Wednesday, July 12, 2006


On evil, sin and repentance

I find the following a profound and eloquent explanation of some *real* fundamentals of the Christian faith (as opposed to *fundamentalism*).



According to some modern interpreters of Christianity, “demonology” belongs to an antiquated world view and cannot be taken seriously by the man who “uses electricity.” We cannot argue with them here. What we must affirm, what the Church has always affirmed, is that the use of electricity may be “demonic,” as in fact may be the use of anything and of life itself. That, in other words, the experience of evil which we call demonic is not that of a mere absence of good, or for that matter, of all sorts of existential alienations and anxieties. It is indeed the presence of dark and irrational power. Hatred is not merely absence of love. It is certainly more than that, and we recognize its presence as an almost physical burden that we feel in ourselves when we hate. In our world in which normal and civilized men “used electricity” to exterminate six million human beings ... in this world the “demonic” reality is not a myth. And whatever the value or the consistency of its presentation in theologies and doctrines, it is this reality that the Church has in mind ... at the moment ... it lays hold upon ... a human being ... who, according to statistics, has a great likelihood someday of entering a mental institution, a penitentiary, or at best, the maddening boredom of a universal suburbia. The world from which the human being has received his life, and which will determine this life, is a prison. The Church did not have to wait for Kafka or Sartre to know it. But the Church also knows that the gates of this hell have been broken and that another Power has entered the world and claimed it for its true Owner. And that claim is not on souls alone, but on the totality of life, on the whole world. ...

The sin of all sins -- the truly “original sin” -- is not a transgression of rules, but, first of all, the deviation of man’s love and alienation from God. That man prefers something -- the world, himself -- to God, this is the only real sin, and in it all sins become natural, inevitable. This sin destroys the true life of man. It deviates life’s course from its only meaning and direction. And in Christ this sin is forgiven, not in the sense that God now has “forgotten” it and pays no attention to it, but because in Christ man has returned to God, and has returned to God because he has loved Him and found in Him the only true object of love and life. And God has accepted man and -- in Christ -- reconciled him with Himself. Repentence is thus the return of our love, of our life, to God, and this return is possible in Christ because He reveals to us the true Life and makes us aware of our exile and condemnation. To believe in Christ is to repent -- to change radically the very “mind” of our life, to see it as sin and death. And to believe in Him is to accept the joyful revelation that in Him forgiveness and reconcilation have been given. ...

And yet sin is still in us and we constantly fall away from the new life we have received. The fight of the new Adam against the old Adam is a long and painful one, and what a naive oversimplication it is to think, as some do, that the “salvation” they experience in revivals and “decisions for Christ,”and which result in moral righteousness, soberness and warm philanthropy, is the whole of salvation, is what God meant when He gave His son for the life of the world. The one true sadness is “that of not being a saint,”and how often the “moral” Christians are precisely those who never feel, never experience this sadness, because their own “experience of salvation,” the feeling of “being saved” fills them with satisfaction; and whoever has been “satisfied” has received already his reward and cannot thirst and hunger for that total transformation and transfiguration of life ...

-- from Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1963, 1973), 69-70, 78-79.

The author hits the nail squarely a number of times but misses the mark miserably in others....

"That man prefers something -- the world, himself -- to God, this is the only real sin, and in it all sins become natural, inevitable."

On the one hand this statement is very true... All sin CAN be boiled down to 'Selfishness', the act of preferring ones own will over that of God's. On the other hand, without knowing the full mind and intent of the author, this statement is heresy of titanic proportions.

So... I'd have to say that to some measure Schmemann demonstrates a profound understanding of Sin, to others he is profoundly wrong. You haven't offered enough here to make a better judgment.

Interesting read, though.
Heresy? That's a real hoot.

Cracks me up.

Please elaborate.
Probably because it borders on true Gnosticism, in that it requires a special knowledge to become that "second Adam". Grace is not enough. Also it defines the cosomos in dualistic terms which is very much Gnostic in concept.
Under Roman Church Dogma yes it is probably heresy.
Interesting. The author is an Orthodox scholar.

(I think ELash probably uses the word "heresy" a little too freely. And the word "treason," too, probably. That is, a heretic is one who disagrees with him theologically or doctrinally, and a traitor is one who disagrees with him politically, especially as regards the "war" on terrorism. Correct me if I'm wrong, EL.)
Many of the founding Church Fathers, especially those who were Ante-Nicean and even some afterwards, held views and theology that is now considered heresy. Why should not such be true today?
The evangelical churches are ripe with mancheaistic, gnostic, and/or zoroasteristic dualisms. Even this guy has resorted to it.

Even today the Roman Church has to guard its own seminarians from falling into the practice of non-sanctioned dogma.

For anyone with a mind and the ability to read it is an easy thing to do.
Allow me to reiterate:

"You haven't offered enough here to make a better judgment."

...but I'll take a stab at it.

"The sin of all sins -- the truly 'original sin' -- is not a transgression of rules, but, first of all, the deviation of man’s love and alienation from God."

