Tuesday, June 22, 2004


I hate OSHA.

I never really liked this particular government agency, though I do at least appreciate what they are hypothetically trying to do.

But now they've gone too far. At work I have to wear a full-face respirator lest I inhale certain harmful fumes from materials with which I work. The respirator manufacturers state that it is perfectly safe to wear them over a closely trimmed beard. But OSHA? Not good enough for them...not good enough for government work. THEY say that the rubber seal has to contact clean-shaven skin.

So the full beard that I have worn with only one brief interruption for the past four years and more is now severely interrupted. I don't have a full beard now--I have a goatee and long sideburns.

I will post a picture soon so that those who read here may decide what precisely this abomination most resembles. So far I've been told that I look like a very wild Elvis, a Kentucky Hick, a member of some 70's band I'd never heard of, a drummer, a motorcycle dude, and a few other things.

Truly not cool. I look like I'm trying to rebel or something. ;)

So, like I said, OSHA sucks.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004


Prizio is posting again. I have missed him.

In other news, I apologize for the excessive length of my recent posts. I still mean to edit them, and will do so in the next few days. At which point I will have the bare-faced audacity to ask all of you to read them again.

And none of you will. Because you're smart. ;)

Friday, June 11, 2004

(I apologize for the length and rambling nature of this post. Please read it through anyway, and comment)

Thus saith David Talcott. ;)

But I don't like systematic theology, whines I.

Ok, then, lay out for me the theological underpinnings and implications of the "theology" you laid out in such non-systematic terms in your last post, saith the imaginary voice of David Talcott in my head.

Hum...well, I suppose I could do that.

HAH! sez the voice. That's all a systematic theology is!


Right, so a systematic theology of Orthodox soteriology from beginning to end is a bit of a tall order. I tried to do this for a paper last semester and, as a result, still haven't finished it, and got sidetracked from the topic anyway (it was supposed to be a research paper, and I prefer to hear myself talking, fool that I am).

But I will respond to a few points of David's last post. And hopefully eventually I'll get around to the more systematic side of things. It would help if there were just a book I could quote, but if there is, I am unaware of its existence. Silly Orthodox--spend all their time getting to know God and forget to write about the cosmic particulars of how it happens. ;)

Anyway, getting down to business. David asks, "What is the teleological cause of our salvation? As he predicted, I say that God desires to save all men, and thus calls all men and engraces all men. All this is supported in Scripture.

What about us, then? He rightly asks why some repent and others don't, and claims that it must be because God created some men to repent and some not to do so, which statement essentially contradicts the previous statement that He desires to save all and thus calls and engraces all.

I, of course, deny that. God desires to save all. Thus all are created with the potential to be saved. All are given grace.

So why are some not saved?

Let's go back to TULIP briefly and lay some groundwork. I deny your Total Depravity. Its place in my schema is taken by Man's Self-Annihilationist Proclivity. (wordy, I know, but it says what I need it to say) This is the result of the Fall. Man chose to put himself first, cut himself off from God, and in the course of pursuing his own desires and appetites progressively destroys the image of God in him and thus, ultimately, himself.

I uphold your Unconditional Election, but make it universal. God wills that all be saved, and calls all men to salvation. And he asks nothing of them in return for this gift, nothing can earn it, nothing can merit it. As you say, God's decision to save a man is Unconditional.

I categorically and vehemently deny your Limited Atonement, by far the most repugnant and unscriptural tenet of Calvinism. I replace it with Universal Atonement. Christ loves all men, He became fully man, and He died for the sins of all men.

I deny your Irresistible Grace. I replace it with the Infinite Love of God. Men can resist and refuse the gift of God, but He will never cease to love and call them. I hold to the doctrine that hellfire is the love of God as felt by those who reject it, not a juridical punishment.

Perseverance of the Saints I deny, in that men can and do leave the way of grace and continue to exercise the aforementioned Self-Annihilationist Proclivity. So I do not replace it, save by pointing to that first point and the fourth, the Infinite Love of God.

