Wednesday, December 3, 2014

List of things I'd like to accomplish in the new year.

Get a Library Job that pays more than what I'm doing right now.
Get my DNA sequenced.
Learn to drive.
Keep my house relatively clean all year.
Shower at least 3 times a week, every week for the whole year.
Be Vegan for a year.
Improve my typing and reading skills.
Get Medicare.
Get foodstamps
make enough to start school by January 2016.

I'm in Like with someone new.

I'm in like, lust with another boy. He's super intelligent, smart and interesting. He's scarred, but hopeful, and he wants a deeper walk with God, but not one tainted by his family's faith. He's also, 9 years younger than me and still in High School. Jail bait in a word. Not that we couldn't have sex legally or something if we wanted too, but the general age of consent is 18, and he isn't even that. He's really young. And prettier than me. But just about everyone I know is so.....

I'd love to be his though. I probably won't be much more than a tumblr friend, but if God was gracious to me in this way, I wouldn't believe it. And I'd be so grateful.

I'm also super wary though. I wish I were better than I am.

Friday, November 21, 2014

You can learn, you know.
You can learn to be clean and well groomed.
You can learn to use impeccable diction, to write cogent and well constructed sentences and paragraphs and stories.
You can learn to be still and to hear the sweet still voice of the Spirit that flows in and through all.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Almost Boyfriend. Part 1.

The almost boyfriend referred to above is exactly that. He is a boy that I love, but whom I've never officially called my boyfriend. One of the main reasons we've never been officially together is this disorder. When we first met he was out but discreet, and I was completely closeted. I was also the school's student pastor (It was a church school), so I also had a ministry that I was completely and utterly devoted to, that I refused to jeopardize because I admitted to being gay. I was 2 years older than him in High School and he wasn't my type really, so beyond asking him how his day was going, we really didn't interact much. I caught his eye, though.

When I graduated from High school, it wasn't very likely that we'd ever meet. We weren't friends, and I was still closeted to everyone but myself. And I was still opposed to gay relationships on top of that so...
But life is very mysterious. A religion teacher form my high-school decided to take some of her former and current students to a biannual life-improvement seminar called foundations. I hate this kind of stuff, so I held her off for a while. But eventually she wore me down and I went to the biannual conference. On the second trip, this guy was there. And by paying close attention to certain details (listening to Britney Spears as we sat next to each other on the plane, mooning at guys in a GQ magazine he'd brought with him), I came to the conclusion he too was gay.
I had just told someone I was gay for the first time 6 months before (November 3, 2009), and I was desperate to find someone I could talk to about this whole gay thing. I was still against gay relationships at this time and still pretty conservative, but I needed someone. And I only knew one person who was openly gay so....

We met at a restaurant and when I told him he literally started shaking, he was so nervous and blown away. I was pretty calm, in the sense that a political prisoner is calm on his way to the gallows, which was what telling people I was gay was like for me in those days.
I thought I was just making contact with the gay world at that meeting. I didn't know he had a crush on me. And i certainly didn't have a crush on him. But I needed a gay friend. And thus the strange relationship began.
We talked about boys, about God (he a recent atheist, I a devout Christian) about the morality of being gay. He flirted with me incessantly. I always turned him down. He was bubbly, bright and full of energy. Much braver than I was. Though he did have some dark parts. Once I saw that he had a band-aid over his wrist. I asked him what happened and he said he'd cut himself. I didn't know what to do, I probably said something uneducated, I don't remember now. But it scared me a lot that such a normal kid (from my perspective) could be hiding such inner turmoil.

We met on and off regularly for a year. And then, a month before his graduation from High School, at the end of my Sophomore Year of College, I told him that we couldn't hang out anymore. His flirting had become more insistent, and I was becoming more irritated with it. So I told him it wouldn't work out. I wasn't OK with gay relationships, so it would probably be best to just stop hanging out for a while. He took it like a champ in front of me, though he was probably dying a little inside. I was completely oblivious of course, just relieved that the strange pressures of temptation to experiment with the forbidden would finally be over. I stopped taking his phone calls. The next month I went on a "mission trip" to Lebanon with a tour of Syria, and he graduated from high school. I came back just before graduation, but I was too much of a coward to see him march down the aisle. Shortly afterwords, he left town to pursue his college experience elsewhere.

The day that we...stopped hanging out, I went home with a feeling of relief. But when I got home I couldn't stop thinking about him. His eyes, his voice, his smile. I couldn't eat that day, I couldn't sleep. I couldn't concentrate. And for the first time I realized that all those sad love songs weren't exaggerations. I had a crush on this beautiful boy. Bad. And I didn't realize it fully until after I had said I didn't want to be with him so he should stop trying. I should have gotten up and called him right then and there, but I was still so convinced that gay love was ultimately disordered and destructive. And so damn prideful and stoic. The only thing I took from that experience at the time was that gay people and straight people really did have the same feelings. Which was pretty significant in and of itself.

