love something to life.  Adults pretend, but little children do not.  Adults pretend to be happy or pious.  A child simply lives the life and gives that life and love to their toy which is just as alive for them.  They are transfiguring the world, making it all full of love and life-giving.   “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4). We all lose that ability as we get older, jaded, more mature.   We regain that ability when we see in the Church the Holy Spirit working love in us that allows us to see one another as members of the Body of Christ, to see bread and wine as Christ’s Body and Blood.

We are given natural resources by God, in the parish we transform these God given resources into the means of our salvation.  And God gives us not only things, but people – the members of the parish.  The people God brings together into community are also a God-given natural resource for which we are to give thanks to God.  God became human in Jesus Christ so that we humans might become God.  This is far greater than just hoping that we might go to heaven someday.  We can become heaven on earth if we allow God to dwell in our hearts now.

Metropolitan Tikhon’s message for the Day of Prayer for Creation calls on us all to praise God for all that exists.

The Eucharist – The Whole Truth About God

We are in a position now to see the duality in the Christian idea of sacrament, corresponding to the duality – discussed earlier – in the Christian idea of the world. On the one hand, sacrament is rooted in the nature of the world as created by God: it is always a restoration of the original pattern of things. On the other hand, it is rooted in Christ personally. Only through the perfect man can the broken priesthood of humanity be restored. Only through Him can the dark, primordial ocean become the living waters of baptism.

Only by way of His cross can the dead world come to new life. Our task remains, but He has gone before, doing the hard work for us. If we kneel to pray, to adore, to offer our lives, we are only attaching ourselves and assenting to His own similar but all-embracing act.

(Alexander Schmemann, Church, World, Mission, p. 225)

Not Seeing And Believing

In Matthew 9:27-31, we encounter Jesus and two unusual followers:

When Jesus departed from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out and saying, “Son of David, have mercy on us!”

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I call them unusual followers because these two men are both blind and yet are able to follow Jesus.   Apparently it is not hard even for these two humans who can’t see Jesus to find Jesus and to follow Him!  Why is it that we who have eyesight find it difficult to find Him let alone follow Him?  The Gospel really is for us who can’t see Jesus – Jesus calls blessed those who haven’t seen and yet believe.

Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.  (John 20:28-31)

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The Gospels were written for those of us who cannot see Jesus.  We have opportunity to believe in Him through the experiences of others who did see Him.

Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls.  (1 Peter 1:8-9)

The New Testament and the Church both exist to give new people opportunity to hear about Jesus, believe in Him, to receive eternal life from Him, and to obtain salvation through Him.  But we are not required to see Him, and as becomes obvious in the Scriptures many who saw Him gained no advantage from that experience for only in the resurrection, in the proclamation of the Good News and in the Eucharist did they come to believe in Him.  The two blind men of the Matthew 9 follow Christ without being able to see Him.  They believe in Him without being able to see Him.   They pray to Him even though they can’t see Him.  Jesus shows to everyone that you don’t have to see Him to believe in Him.

And when He had come into the house, the blind men came to Him. And Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.” Then He touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith let it be to you.” And their eyes were opened.

Jesus asks the two blind men if they believe He can give them sight – even though they can’t see Him or see what He does.  Jesus responds by really saying, “well, let’s see if you believe it or not.”  The issue isn’t whether Jesus can give them sight or not but if they believe he can or not.   Jesus puts the onus on them – let it be according to what you really believe.  Only because they have faith in Jesus are their eyes opened and they see Jesus.

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And Jesus sternly warned them, saying, “See that no one knows it.” But when they had departed, they spread the news about Him in all that country.

What is it that Jesus wants them to keep secret?  That Jesus healed them?  That they could now see would become obvious to anyone who knew them.  Was Jesus telling them not to boast about their own faith – as if they had the power to heal themselves?  Or not to boast about having been favored by God for healing as if they were more righteous than those not healed?   In any case they do go forward to tell everyone about Jesus, not about themselves.  Now that they can see who Jesus is, they don’t talk to Him, but rather they tell others about Him.

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Those two people who followed Jesus when they were blind, no longer follow after Him once they can see, for after being given sight, they go out to proclaim what they know about Jesus Christ the Son of God.   Because they now can see they do not have to live where they can physically see Jesus, for now they know who He is.

