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A Cathecumen’s Struggle with The Jesus Prayer


“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

This is known as the Jesus prayer, practiced in the Orthodox Church. It comes from the passage of scripture where Jesus, in a parable, describes the prayer of penitent sinner before God. “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner (Luke 18:13).” The Jesus prayer in its current form, combines that prayer with the confession “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God.” The prayer has many variations and can sometimes be said as “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me.” The one praying typically has a prayer rope with X number of knots on it. Each knot represents one of those prayers. The way I do it is that after a few certain ones, I say the Our Father.

Now, when I first heard about the Jesus prayer I was not too keen on it. I found it weird, of little sense and possibly unbiblical. However I’ve now come to find the Jesus prayer a very important part of my life. Yes, I’m still wrestling with hangs up I have from my Protestant days. But like many things in Orthodoxy, I’ve come to see that while I may not have theological objections, I still need to get used to the life the Church. Which for me has involved prayer, a step of faith and practice. I’m by no means an expert on this subject. But there are three ways of thinking about this that has helped me to understand why it’s done. Or at least, why I do it.

  1. Prayer is not about giving God a list.

In fact, prayer is not really about giving God information at all. God isn’t ignorant of anything. He even knows what you’re going to say before you get up to pray about it. “Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether (Psalm 139:4).” Prayer is about communion. The uniting of my soul with God. Partaking of His grace. In Orthodoxy, this partaking of grace is not just in the soul. But the divine light of God that illumines the soul, is the same light which visibly shone on Moses face. This is because God made man to be spiritual and physical whole. Where both aspects of their nature work together. What happens to one affects the other. This is why humanity is the pinnacle of creation, because we sum up both the spiritual and material reality in ourselves. We are the ‘microcosm’ of all creation. And God always intended that his divine life and energy fill the material creation, as it will in the end. There is not then this strict division of what belongs to the realm of the spirit and what belongs to the realm of the physical. That’s why Orthodoxy has a sacramental worldview. So when we pray, we are doing what we were mean to do, communion with God. Which not only glorifies/deifies the soul by having it partake of God’s divine life, the communion of the Trinity. But it deifies, the flesh too. The material world. It brings God’s presence not just to us, but to our surroundings and those around us. But since it is spiritual, our eyes are not always open to seeing the fullness of this divine glory. Just as the disciples only got to glimpse it once. Like Adam and Eve, when they lost communion with God, it affected their entire nature. So too when we regain communion with God, it affects it all too. And will be fully manifest at the final resurrection, this power at work in us. The same power that raised Christ from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20). That constant staying in God’s presence as one says the Jesus prayer, continually basking their soul in God’s light, is a blessing that is far more than merely communicating information.

2. The Jesus Prayer is not vain repetition.

The first thing that comes to mind for many is Jesus’s own warnings about what he calls vain repetition or babbling. “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling (vain repetition) like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words (Matthew 6:7). But note, it is “vain” repetition that is the problem. Not repetition in and of itself. The problem is the intent. We do not repeat because we think it makes our prayer holier, and more likely for God to hear us. As if it were better than a simple word or sentence. It is not for God’s sake that the prayer is repeated. It is for our sake! God does not need our prayers at all. But wants them because he created us for communion with Himself. Whilst I, if I’m honest, often don’t feel like or want to pray, but actually need it. It’s not that I don’t care about God, but like anyone I can get lazy and complacent. Nevertheless communion with God is something I desire. Yet it is also absolutely essential for my wellbeing. Not only am I basking in God’s presence. But we humans often need things repeated before it sinks in! Faith comes by hearing after all. At times, it has only been after saying it enough times that certain truths during prayer start to sink in. I think too we can cut our time with God short. Spending more time alert to His presence, can often be when the Holy Spirit illumes the heart and mind. How often in the scriptures, God tries to get His people to remember Him and what He has done. And how often they “forget the Lord their God” and He has to call them back to remember.

God himself is not against repetition. The Psalms themselves can get quite repetitive. Repetition is all over the scriptures, not just in the songs, but in the way God has dealt with his people ordered his worship on earth and heaven. Just read Revelation which is basically a divine liturgy. Elijah in prayer had to go send his servant seven times to check if there was rain. Each time he didn’t hear the news he needed, Elijah continued to pray. Didn’t God hear the first time? Not long before, after one single prayer he called down fire from heaven, even though the servants of Baal spent all day in song and prayers for noting. God even has someone bath in the river seven times before their skin disease was healed.

Consider too the Seraphim that are before God’s throne. How they repeat the same line. “And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory (Isaiah 6:3).” Or consider the others who do nothing day or night, without rest but sing the same song. “Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come (Revelation 4:8).” Each are communing with God and worshipping Him together. Prayer towards God is an act of worship. Acknowledging Him as the source of both your Life and Joy. We ask for His mercy not out of fear, but in recognising our need for it at every moment. With every breath.  And through that we are benefiting. You can imagine the glory and bliss that these divine worshippers are enjoying. Is their repetition in vain? In understanding the Christian life, and many passages and principles in scripture, one thing that is important is distinguishing between a thing that isn’t wrong in and of itself, but which may be good or bad depending on both context and the disposition of the people involved.