And this is where our story should have ended. But of course it didn't.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Psalm 151, a spoken word poem. By Zachary Page.

extend your ear, Mother of the circle, of all creation
behold your peculiar people, now talking madly around your blessed revelation
how immaculate our process, how simple how, pure
if only, yes then, wait minute that, are you sure?
that this is what you intended when you sent your Spirit out?
some days I’m just not so sure what it’s all about
see how we go along, picking and choosing with such care
but consider the cross, the prison cell, is this not our history to share?
Peace-check, Simplicity-yes, well relatively, Integrity-sounds good to me
but when does all this just shroud us in the blanket of liberal complacency
all of this sounds good on paper, so lets minute that:umpteen dash one
what else could we do, well out of time today, let’s be silent now we’re done
and yes quiet is good sometime, but so is preaching from the trees
forgive me if all this minuting seems a little like a tease
what do we have left if we lose our tongue to preach?
look out-it’s First Day School, these beautiful young faces and us with little to teach
maybe we could begin by speaking of the living water that springs from a rock
but if we did that, we might have to relinquish a worship style governed         by a clock
our young people may well demand some changes to our style and pace
perhaps more dangerously, they often call us to be faithful, face to face
is this why we separate ourselves, telling them that they’re not ready? better to keep them out if we hope to keep this little boat steady
and I keep thinking about that boat and this here storming
all these wars and injustices swarming
and there He comes, walking out across the water, the raging storm all around
but we look away, hoping for something that makes sense by way of dry
surrounded now we try desperately to cover our head
but He calls out: get up and get out of this boat, leave your fear and              dread
He called then, as he calls now:step away from the boat
then again, perhaps He’d understand our position better if we minuted
that we can’t float
it’s just to much to take in, that she will provide, 
so we just keep to the clock, and keep on sitting side by side
but I kept on reading, this time skipping a few chapters back
and here’s another story of God’s people complaining of what they lack
a captured people scared to be faithful, the story reads the same
then and now, Pharaoh’s slaves-frightened divided and tame
but the message is clear-She will give us the manna we need
plenty to go around, if we choose this feed
but how would we know, that yes, now we had enough
when all our consideration revolves around our stuff
locked into that liberal narrative that says you can straddle both sides of       the line
loving your brothers and sisters on one side, and on the other keeping        all that is mine
you could look at all this and say it is our luxury or privilege to choose
or you could see that it is those with everything that have everything to lose
this is the eye of the needle standing before us
and from every corner, the rebellious house sings its chorus
ino our language, our mind-think, our TV
"not now, not this, not me"
but the blood is on our hands-this is our stain
you cannot be neutral on a moving train
but oh, when we hop off-the possibilities we might see
perhaps then we would hear the Truth in Her child’s decree
no longer are you servants, passive and incomplete
now called Friends, from this moment, from this seat
stand up, quake as you rise
the Power lies inside of you, Love is the prize
bearing, believing, hoping, enduring-all
this is the still, small voice of Her child’s call
so stand out, speak up, stepp off the curb
away from the way of life that has built ‘burb after ‘burb
let us begin as that change without the burden of guilt or doubt
she is calling to us again, Pharaoh’s slaves-exodus out!
out into the desert, out into her care
faith is a choice and I for one am dog-tired of despair
so I pray
here I am Lord, there are some of us yet, willing to risk it all, to suffer,             and take a chance
willing to hear, willing to be transformed, willing to do the time, willing
       to advance
in the name of the Covenant, in the name of the Beloved Community, in your blessed name, 
these feet were made for walking, get up and walk, cured by Truth,                behold the lame,
how freed from Cain’s mark, released from our task of domination and toil,
the desert may bloom, a new harvest bursting forth from rich soil.
I raise this prayer up to God and up through each of you
it is up to us now, in our hands to know what to do
Jesus dared to call us his Friends in John’s gospel 15:15
will we take this opportunity and be baptized in the prophetic stream?
the servant pleads “not now, not this, not me”
but we’re Friends, now and forever-let’s get free!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Letter to New Association of Friends

Hey Margaret, thanks again for messaging me back. I'm sorry this took a while but I wanted to think about my answer a bit.
My name is Daniel, I'm a (mostly) convinced Friend and have been since January.
I'm a 24 year old once and future college student, currently working as a library page in Cleveland Ohio. 

I grew up SDA and was planning to work for that denomination in some capacity. Sociology and Religion were my two majors at Andrews. But I had a falling out based on the fact that I'm gay (which the SDA church is not affirming of). Actually it was more the Biblical and Theological reasoning behind that non-affirming status that caused me to walk away. I realized that I did not think that the arguments were very good in light of  scripture, church history and experience. I might have stayed as a dissenting voice in that debate, but I realized that, because I wanted to do ministry, at some point I would have to be urging young gay persons like myself to join a church that I did not feel fully welcome in. And I didn't think I could give that invitation honestly and with a clear conscience. So I left.