And Jesus asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”  (Mark 8:29)

Martha said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.”   (John 11:27)

Even if we cannot see Jesus today, we can find Him, follow Him, and pray to Him for mercy.   We can do all the same things that those described in the Gospel did and we too can proclaim the Good News about Christ to everyone we know.

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Heaven and Earth are Full Of God’s Glory

By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth.   (Psalms 33:6)

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.  (Psalms 19:1)

His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise.   (Habakkuk 3:3)

One of the most wonderful things to contemplate from the Scriptures are relationships.  We have of course the mysterious relationship between Creator and creation.  Then within the Godhead there is the relationship of the Three Persons of the Holy TrinityFather, Son and Holy Spirit.  Each of the Persons of the Trinity has a relationship with creation.  In Genesis 1:1-3, the Spirit (the Breath of God) hovers over the face of the earth and when God speaks the Word (the Son of God), Light comes into existence, but not the light of the sun which does not yet exist.

“It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth . . .”   (Exodus 31:17)

Then there is the relationship between heaven and earth and the relationship of both heaven and earth to the Creator.   Heaven is the mysterious abode of God, and yet it is related to the rest of creation, all of it together is “not God” but created by God.  According to Christ, “Heaven and earth will pass away” (Matthew 24:35), they are not eternal and yet God the Eternal One fills them with His glory and becomes united to them.   Heaven and earth are both dwelling places.  Dwellings are temporary places, and yet significant to our eternal God.  We see the mystery in these two statements by father and son.  King David declares part of the wonder and glory of God on earth, while his son Solomon realizes the inadequacy of the earth for fulfilling its role.

King David says: “O LORD, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.”  (Psalms 26:8)

King Solomon says: “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!”  (1 Kings 8:27)

The exact relationship of God the Creator to God’s own creation defies easy explanation and yet we still can experience it, as we sing in the Liturgy:

“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest. “

Heaven and earth, though created, are full of God’s glory.  Both heaven and earth are full of God’s glory and both proclaim God’s glory to all beings who are capable of hearing and seeing.

 Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the LORD.  (Jeremiah 23:24)

Not only does God’s glory fill heaven and earth, the Lord God fills heaven and earth.  God’s glory is not something other than God.   Creation, that which is “not God” is filled by God’s glory by God’s existence.  The relationship between God and that which is “not God” is a mystery indeed.  For how can God in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28) fill the heaven and earth which are created and circumscribed by God?  We are in God and God is in us! A relationship fully exemplified by Mary the Theotokos.  Mary like Christ, each in their own way, personify the mystery of the interpenetration of Creator and creation.

Then we have St Irenaeus saying: “The glory (shekinah) of God is a human being fully alive.”  So how can heaven and earth be full of a human being?  The mystery deepens for  it is Christ as the incarnate God  who fills the universe with Himself.  So St Paul can write:  “and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith . . . that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.”  Christ fills not only the entire universe but each of us.

all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD   (Numbers 14:21)

Blessed be his glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth.  Amen and Amen.   (Psalms 72:19)

Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”  (Isaiah 6:2-3)

Our very existence makes us part of the mystery of God’s own relationship with all of creation.  We experience the glory of God, perhaps most intently and clearly in the Liturgy, but that should open our eyes to seeing God’s glory in all of creation including in our fellow human beings.  It is also why the Fall, sin  and the fallen world are so painful to us for they obscure the glory of God reducing everything to mere materiality void of its natural spirituality.

Yours, O LORD, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.   (1 Chronicles 29:11)

Birth of the Friend of the Bridegroom

In John 3:29, John the Baptist calls himself “the friend of the Bridegroom.”  Jesus said no man born of woman was greater than John the Baptist (Luke 7:28).  John fulfilled the high calling of becoming a human friend of God, something the Lord wanted from the time God had created humans.  The Patriarch Abraham is one of the few people identified as a friend of God (James 2:23).  And in Exodus 33:11 Moses is said to have spoken with God “face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.”  God’s friends were few and far between.