3. Prayer is about focusing on God not the problem.

In the past prayer has often turned into an exercise of thinking of things to say to God. Sometimes I’ve gotten so caught up in trying to think of praying, that I may have lost the quality of actually praying. Now, I’m not saying that those prayers didn’t count. Or that if one is thinking of things, to say that’s bad. Everything has its place.  But I’ve often gotten so bogged down about the content, that I’ve missed the object of my prayer. A person. Prayer is not just saying “things”, it’s talking “to” someone.

Not only can my mental energy when praying be too focused on content, it can be too focused on the bad kind of content! Prayers can become selfish. They can become so focused on the fear or issue one is praying about. Things like praise and gratitude can get missed out. Prayer which get one to lift their eyes to where the help comes from (Psalm 121:1-2) can become so centred on the why one needs help.

This is where set prayers have helped. They force me to go not by my agenda, but a God glorifying one. Formal prayers shape the way our prayers should be, when they are informal. The Lord’s prayer is not just a good one to repeat, but a good one to learn from. I’ve often had a problem with which I decided to go to God with by saying the prayers in my prayer book. I would find myself frustrated because I wanted to get to the part of the prayers that dealt with my issue at hand. But often times when I have gotten to that that place, it would either:

  1. Give little space to it
  2. Not really address it specifically but, generally as part of supplication for other issues
  3. Not seem to really speak to it at all.

More often than not, the bulk of the prayers would be directed at praising God and giving attention to how great He is. While I stand there thinking “When can I get done praising God and get to the solution.” How terrible of me. How human of me to miss the forest, for the trees. The prayer book had it right. Bringing my attention to where it needed to be. God already knows my problem. Going to His presence is more than enough. It also protects from the *real* vain repetition. Feeling like if I don’t mention my problem enough or focus on it enough that somehow God won’t deal with it? It takes maturity to mention the issue once to God in prayer and then spend the rest of time praising Him for His goodness. That’s a real test of faith.

This is also why the icons can be such a big help. To take the focus off of myself or the problem. Closing my eyes in prayer is fine. But it can sometimes make the whole ordeal too inward and me focused. The whole thing becomes more like a mental exercise. I’m not only thinking of things to say, I’m more often than not picturing something in my mind. If I’m praying to Jesus, “some” representation often comes to mind. Even when we read the Gospels and it describes a scene, we picture the events. It’s only natural. Some who generally are against images of Christ, have even gone so far as to say that we should not have *any* mental images either. Because they are misrepresentation. Well for one, Christ has incarnated and become visible. Not only that, but as a man, the divine Person became depictable according to his human nature. We do not need to know the exact appearance of a human in order to have mental or even pictorial representation. And whatever shortcomings they may have, picturing *nothing* is a gross misrepresentation in itself, as the incarnate Christ is not nothing or no longer without a permanent form (Deuteronomy 4:15-17).

Often times when closing my eyes, praying to Christ, the energy of thought, my focus, is flowing through a mental representation or connotation. But in combining the icon of Christ and the Jesus prayer, it better simulates what it means for a physical being to relate to another physical being. I’m not praying to a plank of wood and paint. Rather the icon serves much in the same way as the mental connotation did to be a point where the energy of thought is flowing. However it takes much less energy to simply look, as it does to imagine. At that moment you are talking much in the same way that you would when someone is standing in front of you. It forces me to treat Christ as a person. A real being, outside of myself, that I’m going to. As opposed to a figment of mind that I have to put an effort into remembering, lest my mind drift off and I “leave” their presence as it were. Not only that, but given the sacramental nature of the Orthodox faith, Christ is truly present and working through the icon in a similar way to the Eucharist. And in doing so my body becomes more engaged in prayer. As opposed to just making a comfortable position for my hands to keep my head up so that my thoughts can do all the work.  But this isn’t the only way I’d say this prayer. It has slowly started to ingrain itself on me. Becoming a default that comes out at different times like second nature.

This God centeredness and outward looking disposition combined with the repetition of the Jesus prayer all work together to still, rather than agitate the soul. To bring one at peace. Psychologically and spiritually. Which is what should be the outcome, in fact we are commanded to “Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).” This stillness and quiet confidence of the soul in God, as opposed to the restlessness is what the Psalmist seeks (Psalm 43:5), Christ promises (Matthew 11:28) and God loves (1 Peter 3:4). For me the Jesus prayer has been a good and simple way of moving in the right direction. Not always easy, but always worth it. It is far more than asking God for mercy, in the sense of stopping hurt or pain. The word translated mercy, is related to the Hebrew that is often translated as “steadfast love” “lovingkindness” or “covenant love.” It is asking God to renew, re-affirm and act on this love that He has for us in Christ. A love that comes across as so fresh and is so infinite, that it were as if his mercies were “new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).” A love so powerful that nothing can separate us from it, no matter what happens in life. As Paul, after giving an extensive list says “nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).”

It is in light of all this, that in light of all my failures, all my needs, all my worries, I lift my eyes to the heavens, and with faith meet the Saviour’s loving gaze saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me, a sinner.”