The first original sin of Adam's (not Eve's) WAS a transgression of the rules... 'Do not eat of that tree right there. Yes, Adam, that one... the one with the lovely fruit on it. Don't eat of that tree or you will surely die'

So while the first half of Schmemann's statement is most assuredly wrong, he's right on the money with the next phrase, that Sin is a "deviation of man’s love(,) [resulting in] alienation from God." --though I take issue, somewhat, with the 'deviation of man's love' bit, but I won't go into that here.

Moving on: Heresy rarely begins as a blatant "Deviation" from established truth/doctrine, it appears as something far more subtle-- a lie cloaked in truth.

God simply said, 'Don't eat from that tree, or you'll die'

But Eve, added to God's command, by saying 'Neither should we touch it', and this is the heresy, or rather, the "foot hold" Satan needed to cause Adam to fall from innocence... [please note I didn't say 'Grace']

We mere mortal men love to analyze. And we're very good at it. I love to debate religion; what is, and what is not genuine in terms of God's Truth, but we often spend too much time analyzing instead of simply taking what is written, as it is written-- We are natural born diggers; ever-curious and never satisfied with what we find, to see what lies a little deeper below the surface. This is why we have so many different denominations; everyone picking and choosing one special truth that identifies, to their minds, the REAL truth of God. 'You gotta handle snakes, brother! No, you have to be baptised to get into heaven! No, you have to accept the truths of this other book as well!

THAT is what I mean by heresy.

Jehovah's Witnesses are not Christians... though they claim to be the true followers of Christ. Mormons are viewed as Christians, but their doctrine says otherwise. Roman Catholicism is thought to be the Mother Church, the genuine real deal, but its doctrine finds its roots in ancient Babylon... not in the Christ-centric teachings of the early church. Of the three I've just mentioned, you'll have far better success in finding genuine Christians in the Roman church than you will in the previous two.

But what do I know? Thanks for reading nonetheless.
Thanks, EL.

I insist that we're saying the same thing, though:

"God simply said, 'Don't eat from that tree, or you'll die'"

Eve thought, "I think I will eat that fruit." That was her Self acting. It was an act of Self. A selfish act.

Then did Adam.

But what would a metaphor like Eve know anyway? ;-)
Good points but:
ELA I would contend that the "original sin" concept you and put forth were brought into the Judeo/Christian scheme from the Jews' stay in Babylon as well.
And that Babylon received it from the intrusion of Zoroasterism from its North and West.
As for the early christians and their Christ-centric mode...which of the dozens of "early" Christian traditions were you refering to?
A puzzel for you od theological bent:
What entity of real world physics has the following characteristics:
1. From its perspective it does not exist in time but only has a eternal now. Time does not pass where it is.
2. It is neither created nor destroyed.
3. It is neither matter nor energy or it is both.
4. It has been worshiped in the form of a sun or a star or as fire in many religions.
5. Nothing can be seen with out it.
6. Virtually all creation stories mention it first in the sequence of creation.
7. It has no substance but is the source of and energy for all life on the earth.

What could this be?
Scientific name please:___________
Having read all of the "For the Life of the World", as well as nearly everything else Schmemann published, I can attest to the fact that in saying "That man prefers something -- the world, himself -- to God, this is the only real sin, and in it all sins become natural, inevitable," Schmemann is not offering a limiting definition of sin, but is rather pointing up that the root or first cause of all sins is Man's turning away from God, the source of all good. To suggest otherwise seems to suggest that man is somehow ontologically capable of generating goodness in himself, a proposition which is in fact heretical. Having turned from God, Man is able to use his free will to manifest all manner of evil; however, the first step in this process is inevitably a willful departure from Him who is Good itself. You can't dwell in a "far country" unless you leave your Father's house.

When Schmemann says that the original sin "was not a transgression of rules", what he means is that it was not MERELY a transgression of rules: again, he is emphasizing a cause rather than advancing a limiting definition.

As to the accusation of Gnosticism, or the limitation of Grace by the predication of salvation on the obtainment of some esoteric knowledge, please note that in the passage quoted above, Schmemann says quite clearly that " believe in [Christ] is to accept the joyful revelation that in Him forgiveness and reconcilation have been given."
Eve was much more than a metaphor.
Perhaps. And perhaps you don't appreciate the full measure of a holy metaphor. :-)

Of course, if you require that I accept the assertion that Eve, and her lover(!), were literal people, then we differ (surprise).

I think of the Judeo-Christian Creation stories, especially the Adam and Eve part, as much more than literal.

And, thanks to Anon.

Schmemann also dispateches the dualism that Drlobojo is hung up on. The old Adam-New Adam stuff isn't dualism; it's yet another human attempt to explain the inexplicable and holy. IMHO.
This is perfect, perfect timing. The last sentence (before the copyright notice) is especially poignant, and exactly what I believe about literalist-fundamentalism: Idolatry of Self!

