The Symbolic Meaning Of Sandals

Having discussed the overarching symbolic meaning of the ‘mount of olives’ as a sign and symbol of the Garden of Eden, let us discuss in more detail Christ washing the disciples feet, (John 13), the meaning of this washing, and the symbolism of sandal. We should take careful notice of its place in John’s Gospel. We will also investigate primarily the story of the burning bush as an example of removing ones sandals.  

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.” (John 13:3-4) As stated in our previous article, Christ washing the disciples feet is the first in a multitude of institutions initiated by Christ before His Passion. It is, in a sense, a precursor, a “first step” one takes before the other Mysteries are revealed.

Before we get into how the removal of sandals and washing our feet is a symbol of the “first step” we must take before the revelation of the Mysteries, let us first discuss the symbol of the sandal. Sandals are made from dead animal skin, with the specific purpose of protecting our skin. Adam, having abandoned the holiness in which God originally clothed him, must now clothe himself with created, worldly material.

“What are the shoes? Well, what are the shoes we wear? Leather from dead animals. The hides of dead animals are what we protect our feet with. So what are we being ordered to do? To give up dead works. This is symbolically what he instructs Moses to do in his honor, when the Lord says to him, ‘Take off your shoes. For the place you are standing in is holy ground.’ There’s no holier ground than the church of God, is there? So as we stand in it let us take off our shoes, let us give up dead works.” ~St Augustine of Hippo, commentary on Exodus

In the words of St Augustine I see a double meaning to “dead works.” Certainly we can accept that our works cannot, in and of themselves, make us “alive.” Only our participation in Christ and His Mysteries, by His Grace, do that. But I see another meaning to “dead works,” that of how our very lives, and the works which we must do merely to survive, since the fall of Adam, are “dead” and “fallen.” In order to sustain ourselves with food we must kill and eat animals. In order to clothe ourselves we must kill and skin animals. The very actions we take to sustain our worldly survival are rooted in death, and as such, can be called, “dead works.”

So we see that the sandal is a symbol of our desire to remain in this world. Our Lord shows us that this feeling alone is not, in itself, a sin, when He says: “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” (John 12:27) In his commentary on the Gospel of John, St John Chrysostom has this to say:

“He draws near to the cross, His human nature appears, a nature that did not wish to die, but cleaved to this present life. He shows that He is not quite without human feelings. For the desire of this present life is not necessarily wrong, any more than hunger.”

Though not a sin, as previously spoken about here, desiring not to die to this present life is a stumbling block towards spiritual progress. If left unchecked, it can paralyze your body or bring worse condemnation. Wanting to stay alive is not the sin: delighting in the pleasures of this world, being connected to this world, that of “wearing sandals” is the stumbling block.

“For it is said to Moses when he was desiring to draw nearer: ‘Put off your shoes from your feet,’ how much more must we free the feet of our soul from the bonds of the body and clear our steps from all connection with this world.” ~St Ambrose of Milan, commentary on Exodus

We are now developing the symbol of removing the sandal. If the sandal is made from “dead works,” and our wearing it is a sign of living in the word, then removing it symbolizes our detachment from worldly things and our present life.

“He willingly shook off his royal dignity like so much dust which is stripped off by the stomping of the feet. He banished himself from human society for forty years and lived alone, focusing steadfastly in undistracted solitude on the contemplation of invisible things. After this he was illuminated by the inexpressible light and freed the lower part of his soul from the dead garment made of skin.”~St Gregory of Nyssa, commentary on Exodus

St Gregory of Nyssa is speaking here about Moses, how he “shook off the royal dignity” as a prince of Egypt, that he may fast alone in “undistracted solitude on the contemplation of invisible things.” If we want to contemplate God and His Mysteries, if we want to make spiritual progress, we must shake off this worldly life, we must remove our sandals. If we keep our sandals on, that is, remain connected to this world and the clothing of dead skin, we remain in that first original disobedience.

“That light teaches us what we must do to stand within the rays of the true light: Sandaled feet cannot ascend that height where the light of truth is seen, but the dead and earthly covering of skins, which was placed around our nature at the beginning when we were found naked because of disobedience to the divine will, must be removed from the feet of the soul. When we do this, the knowledge of the truth will result and manifest itself. The full knowledge of being comes about by purifying our opinion concerning non-being.” ~St Gregory of Nyssa, On the Burning Bush, The Life of Moses

I want to go back and touch on how Moses “shook off his royal dignity” and how this is a foreshadowing of Christ washing the Apostles feet. Christ too “shook off his royal dignity” when He “laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.” Like Moses giving up his royal status as a prince of Egypt, Christ too gave up His royal status when becoming like us, condescending from His Royal Throne, to live among us, and be tempted. He not only condescends to our level, but He “took a towel and girded Himself,” that is, He offers a symbolic vision of the fall of Mankind, that of Adam girding himself with a fig leaf. Christ is physically taking the curse of Adam upon Himself, and by having the Apostles remove their sandals, He is removing the curse from Mankind.

And so we come to our final point, that of dusting our sandals and the washing of feet. As Moses was told to remove his sandals for the place where he stood was holy ground, we are told to remove the sandals of our souls, for we now bear the mark of Christ through baptism, and as such, we bear a type of holy ground.   

“Finally see what the Lord said to Moses and Joshua: ‘Remove the strap of your shoe, for the place where you stand is holy ground.’ Can this be understood according to the letter, beloved brethren? How could that ground upon which they trod be holy, since doubtless it was like the rest of the earth? However, notice carefully what was said: ‘For the place where on you stand is holy ground.’ That is to say, Christ, whose figure you bear and of whom you seem to be a type, is holy ground. True holy ground is the body of our Lord Jesus Christ through whom everything heavenly and earthly is sanctified.” ~St Caesarius of Arles, commentary on Exodus

This is why, before revealing the other Mysteries, Christ first has the Apostles remove their sandals and washes their feet. Even here we can understand the washing of the feet in two ways, for not only is it that first step towards the revelation of the other Mysteries, but it is a purgation of judgmental thoughts.

As stated previously (symbolism of Kidron brook) by St Caesarius of Arles, “Wash, I repeat, the feet of pious strangers, lest there remain in them some dust that they will be able to shake off of their feet to your judgment.” This is further supported in the Gospel of Matthew: “And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet.” (Matthew 10:14)

And so we see “shake off the dust from your feet” as primarily about forgiveness. When our neighbor sins we shake the dust from our feet. We do not hold their sin against them; we do not let the dust to remain on our sandals, a judgment or condemnation of their state. And we too rush to wash the sandals of our neighbors, that is, knowing our sin remains and we too do not wish to be judged. “Judge not lest you be judged” (Matthew 7:1; Luke 6:37; John 7:24)

We can draw some logical symbolic conclusions from this. If the sandal is our connection to this world per St Ambrose above, and we shake the dust off our sandals lest any be judged, then the dust can rightly symbolize the passions. In Chapters on Prayer, Evagrius of Pontus has this to say:

“If Moses, when he attempted to draw near the burning bush, was prohibited until he should remove the shoes from his feet, how should you not free yourself of every thought that is colored by passion seeing that you wish to see One who is beyond every thought and perception?”

If we seek to make spiritual progress and further our contemplation of God, we must remove our sandals as “Sandaled feet cannot ascend that height where the light of truth is seen.” We remove our connection to this world; we shake the dust off our sandals; we forgive each other; and we shake the passions from ourselves, that is, we trample them underfoot, no longer with the sandals made from dead animal skin and “dead works,” this a sign of the first disobedience, but with the washed feet of our new obedience to God.

Symbolism at the Kidron Brook

“When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered.” (John 18:1) Since we are now in Great Lent, I wanted to do a piece on a symbolic rendering of this verse; where Jesus is coming from, and where He is going, and how this verse is ultimately a revelation of the Trinity.  We will utilize the Rublev icon of the Hospitality of Abraham as our guide. And of course, we will support our position from the writings of the Holy Fathers.

Let us first examine the Rublev icon, also known as the “Trinity” icon. There are three angels depicted. The central figure wears the colors of our Lord, red on the inside, blue on the outside. Even His halo or nimbus is often cruciform — with the Divine Name inscribed therein. He is identified as our Lord Jesus Christ. On the right side of the icon is an angel wearing a green robe, green being the colors of Pentecost. A mountain rises up behind this angel. This angel typologically symbolizes the Holy Spirit, with the mountain a symbol of creation. On the left side is our final angel. The previous two have their heads bowed towards this angel. This angel typologically symbolizes the Father. Behind him is a building. This is a symbol of the temple, or “the house that the Lord built.”

The general flow of the icon is the rising of the temple on the left with the rising of the mountain on the right, which both flank the depression of Christ in the middle.