9 comments on “A Cathecumen’s Struggle with The Jesus Prayer

  1. bgpery
    December 6, 2015

    A lot of Protestant converts to Catholicism have a similar difficulty with the rosary.

    • JS Adido
      December 6, 2015

      What would be the Catholic understanding of the Rosary? How would you explain it to them? It must be harder in a sense since it’s indirectly related to Christ (but ultimately, Christ is the centre of all of this).

  2. bgpery
    December 7, 2015

    There is often the same objection to repetition and use of physical things in prayer.

    What makes it perhaps a bit more difficult is the additional element of the intercession of Our Lady.

    Generally I explain that the ‘Hail Mary’ is the angelic salutation and most of it comes directly from the bible (as well as the our Father). I then explain that the rosary is the poor man’s psalter. There are 150 Hail Mary’s corresponding to the 150 psalms. (this usually necessitates talking about the Divine Office and use of the psalms in the liturgy)

    Finally I explain that to pray the rosary with its 15 “mystery’s” is to meditate and sort of walk through the events surrounding the incarnation, cross and resurrection of Christ. The meaning and purpose of the rosary is to unite oneself in prayer to the saving work of Christ.

    A couple of years ago during lent I read “the way of the pilgrim” and have loved and used the Jesus prayer ever since (though I do not have or use a rope).

  3. Benjamin Scott
    December 8, 2015


    The philosophical influence from Neo-Platonism is very clear in Orthodoxy and most Orthodox scholars I’ve read just admit it. The West can be rightly accused of similar philosophical influence from Aristotle and Plato, but in both cases there comes a place where you have to draw the line. Usually Orthodox scholars, like David Bradshaw, have no problem with the Neo-Platonic influence and openly admit it exists. Some others argue naively that Moses and Solomon were the guiding forces behind Socrates and the rest of them. The major Greek Philosophers promoted and practiced pederasty among other vices. Neo-Platonism is the foundational philosophy behind European Occultism, of which I have spent some time studying as well. The thinking of Neo-Platonism is far away from that of the Biblical writers and they were not meant to be read in that context. Paul warned against being taken captive by philosophy Col. 2:8. Paul and the New Testament should be read in terms of OT theology and 2nd Temple Judaism, not foreign philosophical categories that didn’t develop for a couple hundred years and when they did, they did so among pagan philosophers.

    The biggest entrance into Orthodoxy of this mystical philosophy seems to be through Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. Read him and those directly influenced by him and tell me that this is Christianity. It’s not! It’s an elitist, hierarchical, mystical occultism like that of the Theosophists and the Masons. He’s a fraud in his name and he’s a fraud in his Neo-Platonic theology. Lossky admits that the man is a fraud but he doesn’t care because he says that his theology is correct. John Meyendorff admits that he uses neo-platonic and mystery religion terminology. I would be interested in any Orthodox person who can give me a reasoned defense of either the identity or theology of pseudo-Dionys. For God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. It doesn’t take much study to see the contrast between the Biblical writers and Pseudo-Dionysius. He’s an achilles heal for Orthodoxy. I have searched for anyone who can reasonably defend him, but I haven’t found a thing. He’s really a problem for anyone who wants to take Orthodox theology seriously as representing Christ. The language and the thoughts are all wrong in Pseudo-Dionys. Orthodoxy claims to be the blend that makes everything right, but the truth is that its heros are not in agreement with each other, and obvious fraudulent influences have come into the Orthodox faith and lead it astray. Since it cannot admit this, they have to be accommodated, and they are.

    I won’t argue with the positive way you seek to practice the Jesus prayer. I think the Jesus prayer is just as nice as sliced bread. But it’s much more than that in Orthodoxy. It seems to border on Messalianism with the way it has been emphasized by some. But further, is Orthodoxy seeking salvation or mystical union with God anyway? There is a clear difference in the Scriptures. Union with Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, produces fruit such as love, joy, peace…, including in the end, final salvation. And those fruits are exhibited in real life activity, hard work, a full orbed human existence and a taking responsibility for living and loving. Monastic hesychasm sits in opposition to this. It takes something dynamic, real and complex and turns it into something reductionistic and powerless. I mean that. God did not create us to pray in a box as if all there was for us to do was to concentrate on a few words. Life is complex and no relationship is lived that way! My son would dry up and die if I treated him like that. God has given us dynamic and real paths towards relationship with Him, and those paths are found in living, since truly the physical world is not “so very different” from the spiritual one. Jesus continues in Matt. 6 on prayer. It goes something like this: Holy be Your name both in our prayer to you, and our actions before you. Your Kingdom come quickly LORD! Your will be done likewise in this world among those who love you and those who will learn to love you, while we wait for your Kingdom’s full establishment. We trust you to meet our needs as we do your work. Forgive us our sins, and we hold nothing against anyone as well, but fully pray for your mercy upon them. Show them your love through us as you have shown it to us. Protect us from temptation and sin, deliver us from evil and bring your presence into all lives through the gospel of your love and your Son’s cross, which we also carry boldly.

    I am by no means quoting, here but neither is the hesychast. Jesus taught us to pray to the Father and Hebrews says we have access to Him through Jesus. In short, the prayer that Jesus teaches is a prayer of taking responsibility for our lives and those around us because we have access to the Father who has given us this mission. He’s given us the responsibility to love and to spread the gospel of His Love. To live that love and to bring His Kingdom into our lives and communities. But if we won’t do this then it won’t happen. Synergism, right? That’s what the Sermon on the Mount is all about.

