What is the Truth?

“The claim of religion is to reveal Truth, to bear witness to Truth. It is the first and fundamental claim. Its aim is not primarily to bring comfort to souls – by preaching beautiful, edifying ideas and hopes…

The reason it is necessary to believe in God, the only reason which embraces all others is that this is Truth. We have to believe in God because this is Reality, the decisive, fundamental Reality – and life-giving Truth. Only the Truth that really exists, the Divine Truth, can be truly life-giving, truly fructifying, comforting, restoring and truly creative. But this Truth cannot be proved by man. It reveals itself by taking hold of man. It is self-revealing, there is no other way to it. The spontaneous Self-Revelation of a living God who is Truth and Life is the basis of every authentic religious experience…

…there must be a change, we must be transformed by the power of Truth.”

(Nicholas Arseniev, Revelation of Life Eternal, pp. 13-15)

What is the Truth?  Jesus Christ.  All truth leads us to Him, reveals Him and is revealed by Him.

Truth Relies on Us All

The Lord Jesus said: “‘He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.’

Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?'”  (John 14:21-22)

St Gregory of Nyssa (d. ca 384AD) offers an answer to the Apostle Judas‘ question as to how it is that God’s manifestation may be seen only by some when “objectively” the event should be visible to everyone.

“…True doctrine conforms to the dispositions of those receiving the word, for although the word presents to all equally what is good and bad, the one who is favorably disposed to what is presented has his understanding enlightened, but the darkness of ignorance remains with the one who is obstinately disposed and does not permit his soul to behold the ray of truth….

In keeping with this insight of mine, consider the air which is darkened to the Egyptians’ eyes by the rod [Exodus 10:21-29], while to the Hebrews’ it is illuminated by the sun. By this incident the meaning which we have given is confirmed. It was not some constraining power from above that caused the one to be found in darkness and the other in light, but we men have in ourselves, in our own nature and by our own choice, the causes of light or of darkness, since we place ourselves in whichever sphere we wish to be.

Jesus & Moses at the Transfiguration

According to the history, the eyes of the Egyptians were not in darkness because some wall or mountain darkened their view and shadowed the rays, but the sun cast its rays upon all equally. Whereas the Hebrews delighted in its light, the Egyptians were insensitive to its gift. In a similar manner the enlightened life is proposed to all equally according to their ability. Some continue on in darkness, driven by their evil pursuits to the darkness of wickedness. while others are made radiant by the light of virtue.”  (The Life of Moses, p. 69, 72-73)

St Gregory’s answer is based in a clear idea of synergy – God’s revelation, God’s manifestation requires also observers who prepared/open to receive what God reveals.  This idea is reflected in quantum physics where the observer affects the outcome of what is being observed.  God does not even impose His revelation on humanity.  Our inner disposition toward God will determine what we experience of God in our life.  Almost 200 years before Gregory of Nyssa’s writing, St Irenaeus of Lyons (d. 202AD) offered a very similar idea:

“In respect to His greatness, and His wonderful glory, no man shall see God and live (Exodus 33:20), for the Father is incomprehensible; but in regard to His love, and kindness, and as to His infinite power, even this He grants to those who love Him, that is, to see God, which thing the prophets did also predict.  For those things that are impossible with men, are possible with God (Luke 18:27).  For man does not see God by his own powers; but when He pleases He is seen by men, by whom He wills, and when He wills, and as He wills.  For God is powerful in all things, having been seen at that time indeed, prophetically through the Spirit, and seen, too, adoptively through the Son; and He shall also be seen paternally in the kingdom of heaven, the Spirit truly preparing man in the Son of God, and the Son leading him to the Father, while the Father, too, confers [upon him] incorruption for eternal life, which comes to everyone from the fact of his seeing God.