And no, I don't take it as a sign from God that those four points spell "SUUI," which is nothing meaningful that I'm aware of but sounds vaguely like what you call a pig. That's just a sign that I suck at constructing acronyms. ;)

So, in practice, what happens. God calls two men. One has not yet destroyed himself to the point of being unable or unwilling to hear and respond. He repents. The other has no desire to leave off pursuing his desires and gives the call not even a second thought. Note that the outward life of these two men could be completely deceptive--the first could be a murderer, the second an upstanding businessman in the community. It's a matter of the state of the heart.

Has the first done anything to merit his salvation? Not really--he simply has not managed to destroy himself before being plucked out. When God's call sounds in his heart, he still has the ability to respond with the tiniest little affirmative twitch of his heart towards God.

The other does not.

A bit of a tangent, here...for the record, man on his own is unable to repent. When God extends his grace, He also extends the spirit of repentence, the spirit, as I had phrased it before, of true desire. The man, again, is only able to accept or reject that gift. It is the smallest twitch of response and acceptance...rather, it is a tiny twitch of surrender. The man who responds to God's call responds by laying aside any action he can do to earn or merit it. He submits to his own humility.

Put another way, when God's grace comes, it shows a man how helpless he truly is, how mean and low a creature he is. If he can surrender his self-love enough to see this, then repentance is given and the Christian life begun. If not, the grace recedes--he drives God away.

Thus man truly does nothing to be saved. Even the man who responds with good works drives God's grace from him--in so doing he refuses the gift of repentance. The man who is saved sees himself as dust and admits it. He dies to himself. The man who drives grace from himself refuses to relinquish his life. As Christ said, "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it" (Luke 9:24).

Am I making sense here? The man who is damned is the one who "does something" whether moral or immoral. The man who is saved is the one who "does nothing," who accepts the revelation that he is destitute, devoid of all worth and goodness.

So the one who is saved doesn't earn it. Ok?

Now, the one-time acceptance of the fact that we are destitute does not destroy the self-willed "Proclivity for Self-Annihilation" which masquerades as the Will for Self-Preservation. It pops up immediately the next time we see or smell or hear something we want. And we do something to save ourself and begin to forget that we simply can't.

Let this be said once and for all. The ascetic practices of the Orthodox tradition are simply and solely exercises to HELP THE CHRISTIAN BE PASSIVE AND ACCEPT THE FREE, UNDESERVED GRACE OF GOD. I know it is paradoxical. But observe. Those ascetical practices can be summarized as follows. Eat only what is absolutely necessary for biological life, drink only what is necessary for biological life, sleep only as much as is necessary for biological life, thank God for those necessities as though He had personally and directly given them to you, and spend all the rest of your time in thanks to God and supplication to Him for mercy upon you, a sinner undeserving of any regard. The goal is to mortify the self, to accustom yourself to deserving nothing, meriting nothing, and indeed thanking God for ALL THINGS which you have, earn or receive, as though they were a gift from Him which you did not deserve. Because you didn't. And you know it. The ascetical life is God's gift of repentance put into practice. And, at the same time, it is the only way to keep it--not that by living in that way you earn it or deserve it, but rather that only by living in that way do you NOT DRIVE IT AWAY FROM YOURSELF.

Any other sort of ascesis is of the devil, end of story. Also end of tangent.

Where were we? Oh, right. God calls, we respond only slightly--if we admit our sins and failings, repentance enters in and the Christian life begins. If not, grace departs--God called, we ignored Him, end of story.

Except it's not. God calls us again. Events in our lives transpire such that perhaps the next time he calls, we have lost something or someone dear, have suffered, feel lost or empty, and are more willing to admit the truth. Or perhaps not.

So He calls again. And again. Until we respond.

We know that God's Love is infinite. We know that He desires all men to be saved. We know (or I assert) that if anyone is not saved, it is because he insists on continuing to preserve his life, his honour, his integrity, his needs, etc. Hell for such a man is simply his perspective of God's all-in-all-ness. But God still loves Him--indeed, God's love for him may very well be the worst thing about his existence at that point.