There is a lot more to say about the Rublev “Trinity” icon, but this will suffice for our purpose. Let us now recount, loosely, what transpired before John 18, all the things that lead us to being told that Christ crossed Kidron brook and entered a garden. Christ has washed the disciples feet and given them the greatest commandments (John 13); Christ reveals the Holy Spirit and the Father to the Apostles (John 14); And Christ prays the “priestly prayer.” (John 17) Though not clear in the Gospel of John, Matthew 26, Mark 14, and Luke 22 all have Christ instituting the Eucharist before “coming out, He went to the mount of olives.” (Matthew 26:30, Mark 14:26, Luke 22:39)

While at first glance it does not appear to be so, all four Gospels record the same event, that of Christ crossing the Kidron brook and entering the mount of olives. Matthew 26:30, Mark 14:26, and Luke 22:39 all speak of Christ entering the mount of olives, while John 18:1 speaks of Christ crossing the Kidron book and entering a garden. We know from a simple look at a map of Jerusalem that these are all the same, single, event, as the old city of Jerusalem and the mount of olives are separated by the Kidron valley. It is important to note that Jerusalem is also built on a hill.

The general flow of the geography is the rising of the Jerusalem on the left with the rising of the mount of olives on the right, which both flank the depression of Kidron valley in the middle.

Let us return to the Rublev “Trinity” icon, and map this history of events with the symbolism in that icon. Christ celebrated the Passover and instituted the Eucharist, among the washing of the feet, the greatest commandments, revelations of the Father and Spirit, and finally said His priestly prayer all in Jerusalem. St Cyril of Alexandria, in his commentary on the Gospel of John, says this:

“After having enlightened His disciples, and turned them by suitable instruction to all those things that make for righteousness, and after having bidden them choose the life which is most spiritual and pleasing to God, and besides also promising Himself to fulfill them with spiritual graces, and saying that blessings from the Father above would be showered down upon them, Jesus goes forth readily, not shrinking from the time of His suffering, nor yet fearing to die for all men.”

Notice these are all functions of the priesthood. Priests operate in the temple, or “the house that the Lord built,” and as previously mentioned, the temple being symbolized by the building behind the angel as the typological symbol of the Father. Christ starts in the “house which the Lord built,” which is on the left side of the Rublev “Trinity” icon. He institutes all of the priestly duties, and only then, does He go out from Jerusalem down into the Kidron valley to ultimately end up in the mount of olives, which John records as “a garden.”

There are rather obvious implications of this mapping downward movement: Christ’s condescension coming down in the Incarnation; Christ’s death, burial, and descent into hades; our baptism, uniting us into Christ’s death. And there are, again, some rather obvious implications of this mapping upward movement: Christ’s resurrection and ascent; Christ invites His disciples enter the garden with Him, that is, they are united in His resurrection, and brought into Life.

So what is the symbolic meaning of olive bushes, why does John refer to it as “a garden,” and what is the overarching symbolism of this mapping and the Mount of Olives?

“The olive tree is a symbol of election by grace. The Lord has chosen the people of Israel, as an olive tree from among the wild trees, to be His elect people. Also Elijah and Enoch, who were to be the precursors of Christ’s second advent, are named olive trees. Both of them were seen by the prophet Zechariah and John the Evangelist in visions, how they stood before the throne of glory in the heaven in the form of two olive trees. As an oil giving tree, and as one of the longest living trees of the earth, the olive tree is a symbol of every man of grace, who is shining with truth and charity by the Holy Spirit, and who has rooted himself deep into life eternal. The Psalmist says of himself, “I am a green olive tree in the house of God.” ~St Nikolai Velimirovich, The Universe as Symbols and Signs: An Essay on Mysticism in the Eastern Church

Ss Cyril of Alexandria and Nikolai Velimirovich compliment each other very well here highlighting symbol of the olive tree. The elect of God, first “by suitable instruction to all those things that make for righteousness,” and by choosing “the life which is most spiritual and pleasing to God,” will shine “with truth and charity by the Holy Spirit,” that is, they will bear righteous fruit and have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Though not an Orthodox Saint, Alcuin of York has this to say on the usage of “a garden” in John 18:1:

“Over the brook Cedron, i.e. of cedars. It is the genitive in the Greek. He goes over the brook,i.e. drinks of the brook of His Passion. Where there was a garden, that the sin which was committed in a garden, He might blot out in a garden. Paradise signifies garden of delights.”

So by “a garden,” St John is drawing out that Christ, after instituting the Eucharist, is leading His disciples into paradise. St John had actually foreshadowed this earlier in his Gospel account:

St Caesarius of Arles

“And everyone went to his own house. But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.” (John 7:53-8:1) This is the only time St John uses the location ‘mount of olives’, and he does so in reference to houses, that is, to where Christ “lives.” This shows ‘mount of olives’ as a symbol of paradise, since the Logos is constantly on the throne at the right hand of God, the Father.

I want to return to Christ washing the apostles feet, and the historical event depicted in the Rublev icon.

“Moreover he adds, as though speaking to the men, ‘I will bring water, that you may wash your feet.’ Learn from blessed Abraham, brothers, to receive strangers gladly and to wash their feet with humility and piety. Wash, I repeat, the feet of pious strangers, lest there remain in them some dust that they will be able to shake off of their feet to your judgment.” ~St Caesarius of Arles, commentary on Genesis 18

In washing the disciples feet, Christ is drawing a connection to the historical event in Genesis. As St Cyril stated above, Christ is giving instruction into righteous living, while also showing the works and faith of Abraham, and revealing the Trinity. Our Lord, again, foreshadows this when He tells the Jews, “They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham.” (John 8:39) If the Jews did the works of Abraham, washing the feet of strangers, they would have avoided judgment. They also would have shown the faith of Abraham since they were talking with the Lord Himself.

“Notice, brothers, and see how God appeared to Abraham and how he appeared to Lot. The three men came to Abraham and stood over him; two came to Lot and stayed in the street. Consider, brothers, whether these things did not happen through the dispensation of the Holy Spirit according to their merits. Indeed, Lot was far inferior to Abraham; if he had not been, he would not have merited to be separated from Abraham, nor would the dwelling of Sodom have pleased him. Now the three men came to Abraham at noon, while the other two came to Lot in the evening for this reason: Lot was unable to endure the power of the noonday sun, but Abraham could stand its full brightness.” ~St Caesarius of Arles, commentary on Genesis 18

As spoken about with St Photini at the well, noon time or ‘midday’ has symbolic meaning. Eve partook of the fruit at noon and St Photini bore the midday heat as a type of Divine Justice for her adultery. Here, Abraham bears the burden of another type of ‘Divine Justice,’ that of the Revelation of the Trinity. And so we complete our symbolism of the crossing of the Kidron brook and entering a garden, that is, the Mount of Olives, as a theophany of the Lord. Similar to the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, by Christ fulfilling all the priestly duties, including hearkening back to Abraham, descending into the Kidron valley, “drinks the brook of His Passion,” and ascending the Mount of Olives, what was first only given as typological symbol to Abraham, He initiates the Apostles into the fulfillment of the Mystery of the revelation of the Trinity.


The Paralyzed Soul

“Jesus says, ‘Wilt thou be made whole?’ The impotent man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steps down before me.’” (John 5:6-7) This raises an intriguing question: why didn’t the man simply answer, “Yes! I would like to be made whole”? Why did the paralytic answer the way he did? And what can we learn about how the Church views spiritual progress?

Let us first start with how long the paralytic has been at the pool, and why he was there. John 5:5 says that he has been there thirty eight years. At the outset we must accept that the man is at the pool because he is sick, that is, paralyzed, and wants to get well. However, in John 5:14, we learn from our Lord that the man knew he was a sinner, and stayed at the temple all that time, looking, waiting, to be healed from his sin. We know this because the Lord said, “Do not sin again.”

“The water of baptism heals all: the blind, whose spiritual eyes are darkened and cannot distinguish good from evil; the lame, who are paralyzed and neither practice virtue nor make any spiritual progress; and the withered, who are in complete despair because of their inability to accomplish anything good.” ~St Theophylact of Ohrid, commentary on the Gospel of John

Paralysis here is not simply that of the flesh. The paralytic knows he did not live a virtuous and holy life. He is spiritually paralyzed. As already stated by our Lord in John 5:14, the man was physically paralyzed precisely because of his spiritual ailment . “Do not sin again lest something worse befall you.” Because of this, the paralytic knows that he cannot make any spiritual progress on his own; he cannot heal his condition on his own, that is, by doing virtuous acts or through almsgiving. He knows that he will only make spiritual progress with the help from the Lord.

Before we proceed, we must keep in mind that there is some numerology in play here. In Hebrew theology, forty was a number of completeness. So the fact that the man was sick for thirty eight years is an allusion to the moment right before something becomes complete, or whole. That he is at the temple this entire time is a testament to his desire to be healed. He is not at a house being taken care of by someone else. He is looking for a different kind of comfort, a lasting comfort, not of this world, but that only comes from God.