For as those who see the light are within the light, and partake of its brilliancy; even so, those who see God are in God, and receive of His splendor.  But [His] splendor vivifies them; those, therefore, who see God, do receive life.  And for this reason, He, [although] beyond comprehension, and boundless and invisible, rendered Himself visible, and comprehensible, and within the capacity of those who believe, that He might vivify those who receive and behold Him through faith.  For as His greatness is past finding out, so also His goodness is beyond expression; by which having been seen, He bestows life upon those who see Him.  It is not possible to live apart from life, and the means of life is found in fellowship with God; but fellowship with God is to know God, and to enjoy His goodness.”  (ADV. HAERESES 4.20.5)

NASA Photo

And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.  (John 17:3)

Lies, Lies, Lies

nprI found pretty fascinating a show from the NPR program “On the Media“:  “Lies, Lies, Lies“.  I’m recommending it if you have about 50 minutes to ponder the truth about lies, and lying about the truth.

Inspired by this year’s presidential presidential campaign, it covers recent American history related to lies and truth, politicians and the press.  Though we hate when politicians lie to us (or maybe, more truthfully we just hate when those we oppose lie, we are more tolerant when the candidates we favor lie), the fact is politicians often say things they think that people want to hear.  As Psychologist Maria Hartwig comments:  “People want the truth if it fits with what they want to hear.”  So politicians are tempted by us and what we want to hear.  We like the truth if we agree with it, otherwise we are willing to dispense with it; so too, politicians.  Additionally, as the program points out, truth can become fashionable, or go out of fashion – I found that segment of the show to be fascinating – how the political process treats truthfulness and truthiness.   Politicians are willing to use truth when it is convenient and ignore it when it isn’t, and to twist it when that serves their purpose.  Politicians also know they can be punished for telling the truth as people don’t always appreciate the candor when they want to hear what agrees with their own preconceived ideas.

Is truth self-evident? Or, does the self not rely on the evidence when it comes to the truth?

One referenced quote in the program, I had to look up because it seemed such a classic political twisting of phrases.  The master communicator President Ronald Reagan speaking from the Oval Office:

“Let’s start with the part that is the most controversial. A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages. This runs counter to my own beliefs, to administration policy, and to the original strategy we had in mind. There are reasons why it happened, but no excuses. It was a mistake.”  (March 4, 1987)

reaganHis heart and best intentions told him it wasn’t true even though the facts and evidence told him it was true.   A classic case of “never let the facts get in the way of what you want to believe.”  or “Don’t believe everything you think.”   He so interestingly phrased it:  the facts and evidence aren’t giving him the truth, they are telling him what isn’t true.  Not a case that he couldn’t handle the truth, he handled it very well.   Douglas Adams described it well: “I don’t believe it. Prove it to me and I still won’t believe it.”

Reagan masterfully admits, “It was a mistake” which avoids any admission of intentional wrong behavior and also allows him to avoid having to admit he lied.

President Reagan was not the first president to handle truth, facts and evidence, as if it were modeling clay needing to be shaped by the artist.  This year’s presidential campaign shows he won’t be the last either.

“It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.”  (Mark Twain)

Truth is Someone, Not Something

“It seems at first almost like a heretical thought. And yet, truth which can be written or spoken is not the Truth, for Truth is the Living One through whom all things were made, the ‘Treasury of blessing and Giver of life Who is in all places and fills all things.’



No map can fully describe this Living One. Truth is not a system that can be formulated by human intellect or a doctrine that can be used to neatly tie things up and provide security for small souls who prefer studying maps to the adventure of exploring the territory which they signify. No, the Truth is alive. It is not how or why but who and when?”   (Stephen Muse, Being Bread, p 181)

The Deaf and Dumb Spirit

2014 Sermon Notes for Mark 9:17-31 (4th Sunday of Great Lent)

Then one of the crowd answered and said, “Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit. And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not. He answered him and said, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me.”

Then they brought him to Him. And when he saw Him, immediately the spirit convulsed him, and he fell on the ground and wallowed, foaming at the mouth. So He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it: “Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!” Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”

Then they departed from there and passed through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know it. For He taught His disciples and said to them, “The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day.”