But Scripture gives us reason to hope that even that man in the depths of hell after the final judgement may somehow be saved. Certainly nothing like an assurance. At best, it is a veiled, confusing, contradictory hope. But it is there, and it must be there. To my mind, Christianity MUST retain the hope of universal salvation.

That is to say, we must retain the assurance that, God's love being infinite and eternal, He will continue to love sinful mankind even after the last judgement. It may well be that that point is the point of no return for an unrepentant man, that there will simply not be enough of a man left after that to respond. But the damnation will be done by the man himself, not by God. No one has depicted this better than C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce.

And yes, I know all the verses where God says, "Depart, ye cursed," etc. I can explain those away as a manner of speaking about their fate. As I believe in the physical resurrection, they will certainly have bodies, and will need to go somewhere, to a place prepared for them. But I must affirm that God still loves them, and thus that there is still, on His end at least, the potential for their redemption. Nothing in Scripture rules that out, and everything in Scripture demands that I hold God's Love to be infinite.

To those on the other side who ask how I can accept a God who could allow such a thing, I say that I can fairly easily accept a God who would subject His creation to the POTENTIAL for vanity in hope that said potential be turned to loving Him (paraphrase/interpretation of Romans 8:20), even if it could be and would (and He knew it) in so many cases be turned instead to suffering and death and self-annihilation. It's the God who would create His creation in His image but fate those creatures in His image to damnation without any potential for salvation that I can't accept.

Getting back to topic. David concluded his post thusly:

And so we can see why the Calvinist charges the non-Calvinist with not properly understanding our dependence upon God. For, the non-Calvinist has established a condition for salvation that does not depend upon God--and hence the non-Calvinist cannot depend upon God for the meeting of that condition.

I think I have dealt with this. The "condition" for salvation on man's part is an acceptance of his dependence upon God. God responds to this acceptance with the gift of repentance. And it seems fairly ludicrous to me to say that the necessity of an acceptance of one's dependence upon God denotes a lack of dependence upon God. What say you, David? :)

I think I'm done now. Somewhere in all this rambling are (I think/hope) the systematic points requested. I have one parting shot, at what I consider to be the Achilles Heel of Calvinism.

Did God predestine the Fall? If not, how did it happen? And if you don't respond to any other part of this post, please respond to this. I can see how Calvinism holds up logically, etc everywhere else, but this question stumps me every time I try to put myself in a pair of Calvinistic shoes. Every time, I feel the hole behind my heel. And it gets really chilly in those shoes. ;)

Please pass on my congratulations to Michael and his bride. And give everyone else there my greetings, if you get the chance. Travel safe, etc. And God bless.

Thursday, June 10, 2004


A few months ago I posted an entry addressed to David Talcott regarding Calvinism. He has just responded to it. My question was "Why are you a Calvinist?" His back seems to be "Why aren't you one?" and "You're really a semi-Pelagian, aren't you?"

*grin* In answer to the latter question, I have to say that I'm not sure. I'm can't claim to be familiar enough with semi-Pelagian doctrine or the representatives of the movement (who are they anyway? St. John Cassian? Who else? Though I suppose the fact that I call him a saint says at least something about your question). But my impression has been that semi-Pelagians spoke in the same categories of EITHER works OR grace as did the Pelagians and Augustinians, and hence, though they may have been trying to say the same thing I am trying to say, I don't think it worked. But again, I can't claim to know what precisely they asserted.

So here's my own go at the issue. In my personal effort to articulate the Orthodox approach to salvation vis a vis Calvinism, I would like to latch onto something David suggested fairly hesitantly here as he examined the matter.

He said, "I'm wondering if it's problematic for me to say that God elects people in virtue of nonmoral facts about them. The Calvinist can't allow that someone do something to merit God's favor, by why can't other facts about them be relevant to God's electing?"