I spent about 3 years looking amongst affirming faiths for a spiritual home. There were a lot of different groups that almost fit but not quite. I settled on Quakers because I welcomed it's emphasis on the present and continued revelation of Christ in the individual and the community as well as Scripture. I also liked the idea of Jesus as the Word of God and the notion that many Friends share that he is the lens through which we discern what to do and how to live in the World. I was glad to be a part of a Christ centered community of faith that held such views AND was LGBT friendly. But then I realized that this really wasn't the case. Many LGBT Friendly Yearly meetings weren't very Christocentric. And the most Christocentric meetings and churches were pretty clear about their disapproval of LGBT relationships. This was very disappointing to say the least. Pus,coming from an Adventist background, I was more comfortable with programmed or semi-programmed worship And again, it seemed like the more programmed the less LGBT friendly and vice versa. 

But then I was invited to one of those "Intro to Seminary" tours that Earlham School of Religion does, and while doing  research on Earlham, came upon an article by Stephen Angell on the split in Indiana Yearly meeting. I read everything I could about the new Yearly meeting that was being created. When I went to ESR I even got to see Derek Parker, pastor at First Friends meeting. So I always said that when I went to ESR I would be sure to join up with the New Association of Friends.

 The problem for me is that there is a long way to go before I move to Richmond. So where can I find a local Friends community that is both Christ centered and welcoming to people like myself? There isn't any really. And I haven't had a local community of faith to be a part of since I left the SDA church 3 years ago. I've gone to the local meeting, but there wasn't much spiritually there for me. I seriously considered giving up on Friends frankly, because I really miss that fellowship aspect, I miss belonging fully to a community bigger than myself. I feel myself becoming a bit spiritually unmoored, to be honest.

So I'm trying to build ties now in the present, with Christ centered Friends, in anticipation of a more engaged future. I've been talking to Micah Bales and the Friends of Jesus Fellowship and trying to establish a relationship there. I'll try to attend the spring meeting with them next year. Meanwhile, I'd like to start engaging more deeply with a more established Yearly Meeting. I've started to give monthly to FUM. And I'd like to be formally in fellowship with some Yearly Meeting. Hence my Facebook message to you. It's not much, I won't be able to be as active or engaged as I like until I get to graduate school (which is about 5 years away). In the meantime I'll just keep attending my local Meeting, at least for the fellowship and spiritual discipline aspect.

I hope this isn't too much info. Thanks again for responding. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Running the Race.

…let us run with endurance the race set before us……Hebrews 12:1
I’ve been doing some thinking
Even though I really like being Quaker and what the Quaker movement has to offer, in the end it is not as spiritually uplifting as it needs to be for me, and it does not give me the opportunity to fully use the talents God has blessed me with. I’ve been willing to ignore the talents God has given me for the sake of finding a place to sit in a movement that I find fascinating and potentially transformative. But it’s not enough to be part of a group that has potential When God gives you talents, I believe that he expects you to USE those talents in his service and to do the work that he would have you do in the world. And to use those talents, you have to be a part of a movement that VALUES those talents.

A few days ago, an AME preacher came up to me and preached at me as is his custom. He’s a coworker of mine at my job, and I find him to be a bit brash at times and overly critical. He’s also against full equality for LGBT people or the recognition of LGBT relationships, like many others in my workplace, so I usually ignore him when the spirit “gives him a message”. But he ended his preaching that day with a special blessing on my head. After lamenting the “sinful and spiritually ignorant” and “hell-bound” ways of some employees at our job who were of my age group, he said that God had told him to tell me that God wanted to take me “to another level”, that God’s hand was on my life and that I should read Hebrews chap. 12. Whenever somebody says they heard something from God I take it seriously regardless of who they are. So I went home and read the words I quoted above. And as I read them, I came to the realization that I have to run the race that is set before me to follow the calling that God has made on my life and I have not been doing that lately.

As I reflect upon my current spiritual orientation , I realize that is what I’ve been focused almost solely on finding a place where I don’t ever have to expose myself to the challenges that come with the calling on my life as I've experienced it so far. But it’s not enough to build a spiritual and emotional cocoon for ourselves, is it? God has ministry for each of us to do as She seeks to bring the Shalom of Her Kingdom into being in our world. And I believe he wishes for us to live FULLY, and to be in fellowship with people with whom we can explore ALL of our spiritual and creative gifts and knowledge.
So time to get back on "track".

Thursday, July 24, 2014

'O' is for the Orthodox Way and the Quaker Way by Stuart Masters


On the face of it the spirituality of the Eastern Orthodox Church and Quakerism would appear to be entirely incompatible; one values outward liturgy and the veneration of icons whereas the other rejects all outward ceremony and imagery. But are these two traditions really as far apart as they at first appear? This posting will seek to address this question by exploring a number of aspects of the Orthodox way that share commonalities with traditional Quaker understandings. Might this prompt us to explore dialogue and greater mutual understanding as a way of bringing spiritual enrichment to both groups?