Jesus Christ rebukes the deaf and dumb spirit and it leaves the boy so he is restored to health.

How often in life are we influenced if not infected with such a demonic spirit that leaves us deaf at times when we should speak and dumb at times when we need to hear?

We are given situations in which we can speak up for what is true and right or what makes for peace, and instead we allow the dumb spirit to come upon us and we remain silent in the moment when our voice might make difference.  We could speak up for those who cannot defend themselves, for the oppressed, for the weak and vulnerable, for victims, but instead we become possessed with that demonic silence.

Unusual that is in a society which is overwhelmed with noise – constant talk shows, broadcast media, podcasts, advertisements, constant streaming of words.  And yet when it matters and our words might uphold what is good, true, peaceful, beautiful, merciful, just – then we let ourselves become possessed by the demon of dumbness.

We constantly want sound, even background noise and are uncomfortable with the silence, and yet when we hear the cry of the oppressed or the victim or the one denied justice or the child denied life, we become deaf.  We hear all that we agree with, but shut our ears to the cries for mercy which are all around us.   The demon of deafness we welcome when we don’t want to hear the appeal for our time and our charity and hearts.

In an obscure passage from the Gospel, Jesus says:

But give for alms those things which are within;  (Luke 11:41)

Speech and hearing as gifts from God to be used to uplift, edify, build up others.  We can use hearing and speech as forms of charity, love, mercy, generosity.

Dumb spirit – causes us to be silent when we should speak up

Deaf spirit – causes us to fail to hear the the cries for mercy of others.  It is a deafness that causes a hardening of the heart.

And there is no doubt our society is full also of the Opposites to the deaf and dumb spirit – gossip, endless noise of TV and  media, back ground noise, idle talk, cursing, swearing, foul jokes, slander, abuse, entertainment, slander, blaming, faultfinding, attacking and accusing, lying, deceiving.

Set a guard over our mouths, O Lord, and help us keep watch over our ears.

Revelation 21:3-4


God and Bosons

2013 Holy Week blogs GoldbergIn the previous blog, Science and Creation from Nothing, I mentioned my interest in what science is saying, but also acknowledge my limited capacity to understand pure science especially the math.   I read in the past few weeks Astrophysicist Dave Goldberg’s new book, The Universe in the Rearview Mirror: How Hidden Symmetries Shape Reality.   I will admit the book was way beyond my scientific comprehension.  My aging brain simply cannot remember the names let alone the differences between all the subatomic particles.

“It would be fantastic if the universe really were built up from just three particles, but for some reason, there are lots of “elementary” particles that don’t seem to do much of anything. There are at least twelve different fermions, and at least five different types of bosons, each with different spin states, antiparticles, and so on, giving a grand total of sixty-one. This is to say nothing of the literally hundreds of different composite particles. We have a laundry list of particles and forces but, so far in our story, no real idea of where they come from.”  (Kindle Loc. 2962-66)

Yeah.  Well, so I admit that I skimmed parts of the book as I just didn’t have the interest in what was being said.  And I can’t remember what it was in a review that I read that led me to decide to read the book.   But Goldberg is funny at points, and a few sections of the book were of interest, but over all I lost sight of symmetries and particles too.  I did take comfort in a story he told:

“There’s a famous story wherein Enrico Fermi (who won the Nobel Prize in 1938) was speaking to his student Leon Lederman (who himself won the prize in 1988).  Lederman asked Fermi about some particular particle or other, to which Fermi replied: Young man, if I could remember the names of these particles, I would have been a botanist.”  (Kindle Loc. 2955-59)

And I am certainly not a botanist, so the names of  those many and varied particles completely escapes me.  If a Nobel Prize winning physicist doesn’t need to remember the names of those particles then I won’t bother either.