I'm not sure what David will end up saying about this hypothesis of his, but for my part, I think this idea just about sums up the Orthodox perspective. Indeed, if a Calvinist can allow himself to say this, most, if not all, of the logical imperatives imposed (and so often objected to) by the Calvinistic system disappear.

Consider, if you will, this rough analogy of the typical Calvinistic position proposed here by Sam Nicholson in his post contra Calvinism.

Sam says, "Imagine a ruler who has the power to remit your (deserved) legal punishment. He chooses, for inscrutable reasons, to have you executed in the most horrible fashion imaginable. There are others, equally deserving of the same punishment, who, for inscrutable reasons, he invites into his palace for a lifetime of luxury. Perhaps you could find some solace in knowing that there is some reason somewhere for this, but I think it would be more of an occasion for anger and despair."

Agreed. But if we tweak it with David's suggestion, we might add that the ruler informed you and all the other prisoners that you have only to request pardon from him and your horrible death sentence will be completely remitted.

I think we will all agree, however, that this tremendous offer is not quite as simple as it might seem at first glance. It cannot suffice simply to repeat the words, "Pardon me, my Lord" to gain the reprieve. If it were so, one would need only to say those words, regardless of intent or understanding (you could even say them in a language you don't understand). No, the catch, in the Christian system, is that we must genuinely desire pardon. And this is what we Christians are accustomed to call "repentance." It is not an action nearly so much as it is a state of being. Note that it is not enough to desire merely the reprieve. As we stand in the dock, what we lack to be saved is the genuine desire for our judge to pardon us. We must desire to escape our guilt itself, not merely its consequences.

For that is, ultimately, what the Ultimate Judge offers us. The opportunity to be free, if we only wish it. This is no good word, no moral act, but simply a state of being which acknowledges guilt and years for purity. And it is this which God asks of us, this true repentence without which there is no salvation.

Let us say without reservation that even this true desire, this genuine repentance, is a gift from God. But it is this gift, and it alone, which we have the responsibility to grasp, lest it slip away. This is God's call, His offer of grace, and it is here that we are given the option whether or not to resist it.

Let us examine this moment, this singular, pivotal moment in the life of a man, this moment where our will and God's grace meet, this moment which only one can win. In this one moment we stand on the edge of the knife. Whether it is a moment of sin, a moment of judgement or a moment of quiet, God's offer comes to us, soft and yet crystal clear. We have only to ask, we are told, and all will be forgiven, all forgotten. Only ask. In that moment we feel welling up within us from no recess of our heart that we have ever known the desire to let our will go, to die to ourselves, to turn toward that voice and repent. It does not come from us. It too, like the offer itself, is a gift And there in the depths of our very being we face the choice--do we embrace and feed the Godly desire, or the self-will?

And that is all.

For the Orthodox, of course, a man's life is filled with these moments, from the first time the grace of God is proferred until the last time it is rejected. Or, until the moment when we finally accept the grace of God with a whole heart, our prayer for mercy is answered and we are with Him.

The process is one of simple Repentance. Or, it could be as truly said that it is one of humble Faith. But then, for the Orthodox, Faith IS Repentance, and the two, as one, are the essence of the Christian life.

It is because of the countless times that God-fearing men and women have lived this out in the two millenia of Christian history that the Orthodox deny the five points of Calvinism as understood by Calvinists. It is because the Scripture came alive with truth and consistency and meaning (even Romans 9) for each of those men and women as they surrendered their will and bowed to Christ that the Orthodox are unimpressed by the Calvinist's array of proof-texts.

Nonetheless, it is strange to note that, when put to practical use, Calvinism is most used to invoke a spirit of repentance and utter dependence upon God. It is thus strange that the Orthodox are condemned for refusing to accept the notion that nothing is demanded from man in order for him to be saved, when it is precisely this spirit of repentance and utter dependence upon God which we say is the ONLY "work" which man contributes towards his salvation. And yet, with this simple statement we escape all the hassle of the either/or controversy of faith vs. works, escape the need for TULIP's great thorn, Limited Atonement.