The main purpose of this posting is to indicate the ways in which Eastern Orthodoxy and Quakerism share a number of similar theological and spiritual understandings. However, it is clear that there is a range of quite significant differences dividing the two traditions that should not be ignored. In terms of the Eastern Orthodox Church these include:

·         Churches with strong national or even nationalist identities.
·         Hierarchical Church structures
·         An ordained male priesthood
·         An apparently firm distinction between laity and the priesthood/monastics
·         The outward ritual of the Holy Liturgy
·         The outward sacraments
·         The ecclesiastical year regulated by a liturgical calendar
·         Elaborate church architecture
·         The importance of physical images and symbolism
·         Very firmly defined boundaries of acceptable doctrine


Despite the many significant differences listed above, there are also a surprising number of areas of Eastern Orthodox theology and spirituality that are reflected to some degree within traditional Quaker faith and practice. These are set out below.

Basic Foundations

1. Faith as Experience and Relationship

The Orthodox way is strongly experiential in orientation, based on a relationship of divine intimacy. Such experience is especially focused on the practice of prayer and worship (Louth 2013, p.xx). Orthodoxy insists on the need for direct experience of the Holy Spirit (Ware 1979, p.102) as an on-going personal relationship with God in this life (Ware 1979, p.8). Whilst rooted in a tradition that has existed for many centuries, in this sense, the Orthodox way can be viewed as a living and developing way (Louth 2013, p.15).

2. Apophatic Mysticism (God as Mystery)

“God cannot be grasped by the mind. If he could be grasped he would not be God” Evagrius of Pontus (Ware 1979, p.11)

“Anyone who tries to describe the ineffable Light in language is truly a liar – not because he hates the truth, but because of the inadequacy of his description” Gregory of Nyssa (Ware 1979, p.24)

This emphasis on experience and relationship reflects the Orthodox understanding of God as a mystery beyond human conception. God can be experienced but cannot be fully comprehended (Louth 2013, p.1). This leads to an apophatic form of mysticism in which we approach God by defining what is not God (Louth 2013, p.32)[i]. The pathway to God requires us to discard all human notions and images, all forms of impurity or idolatry (Chryssavgis 2004, p.61). In such circumstances truth is profoundly mystical and never merely intellectual (Chryssavgis 2004, p.56). It expresses itself best in the language of poetry and images (Louth 2013, p.114). Faith is understood not as logical certainty but as a personal relationship (Ware 1979, p.16). For the unknowable God can only be known in communion and participation (Chryssavgis 2004, p.57).

3. The Holy Spirit (as the Real Divine Presence)

“The Holy Spirit is light and life, a living fountain of knowledge, spirit of wisdom, spirit of understanding, loving, righteous, filled with knowledge and power, cleansing our offences, God and making us god, fire that comes forth from fire, speaking, working, distributing gifts of grace. By him were all the prophets, the apostles of God and the martyrs crowned. Strange were the tidings, strange was the vision at Pentecost: fire came down, bestowing gifts of grace on each” From Vespers on the Feast of Pentecost (Ware 1979, p.103)

The Holy Spirit plays an important role within the Orthodox way. Whereas in the West the Spirit has often been treated as a junior partner within the Trinity, Orthodoxy has resisted any move to depersonalise and subordinate it in this way (Ware 1979, p.92). The status of the Holy Spirit was one of the key issues at stake in the schism between the Eastern and Western churches that took place in the 11th century. The Orthodox tradition emphasises the real living presence of Christ (Louth 2013, p.51) and asserts that it is the Holy Spirit that reveals Christ to people (Ware 1979, p.91). This is based on an assumption that God's will is to be in communion with people in the Spirit (Louth 2013, p.95) and that direct mystical union between God and humanity is a possibility (Ware 1979, p.22). Bishop Kallistos Ware has argued that the whole aim of the Christian life is to be a spirit-bearer, to live in the Spirit of God (Ware 1979, p.90). As a result Orthodoxy rejects the idea that God’s revelation in the Spirit ceased after the death of the apostles (Chryssavgis 2004, p.51). Eastern Church Father Symeon the New Theologian stated that it was heresy to claim that later generations could not acquire the same vision of the Holy Spirit enjoyed by the saints (Chryssavgis 2004, p.53).

4. A Non-dualistic Vision

Eastern Orthodoxy is characterised by a strongly non-dualistic doctrine of creation (Louth 2013, p.37). It opposes any a rigid dualism in which God and the material are too clearly set apart from one another (Louth 2013, p.97) A profound sense of God’s presence within creation (Louth 2013, p.40) leads to a rejection of any sharp division being made between the sacred and the secular (Chryssavgis 2004, p.39). In the ‘iconic’ understanding of the Eastern Church the ‘other’ heavenly/spiritual world penetrates and permeates ‘this’ material/physical world (Chryssavgis 2004, p.47). Indeed, in Orthodox understanding this is what makes existence possible, because if God as an ordering presence in the world were to withdraw from it, the world would inevitably collapse (Chryssavgis 2004, p.122).