“The perseverance of the paralytic is astounding. For thirty-eight years he lay there waiting, each year hoping to be healed, but always prevented by those who were stronger. Yet he neither gave up, nor despaired. This is why the Lord questioned him, in order to show us the steadfastness of the man, and not of course because He was ignorant of the answer. Not only was it unnecessary for Him to learn the answer, it would have been foolish for anyone to ask such a question, whether a sick man wanted to be healed. The Lord spoke as He did only to bring to our attention the patience of the man. How does he answer? With great kindness and gentleness. “Yea, Lord, I wish to be healed, but I have no man who is able to carry me into the water.” He does not answer with blasphemy; he does not rebuke Christ for asking a stupid question; he does not curse the day of his birth as we often do, fainthearted as we are, when undergoing a much lesser affliction than his. He answers meekly and pleadingly, indeed not knowing to Whom he was speaking, and also intending perhaps to ask Christ to carry him into the water. Note also that Christ did not say, “Wilt thou that I make thee whole?” lest He appear to boast.” ~Theophylact of Ohrid, commentary on the Gospel of John

We see great humility from both our Lord and the paralytic. He did not give up, nor did he despair. But I also believe the paralytic had a keen insight into the depth of his situation, and that this insight made him realize that his physical ailment could only be cured spiritually. Yes, his body is paralyzed, but it is his soul which needs healing. The paralytic knows that the pool will only heal his physical body. No, what the paralytic hungers for is to be cleansed of his sin and his soul be healed.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” – (Matthew 5:6)

Our Lord references the manna falling from heaven during the Exodus multiple times in the Gospel of John. When we are hungry and thirsty we desire our bellies be filled, and be satisfied; we desire to comfort our bodies. As discussed here, we think God changing the stone into bread is the miracle precisely because it gives us what we want, to fill our bodies, or worse, to use as accusation against the Lord. Rather, our Lord shows us that the healing of our souls from their fallen state, that is, Christ “purifying” our sinful nature, is what we should desire. As St Hilary of Poitiers says:

“The blessedness which He appropriates to those who hunger and thirst after righteousness shows that the deep longing of the saints for the doctrine of God shall receive perfect replenishment in heaven; then “they shall be filled.” (commentary on the Beatitudes)

Let us, then, return to the numerology of thirty eight and becoming complete. The paralytic says, “I have no man.” Similar to John 19:5 when Pilate says, “Behold, the man!” here St John is telling us that the paralytic does not have a man, that is, the God-Man to heal him. And so we see that waiting at the temple for thirty eight years shows deep devotion to the observance of the Law, but that the Law could not heal him; it cannot make him whole. The Law does not free us from sin. Only by the God-Man, by fulfilling the law, does the man become free from sin and healed in his soul. This is why Christ tells him to take up his mat and walk, for he now reigns with Christ as Lord of the Sabbath, the Sabbath being made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

This is also another reason why our Lord says, “do not sin again lest something worse befall you.” (John 5:14) Christ gives this warning to the paralytic, that he not fall again into the sin. His sin had only paralyzed his body up to that point. But the illness which stems from sin, if continued, would cause much worse punishments.

“The Lord’s words to the paralytic, ‘Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more,’ confirm the truth of these two doctrines – illness in man stems from sin, and the punishment in hell is eternal. No one can now say, ‘I fornicated only for an hour; my punishment cannot last forever.’ Behold this man: his years of sin were far fewer than the many years of his punishment, which lasted almost a lifetime.” ~St Theophylact of Ohrid, commentary on the Gospel of John

I mention this for two reasons: first, to highlight that physical illness comes from our sin. As stated by St Mark the Ascetic, affliction bring blessings, and how this is a matter of God’s Divine Justice. But also, second, to draw even more attention to the depth of the paralytics’ humility. He does not give up hope, nor did he despair. He accepted the punishment of thirty eight years without grumbling, without cursing the day of his birth. How many times are we offended daily, and cannot even endure it for a second, but rebuke, curse, and blaspheme? The paralytic, he endured his punishment righteously for thirty eight years.

Jesus asks, “Wilt thou be made whole?” The paralytic does not answer, “Yes I want to be made whole,” but shows great humility instead in that his desire is not that his body be made whole, but that his soul be healed and he be lead towards spiritual progress. As St Leo the Great, Pope of Rome says in his commentary on the Beatitudes: “It is nothing bodily, nothing earthly, that this hunger, this thirst seeks for: but it desires to be satiated with the good food of righteousness, and wants to be admitted to all the deepest mysteries, and be filled with the LORD Himself.” The paralytic knows that only “the Man,” that is, the God-Man Incarnate is able to provide this.

Let us emulate the humility of the paralytic, patiently enduring our punishments and afflictions, that we may proceed down the path of spiritual progress and receive greater blessings, lest something worse befall us.

Jung And False Theosis

Previously, we discussed the Jungian idea of syzygy, specifically in the case of Good and evil. In it, we delved into why the Jungian idea is diametrically opposed to the Orthodox concept of Good. This, however, is not the only way in which the ideas of Jung are incompatible with the teachings of Orthodoxy. Jung also taught a concept of achieving the highest version of yourself, similar to the Orthodox teaching of theosis, which he referred to as “individuation.”

The similarity in the overall concepts of individuation and theosis used can make it a bit confusing as to whether or not Jung is just using different words to teach the same concept, or if the concept itself is contradictory to our Orthodox teachings. To know this, we have to explore the ground on which these concepts are built.

Jungian teaching is that individuation begins in understanding what he terms as the “collective unconscious.” It is no easy task to define that for someone unfamiliar with his teachings. Think of it as a repository for all elements of the psyche and, at the same time, the foundation and source of our creation.

Phillip Sherrard describes it is, “a kind of repository of all [the] psychic elements and drives which have either not entered man’s conscious world, or been driven out of it, suppressed because [of man’s] inability or unwillingness to admit them on the conscious level.” (Source: Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 3, No. 1. (Winter, 1969) © World Wisdom, Inc.)

What needs to be understood here, before we move forward, that unlike the Orthodox faith which believes we become more our true self as the darkness is “driven out” of man, Jung believes man is diminished by ridding himself of these thing. They fly off into this mysterious repository of the collective unconscious and wait to be reclaimed so to speak. However, this darkness is, in fact, our passions, which must be struggled against, confessed, and absolved from if we are to ever be whole.

So, first Jung sees the collective unconscious as the ground of our being, and second the place where the parts of ourselves that we deny go to be kept. The third function of the collective unconscious (as taught by Jung) is the vehicle by which we become “whole” or find our “true self.” This is what he refers to as “individuation.”

The following Ibid quote describes this best:

“[Man’s] true life now is not his conscious life at all, but his unconscious life. ‘Our unconscious existence is the real one and our conscious world is a kind of illusion, an apparent reality constructed for a specific purpose, like a dream which seems a reality as long as we are in it.’ …Modern man has identified himself with what is at best but a superficial aspect of himself, and his real self lies buried within him, in the obscure substrata of the unconscious. It follows from this that if modern man is to recover his psychic health and realize what Jung calls his wholeness or complete form he must once again allow his submerged, suppressed, unconscious existence to enter his conscious world.”

While finding out “true-self” certainly sounds like a worthy and Christian goal, this process espoused by Jung is wholly opposite of that in Orthodoxy. The Church provides a process through which we confront our desires (our “passions”). While denial is damaging (because it keeps us from confessing), the distinction becomes clear when we see how we are are to deal with them once we become aware.

Finding our “true-self” can only happen in the sacramentality of the Church. Primarily, in confession. While Jung is particularly correct about everyone having to address the darkness within ourselves, Jung is horribly incorrect that doing so makes us “whole.” Rather, the Church has us address our passions, our inner darkness, repent of and confess it, at which point, we receive absolution for our confessed sins. What Jung proposes to heal and make us whole, only further decays our beingness, continues our status as fallen, and leads us further away from wholeness. Becoming whole is only possible when we are free from our passions.

Phillip Sherrard continues explaining the incompatibility of Jung’s wholeness doctrine and Orthodoxy by explaining Jung’s criticism of the Christian approach to wholeness, stating, “As we had, through traditional Christianity, failed to overcome or escape our anxiety, bad conscience, guilt, compulsion, unconsciousness and instinctuality from the bright, idealistic side, “then perhaps we shall have better luck by approaching the problem from the dark, biological side.” (p. 149)

What do the Fathers of the Church say? “Evil is not to be imputed to the essence of created beings, but to their erroneous and mindless motivation.” ~St Maximos the Confessor, 4th century on love, #14. Not only is man not to harmonize two opposite or complementary aspects within himself, it’s actually impossible to do so because evil has no ontology in the essence of created beings.  