    Of course, as you say below, God doesn’t need a list, He doesn’t need us, etc…, etc…. This sounds a lot like the monergists JS. In one form or another this creeps back into our lives pretty easily. It kills us inside and makes us struggle to find joy in our faith. Sin grows stronger as we “struggle against it.” The thinking that all I need to do is seek to see God’s energies while He does everything else, is suicidal to His image in us. The Bible is clear: People need us! And when we love people we love God. And God is pleased by that. God has no needs, but then He has created this world so that we are to participate in it and spread His love. He’s pleased by that and He is angry at those who don’t take the talent given to them and invest it. He’s given us responsibility, power, a place of honor. We may insult him if we limit ourselves to 9 words when there are so many more to say. When we shirk our responsibility to be His imagers through such “discipline”, approaching Him as if we are not the same thing as He’s created us to be, He is not amused. This rejection of our humanity is not right. He’s given us the power to choose to make a difference in this world or not! If we won’t, fulfill our roles, then the message stops with us. Otherwise the church isn’t the pillar and support of the truth. Look at this world. Has the message spread far? If not, it’s because the workers are few despite the state of the fields. Prayer is about getting work done, Matt. 9:36-38.


    I disagree with this Orthodox emphasis. Prayer is about partnership as well as communion in that partnership. It’s about worship and worship can’t help but reach out to others as a living sacrifice that imitates Christ. The last thing worship can do is keep itself to 9 words spoken too many more times than once…. Stuck in the endless loop as if it has no end or is not being answered. The man in Luke 18 who spoke these words went away to his house justified. He didn’t keep repeating himself because despite being justified, he still hadn’t yet seen the light of Tabor, and that was his real goal. His goal was humbly to be forgiven for a life lived wrongly. And his justification meant that he went out and actively lived rightly. His prayer was about changing his life. This prayer is not properly understood and neither is the God whom it is spoken to, when it is repeated endlessly in the seeking of something more than that simple change. That is presumptuous and it is contrary to our creation. God has had mercy and we are to act upon that mercy by going out and spreading it to others NOW. In this love we abide in Christ, Jn. 15, and there is no higher promise of communion with Him than this, until someday we see Him face to face. But what the Orthodox mean by communion is an empty mysticism. I am confident from my encounters with this subject that there is more joy in a single act of genuine love than in hours of hesychast prayer. As 1Jn. 4:20 says, “How can you love God whom you have NOT SEEN, if you do not love your brother whom you have seen.” The emphasis is not on seeing God’s uncreated energies, but on loving His creatures. 1Jn. 1 explains that walking in the light involves the very confession that the man in Luke 18 also practiced and was justified by. This is our place and when we try to seek the light or the “darkness,” as pseudo-Dionys would have it, we are missing the boat. We walk in light, we don’t look into our hearts to find it. Walking is action and action is what we were created for, not simple and endless prayers or mystical communion with God. Even in heaven we will be given a kingdom and responsibility. We were created to live, not sit still. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. So let’s pray that He sends out laborers into His fields and then go out and get busy. Orthodoxy shows itself virtually inept at evangelism among anyone other than disillusioned evangelicals.

    • JS Adido
      December 8, 2015

      I’d recommend reading the Triads where Palamas speaks of this. One can’t understand EO and not get Palamas.

      The problem is not philosophy. Christianity and the Bible has always taken whatever truths others may have and maybe twisted and then used it to point to God. Old testament is full of the likes. Couldn’t have had the Trinity explained without such philosophy. In fact the heretics were trapped by said philosophy but the Fathers were able to use it and let revelation drive them. Unless you’re sola scriptura or know or claim to be the normative authority, you can’t say it’s erred simply due to certain influences and borrowings.

      Also don’t ignore the churches history of nation witnessing of 2000 years plus the historical circumstances that have brought it to its current state and start broad brushing.

      As I’ve said in my “Baptismal Evangelism” post, the church has been around 2000 years (heck there are written languages that only exist because it wanted to evangelise people, even In Alaska). Your church may be on fire today for God, but can you be assured it it will be the same faith thought tomorrow? Given Sola scriptura? Can you even be assured that two protestant assemblies down the road from each other and on good terms or in the same umbrella organisation, that they’re the same church, without formal authority? This is really not an issue of veracity.

      Orthodoxy gets its theology from its experience of the divine. I admit I don’t know all the issues but I’m learning to trust the Church as I believe it’s true. And it has a long record of living and affirming the truth of its practices. If you reject SS then the question for you will be which Church to accept, as it is no longer up to us to pick pick and choose what we do or don’t like like about like about it. Or if you affirm SS then you’ll need a better argument than simply they used or were influenced by philosophy. Which is both arbitrary as to what philosophy to accept, a genetic fallacy and begging the question as to what what the Church has taken from it as being in error. Ignoring the fact that all truth is God’s truth and that the enemy more often twists than innovates.