5. The Whole World as a Sacrament

Linked to this non-dualistic vision, the Orthodox tradition has viewed the whole of creation as a sacrament – an outward symbol or image of God’s grace (Chryssavgis 2004, p.126). Every visible or invisible creature is therefore to be understood as a theophany or an ‘appearance’ of God (Ware 1979, p.23). The active presence of God is always at the heart of each thing, maintaining it in its being (Ware 1979, p.46). The Eastern view has therefore been critical of Western rationalism for disenchanted and demystified the glories of the creation and regarding it as mere matter. We have disconnected this world from heaven and so have desacralized both (Chryssavgis 2004, p.110).

6. The Significance of Silence and Stillness (Hesychasm)

“Some of the Fathers have called this practice stillness of the heart, others attentiveness, others the guarding of the heart, others watchfulness and rebuttal, and still others the investigation of thoughts and the guarding of the intellect. But all of them alike worked the earth of their own heart, and in this way they were fed on the divine manna (Exodus 16:15)” Symeon the New Theologian (Smith 2012, p.183)

Given that in Eastern Orthodoxy God is understood to be ultimately beyond rational comprehension, the Orthodox way values the imageless and wordless attitude of silence as a fitting way to address God as mystery (Chryssavgis 2004, p.82). Silence has significance because it is the place where we meet the divine mystery (Louth 2013, p.5). In the Orthodox contemplative practice known as Hesychasm, the Seeker begins to ‘wait upon God’ in quietness and silence, no longer talking about or to God but simply listening (Ware 1979, pp.121-122). It is through this kind of contemplative prayer that one hears the voice of Christ (Louth 2013, p.7). Ware points out that the quest for the inward kingdom is one of the master themes found throughout the writings of the Greek Fathers (Ware 1979, p.55) and John Climacus asserts that “the one who has achieved silence has arrived at the very centre of all mysteries (Chryssavgis 2004, p.90). Silence is a way of surrendering all self-justification, giving up all of our infantile images of God and giving in to the living image of God (Chryssavgis 2004, p.71). This view is reflected in the Liturgy of St James which proclaims “let all mortal flesh keep silent, and stand with fear and trembling” (Ware 1979, p.32).

7. The Bible

“Spiritual knowledge comes through prayer, deep stillness, and complete detachment, while wisdom comes through humble meditation on Holy Scriptures and, above all, through grace given by God” Diadochos of Photiki (Smith 2012, p.169)

Consistent with its mysticism and emphasis on contemplative practice, Eastern Orthodoxy adopts a prayerful and experiential approach to reading the Bible (Ware 1979, p.111) regarding it as an icon of Christ (Louth 2013, p.8). This means that, although the book is a material object, it functions as a window through which the spiritual and heavenly dimension of reality can be perceived. The Holy Spirit therefore plays an essential role in the reading of the scriptures where the study of mere words gives way to an immediate dialogue with the living Word (Ware 1979, p.111).

What Has Gone Wrong?

How does the Eastern Orthodox tradition understand the world as it currently is, a world gone wrong?

8. The Nature of Sin

“There is only one way to salvation, and that is to make yourself responsible for all men’s sins. As soon as you make yourself responsible in all sincerity for everything and for everyone, you will see at once that this is really so, and that you are in fact to blame for everyone and for all things” Dostoevsky – The Brothers Karamazov (Ware 1979, p.63)

The Eastern Orthodox tradition has never accepted the Western doctrine of original sin understood in terms of a stain of guilt past genetically from generation to generation. Instead, it has worked with a concept of ‘ancestral sin’ in which humans inherit the implications of the errors and delusions of past generations (Louth 2013, p.73). We are all born into a world which is already structured in a way that makes it extremely hard for people to consistently do good and very easy for them to do evil.

9. The Human Condition

The Orthodox believe that in the conditions of the fall, humanity has created a deluded, imaginary world of their own devising (Louth 2013, p.72) and this is characterised in particular by disharmonious and dysfunctional relationships with God, with each other and with the rest of creation (Louth 2013, p.73). Despite this, the Eastern Church has rejected the doctrine of ‘total depravity’ because it believes that while the image of God in humanity has been obscured, it has not been entirely obliterated (Ware 1979, p.61). All humans still bear some trace of the true unfallen vision of humanity we see in Christ (Louth 2013, p.87).

10. Humans within Creation

A key dimension of human sin is an inability to see the world as a sacrament of communion with God (Chryssavgis 2004, p.48). In the conditions of the fall, the creation has become opaque to humanity rather than transparent, a window revealing God (Ware 1979, p.59). Humans were created to act as mediators of God’s grace within the whole creation. However, in the conditions of the fall we have become the source of division and destruction instead (Ware 1979, p.59). Human disobedience has undermined the harmonious order intended for the creation (Louth 2013, p.69). However, the havoc inflicted on the world by human sin is not strong enough to break the divinely sustained structures of creation (Louth 2013, p.89).