What Christ comes to give us is not the “dark face of God” or a balance our conscious (read ‘good’) selves with our unconscious (dark, evil side). We previously discussed in the article on Good and evil that for Orthodoxy, evil is not harmonic with the Good, but destructive.

He took from us what is ours in order to give generously what is His. Through our participation in the sacramentality of the Church we come to the truth of cooperation, or what we know as, synergy. God became Man that Man might become God.

The Jungian concept is immediately at variance with the teachings of Orthodoxy. For Jung, man devolves into a prior state, a more primitive self, in order to achieve his “highest” self. You can see the foundation of this way of thinking here:

“Thus it is that the deepest level of the collective unconscious, the deepest part of man’s nature, ‘borders on the life of the animal soul’. This correlation of the psyche with man’s evolutionary progress led him, inevitably, to reject Christian ideas of man’s creation and consequently of the structure of the human psyche, and to substitute his own ideas. ‘If the unconscious is anything at all’, he writes, ‘it must consist of earlier evolutionary stages of our conscious psyche. The assumption that man in his whole glory was created on the sixth day of Creation, without any preliminary stages, is after all somewhat too simple and archaic to satisfy us nowadays. There is pretty general agreement on that score… Just as the body has an anatomical pre-history of millions of years, so also does the psychic stream. And just as the human body represents in each of its parts the result of this evolution, and everywhere still shows traces of its earlier stages—so the same may be said of the psyche. Consciousness began its evolution from an animal-like state . . .’”. Phillip Sherrad, Source: Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 3, No. 1. (Winter, 1969) © World Wisdom, Inc.   

Again, it is St. Maximos who shows us the error of Jung:


“Some say that the created order coexisted with God from eternity; but this is impossible. For how can things which are limited in every way coexist from eternity with him who is altogether infinite? Or how are they really creations if they are coeternal with the Creator? This notion is drawn from the pagan Greek philosophers, who claim that God is in no way the creator of being but only of qualities. We, however, who know Almighty God, say that He is the creator not only of qualities but also of the being of created things. If this is so, created things have not coexisted with God from eternity.” ~4th century on love, #6

One must agree with Wolfgang Smith that the Jungian cult is one of self-love and self-worship. Jung has deified the collective unconscious, and therefore, man.

This pride is at odds with the foundation of our election, that is the necessary humility to follow Christ and hear God’s message. When we confess our sins, Christ opens up paradise to us. This is not a downward movement as Jung would want us to believe, for we know that leads to non-being. Rather:

“A soul’s motivation is rightly ordered when its desiring power is subordinated to self-control, when its incensive power rejects hatred and cleaves to love, and when its power of intelligence, through prayer and spiritual contemplation, advances toward God.” ~St Maximos the Confessor, 4th century on love, #15


An Orthodox View On Good And Evil

To those who have never seen Her before, the Orthodox Church can be quite confusing, and rightfully so. The idea of “Holy Fathers” is somewhat antithetical to the Western mind, preferring academic scholars. Listening to hymnography theologically, as true theology, and not just “worship songs”, is another hurdle. The visuals are also quite daunting: the iconostasis with her icons, the incense, the candles. And so it is only understandable that a great concern for Orthodox is how to portray Orthodoxy to the modern world. One such area is how to make it appealing to the modern intellectual, with his atheistic criticisms of Evangelical christianity all too ready.

A way Orthodox have gone about bridging the gap of Orthodox Christianity with the modern intellectual is to cite figures the intellectual will deem credible. One such figure is the philosopher-psychologist Carl Jung. The attempt is to claim that Carl Jung’s teachings on syzygies and of the collective unconscious are all perfectly Orthodox and can be found in the Holy Fathers.

But are they?

What is “syzygy”? Syzygy comes from ancient Greek and refers to pairing two opposites together. Some familiar and common syzygies are: male & female; day & night; light & dark; Good & evil. Many traditionalists are drawn the idea that male and female are fundamentally opposite. Day and night, as with light and dark, seem harmless enough. But is Good & evil a true syzygy? Are they truly opposite?

In order to say that Good and evil are syzygy, or a pair of opposites, we must understand the ontology of each. Here, Wolfgang Smith (in his book “Cosmic Transcendence: breaking through the barrier of scientistic belief”) articulates Jung’s theory of where syzygies come from, “To begin with, Jung shares the Gnostic penchant for seeing all things in terms of so-called syzygies or ‘pairs of opposites’… Consonant with this outlook, the syzygies are said to arise from an undifferentiated state which the Gnostics termed the Abyss (bythos) and which Jung for his part takes to be the collective unconscious.…” (pg 128).

We read through Smith here that for Jung the syzygies, that is “pair of opposites”, all arise from the same place. Light arises with darkness; day with night; male with female. I no longer use the conjunction ‘and’ but now switch to the preposition ‘with,’ as it is truly not one and its opposite, but one with its opposite together. For Jung, light cannot possibly exist without its opposite darkness: one cannot exist on its own. Smith continues that for Jung,

“as if cosmic existence itself were no more than a disturbed equilibrium, a process in which every plus must have its minus and every sum must add up to zero-if only we take care to include all the terms.” (pg 128)


This is the linch-pin for understanding how Jung perceived Good and evil. If we apply this definition of syzygy to Good and evil then we admit that they come from the same place! Smith articulates this best:

“If everything must have its shadow side, and if existence itself results from a separation of opposites, then what we take to be evil can be no less essential than the good: like the two sides of a coin or the crest and trough of a wave, good and evil are but the complementary aspects of one and the same reality.” (pg 128-129)

However, let us look to Jung’s words himself.

“’The privatio boni argument remains a euphemistic petitio principii no matter whether evil is regarded as a lesser good or as an effect of the finiteness and limitedness of created things. The false conclusion necessarily follows from the premise ‘Deus= Summum Bonus’, since it is unthinkable that the perfect good could ever have created evil.’~Jung, (P&S, P49)·

Jung here is saying that because we start from the premise of ‘Deus=Summum Bonus’ (God is the Ultimate Good) we fabricate the idea of evil being the privation of goodness (privatio boni). Jung ultimately concludes to which no Orthodox Christian would agree with, that “’In the final analysis it is God who created the world and its sins, and who therefore became Christ in order to suffer the fate of humanity.”~Jung, (MDR, p216.) And Smith continues, “With Jung, on the other hand, as with the Gnostics, it was a settled conviction: a kind of gospel truth-that God is the author of evil.” (Cosmic Transcendence, pg 130)

What does Orthodoxy, Her Fathers and Her theology, say regarding the concept of Good and evil, and whether they both arise from God? What is the Orthodox concept of the ontology of Good, and does evil even have an ontology? Does Orthodoxy agree that God is the author of evil?

“1. NOW let us consider the name of “Good” which the Sacred Writers apply to the Supra-Divine Godhead in a transcendent manner, calling the Supreme Divine Existence Itself “Goodness” (as it seems to me) in a sense that separates It from the whole creation, and meaning, by this term, to indicate that the Good, under the form of Good-Being, extends Its goodness by the very fact of Its existence unto all things.” ~St Dionysios the Areopagite, the Divine Names, Caput IV, section 1.


St Dionysios tells us that God extends being and goodness to everything that exists. This is supported by the Scriptural account in Genesis, that after every day God declared it “Good”. But I also particularly like the footnote to this quote of St Dionysios by C.E. Rolt: “God’s activity cannot be distinguished from Himself. Cf. p. 81, n. 4. God acts simply by being what He is—by being Good. This fits in with the doctrine that He creates the world as being the Object of its desire. He attracts it into existence.”

God’s activity cannot be distinguished from Himself. God not only bestows Goodness to every being He creates, He -is- that very Goodness itself. It is Him. Good’s ontology rests not in some undifferentiated “collective unconscious” but in the very Being of God. If we tried to harmonize St Dionysios’ definition of Good with Jung’s syzygy of Good with evil, we must conclude that not only does evil come from God, but that God’s very being is evil. Just as Good is God Himself, so too evil is Him. This is probably why Smith is able to say of Jung:

“God is ambivalent, that He has also a dark side, and that He alone is responsible for the sufferings of the world. Thus, what theology terms Satan or Antichrist, is in reality just ‘the other face of God.” (Cosmic Transcendence, 130)


“But it appears that this ‘new light’ is really quite ancient; it is in fact Gnostic. Demonstrably so: for if it be true that ‘the spiritual currents of our time have a deep affinity with Gnosticism; then to conform Christianity to the contemporary spirit is to conform it ipso facto to Gnostic ideas. For Jung this means above all to recognize God’s ‘dark face’ and so in effect to deify Satan. As Philip Sherrard has observed, ‘Jung regarded it as his task to redeem the Devil.’ The thrust of Jung’s theological speculations, it seems, was to install Satan as the Fourth Hypostasis in a divine Quaternary.” (Ibid pg 131)

The Orthodox Christian can agree with none of this. We are at a loss for how to harmonize Jung’s position of the syzygy of Good and evil at all with the Orthodox concept of “Good.” So what, then, is the Orthodox position on evil? St Dionysios the Areopagite discusses this in his section on Good (Caput IV) at the end, titled: “Also that Evil is neither existent nor Sprung from anything existent nor inherent in existent things.