But what of your fasts, your much-vaunted "ascesis," you may say? What are those if not "works" to earn salvation?

For this, let's go back to the analogy of guilty prisoners and a merciful judge. Suppose that the prisoners are offered this grace several weeks before they are to come to trial, are told that, when brought into the dock, they have only to ask for forgiveness, and truly desire it, and they will be set free. What will those prisoners do?

No doubt some will hear, briefly weigh the offer with the pleasure they hope to enjoy once reprieved, and try to figure a way to hoodwink the judge with false sincerity.

Others will be struck to the heart by the mercy and weigh their old life with the new and understand the choice that is before them. When they come to judgement, they must truly throw themselves on the mercy of the court. And that means that they must really desire that mercy, that grace. No doubt their manner of life will change almost instantaneously. They will no longer curse, no longer joke, no longer fantasize about what they might do when they are free. They will struggle with all their might to realize and remember the enormity of the choice, the starkness of the chasm between their old life and the new one offered to them. They will recall to their minds their former sins and drive them as daggers against the desire for more. They will eat less, lounge less, talk less and complain less. Rather they will spend every moment of every day doing all they can to ensure that, when their moment in the dock comes, every fiber of their being will be behind those words "Father, I have sinned--forgive me!"

And when they say those words, they will not be forgiven because they fasted, because they did not curse, because they no longer sin--they will be forgiven because they alone truly asked.

Every spiritual father worth his salt throughout the history of the Church has reminded his disciples not to get carried away with ascesis and forget that it is ONLY a means to an end. Those works merit nothing, earn nothing, are worth less than nothing unless they produce true repentance in the heart of a man. Every father reminds his children that, when Judgement comes, if they think that they have in the least earned their salvation, it is utterly lost to them.

Which is why, as I say, it is strange that the Calvinists condemn the Orthodox, when the only work we ask of ourselves is to look to God and say with absolute sincerity that we have are worthless and empty and completely dependent upon Him for not only our salvation, but our very existence.

The only work of salvation is to realize that work earns us nothing.

Does that make us semi-Pelagian?

Wednesday, June 09, 2004


I have so far neglected to mention it, but I have been once again gainfully employed here in Boston for the past two weeks. I found a boat shop on the harbor willing to hire me for my previous experience with fiberglass laminating, vacuum-bagging, etc, so I have officially lost the option of wasting my time all day. Here are a few highlights from the past day.

--Waking up at 5 in the morning to get to work...my body likes being on a schedule so much that it refuses to go back to sleep when I try to grab a few more minutes in bed. I knew this would happen, but somehow thought I would appreciate it. *grin*

--Joining the teeming masses in their commute to work on the Boston subway. Not many people were out at 5:45, so it seems this town doesn't really run on industry.

--Arriving at 6:30, seeing the Vietnamese gel-coating team I know has been there since 4 all suited up in Tyvek and respirators, and noting the current temperature. At least 80. It's going to be a long day.

--Scrounging for work to kill time while the gel-coating team finishes. Trying to ignore the shop's self-appointed sexpert's boasts about his wife and girlfriend(s?).

--Listening to the line supervisor's explanation to me (upon hearing that I am a seminarian) that his religion is surfing and motorbiking. Chuckling silently when he tells me that he doesn't want to marry his girlfriend of 10 years (with whom he has a young son) for fear of jinxing the relationship. Ironic, that.

--Eating lunch at 9 am on Boston Harbor, enjoying the sea breeze, eating my beans and rice and reading Theophan the Recluse and Jacob Needleman for an hour while we wait for the gel-coat to gel. It's nice to have an hour for lunch break.

--Taping myself into the Tyvek suit, donning my head-sock and respirator and thinking the next few hours are going to be miserable. They are, but I'm too busy to notice, though it must have been 90 by that point.

--Toying with the idea of cutting holes in the feet of my suit for the sweat to drain out.