11. Good and Evil

“The paradox of suffering and evil is resolved in the experience of compassion and love” Nicolas Berdyaev (Ware 1979, p.57)

The Orthodox understanding of sin, the human condition and its impact on the creation fully recognises the darkness in human nature but still asserts that good is more powerful than evil.  Evil is a product of human free will (Ware 1979, p.47) but does not undermine the fundamental goodness of the world as God created it. Therefore, in Orthodox theology and spirituality there is ‘supreme good’ in God and ‘supreme evil’ is merely a delusion (Ware 1979, p.46).

The Solution

12. The Atonement

“Because Christ is the perfect Love, his life on earth can never become a life of the past. He remains present to all eternity. Then he was alone and bore the sins of men as one whole alone. But, in death, he took us all into his work. Therefore the Gospel is now present with us. We may enter inside his own sacrifice” Mother Maria of Normanby (Ware 1979, p.86)

The Eastern Orthodox understanding of the Incarnation and the atonement differs quite significantly from the positions that have been dominant in the West for the past thousand years. Firstly, the Orthodox emphasise the way in which, through the incarnation, God has bridged or reconnected the divine and the earthly dimensions of reality that were separated by the fall (Louth 2013, p.60). This reflects the nondualistic vision of Eastern Orthodoxy and the conviction that God in Spirit is fully present and active in the creation. An essential aspect of this is that, through the Incarnation, Christ as the Word made flesh fulfils the task of mediating God’s grace to the whole creation, a task that humans rejected in the fall (Ware 1979, p.70). Secondly, the Orthodox have retained a vision of the atonement that quite closely reflects the early church understanding of ‘Christus Victor’ rather than the ‘satisfaction’ or ‘penal substitution’ theories of the Western Church[ii]. Through his death and resurrection Jesus was victorious over evil and death (Louth 2013, p.55). On the cross God met sin with forgiveness and reconciliation, overcame hate with love, battled evil with goodness and conquered darkness with light and death with life (Chryssavgis 2004, p.141-142). The cross and the resurrection are therefore conceived of as the victory of suffering love, demonstrating that love and life are stronger than hatred and death (Ware 1979, p.80-81).

13. Salvation as Healing

Given that, for the Orthodox, the key purpose of the Incarnation was to reconnect heaven and earth and heal the human will (Louth 2013, p.65), the Church is often regarded as a hospital for the Soul. The emphasis is therefore on healing and transformation rather than on guilt and punishment. The human condition is regarded as a problem but priority is given to the redemption of the human will and moral choice rather than the human body (Ware 1979, p.75). In Orthodox spirituality, if our hearts are broken open, God can find and enter the open wound, bringing healing to the soul and to the world (Chryssavgis 2004, p.72).

14. Surrender and Self-Emptying

“Let no one deceive you with vain words (Ephesians 5:6), and let us not deceive ourselves: before we have experienced inward grief and tears there is no true repentance or change of mind in us, nor is there any fear of God in our hearts… If we do not attain such a state, we cannot be united with the Holy Spirit. And if we have not been united with the Holy Spirit through purification, we cannot have either vision or knowledge of God, or be initiated into the hidden virtues of humility” Symeon the New Theologian (Smith 2012, p.17) 

In the Orthodox tradition, the healing of the human will is achieved through a process of self-empting (of the deluded and alienated human self) and surrender to the will of God. Orthodox spirituality is therefore a way of renunciation and surrender (Chryssavgis 2004, p.17). Like Christ, we must all seek self-emptying in order to achieve unity with God (Louth 2013, p.21). This involves attaining a state of detachment where worldly values or self-centredness are not allowed to distract us from what is most essential which is our relationship with God and the world (Chryssavgis 2004, p.29). When we arrive at the end of our own individual resources, we find that an infinite and eternal source can open up (Chryssavgis 2004, p.66). “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

15. Theosis (Deification)

“What is the purpose of the Incarnation of the Divine Logos, which is proclaimed throughout the scriptures, about which we read and that yet we do not recognise? Surely it is that he has shared in what is ours so as to make us participants of what he is. For the Son of God became the Son of man in order to make us human beings sons of God, raising us up by grace to what he is by nature, giving us new birth in the Holy Spirit and leading us directly into the kingdom of heaven. Or rather, he gives us the grace to possess this kingdom within ourselves (Luke 17:21) so that not merely do we hope to enter it, but being in full possession of it, we can affirm: ‘Our life is hid with Christ in God’ (Colossians 3:3)” Symeon the New Theologian (Smith 2012, p.211)

For the Orthodox, the Incarnation has opened the way to human deification (Ware 1979, p.74). This is now possible by the power of the Holy Spirit (Louth 2013, p.26) which transforms the creaturely being and glorifies it (Louth 2013, p.147). In the Orthodox way this process is known as theosis. Christ has the power to effect inner transformation (Louth 2013, p.7) but this requires our voluntary cooperation (Ware 1979, p.112). For Symeon the New Theologian the aim of the spiritual life is to become ‘all Christ’ (Chryssavgis 2004, p.75). However, the process does not end with the human. Reconciliation and the transformation of humanity leads to reconciliation and the transfiguration of the whole creation (Ware 1979, p.137). Rather than involving the destruction of the material world, the end times (eschatology) are understood as the deification of the whole creation (Chryssavgis 2004, p.26).