“Unto evil we can attribute but an accidental kind of existence. It exists for the sake of something else, and is not self-originating… Evil is, then, a lack, a deficiency, a weakness, a disproportion, an error, purposeless, unlovely, lifeless, unwise, unreasonable, imperfect, unreal, causeless, indeterminate, sterile, inert, powerless, disordered, incongruous, indefinite, dark, unsubstantial, and never in itself possessed of any existence whatever.” St Dionysios the Areopagite, Caput IV, 32

“For evil hath no being at all, except when mingled with the Good.” St Dionysios the Areopagite, Caput IV, 33

“Thus evil hath no being, nor any inherence in things that have being. Evil is nowhere qua evil; and it arises not through any power but through weakness.” ~St Dionysios the Areopagite, Caput IV, 34

Reading St Dionysios we see that evil does not rise on its own. It requires the Good. Evil does not exist qua evil. The Good, however, does rise on its own. It does not require the evil for its existence. This is drastically different from the Jungian idea of syzygy vis a vis Good and evil. In his explanation on the Divine Names, C.E. Rolt says it best:

“At wearisome length Dionysius discusses the problem of evil and shows that nothing is inherently bad. For existence is in itself good (as coming ultimately from the Super-Essence), and all things are therefore good in so far as they exist. Since evil is ultimately non-existent; a totally evil thing would be simply non-existent, and thus the evil in the world, wherever it becomes complete, annihilates itself and that wherein it lodges. We may illustrate this thought by the nature of zero in mathematics, which is non-entity (since, added to numbers, it makes no difference) and yet has an annihilating force (since it reduces to zero all numbers that are multiplied by it). Even so evil is nothing and yet manifests itself in the annihilation of the things it qualifies. That which we call evil in the world is merely a tendency of things towards nothingness.” ~C.E. Rolt, (Dionysius the Areopagite: On the Divine Names and the Mystical Theology pg 12-13)

You will notice that there is a concept of zero sum regarding evil. But this is drastically different, and in no way comparable, to the Jungian idea of zero sum of the syzygy Good and evil. Remember that for Jung the zero sum is a balance: that there is as much Good, so too that much must evil abound. This is why, for Jung, Good and evil are not moral concepts. But for St Dionysios the “zero sum” is that evil brings things to nothingness. It is destructive, not harmonic.

While on the surface the concept of syzygy seems “perfectly Orthodox,” at closer glance we understand it to be anything but. Rather, it is a counterfeit idea that mimics the language of Orthodoxy and yet denies Her core truths. This is also true in the Jungian idea of the “collective unconscious” being embraced by some in the Church. What that is, how it counterfeits our faith, and why it is dangerous for Orthodox Christians will be covered in part two of our series on Jungian Philosophy and why we need to reject it.


Symbolism of Order

By now everyone is well aware that “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” has been met with virulent criticism. Most of the criticism has come in form of “fanboys” who merely wanted to see Luke Skywalker destroy everyone with his “laser sword.” Some of it was a convoluted mixture of angst that The Force Awakens was too much like A New Hope, yet The Last Jedi broke too much with traditional canon, or ethos, of the Star Wars universe. One specific criticism comes from a Montreal based Orthodox iconographer, Jonathan Pageau, who has multiple YouTube videos out articulating his dissatisfaction with the use of symbol in general in Star Wars.

The main thrust of his position (which you can find here) is that the Light side and Dark side are not only misunderstood, but twisted in Star Wars. To Pageau, the Light side should align with order, structure, authority, hierarchy. These, he points out, however, are all functions of the Empire which is run by the Dark side. He properly articulates that the Dark side is bound up in chaos, and questions why this chaos manifests itself outwardly as order.

If you couldn’t tell by now, I strongly disagree with this criticism. Pageau is correct that the Dark side symbolizes an inner chaos. What I find lacking in his position, however, is that the inner must always manifest itself outwardly 1 to 1 to be a true symbol. And in fact, we know from the Fathers of the Church, and Scripture itself, that the inner often manifests itself as its opposite.

There is no secret that ‘The First Order’ in the new trilogy is an icon of Nazi, Germany. From their uniforms, their military formations, even the scene where the stormtroopers all raise their arm in the iconic Hitler salute; from the first moment we are introduced, we are bombarded with this uncomfortable imagery. Yet no one would argue that Hitler, the Nazi Party, or Nazi  Germany were beacons of inner peace and inner order.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.“ (Matt 23:27-28)

Right away we see our Lord describing the truth of this, that the inner often manifests itself as counterfeit. St John Chrysostom articulates below:

“After this, He again derides them for vainglory, calling them whited sepulchers, Matthew 23:27 and unto all adding, ye hypocrites; which thing is the cause of all their evils, and the origin of their ruin. And He did not merely call them whited sepulchers, but said, that they were full of uncleanness and hypocrisy. And these things He spoke, indicating the cause wherefore they did not believe, because they were full of hypocrisy and iniquity…Such are many men now also, decking themselves indeed outwardly, but full of iniquity within. For now too there is many a mode, and many a care for outward purifications, but of those in the soul not so much as one. But if indeed any one should tear open each man’s conscience, many worms and much corruption would he find, and an ill savor beyond utterance; unreasonable and wicked lusts I mean, which are more unclean than worms.”


St John Chrysostom speaks “and many a care for outward purifications, but of those in the soul not so much as one.” This leads me to the next layer of criticism: the idea of purity. Yes, a pristine, orderly, authority driven, hierarchical Empire does speak to outward purity. However, this concept of purity can arise from evil. We see this concept of demonic purity in another blockbuster: Harry Potter. Slytherin, Lucius Malfoy, and Voldemort all desire a “pure” bloodline of witches only from pure witch families to train in magic. “Mudbloods” or half-bloods (students whose parentage are a mixture of witch and non-witch, or “Muggle”), are viewed as “impure.”

Our Lord speaks to this counterfeit purity throughout the Gospels, healing lepers and eating with tax collectors. But there is no better example than the parable of the Good Samaritan.

“Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37)

There are many layers to this parable, but for our discussion, that of purity, let us focus on the three passers who see the man beaten. The first two, those who ignore the man, are a priest and a levite. Priests and levites are known to be strict adherents to purity laws, as in that day, they could not serve in the temple if they had soiled themselves, that is, made themselves impure. This is why they would not touch or help the man, because they would have made themselves impure by handling the bloody man, by handling unclean blood.

The third, the Samaritan, who outwardly is a symbol of impurity to the Jews, being only “half”, is yet revealed to be inwardly pure. Unlike the ‘whitewashed’ tombs of the priest and levite, the Samaritan is congratulated for obtaining inner purity, that is, adhering to the Spirit of the Law.

Desiring outward purity, outward order, does not necessitate that it comes from a state of inner purity, or inner order. In fact, it often arises from the complete opposite. A desire for others to be pure, others to be orderly, is to recognize (that is, to “re-know”) the disordered-ness within ourselves. I recall a conversation with Bishop Irenei of Sacramento (ROCOR) on how a monastic takes his stillness with him wherever he goes.

The monk alone in his cell is not necessarily still, just as that a monk being in a bustling city does not mean he has lost his stillness. The amount of patristic commentary on this truth is too vast to enumerate. This idea of taking our cage (or it’s opposite: stillness) wherever we go was uttered by Chirrut Imwe (played by Donnie Yen) in Rogue One. Chirrut Imwe tells Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna) that Cassian takes his prison wherever he goes.

This is precisely why the Jedi and Rebels are not as disordered as Pageau makes them out to be. If you have inner stillness, you take it wherever you go, and you do not clamor to demand order in others. Demanding others be ordered is a counterfeit stillness; it is but an outward expression of inner hypocrisy. Inner stillness, inner order does not necessitate it be manifested outwardly in a pristine, pure way. The Samaritan, that symbol of outward impurity and chaos, is nonetheless used time and again by Our Lord to highlight inner stillness, inner peace, and keeping the Spirit of the Law.

Our Lord’s Passion At The Well

“After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.” (John 19:28) At about the sixth hour (John 19:14), during His passion, Our Lord utters these words, “I thirst”, after everything in the Scriptures is fulfilled. Christ has finished what He came to accomplish; salvation is now open to the whole world. Christ has entered into the rest of His Sabbath, finishing all that the Father had sent him to do.

However, Christ has foreshadowed His passion, and His invitation, much earlier in the Gospel of John.

“Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well: and it was about the sixth hour.” (John 4:6) From this moment, Christ is inviting St Photini into His death, burial, and resurrection. But He does not just do it by merely telling her to witness it. Like the centurion’s witnessing His death, Christ asks St Photini for a drink; He initiates the Mystery of Confession.

Let us unpack John 4:6, and the sequential verses, to see how it relates to St Photini’s confession, and Christ reinstating her as “Woman” (John 4:21), that is, her initiation into His passion. It also gives us yet another interpretation of her five husbands and the one she is living with. The time of day is definitely important: “it was about the sixth hour.” Some translations will say “noontime,” as they are translating the Greek “the sixth” into our secular time today, since in those days they calculated the time of day differently than we do today.

“The patience of the sailor is tested in the midday heat or when he is becalmed; and the lack of necessities tries the perseverance of the hesychast. When the one grows discouraged, he swims in the water; and when the other becomes despondent, he mixes with crowds.” ~St John of the Ladder, The Ladder, On Stillness, #19

In those days, to avoid the “midday heat,” women would come to draw water in the morning. But, because of her promiscuous ways, and the subsequent gossiping and chatter among the other women of the town, St Photini cannot come to draw water in the cool of the morning. She must bear the pain of the midday heat, precisely because of her sin. We start by witnessing the role Divine Justice (as I wrote about here) plays in our Christian life. Yet, St Photini “perseveres” due to “the lack of necessities” (water) and continues to look for the Messiah (as discussed in my writing here).

The hymnography to St Photini’s feast day on the 4th day of Pascha, in the Pentecostarion, gives us another symbol of “the sixth hour,” while showing St Photini as a type or symbol of Eve, and, ultimately, confession.

Of the Samaritan Woman. Idiomels. Tone 1.

The source of wonders came to the source at the sixth hour to catch the fruit of Eve; for at the same hour Eve had left Paradise by the deception of  the serpent. The woman of Samaria then came near to draw water. When the Saviour saw her he said: Give me water to drink and I will fill you with water welling up. The wise woman ran to the city, and at once announced to the crowds: Come, see Christ the Lord, the Saviour of our souls.

St Photini is a symbol of Eve, not only in that her sins are revealed “at about the sixth hour,” but also in that God asks a question of each. Of Eve, God asks “Who told you are you naked?” (Gen 3:11) while of St Photini, God asks “Go and call your husband and come back.” (John 4:16) As previously discussed, this reveals yet another symbol of her previous five husbands: they are the first five days of creation. The one she is with now, her “6th man”, is a Symbol of Adam, for Adam was created on the 6th day. Christ is then her “7th” Man, the One Who will finally show her rest, that is, the Sabbath. This idea that Christ symbolically woos (Divine Eros) St Photini, as He does the Church, is confirmed in more hymnography on her feast day.


“O Almighty Saviour, Who did pour forth water for the Hebrews from a solid rock:You did come to the Land of Samaria, and addressed a woman,whom You did attract to faith in You,and she has now attained life in the heavens everlastingly.”

“Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither.” (John 4:16)

“O how great the wisdom of the woman! How meekly does she receive the reproof! …For He desired to take the beginnings of His signs and prophecies from the very persons who came near to Him, so that they might be more attached by what was done, and He might escape the suspicion of vainglory. Now this He does here also; for to have charged her first of all that, You have no husband, would have seemed burdensome and superfluous, but to take the reason (for speaking) from herself, and then to set right all these points, was very consistent, and softened the disposition of the hearer….And what kind of connection, says someone, is there in the saying, ‘Go, call your husband’? The discourse was concerning a gift and grace surpassing mortal nature: the woman was urgent in seeking to receive it. Christ says, Call your husband, showing that he also must share in these things; but she, eager to receive (the gift), and concealing the shamefulness of the circumstances, and supposing that she was conversing with a man, said, I have no husband. Christ having heard this, now seasonably introduces His reproof, mentioning accurately both points; for He enumerated all her former husbands, and reproved her for him whom she now would hide.” ~St John Chrysostom


St John Chrysostom’s commentary offers support for all of our conjectures. Christ knows the pain the woman is suffering, in the “midday heat.” He comes to comfort her, in the form of confession, and St Photini responds true. He further reveals that, since she is a type of Eve (who initiated the fall by asking Adam to eat the fruit), initiates salvation in “calling her husband,” for salvation is for him also. Let us take a further look at “…and softened the disposition of the hearer”.

Hymnography on St Photini’s feast day from the Pentecostarion gives us our answer:

Katavasia. The Day of Resurrection.Ode 3. Irmos.

“Come let us drink a new drink, not one marvelously brought forth from a barren rock, but the Source of incorruption, which springs up from the tomb of Christ, in whom we are established.”


Also, Canon of the Samaritan Woman. Tone 4. With an acrostic in the 9th Ode: Joseph.

Composition of Joseph of Thessaloniki.Ode 1. The Irmos.

“You struck Egypt and drowned the tyrant Pharaoh in the sea, and saved a people from slavery, as they sang Moses’ song of victory: For he has been glorified.”


There are many references to the Exodus story in the hymnography of St Photini on the 4th Sunday of Pascha. Reading the commentary of St Augustine ties together the idea of “softening” with the Cross and Christ’s passion.  

“And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.” – Numbers 20:11

“We recognize that we are taking a trip in a wasteland. If we recognize ourselves in a wasteland, we are in a wasteland. What does it mean, in a wasteland? In a desert. Why in a desert? Because in this world, one thirsts on a waterless road. But let us thirst that we may be filled. For ‘blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice; for they shall have their fill.’ And our thirst is filled from a rock in the wasteland. For ‘the rock was Christ.’ And it was struck with a rod that water might flow. But that it might flow, it was struck twice; for there are the two pieces of wood on the cross.” ~St Augustine of Hippo


When Christ, who is the rod of Jesse, a symbol of that very rod which struck the rock twice and out sprung water, strikes the hardened rock of our hearts, softening it, bringing forth water “not one marvellously brought forth from a barren rock, but the Source of incorruption, which springs up from the tomb of Christ.” Striking twice is a symbol of the of the cross. And our proper confession of our sins reinstates us as Adam’s and Eve’s, as ‘Man’ and ‘Woman’ (John 4:16) as we are invited to participate in our Lord’s Sabbath rest.


The Election Of The Woman At The Well

“The woman said to Him, ‘I know that the Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When He comes, He will tell us all things.’” (John 4:25) What does it mean that St. Photini (the woman at the well) knew about the Messiah, knew that He would come, and knew that He would tell them everything? This continues our theme of Election found throughout the Gospel of John.


St. Cyril of Alexandria has this to say on St. Photini:

“Upon Christ teaching that the hour and season will come, rather is already present, wherein the true worshippers shall offer to God the Father the worship in spirit; forthwith the woman is winged to thoughts above her wont unto the hope spoken of by the Jews. She confesses that she knows that the Messiah will come in His own time, and to whom He will come, she does not exactly say, receiving (as is like) the common reports of Him without any investigation, as being a laughter-loving and carnal-minded woman; yet is she not wholly ignorant that He will be manifested to Israel as a bringer in of better teaching, finding most certainly this information too in the reports about Him.”

Unpacking this quote is the bulk of our task as it highlights a tale of two very different personalities within St. Photini, and two distinct ways to interpret her five husbands. At the outset we must admit that St. Photini is in fact sleeping with multiple men and an adulterous. However, they are not only literal, but her previous five husbands are also symbolically the five senses of fallen man. St. Cyril says this above, “as being a laughter-loving and carnal-minded woman.” St. Augustine also says this:

“It is a confirmation of discerning minds that the five senses were what were signified by the five husbands, to find the woman making five carnal answers, and then mentioning the name of Christ.” 

She gives these five carnal answers as part of the interplay between her and our Lord, finally ending with, “I don’t have a husband.” This is where our Lord turns her carnal mind towards spiritual things. Because Christ is the Light of Life, He fills her carnal mind with Divine Light, and moves her towards that which is better. Hence why she is St. Photini, “the enlightened one.”

This theme of using our carnal minds to show us the better, this theme of Election runs throughout John’s Gospel account as I wrote about already. St. John writes about this here:

“Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, ‘What do you seek?’ They said to Him, ‘Rabbi’ (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), ‘where are You staying?’” (John 1:38)

“Hence we are taught, that God does not prevent our wills by His gifts, but that when we begin, when we provide the being willing, then He gives us many opportunities of salvation. What do you seek? How is this? He who knows the hearts of men, who dwells  in our thoughts, does He ask? He does; not that He may be informed; how could that be? But that by the question He may make them more familiar, and impart to them greater boldness, and show them that they are worthy to hear Him.” ~St. John Chrysostom

St. Photini provided the willingness to be honest in her answer to our Lord. She admits to her previous carnal life, revealing how Christ uses our carnal fallen senses to lead us to that which is higher. At every opportunity He affords us salvation if we will but turn and prove ourselves to be willing (at the very heart of ‘being elect’). This, in turn, shows us another meaning to the five husbands.