-- ER

(gracEmail) Jehovah's Witnesses
Edward Fudge
Jul 13, 2006


A gracEmail subscriber wants to know more about the so-called "Jehovah's Witnesses" who go door-to-door evangelizing, and whether he should regard them as Christians.
* * *
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society is an American-born, now international, apocalyptic religious movement founded about 1884 by Charles Taze Russell. Since 1931, its members have called themselves "Jehovah's Witnesses" based on Isaiah 43:10-12. These people are usually very high-principled morally and are extremely zealous for their faith. They teach that Jesus set up his invisible heavenly kingdom in 1914, which he will establish visibly on earth following a final Battle of Armageddon. In the meantime, they believe, God's work is accomplished through their organization, and they always refer to their meeting places as "Kingdom Halls" rather than as "churches." They believe that their organization alone has divine approval and that all other churches have been misled.

Jehovah's Witnesses deny the deity of Jesus, saying instead that he was originally Michael the Archangel, a created being. Yet they teach that Jesus' atoning sacrifice paid for human sins. They also teach that one must repent and be baptized by immersion in order to have sins forgiven. They believe that Jesus will come again to raise the righteous dead and to bring in new heavens and new earth. They believe that hell is the grave, and that the wicked dead will simply stay dead forever. The wicked who live until Jesus comes, they say, will be destroyed completely by him when he returns.

They refer to the cross as a "torture stake" rather than a "cross," because they believe that Jesus died on an upright pole instead of an instrument with a horizontal beam on it. Jehovah's Witnesses do not accept blood transfusions, refuse to take any pledge of allegiance or salute any flag, and are willing to die rather than violate their beliefs. Their members are taught not to celebrate birthdays or any secular or religious holidays.

Some evangelical Christians are quick to say that no Jehovah's Witness can possibly be saved. I would not dare say that, although I believe that some of the group's official doctrines are clearly heretical. God will not judge us by official organizational teachings, however, but by our true heart and life in view of our opportunities and the light we had. I always fear that one who is quick to condemn others based on their inability to correctly articulate scriptural teaching just might be trusting in his or her own doctrinal accuracy for salvation rather than trusting solely and wholly in Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Copyright 2006 by Edward Fudge. Permission hereby granted to reprint this gracEmail in its entirety without change, with credit given and not for financial profit. Visit our multimedia website at

(It bears repeating! It refers to leaning on one's own understanding! -- ER)

I always fear that one who is quick to condemn others based on their inability to correctly articulate scriptural teaching just might be trusting in his or her own doctrinal accuracy for salvation rather than trusting solely and wholly in Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

(And I have to add that the idea that The Fall all boils down to "breaking a rule" is simplistic to the point of sacrilege. To NOT use the brain God gave us! Land of Goshen!)
Answer to the riddle:

ER says: "Schmemann also dispateches the dualism that Drlobojo is hung up on. "

Not really, when he sites the "world" as "seperate" from God which he does at least twice and places it in the hands of a seperate power from God then he slips into the dualism that dates all the way back to Zoroasterism and before.

And if Salvation is completely outside us why then does Jesus say that the Kingdom of Heaven is within?

Your answer is almost correct.
Light is what we see of them. They are call Photons, if indeed they are they and not it, or him or her.
Could you guys translate that last paragraph from Schmemann for me? Seriously, put it in your own words. I would like to know what you see there.
I'll take a stab at it.

God's grace, even once engaged, or accepted, doesn't guarantee a smooth trajectory in one's journey to becoming all that one can be. The "fight" (old Adam, new Adam) is a lifelong(plus?) struggle between the selfishness naturally extending from self definition-awareness-defense and and the glory of the "kingdom." What we some call the "salvation experience" is the bare beginning of one's relationship with God.
Another way to put it:

Once saved, always anguished.

That's the pain.

Oh, and the very last part of Schmemann: That stems from the last shall be first, first shall be last idea, I think.
The idea that the world, while being created by God, and therefore good, has also, with Adam, been estranged from God and His grace, is a basic doctrine of Christianity. If the idea that the world is good and yet under the sway of destructive forces predates Christianity, I would submit that human experience makes that reality so self-evident that it is a concept as fundamental to human perception as the intuition of the existence of a transcendent creator/controller, an idea that also predates Christianity.

To illuminate the final paragraph of the quote from Schmemann:

Rather than viewing salvation as a one-time legal bargain between the individual and God, the Orthodox Church teaches that salvation is based upon a personal relationship with Christ, a relationship that, like any relationship, can atrophy over time if we choose to neglect it. When we decide to follow Christ, neither our free will nor its consequences are limited by that choice. God will not force His grace on us; we must, with the perfectly sufficient help that He is always ready to give, "work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling." (Philippians 2:12)
The Church teaches that we should be aware of our desperate need for God's grace at every moment of our lives, that we should long for Christ, our true home, to the extent that we are separated from Him by our own sinfulness, rather than complacently assuring ourselves that our salvation is secured, irrespective of our choices and behavior. The Church teaches that the grace to save us is always available; however, we have to choose to submit ourselves to it, not just at a single moment of decision, but throughout our lives.
Eloquently put.
Yes Anon, very well done, on both points. A very astute reading.
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