16. Universalism

“…there exists with (the creator) a single love and compassion which is spread out over all creation, (a love) which is without alteration, timeless and everlasting… No part belonging to any single one of all rational beings will be lost, as far as God is concerned, in the preparation of that supernal kingdom”  Isaac the Syrian (Louth 2013, p.158)

The Orthodox vision of the incarnation, the atonement, the powerful living presence of the Holy Spirit and the deification of the whole creation has led to a tendency within the Eastern Church towards a belief in universal salvation, that in the end all will be saved (Louth 2013, p.157). As the apostle Paul writes “when all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).

If you have found this information helpful, you might like to know about the following course at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre:

Icons and Iconoclasts : exploring Eastern Orthodox and Quaker spirituality

Friday 24 - Sunday 26 October I 16 places

On the face of it the spirituality of Eastern Orthodoxy and Quakerism would appear to be entirely incompatible; one values outward liturgy and the veneration of icons whereas the other rejects all outward ceremony and imagery. But are these two traditions really as far apart as they appear? We will consider this question by exploring themes such as holiness, creation, material and spiritual, inward and outward, light and darkness. Could opening up to the other's perspective bring spiritual enrichment to both groups?

Tutors: Stuart Masters and Lucy Faulkner-Gawlinski

End Notes

[i] In kataphatic spirituality or ‘via positiva’ God is described in positive terms (i.e. God is this or that). In apophatic spirituality or ‘via negativa’ God as mystery is defined negatively (i.e. God is not this or that).

[ii] Satisfaction and Penal Substitution theories of atonement are both variations on the same theme. God is angry because humans have sinned. In order to forgive humanity for their sins God requires someone to be punished. In his crucifixion Jesus takes this punishment on our behalf.


Chryssavigis, John (2004) Light Through Darkness: The Orthodox Tradition (Darton, Longman and Todd)

Louth, Andrew (2013) Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology (SPCK)

Smith, Allyne (2012) Philokalia: The Eastern Christian Spiritual Texts (Skylight Paths)

Ware, Kallistos (1979) The Orthodox Way (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Hryhorii Skovoroda

Old Kiev
"The World Caught Me But Did Not Hold On"

Until the 17th century Ukraine was closely associated with Catholic Poland. When Ukraine became part of Russia in the middle of the 17th century, she brought with her not only Catholic but also Protestant ideas taken from the communication between Kiev's church groups and German centers of Protestantism.
It was against this background that the star of so talented an individual as Grigory Skovoroda began to shine. He was a very religious man and, at the same time, had an unusual sense of internal freedom. He courageously exposed local abuses of the time. In bold, and at times audacious, flights of thought he rose in opposition to traditional church teachings and was absolutely fearless in his fiery pursuit of the truth. With an internal equilibrium between faith and reason, he himself did not differentiate between one and the other, Skovoroda relied upon an "allegorical" method for interpreting the Holy Scriptures. Here he demonstrated much courage, often completely rejecting the literal idea of the Scriptures in the name of an interpretation that seemed to him to be correct.
From his early years he stood out for his love of learning and a "firmness of spirit." He entered the Kiev Academy at the age of 16, but his studies were soon interrupted by a call to join the court choir in St. Petersburg. The young Skovoroda had a magnificent voice and exceptional musical skills. Two years later he returned to Kiev where he finished the Academy as a 28-year-old. Declining a spiritual title, he set out as a church minstrel with a certain General Vishnevsky, who was bound for Hungary on a diplomatic mission. Over a three-year period, Skovoroda visited Hungary, Austria, Poland, Germany and Italy, often traveling by foot. He was extremely well acquainted with the works of the ancient masters and the church fathers. During that period mystics and quietists were active in Germany. Having spent time there, Skovoroda always had a preference for Germany over all other countries, with the exception of his native land.
 Skovoroda frequently equates a "genuine" person (who becomes apparent within us during spiritual guidance) and Christ through thoughts such as this: "When you know yourself well, you will know Christ with just a single glance."

Alexander Pogorelov, Author
In 1765, Skovoroda abandoned his service to the church once and for all. This is the point at which the period of his "wandering" began. For the rest of his life Skovoroda no longer had a permanent refuge. "What is life?," he writes. "It is the dream of a Turk ecstatic from opium, a terrible dream causing the head to hurt and the heart to turn cold. What is life? It is wandering experience. I pave a road for myself, not knowing where I am going and why." In these wanderings Skovoroda traveled with a sack on his shoulders as if an indigent "The sack always contained the Bible." His time-tested flute and staff were always with him. Occasionally he visited with his many friends and worshipers for long periods of time; sometimes he left his friends unexpectedly.
Some unseen hand guided him on his path. Thus, when Skovoroda was visiting with friends in Kiev in 1770, he suddenly began to plead that he be allowed to leave Kiev. While in Podol, he suddenly sensed the strong odor of corpses. He fled the city the very next day. Two weeks later a famine broke out in Kiev, and the city was closed.