As St. Cyril says, “forthwith the woman is winged to thoughts above her wont unto the hope spoken of by the Jews.” What was spoken of by the Jews? The Scriptures which foretold of the Messiah. But this shows another meaning to the label adulterous, for she is truly an adulterous to salvation. She is a Samaritan, and as such only accepted the Torah as authoritative, relegating the prophets to lesser stature. As our Lord says, “salvation is of the Jews.” (John 4:22)

The Torah

So, if salvation is of the Jews, how is it that St. Photini knows these things about the Messiah? Because she is an adulterous to five husbands, or rather, the five books of the Law, the Torah. This, of course, means the man she is living with now, her “6th” man, are the Prophets. Now the Samaritans did not accept the prophets, furthering the label of “adulterer.”

“How did the woman know that the Messiah was coming, Who is called Christ? From the writings of Moses, since, as we have already said, the Samaritans accepted the five books of Moses. From these they knew the prophecies about Christ, and that He is the Son of God… If He had said right from the start, “I am the Christ,” He would not have persuaded the woman, and would have appeared overbearing and arrogant. But now that He has brought her step by step to remember the expectation of the Messiah, suddenly He reveals Himself. Why did He not reveal Himself to those Jews who continuously asked Him, “Tell us if Thou art the Christ,” but did so to this woman? He said nothing to those others because they did not inquire for the purpose of learning, but with the intent to slander Him all the more.” ~St. Theophylact of Ochrid.

Here, Blessed Theophylact supports both causes, that she knows of the Messiah from the Torah, and that Christ reveals Himself to her as the Messiah because she is ready to learn, i.e. she is elect.

Above I have mentioned that Christ is the Light of Life, and He fills St. Photini with Light, her namesake. Christ not only recognizes her passion, that is her lust and sexual promiscuity, but He frees her from it, allowing her to fly to new heights, as St. Cyril says above, “forthwith the woman is winged to thoughts above her wont…”

“For when the soul has been raised on the wings of divine love by the Holy Spirit and has been freed from the bonds of the passions, it strives to fly to that higher realm before death, seeking to separate itself from its burden.This is also known as a stirring of the Spirit.” ~St. Gregory of Sinai. This being raised, this stirring of the Spirit, Christ already spoke of to St. Photini: “Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, “Give Me a drink,” you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.’” (John 4:10) “Living water” here is the very stirring of the Spirit spoken of by St. Gregory of Sinai and the “winged to thoughts above her wont” spoken of by St. Cyril.

So we see in the story of St. Photini the stages articulated by St. Paul in Romans: “Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” (Romans 8:30)

Christ first calls St. Photini, and by her answering correctly, she proves herself elect. He justifies her for her correct answer, and leads her to glorification, first purifying her soul and flesh of its carnal burden, and lifting her above the things of this world to the things of Heaven. There are still left more things to discuss on the symbolic understanding of St. Photini’s previous five husbands and the man she currently is living with, as well as the symbolic understanding of the well spring of life giving water that springs up into eternal life, which we will explore in more detail in my next article.





What Does It Mean To Be Elect?

“You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.” (John 15:16) Jesus spoke these words to his Apostles after Judas had left to betray Him. What is the Orthodox understanding of what it means to be chosen? Did God choose some and not others? Are some purposely left out of God’s divine mystery and plan of salvation? What, exactly, is the Orthodox theology of election? And who, and by what means, are they elect?

The Apostles are called, both to bear fruit, but also to bear Christ’s message. Throughout the Gospel of John, it is continually articulated that to believe on Christ, to accept His message and His teaching, to know the true God and Him whom He sent, is eternal life. The Apostles whom Christ chose to be His disciples were looking for Him, and eagerly waited to find Him. Clearly it is established that God actively calls His chosen to him. So the next question for us is, if some are chosen, are there others are not chosen?

One such group Christ specifically says is not called to know nor accept Him is the Pharisees. (John 10:26) Simply put, they are not elect. They are not initiated into the mystery that Jesus is the Christ. They are not initiated into the mystery of salvation: “that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:15)

When trying to understand the spiritual aspect of why the Pharisees are not called, not elect, we must look at whether it is by their choice (an active decision they themselves made of choosing not to believe) or by God’s design (that the Pharisees were powerless to ever believe). Careful inspection of the Gospel of John will answer this question for us.

“But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: ‘Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.’ These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.” (John 12:37-41)

I take this at its word. God hardened their hearts and closed their eyes and ears to the Truth. But why? And is God purposefully shutting off salvation to some? St. John Chrysostom has this to say on John 12:40:

‘Here again is another question, but it is not so if we rightly consider it. For as the sun dazzles the eyes of the weak, not by reason of its proper nature, so it is with those who give not heed to the words of God. Thus, in the case of Pharaoh, He is said to have hardened his heart, and so it is with those who are at all contentious against the words of God. This is a peculiar mode of speech in Scripture, as also the, He gave them over to a reprobate mind in Romans 1:28, and the, He divided then into nations, that is, allowed, permitted them to go. For the writer does not here introduce God as Himself working these things, but shows that they took place through the wickedness of others. For, when we are abandoned by God, we are given up to the devil, and when so given up, we suffer ten thousand dreadful things. To terrify the hearer, therefore, the writer says, He hardened, and gave over. For to show that He does not only not give us over, but does not even leave us, except we will it, hear what He says, Do not your iniquities separate between Me and you? Isaiah 59:2, Septuagint. And again, They that go far away from you shall perish. Psalm 73:27, Septuagint. And Hosea says, You have forgotten the law of your God, and I will also forget you Hosea 4:6, Septuagint; and He says Himself also in the Gospels, how often would I have gathered your children; and you would not. Luke 13:34 Esaias also again, I came, and there was no man; I called, and there was none to hearken. Isaiah 50:2, Septuagint These things He says, showing that we begin the desertion, and become the causes of our perdition; for God not only desires not to leave or to punish us, but even when He punishes, does it unwillingly; I will not, He says, the death of a sinner, so much as that he should turn and live. Ezekiel 18:32, Septuagint Christ also mourns over the destruction of Jerusalem, as we also do over our friends.”

St. John Chrysostom is clear that we close ourselves off to God. We refuse to accept His teaching, refuse to hear His message, that we might be healed. And because we refuse to hear His message and accept His teaching, God refuses to teach us. To the amount that we refuse to accept Him, he refuses to teach us, that we may know Him. So how do we come to accept His teaching and to hear His message? Isaiah says this:

“The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward.” (Isaiah 50:4-5)

St. Ambrose of Milan says this about the above passage from Isaiah:

“Now what ought we learn before everything else, but to be silent that we may be able to speak? Lest my voice should condemn me before that of another acquits me, for it is written, ‘By your words you shall be condemned.’ (Matthew 12:37)”

His first sentence is at the very heart of how we begin to learn. God instructs those who first humble themselves. Only then will He initiate them into His teaching, and instruct them to hear His message. When we stop being attached to our own words and work towards subverting our individual opinions, then we become fertile soil no longer choked out by the weeds of “leaning on our own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). Then the Lord can teach us.

This is what it means to be elect, to be chosen to accept His teaching and hear His message. Prior to this humbling, we are unable to accept and unable to hear. God hides Himself from the proud, but reveals Himself to the lowly and meek. Until then we will be like the Pharisees who seek Him but ask, “Where is He?” (John 7:11)

Christ not only tells us, but shows us that He embodies this humility. It is something which flows from Himself. “My teaching is not mine, but His who sent me.” (John 7:16) He is showing us by His own example how we are to learn of Him. He is so humble that the Lawgiver Himself does not give His own teaching, but the Father’s. This is not only true about Himself, for He also tell us this of the Holy Spirit:

“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” (John 16:13)

He who is the Spirit of Truth, who is Truth Himself, will not even speak of Himself, but only that which He hears. God gives us two perfect examples of how to acquire this humility necessary to know, that is, the actions and behavior of Himself and the Holy Spirit (and even the Father displays this humility by sending us His Son to teach us instead of doing it Himself). This is why the Orthodox Church teaches us to say the prayer to the Holy Spirit (O Heavenly King) before classes, lectures, and private reading of Scripture or the Holy Fathers.

So, by who are we elect? Election is rooted in the cooperation (synergy) of our will with God’s preordained Divine Justice. As stated in my previous paper on atonement, “Divine Justice is the perfect intended ordering of the cosmos by God.” Simply put, it is our participation as response to His call. This clarifies often misunderstood scripture passages, such as St. Paul’s letter to the Romans:

“Moreover whom he predestined, these he also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” (Romans 8:30)

Blessed Theodoret of Cyrus says regarding this passage:

“Those whose intention God foreknew He predestined from the beginning. Those who are predestined, He called, and those who were called He justified by baptism. Those who were justified, He glorified, calling them children: ‘to all who receive him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become Sons of God.’ (John 1:12)” (you can read more about this in my article on the nativity).