      • Benjamin Scott
        December 9, 2015

        The Bible clearly does dialog with the surrounding ANE and 2nd temple cultures. No dispute there. Yet Neo-Platonism wasn’t developed until a couple hundred years after it was completed, and the gospel had been once for all handed down by the Apostles to the Church. Then the Orthodox Church adopts Neo-Platonism as a guiding philosophy for understanding the previously given gospel, largely through the influence of a man who’s posing as someone he’s not and writing letters to John on Patmos hundreds of years after he’s dead. Near to this juncture in history, the philosophical debates lead to divisions between Bishops in different regions of the world, which was unheard of previously, leading to bloodshed. Yet maybe given our contemporary Postmodernism, Orthodoxy, can understand the faith all the better now? Re-interpretting the faith in light of new pagan philosophical developments is not helpful to understanding the Bible in its own terms and context.

        Changing the subject slightly; on what basis now, would we decide between the Nestorian Church, the Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church? Can Scripture factor into our decision making between these options at all, if we’ve learned to trust it first and foremost?

        If so then would there also maybe be a 4th alternative or maybe even a 5th or 6th, such as hypothetically, that the Scriptures don’t teach the concept of a “Universal Church” at all and so the question is invalid in the first place? Or the Scriptures teach that all Christians were raptured in 70 AD, and now there are none left….. I mean, you name it, maybe it says it? If the Scriptures don’t teach the concept of a “Universal Church” then how do we get from the Scriptures as our starting point, to something it doesn’t teach exists? I could assert that the Scripture teach the concept of the Pink Easter Bunny and that I’m the only one who has one, but that doesn’t make it true. Of course if one is interested in my pink rabbit then I charge $100 per Pink Bunny hug.

        I can see how if someone were reached out to and evangelized by a Nestorian Christian, he might tend to trust the Nestorian Church first, by default and may know nothing about the Scriptures, but only trust that Church and what it says as authoritative. So how would he then leave his Church for another, since his Church is his authority and says the others are wrong? Yet when someone is approaching any and every Church from the outside, having only a faith in Scripture and in Christ as his starting point, then who has the responsibility to bring him into Christ’s true flock, whichever one that is? If such a one has not been really evangelized other than by Mormons and JW’s then is it his fault?

        It isn’t just Protestantism that is “divided”, it is all Christianity. The political divisions across regional lines, involving violence and bloodshed which occurred between the Nestorians, Orthodox and Catholic, are a lot worse than the different shades of belief among Protestants, who tend to give each other hugs despite. Was Christian unity ever supposed to be about the high level particulars of the philosophical theology of God, as informed by Neo-Platonism, or was it about the gospel conforming to godliness which is intrinsically being ignored once people start killing each other? Of course this warfare and persecution across doctrinal lines was their unfolding experience of the Divine, so we shouldn’t question it, right?

        It may just be me, but the emphasis that I get from the Scriptures is about unity within the local churches formed out of love and the fruit of the Spirit. Spirit lead character means that each Church should truly act as a family lead by Christ. The modern establishment Universal Churches have replaced this with hierarchy despite the very mixed character and core beliefs of their congregants…, and and claim its the same thing. These congregants admittedly are not very educated in these Scriptures and so they can’t be blamed when they can’t figure out one thing from another or live one way from another. The Church allows it and should take responsibility for it.

        What is the Greek word for “Church”? What does it actually mean, by definition? And by Biblical useage? Sure, whatever you come up with is an opinion based on reading the Scriptures, which involves trusting your own prayerful judgment on the matter in trying to do responsible exegesis. But then please answer my above questions about how or which authority you or I should trust other than our own judgments? How can I move from this, to trusting one of these particular Churches more than one of the others? History is very remote and obscure and I may not have the philosophical sophistication to even understand the issues of disagreement. Should I toss a coin? John S. Romanides is just one person pointing out how much debate can occur over that issue of history. I know I wasn’t there.

        Now that we live in the 21st Century, how am I supposed to see and trust any of these Churches when from my perspective none of them look particularly unified on the local level in the way that the New Testament clearly emphasizes they were designed to be? They can claim “unity” with the rest of some Universal Hierarchical Organization, but the interior unity apparently stumbles with arriving late for eucharist and leaving early after receiving it. With not saying hi to new people or not even knowing they are present. So who cares? If this is unity then I’m not interested anymore. And on a historical level, reading the individual writings of Orthodox Fathers does not express unity between them but differences and divisions as great as among Protestants. Certainly they are influenced by each other and re-interpret each other, but they didn’t really agree. I am far from convinced that a hierarchical church govt., with its own difficult political struggles, is any meaningful unity at all from a Scriptural perspective. It’s rather evidence of its absence. There are Catholics in more difficult positions still. Look at the Sedevaticantists! It’s really sad to be Catholic and feel forced to believe your Pope is an Anti-Pope, but I have to give them props for their passion and dedication.

        I have one more day off work between now and Christmas, so I apologize that I will not be able to keep up with this discussion. I owe it to you and others to be honest about my journey thus far, so I decided to take the opportunity. After hundreds of hours of quality AFR podcasts, reading books and blogs, visiting my local Greek Orthodox Church, dialoging with friends who are thinking of becoming Orthodox as well, etc…, I’m further from Orthodoxy than I was previous to my intensive study of it. I understand that none of this is easy. It hasn’t been for me. I’m more open minded than I now sound. Us humans are all prone to sophisticated stupidity and it’s never easy to sort out in the short lives we live. You remain in my prayers JS.