--Asking the Vietnamese foreman six times to repeat what it is he needs me to bring him. English is hard enough to understand through the thick east-Asian accent, but when you factor in the full-face respirators we're all wearing, the whole thing becomes an exercise in futility. I cope by waiting for him to point, grabbing everything in sight, and waiting for the muffled shout which I think means "YEAH THAT ONE!!"

--Struggling for 15 minutes to get OUT of the stupid Tyvek suit into which I had so very thoroughly taped myself. Thinking about grabbing a razor blade to speed things up, but abandoning the idea when I remember the story my boss told me the last time about the fellow who had to take a leak, got desperate, swiped the razor blade over the tape holding his gloves on...and slit his wrist, filling the glove with blood. The fellow who then, in panic, trying to get his non-bleeding arm free...slit his other wrist. I have to go, it's true, but I'm not that desperate to rid myself of fluid. ;)

--A one-man Unwashed Mass, joining the actually-very-washed masses on their commute home. I hope I don't stink too badly.

--Walking home past Jamaica Pond and watching a pigeon with his neck all fluffed up chasing after another fairly feminine looking pigeon. I kick myself for taking so long to figure out what's going on. Funny how, when she finally flies away, his neck feathers go all back to normal.

--Reveling in air conditioning at home. God be praised for the march of technology!

--Writing an entire post comprised of incomplete clauses and participial phrases.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Part 2

εἰ μέν κ᾽ αὖθι μένων Τρώων πόλιν ἀμφιμάχωμαι,
ὤλετο μέν μοι νόστος, ἀτὰρ κλέος ἄφθιτον ἔσται·
εἰ δέ κεν οἴκαδ᾽ ἵκωμι φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν,
ὤλετό μοι κλέος ἐσθλόν, ἐπὶ δηρὸν δέ μοι αἰὼν
ἔσσεται, οὐδέ κέ μ᾽ ὦκα τέλος θανάτοιο κιχείη.

Once more, why DO I wallow? Who do I flee reality and bury myself in the imaginary lives of heroes who have never lived?

Because, as I said, I have lost my Cause. But I did not lose either the battle or the Cause at Holy Cross, but rather in the quiet of my last semester at Hillsdale College and the summer which followed it.

For the Epic Cause which I found at Hillsdale was not (as I sometimes thought) to save the world, or the Church, or True Doctrine, or even my self (though it can be put in that way). Precisely the contrary--it was simply to lose Myself and in the losing, at long last, to find it again, my True Self, in humility, contrition and love.

Jacob Needleman writes that modern man has forgotten what these words mean, that he is no longer able to comprehend the Life-giving Good News contained in them. But I could--I did comprehend, I did know, I preached it to others, and, for a blessed few months, I began to live it.

And then I dropped my sword, had a snack, drank a beer, watched TV, surfed the Web, took a nap, threw away my soul and died.

Having done so, I proceeded immediately to run to a battleground outside myself, having already abandoned the field within, and thus, when I say I lost the battle of the last year here, what I really mean is that I entered the lists flat on my back with my heart pierced by a dagger held fast by my own lifeless hands, a dagger of self-conceit, self-righteousness, and above all, self-indulgence.

Altogether the wrong sort of loss of self (more like spiritual suicide, in fact)--this one self-consuming, not self-emptying as I knew it ought to be.

And that is what I meant when I said I had lost my Cause. This is my confession and my apology, and, if it may be, perhaps it might mark a new beginning. I feel a fire burning in myself that I have missed for oh so long, a willingness to die once more to all my desires and learn again to ask with sincerity for the mercy of God without which there is no life. In this I ask your prayers.

As for Epic Causes--well, what the title says is true. There are two paths toward our death. And if my own Plain of Ilium lies in the desert of my own heart, and the death of my Self is the price of eternal glory, then so be it. Far better that than to live to old age in the lush fatherland of my stomach and slowly lose my soul against my will in the senility of self-indulgence. There is death either way--but only one promises Life after death.