Jesus identified Lazarus, who He raised from the dead, as “our friend” (John 11:11).  After Judas had left the company of disciples at the Last Supper, the Lord Jesus called His disciples “my friends” (John 15:13-15).  Christ also does call Judas “friend” immediately after Judas kisses him in the garden – at the moment the crowd came to arrest Him (Matthew 26:49-50).  As Jesus knew, not all God’s friends really are (John 6:64, 13:11).  John the Forerunner being the friend of Christ the Bridegroom is incredibly special in the history of salvation.  Fr Sergius Bulgakov writes:

“What then is the significance of the Forerunner, whose coming into the world is closely  linked with the coming of the Messiah Himself and the Incarnation?  The coming of the Forerunner is associated with the ‘fullness of time‘ (Gal 4:4; cf Eph 1:10), which must be fulfilled before the Son of God, the Son of man, can come into the world.  This fullness – which is the fullness of the whole of the Old Testament holiness, and in general that of the holiness that is attainable by man – consisted not only in the appearance of the Most Pure Virgin who was worthy of being the Mother of God but also in the appearance of a man worthy of meeting the Lord as a friend, of becoming the friend of the Bridegroom. Becoming man signified for God not only being born of the Virgin, becoming incarnate, but also being received by the human race in the person of the Forerunner.  Once born, the Lord was not to remain solitary among men.  Not even His Most Pure Mother could free Him from solitude, for in Her divine maternity She was one with Him as it were and for this reason could not have entered into a relationship of otherness to Him, could not have become His friend (a ‘third person’, as we tend to say).  Such an ‘other’ in relation to the Savior, capable of meeting and receiving Him before and on the part of all humankind, and worthy of being called the friend of the Bridegroom, should naturally be the greatest of those born of women.  For there is no higher calling and no higher dignity for a man that to be the friend of the Bridegroom.  The Lord wishes to find in man a friend who would be a god according to grace, a creaturely image and likeness of God.  But since the fall, when man stopped being God’s friend and became a child of wrath (see Eph 2:3), his return to God’s friendship, his reconciliation with God, has become the express task of the divine economy of our salvation.  And just as the long history of the Old Testament Church was the condition of the blossoming of the Edenic lily of the Mother of God on the trunk of this tree, so the fullness of the Old Testament holiness was the condition for the blossoming alongside Her of the Forerunner of the Lord, ‘like a fragrant bud, like a sweet-smelling cypress’ (Canon of the Forerunner, 9th ode, 2nd tr.).” (THE FRIEND OF THE BRIDEGROOM, pp 8-9)

John the Forerunner was able to consider himself the friend to the incarnate Son of God.  He is the human whom God has desired to find … a friend.  As God’s friend, like Abraham and Moses, before him, John tries to show people the way to also be God’s friends.

“John saw his mission to call the people out into the wilderness of purification and renewal, out to the Jordan across which they had entered the land that God had promised them in the first place, to renew their Covenant with Him.  In the course of their daily lives, in an era of increasing economic tensions and apprehensions about the future, they had lost sight of the only way they could survive: a return to the observance of the Covenant that God had made with their forefathers at Sinai.  And they would seal their renewed commitment to the laws and traditions of Israel with a single act of immersion … a one-time public acknowledgment of a new, life-long commitment, administered in the flowing waters of the Jordan by John ‘the Baptizer’ himself. . . . To ‘the multitudes’ John reportedly instructed, ‘He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.’  . . . John the Baptist was offering crowds of people who lived under the shadow of Rome and under the burden of Herodian control and taxation a new way to end the pain and uncertainty that plagued their daily lives.  John’s baptism was not a panacea but a symbol of something much more important: a personal pledge to return to the way of life that God had decreed for the People of Israel.  In fact Flavius Josephus knew only of John’s practical teachings, not his apocalyptic visions, reporting … that John was a good man who ‘had exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice towards their fellows and piety towards God.’ And Josephus understood that John required a commitment from the people to whom he offered baptism, that ‘they must not employ it to gain pardon for whatever sins they committed, but as consecration of the body, implying the soul was already thoroughly cleansed by right behavior.’  That right behavior was a commitment to participate in a national revival of righteousness and renewal of the Covenant of Israel.  And that, of course, meant a forthright and practical rejection of the new kind of world that Herod Antipas was trying to build.”  (R. Horsley & N. Silberman, THE MESSAGE AND THE KINGDOM, pp 33-34)