      • JS Adido
        December 9, 2015

        I don’t really get into the big long discussions anymore. Though I feel like we have already gone through a lot it.

        I recommend reading this book:
        It will deal with the Philosophical aspect and Platonism. Part of the reason, I personally feel I’m choosing Orthodoxy over Rome is the Triadology. Here is an excerpt from the above book that I’ve put in the link.

        Also recommend the post by Perry Robinson (or just his blog in general) which deals with such issues.

        As mentioned before, the Triads by Gregory Palamas may be of big help here. Seems like a lot of reading being done but it’s really important to get to the root issues. Also recommend this very book on the difference between Orthodox and Catholic ecclesiology and how triadology and Christology play into it

        Orthodoxy is not re-interpreting the faith. It is simply putting revelation in terms that make sense, given the tools they had at the time. The members of the Trinity were always “persons”, even before the Church had adequate philosophical language to describe it. I take it as part of God’s sovereignty that the world both in its philosophical and political and lingual atmosphere was so positioned as to prepare the Church to defend against heresy and formulate the faith.

        Before one could get to scripture as a starting point it would be to come to accept something as scripture.

        Without having to get into inspiration, I can simply take the widely accepted text, particularly the New Testament as historical documents. If I want to claim a settled inspired canon, I’d either need to appeal to direct revelation or a body that that is inspired to affirm such. The question is about the metaphysical grounding in ones worldview that allows for scripture. So no, I don’t start with scripture as my starting point and then go to the teaching of the universal church. Why should I just accept another one of my many possible self-selected interpretive lenses? Do I believe scripture teaches this idea of the Church? Yes. But the question is ontological. On what basis am I claiming access to such a thing as scripture? The Church precedes scripture logically. And is for me the metaphysical instrument by which a canon is epistemically and formally confirmed. On what basis then, will I say that my foundation (or pillar and foundation of Truth to use the biblical language) got the canon infallibly correct, and yet erred or were allowed to err on other fundamental truths?
        As to what will separate one Christian group from another, I think the most important issues, which are

        Christology and Triadology. Given the assumption that they all share at least Apostolic lineage and the episcopate. Why? Because if one wants to have that metaphysical foundation for the scriptures, then that foundation must be identifiable. This foundation is the Church, set up by Christ which would have to visibly continue in order for one to get a defined canon. A preserved faith. The only ones we know of going that far had an episcopate that were in communion. In which case, if the Nestorians or Arians are anathematised by the other Churches in communion with and episcopate, such that there are now “two” such groups, and you’re wondering which to follow. Well if you find Arian Christology and Triadology, or the likes compelling and true, then go likewise. As Joshua himself said, “Just you this day who you will serve.” Nobody is claiming to have epistemic infallibility. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blogpost, infallibility is only part of a worldview once one has chosen it. Not a foundational starting point, in order to get to a worldview. As opposed to Sola Scriptura, where one is in effect presupposing and infallible scripture. I went into detail with it here and had a rather lengthy conversation with someone on it here

        The options are either metaphysically, there is a Church guided or God has set it up that it’s everyone up to themselves. That’s the metaphysical question. Epistemically, we are all on equal footing, in regards to the possibility of human error. In that, I “could” be wrong about my decision. But I’m striving not to go for an unreasonable amount of certainty. I’d just need good reasons to think that I’m off.

        “It may just be me, but the emphasis that I get from the Scriptures is about unity within the local churches formed out of love and the fruit of the Spirit. Spirit lead character means that each Church should truly act as a family lead by Christ.”

        Sure. None of that is opposed to the episcopal and organised nature of the Church. The notion of baptistic Churches were things were free for alls and no one ultimately answerable to anyone is a fantasy. Either everyone quickly abandoned this supposed Apostolic vision, or it was never there to begin with. Interesting how quite often one has to go out of their way to try and show some discontinuity between the more obviously episcopal Church and their predecessors or outright claim that everyone got it wrong in order to maintain their position.

        As to the other things you’re saying, though I don’t doubt you’ve had bad experiences, it ultimately does not touch on the issue of veracity. Look at how Israel was so messed up and yet they were the people of God. Wasn’t God’s name blasphemed among the nations because of them? Didn’t stop the faith being true. Did it help? No, of course not. Heck even the Church while the Apostles were around had its troubles. Just read the epistles. Church history is messy too. That is because it is a synergy. Of human and divine. It is precisely in the midst of the broken, of the problems, that Christ is working to transform. Carrying his treasure in earthen vessels. The physician who is calling the sick, not the righteous to repentance. I’m you’re looking for that perfect Church, or waiting for the Orthodox Church to “get its act together” before you decide to join, then you aren’t joining for the right reasons. And would likely leave for the wrong reasons too. It kind of misses the point of grace too, having to be fixed up before we can receive. Kind of a pelagianism hidden there.
        So you have either the model of Protestantism, or that of a Spirit guided episcopate. So long as you pick and choose what bits and pieces from each side you like, you are still despite not accepting the label, a Protestant. And are simply building your own church, party of one. We are either *meant* to be lone wolves that may occasionally run in pacts, or one flock of sheep under a good shepherd (granted we are bad sheep, but sheep none the less). Seems to me that is going to be the primary issue you need to be dealing with. You can argue the merits of various philosophy all you want, or consider their implications and which according to you are evil and have misled the Church as it were, whilst continuing to claim to see the problems with Sola Scriptura and not wanting to say you adhere to it. But that’s trying to have your cake and eat it too. First decide where you’ll stand. The ground from whence you’ll build your house, then we can start talking about various design flaws. Because as much as certain things may *seem* to be problematic to you, if Orthodoxy is true, then it is a matter of you adjusting. If on the other hand, Sola Scriptura is true, then you may spend the time arguing for such a case. Because things are not defacto known to be true because a particular body holds to it.
        Praying for you. J.S