Another bit of Goldberg humor (at least I thought it is pretty funny):

“In 1983, the very grand sounding seventeenth General Conference on Weights and Measures defined the second in terms of the ‘hyperfine transition’ of cesium-133. Every now and again, a cesium atom will give off light, so the conference defined a second as 9,192,631,770 times the period of the emitted photon. Once you know what a second is, figuring out distance is a piece of cake. A meter is simply defined as the distance that light travels in 1/299,792,458 second.”   (Kindle Loc. 638-42)

If you need someone to explain the humor, don’t worry about it.

Einstein Field Equation

The rest of my comments aren’t going to be related to what the book is about, because to be honest I don’t have enough scientific understanding to put the book in context.  My apologies to Prof Goldberg for bringing up his book without referencing any of the real points he was making.

I do want to point out the obvious that science and religion have different interests in understanding the universe.  If we want to understand the universe scientifically, I would highly recommend studying science.  In general, the Bible and Patristic texts were not written by or for modern scientists, and they have a different interest in the universe than modern science.  (See the comment by Tim McL to my blog Scientists and Angelic Thinking).  The Patristic Writers were as opposed to superstition and false scientific beliefs as any of us, but they all were pre-scientific in their thinking.  So while they often accepted the science of their day as true, they cannot be used today to prove scientific ideas.   For example, St. Gregory Palamas (d. 1359AD) says with the same authority with which in interprets scripture that the earth is the center of the universe.

“So then, ‘in the beginning God made heaven and earth’…  He surrounded the motionless earth, as a central point, with the higher circle of the perpetually moving heavens, holding them in place by means of what lies between, all according to His wisdom, that the universe might stay stable while in motion.  When the heavenly bodies all around were moving unceasingly and at great speed, the motionless earth had of necessity to take its place at the centre, its stability counterbalancing the motion, lest the sphere of the universe roll off its course.”    (THE HOMILIES, p 44)

St. Gregory assumes his science is true, but today, no scientist would read Gregory to learn about astrophysics.  And if the Church were to declare that Gregory’s astrophysics are true, no scientist would ever believe the Church about anything.  In the Church we acknowledge that science has discovered truths not mentioned in the bible and not taught by the greatest saints of the Church.

Palamas can be forgiven for not having the science correct as he dies almost 200 years before Nicolaus Copernicus (d. 1543) and almost 300 years before Galileo Galilei (d. 1642).   Palamas knew nothing of the Copernican revolution.  We Orthodox need to be aware that our greatest Patristic writers did rely on the science of their day, but we can’t rely on their comments to determine what science we believe today.  They did not reject the science of their day because it was ‘secular’ but relied on what they believed science had shown to be true.  Today science is reaching far beyond (in space, time, and even on the sub-atomic level) anything the Patristic writers could imagine.  So we can’t really say what they would have thought about the science of our day, but can infer that since they used ‘secular’ science in their thinking, they would have continued to do so had they lived in the 21st Century.

Goldberg in his book notes that it was churchmen who began advocating modern science, and found themselves in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church which was still holding to the same scientific ideas which St. Gregory Palamas taught in the 14th Century.

Giordano Bruno, who was first and foremost a Dominican friar, went much further than Copernicus. Not only did Bruno argue that the sun was the center of our universe, but he also thought (correctly, as it turns out) that all of the stars are simply suns like our own. He wasn’t framing things in hypotheticals. Instead, he argued: In space there are countless constellations, suns and planets; we see only the suns because they give light; the planets remain invisible, for they are small and dark. There are also numberless earths circling around their suns, no worse and no less than this globe of ours. For no reasonable mind can assume that heavenly bodies that may be far more magnificent than ours would not bear upon them creatures similar or even superior to those upon our human earth. Bruno was right about the ridiculous number of planets in the universe. As of this writing, there are over 800 known planets or planetary candidates in our galaxy, and if the early results from the Kepler planet-finding satellite mission are any indication, it looks as though there may be a great many that are potentially habitable. Being right, it turns out, isn’t always enough. In 1600, the Inquisition burned Bruno at the stake for heresy.”   (Kindle Loc. 1076-85 )

It would be wrong and simplistic to say Bruno was burned for teaching scientific truth.  He held many other religious and philosophical ideas that were at odds with the Roman Church.  It happens that Bruno’s science was correct (at least about the existence of many suns and planets) long before it could be proven.  But the fact that Bruno was correct about some science, doesn’t mean he was correct on everything he said or taught about religion.