Grigory Skovoroda
Skovoroda becomes a philosopher as his religious tribulations require that he do so. He moves from his awareness of Christ to an understanding of man and the world. Skovoroda often experienced a spiritual ascent, a sort of ecstasy. Skovoroda himself writes about one such mystical episode to his young friend Kovalensky: "I went for a walk in the garden. The first sensation that sensed in my heart was a certain lack of restraint, freedom and courage. I felt within myself an exceptional mobility that filled me with incomprehensible power. Some very sweet, momentary outpouring of emotion filled my soul, causing everything within me to burn with fire. The whole world disappeared before me. A single feeling of love, calm and eternity revived me. Tears flowed from my eyes and spread a soothing harmony throughout my being."
In the world of mystical tribulations Skovoroda becomes increasingly convinced that "the entire world is asleep," and its sleep is agonizing. In his songs we come across many judgments about the world's innermost life, which one can only experience through religion. Skovoroda feels deeply the secret sorrow and secret tears of the world.
"This world reveals a magnificently beautiful view
But hidden within it is a vigilant worm
Woe to the world! You show me laughter
Inside you sob secretly with your soul"
Thus, on the soil of religious sentiment, alienation from the world emerges in Skovoroda. Life on earth appears before him in a dual form. The reality of one's being is different on the surface and in its depths. And from this Skovoroda comes to the view that there is awareness coursing along the surface of existence and awareness "of God."
"If you wish to know something in truth," he writes, "first look at the flesh, i.e., on the surface, and you will notice on it traces of God, revealing an unknown and secret wisdom. This is a high level of awareness, the discerning of "God's tracks," is achieved through spiritual insight, but it is attainable by anyone able to free himself from the captivity of sensuality. "If God's spirit has entered your heart," he wrote, "if your eyes are opened by the spirit of truth, you now see everything double; you divide every creature into two parts. When you take a fresh look at God, then you will see everything in Him, as if in a mirror: everything that was always in Him but that you never saw before."

Map of the Russian Empire 18th century 1778
The path to a deeper contemplation of existence needs to be found, first and foremost, within ourselves. Self-awareness, opening within us two "levels" of existence - that is, opening a spiritual life following corporal-psychological tribulations - enables one to see everything in the duality of existence. Therefore, self-awareness is the beginning of wisdom: "Without first taking measure of yourself," observes Skovoroda, "what value will you extract from the knowledge of measuring what is in other beings?" "The seeds of all knowledge are contained within an individual; this is where their secret source resides," Skovoroda asserts. "I know that my body is based on an eternal plan," he writes. "You see within yourself one earthly body but do not see a spiritual body." "Know yourself and understand God as a single endeavor."
Skovoroda frequently equates a "genuine" person (who becomes apparent within us during spiritual guidance) and Christ through thoughts such as this: "When you know yourself well, you will know Christ with just a single glance."
Man's self-adequacy, that is, his acquisition of his own internal self, is the fulfillment of God's wish for him: "All his deeds lie in faith; faith lies in truth; truth in eternity; eternity in immortality; immortality in the beginning, and the beginning in God." Only then does the "world open to your thoughts the temple of serenity and dress your soul in the clothing of joy, satisfies and enriches the heart."
Man does not choose between the righteousness of the Bible and the evil of the empirical world. Skovoroda proceeds from the premise that, selecting himself, a person pursues a course of self-awareness, knowing himself from within and, as the culmination of this course, finds a single, genuine symbolic person. Furthermore, a person has no freedom in selecting himself. Predestination and predetermination of the choice is indeed the very symbolic person Christ in the entire scope of his individual history, each moment of which is symbolic and points to the required path.
In his twilight years, having reached the age of 72, Grigory Savvich Skovoroda was visiting with one of his students. Sometime around evening he took a spade and began digging a narrow ditch. "What are you doing, dear friend?," his host asked him. "It is time, my friend, to end the wandering!", the guest responded. "And I ask you to let this be my final burial site and that it bear the inscription that the world caught me but did not manage to hang on." The following day he was found dead in his room. His hands were crossed together on his chest, and his head rested on a scroll of his own writings. They were only published a hundred years after his death. This did not prevent him from becoming a genuinely legendary figure among the people. And official scholarly records consider him to be Russia's and Ukraine's first philosopher.
By Alexander Pogorelov

My Testament

My Testament
When I am dead, bury me
In my beloved Ukraine,
My tomb upon a grave mound high
Amid the spreading plain,
So that the fields, the boundless steppes,
The Dnieper’s plunging shore
My eyes could see, my ears could hear
The mighty river roar.
When from Ukraine the Dnieper bears
Into the deep blue sea
The blood of foes … then will I leave
These hills and fertile fields —
I’ll leave them all and fly away
To the abode of God,
And then I’ll pray …. But till that day
I nothing know of God.
Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrants’ blood
The freedom you have gained.
And in the great new family,
The family of the free,
With softly spoken, kindly word
Remember also me.
-Taras Shevchenko