      • JS Adido
        December 9, 2015

        Also in regards to that video. I could just as easily pull up Joel Osteen and say, well Christianity is all about temporal blessings. This guy is neither a Priest, nor Bishop or authority in the Church. And yes, you will have adherents in the faith some more knowledgeable than others and people of every spectrum. Just like there are in every single group of people anywhere. The Church is not defined by its individuals however. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Humanely speaking, I feel as though in a sense you’re expecting too much of the Orthodox Church. As much as it is divine, it is also human. And it’s for humans. Messed up, in need of grace humans. You’ll need to distinguish the veracity issue from the issue of practice and consistency. I get where you’re coming from though. I had the same struggle in many ways. “If this is Christ’s Church, then why all the problems?” It’s understandable. But remember the Church is there as a continual incarnation of Christ. It finds and accepts people where they’re at and provides the grace needed for a synergistic transformation. We are not Calvinists after all. Not every believer or Church will look and feel like you. Or myself. Or how *we* would like it. Or how *we* think things should be. But in a way, that okay. Because they aren’t there to be conformed to our image. But Christ’s, in whatever unique way God created them them to. Some may have longer way and different issues to overcome than you. And whilst it is not an excuse for sin, it is a call to be careful. God recognises that we are dust. Let’s the do the same sometimes.

  4. Benjamin Scott
    December 10, 2015


    I know that examples like the ones I have given are not representative of the whole. I use them only as examples. They aren’t the reason I’m turned off by Orthodoxy, but they help to illustrate some issues I do see on a larger scale. We have both moved from speaking about raw theology to talking about our own psychology and opinions, so take the following comments on that level as I share how I feel/think quite frankly and without self defense calculated. It’s your responsibility as well as mine to be honest with the Bible ourselves as we seek God. I trust that He can guide us in the footsteps of His Son as we reach out.

    On my reading of the New Testament, the core element of being a Christian is a changed and changing life of repentance and taking up the cross to follow Jesus. To imitate Him in life, rather than to only admire Him. This is to be done corporately by every local church and individually by every Christian. This walk is characterized by love and undergirded by faith and a cleansed life, 1 Tim. 1. This is not a radical stance to take in response to the gospel, but rather, it is the gospel. The gospel is this very message and so it can’t help but spread around, that what Christ was trying to create were true followers. Disciples, not supportive associates. Success in this path takes the commitment of the Christian to serve one Master and not two or twenty two. It is divided loyalty which characterizes unrepentance, and that characterizes failure and slavery to the flesh. It is the Spirit which characterizes the lives of saints and His fruit flows through their lives.

    If this core idea, which to me is non-negotiable, is not being conveyed by the Orthodox Church as centrally important and clear, then why is that? Has it replaced this important message with something very similar but entirely different? If so then I would expect to find the type of confusion or mis-speaking about what is important among Orthodox people that I am finding. I have seen it among many Christian groups before ever looking at Orthodoxy, and I am familiar with what a counterfeit looks like and how easy it is to fall into it in compromise. In Christianity, only a counterfeit can replace the real thing. Christ is too compelling to not be counterfeited and so He has been in so many ways by so many different groups. The suffering involved in seeking out the truth of these movements is real and it takes time and personal involvement. I have been willing to become Orthodox and have surrendered my own understanding in order to do so. But as I went deeper into it, I was loosing what God had already given me before. I cannot continue that path. This compromise is what I see, from my perspective, across the board in Orthodoxy, from my study. Whether it’s a scholar or monk on AFR, or all the way down to the crazy people in the videos, the message is wrong to my ears. I like the people, I gain a lot of insights, and I learn new perspectives. Certainly Orthodoxy has a lot of good to offer. But it is also missing something very core and this loss messes up the whole thing.

    To be specific on a few things:

    As I have said a few months ago, asceticism is more a pagan Greek philosophy, not so much a Christian one. Self denial is another story, and the Bible teaches that. But asceticism easily replaces the passion of the race set before us, the pearl of great price, or the talent given to us by the Master…, for something which is vainly aimed as a technique at attacking our own good God created persons and then calling that self inflicted injury the “mortification of the flesh.” What it really is, is a form of religious addiction that has nothing to do with love, no matter how much the one who performs it may feel the need to seek God. Love cannot sit still in a world like this and Jesus didn’t do so. Prayer and life are active and aggressive for an imitator of Christ. Eastern meditation is an addictive technique which addictive personalities are drawn to. Hesychasm is very similar to it. All of this is merely human religious practice. These are my opinions about the psychology.