Palamas’ cosmological comments come not in a course on science, but in a sermon he gave for the first Wednesday in Lent.  The sermon’s theme is fasting, not cosmology.  He speaks about science as he assumes it is true and well known by everyone in his day.

My point in mentioning these things is simply that we have to know what truth we are looking for and know where to look for that truth.  If we want a modern scientific understanding of the universe, read modern scientists.  If you want to know about Christian self-denial,  read the Patristic monks.  It is true that occasionally modern science affirms something that Patristic writers taught (creation out of nothing for example, mentioned in the previous blog).  And it is true that sometimes scientific ideas in the Patristic era turn out to be true (you can find Orthodox writers from the 4th Century who taught the world is round and who understood that ‘night’ is nothing more than being in the shadow cast from the earth as the sun was shining on the opposite side of the earth).   The Patristic writers were not opposed to science, but were opposed to superstition and pagan myths.  They often relied on the science of their day for examples and for understanding the world about them.  They did believe everything in the universe was made up of the four elements (fire, water, air, earth) – and this idea is even mentioned in Orthodox prayers blessing water.  But we are not obliged to believe or teach their science.  We have to relate God to fermions and bosons and antiparticles, spin up and quantum quarks and quirks.

The Impulsive: A Zeal which is Not Enlightened

Some aspects of human behavior haven’t changed through the centuries.  St. Isaac the Syrian comments below on impetuousness of youth, something as observable today as it was 1400 years ago.  Another phrase sometimes applied to such impetuosity comes from St. Paul – they have a zeal which is not enlightened (Romans 10:2).

St. Isaac is referring here to young monks who imagine themselves as being spiritual giants and geniuses whereas old monks with years of experience in the spiritual warfare would never make the claims of spiritual progress that the young inexperienced monks imagine for themselves.  It often happens with people new in the faith as well.  They read THE LADDER OF DIVINE ASCENT and though practicing the faith for only a few months rashly judge themselves already to have attained the top steps of the ladder and the heights of heaven.   As St. Isaac says if they continue with their self-deception they will go insane – especially when they find themselves struggling with the most elementary aspects of virtue and purity.

“Even venerable elders, who from youth to old age have exhausted themselves with asceticism in the vineyard of the Son, practicing excellent disciplines, are scarcely accounted worthy of partially receiving one of the gifts of the land of peace. But youths, with the impetuosity of their nature and with disorderly fervor, audaciously rush upon the mysteries of the Fathers hidden in their books. Or else they receive by instruction and hearsay from others that which they ought not. Then grace cuffs them and educates them to delay and not to rush headlong upon lofty things, but, on the contrary, to labor quietly in the vineyard until such a time as they attain to true rest. If, however, they continue in their audacity, grace withdraws from them a little, and they are seized by ten thousand temptations. They are smitten by the passions of the body, the very same passions which they formerly held in contempt, and they are tormented by dark periods of soul and abused by the demons. Violent uprisings, as well as confusion and listlessness of mind, assail them. If they do not recollect themselves and put themselves in order, they will go insane. O how many afflictions, trials, snares, and stumbling blocks in this, our Lord’s, narrow way are arrayed against those who, with the impulses of nature, disorderly fervor, keen wits, and the accepting [or hearsay] from others, wish to enter the abode of life and partake of the honeycomb of the Spirit!” (The Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian, pg. 401)