    I personally find asceticism to be extremely counterproductive for dealing with the flesh compared to a life of self denial and carrying the cross motivated by a love which calls for it. It’s a cheap replacement. It seems to me to be a cheat on and suicide of real life. The cross is a message of the glory of love which is unafraid of humiliation because of the glory and value set before it. Asceticism is a means to some mystical end with little relevance to the meaning that God has infused into living and dying. It’s a redefining of life in the wrong terms. God made me to live and die and I want to live and die like Jesus did. Phil. 3 expresses this passion very well. That’s incarnational theology as far as I’m concerned. Christ became incarnate so that we could continue to live and die like He did, because we are passionate about doing so.

    Related to asceticism, humility must not take the place of love either. Humility is affected and fake by itself, and it breeds more of the same traits. It may reach so deep into one’s soul in its deceit, that one cannot trace it back. Any aim at achieving character or even Christlikeness, whether humble or not, can be a deceitful nonsense which leaves a person an affected mess. Love is everything, not humility. One must spit upon achievement in humility or anything else, in order to find the passion of love. This passion cannot be given to one who doesn’t find it himself. It can only be demonstrated honestly with the hope that it will grow in another. Love isn’t afraid to be either proud or humble as long as it is loving the other. It is just truthful, and passionately reaches out to the one loved, not caring about anything else. It is ultimately expressed in the worship of our God who is characterized by these good things and demonstrated them in His life here. So worship is expressed in imitation as dearly beloved children, knowing that His power is in us to do the same as He has done, if we but will. He has awakened our hearts through the cross and given us the extremely profound and excellent privilege of following Him on this same journey, and expressing this same love. When humility becomes an end in itself we begin to unravel our own humanity. Nobody respects a man who lowers himself below children or animals for the sake of “humility”. When love is central then proper humility follows and others are lifted up by our willingness to reach to them and assist them. I see among the Orthodox this trait of humility which unravels humanity itself and is confused as to what the end of man is. Maria Skobtsova is the only Orthodox author who has really expressed this type of theology to my satisfaction. By and large I am not finding it.

    I agree with basic Orthodox soteriology in theory. That is, righteousness is a real moral quality and final judgment is according to deeds. The cross creates a change in our lives. But in actuality I see this message having its power removed, being replaced with low expectations, counterproductive asceticism, and a focus on church practice which is not changing the lives of the people. If it were then their way of speaking about it would be different than it is, and I would recognize it as ringing the same tones as the New Testament.

    The Orthodox are so bent on defending their doctrines and practices instead or preaching them. Preaching and teaching seem to be long forgotten in Orthodoxy. Let the liturgy do it all. The Orthodox Church is a hospital who’s residence stay inside until death. The church I believe Christ came to lead is a race track where one must put on his shoes to run to the point of exhaustion to receive a wonderful prize. Fortune and Glory! And everyone is thrilled to do so or else they have gone somewhere else. The sinners should be called to repentance, made well quickly, and then put on the track. Of course the hospital nearly goes out of business in the process. Who cares. When everyone is healthy a hospital isn’t needed.

    That’s a lot of opinions, I know. And giving them to you means you can tear me to pieces, since it’s all hyperbole or biased judgment. But I’ve been willing to die for these opinions, and someday I might. Subtle things are profound, and every single system of theology is developed over many years, to be comprehensive. You know that. Nobody can say anything to anybody which cannot be responded to by someone from the other perspective. To answer every objection, to handle every argument, and to have an answer to every difficult text is the goal of any system of thinking. Responsible study means going very deeply into things on every level over many years, crying out to God for mercy just as the Hesychasts do. But responsible fellowship means being transparent where a person is at now. Whether any of us is right or wrong, as long as someone else is praying for us and cares, that is what counts, since that is the message Jesus came to bring. That we should love one another. There’s no easy way in or out of Orthodoxy. You and I have to decide what we are passionate about in Christianity. We’ll all be judged by a merciful but very fierce Father for our choices, and what we’ve decided life is or isn’t going to be during our times. Whether or not we trust a huge Church as having authority, these choices are made in every heart before God, and we face God as individuals, not groups. His demands upon us to make our hearts grow, can turn our lives into something that looks like asceticism. It comes free of charge! So run in such a way so as to receive the prize. Ever since I found your blog, I loved you as a Christian brother. I may not have much time for you in the great scheme of my earthly life, nor you for me, but I am proud to be able to dialog with you these months. I think you are one of His and that’s the most significant thing that I think can be said of a person. You will do the right thing. I have no doubt in you or in God about this. Go become Orthodox if that’s what you’re going to do. You may know that path more deeply than I ever will. I’m on a different journey based on a different life and a different struggle. If I ever become Orthodox, it will be based on much deeper questions than I’m now able to grasp, and the ones I’m grasping at now take all of my passion and energy as it is.

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This entry was posted on December 4, 2015 by in Theology, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , .
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