St. Cyril of Alexandria lays this out plainly for us:

“Jesus said, ‘Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ He calls everyone to Himself, and no one is lacking in grace of His calling, for He says everyone He excludes nobody. But those whom He long ago foresaw would come into being He predestined to participate (emphasis mine) in the future blessings and called them to receive justification by faith in Him and not sin again.”

Notice that God initiates, then we participate (for example, through our choice to receive baptism). He calls us all, then those who answer this call, He justifies. As we continue to participate through confession, communion, and prayer,  and surrender our will, He glorifies us. Therefore, election is part of God’s Divine Justice. The first step in Divine Justice is the synergistic effect of our humility with His election. This humility is how we participate in His call to hear His message and accept His teaching. As stated by Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, “When He came to dwell among us, He showed us the way to live: simply, humbly, and meekly.”


The Nativity In The Gospel of John

As we approach the Nativity fast, we prepare to hear the accounts we know well from Matthew and Luke: the different genealogies, the story of the annunciation, the traveling to Bethlehem, the shepherds, the wise men, and, of course, the baby lying in a manger. But I want to discuss a rather different Nativity narrative. One that often goes unnoticed. The one presented in the Gospel of John. It is my position that St John did in fact write his own version of the Nativity story in the first two chapters of his gospel account. This can be established through three parallels found in the differing gospel accounts.

First, the incarnation by flesh in time, and its relationship to the “birth” of the Logos before time.

Second, the shepherds whom Christ drew into witnessing the miracle of His birth and the servants whom Christ drew into witnessing the miracle at the Wedding of Cana, and how each prefigure the fathers of the Church.

Third, the temptation of Christ by Satan parallels the “temptation” by the Pharisees when Christ over turns the tables of the money changers.

The Nativity stories all begin with their different genealogy accounts: that of Adam, Abraham, and God the Father, as “Father”. In each case, the Evangelists are emphasizing different typologies of Fatherhood. St Matthew starts with Abraham, St Luke starts with Adam, St John starts with God the Father.  It is their intended purposes that account for their difference. St. Matthew’s purpose is to show Christ is descendant of Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people and, therefore, of the faithful of God. As St Ambrose of Milan says, “For Abraham was the first who deserved the witness of faith; ‘He believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’ (Romans 4:3).” St. Luke takes a wider view, showing that Christ is the Son of Humanity, as His father is Adam. But it is St. John that takes the most expansive view and begins his nativity with how Christ is the Son of God Himself; and how God the Father, through the Logos, is  the Father of creation.

St Chromatius of Aquileia has this to say on the gospel of St. Matthew:

“Indeed, both Matthew and Luke began their narratives with the corporeal birth of the Lord. John, however, addresses the issue of Jesus’ divine birth in the preface of his Gospel: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word. This was with God in the beginning. All things were made through him and without him nothing was made.’ (John 1:1-3) The Evangelists help us to recognize both the divine and corporeal birth of the Lord, which they describe as a twofold mystery and a kind of double path.”

What St. Chromatius says here is multifaceted. On the surface, he is directly taking on several heresies (namely Arianism, Nestorianism, and Monophysitism). St. Chromatius also reveals St John presenting the Nativity of our Lord as the “birth” of the Logos from God the Father before time. St. Chromatius goes on to say, “He fulfilled the law at the time by completing the sacrifices of the law and all the examples prefigured in himself… by accepting a body.” This is the twofold mystery, or the double path, Christ’s birth before time and His birth in time. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) Here we are told a deep mystery of the Incarnation. At the Incarnation, Christ fulfills all three emphases, all three spheres, of Fatherhood. In the first, because He is God, He perfects Abraham’s faith and fulfills the example of Abraham, the spiritual father of the Hebrew people, prefigured in Himself. Second, He fulfills Adam as the New Adam. And finally, He allows us to become Sons of the Father through and in His physical body, for He is the first born of a new creation. (1 Cor 15:20; 2 Cor 5:17; Rev 1:5)

In other words, St John is speaking to our future birth, to our ability to become Sons of God. (John 1:12) Just as we are children of Adam through physical means, and the Hebrews were children of Abraham both by physical means and through faith, God the Father allows us to become Sons of God “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:13).
Our second parallel, that of the shepherds in Bethlehem to the servants at Cana, will take a little more unpacking. We all know the verse: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” (Luke 2:8) There are several terms to discuss first: what is a flock? What is keeping watch? And what are shepherds?

At the outset, “shepherds” here means exactly what we would think: the lowest class in society, the poorest of the poor. (Here I am reminded of the Magnificat, “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.”) (Luke 1:53) God invites the lowest class, those poorest in Israel, to witness the miracle of His birth. That is, the revelation of God manifested in the flesh. St John records the wedding at Cana as the first miracle Jesus Christ performed, also saying, “This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory;” (John 2:11) In both cases, Christ invites servants to witness His miracle for, “the servant is not greater than his lord,” as He truly is the Good Shepherd (John 15:20; John 10:11) But there is yet another understanding of shepherd, flock, and keeping watch.

In his commentary on Luke, Pope St Gregory says, “It was in a mystery that the angel appeared to the shepherds while they were watching, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, implying that they are thought worthy above the rest to see sublime things who take a watchful care of their faithful flocks; and while they themselves are piously watching over them, the Divine grace shines widely round about them.” What the shepherds were then, our Bishops are now.

What Pope St. Gregory says about the shepherds resonates in another scholar regarding the servants at the wedding in Cana. Though not an Orthodox saint, Alcuin of York (8th century) in his commentary on John says, “The servants are the [fathers] of the New Testament, who interpret the holy Scripture to others spiritually.”

The witnessing of the miracle of Christ’s birth by the shepherds is also echoed in the servants at Cana witnessing Christ’s first miracle. “Many excellent things were accomplished at once through the one first miracle. For honorable marriage was sanctified, the curse on women put away (for no more in sorrow shall they bring forth children, now Christ has blessed the very beginning of our birth), and the glory of our Savior shone forth as the sun’s rays, and more than this, the disciples are confirmed in faith by the miracle.” (St Cyril of Alexandria, commentary on John)

Notice what St Cyril says. “Now Christ has blessed the very beginning of our birth.” St Cyril recognizes in the Gospel of John the very nativity written in Matthew and Luke. Christ initiates us into His birth, so we can be born again and “given the power to become Sons of God,” and have God as our Father. Again, that of Nativity as relationship of Father and Sons.

There is one final way these three Evangelists parallel telling the Nativity: the temptation of Christ. Satan tempts Christ by saying, “If you are the Son of God.” Matthew records this twice (Matthew 4:3 and 4:6), while Luke records this once (Luke 4:3).

On Matthew, St John Chrysostom writes, “… in vain God has called You Son, and has beguiled You by His gift; for, if this be not so, afford us some clear proof that You are of that power.” And St Cyril of Alexandria says this on Luke, “Satan said, ‘if you are the Son of God, bid this stone become bread.’ He approaches him, therefore, as an ordinary man and as one of the saints, yet he had a suspicion that possibly he might be the Christ. How, then, did he hope to learn if this was the case? He reasoned that to change the nature of any thing into that which it was not would be the act and deed of a divine power. For it is God who makes these things and transforms them. ‘If he does this,’ said the devil, ‘certainly it is he who is expected to subvert my power.’”

It is important to highlight just why Satan was not aware that Jesus is the Christ, for he was not initiated into the mystery of the incarnation! He was not invited to be a witness. Otherwise, he would have recognized that Christ had already answered his demand, for Christ had already changed the nature of a thing, that is human nature, in His own flesh, as St. Chromatius had said, by “accepting a body.”

“So the Jews said to him, ‘What sign do you show us for doing these things?’” (John 2:18) Like Satan, they tempt the Lord demanding He prove to them who He is. At the same time, the Pharisees were not witnesses at the wedding of Cana, where Christ “changed the nature of [a] thing,” that is, water into wine. Remember, too, that the wine which Christ offered at the wedding parallels what Christ offers humanity in the Resurrection. It is better than what Adam had in the Garden. And the waterpots were for purification, since Christ first “purifies” human nature at His incarnation.

St Irenaeus of Lyons says this on John, “Know ye therefore, that every lie is from without, and is not of the truth. Who is a liar, but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? This is antichrist.” Here we see, once again, the parallel of Sonship and why Christ says that the Pharisees are, “children of their father, the devil” (John 8:44), while revealing (at the same time) that they are neither of their spiritual father, Abraham, (John 8:39) nor of God (John 8:42).

For me, this is where the Nativity story is completed, this being a spiritual rendering of the Nativity, that of Fatherhood and Sonship. In each of their renderings, the Evangelists invite us to witness the first miracle of our Lord, that “change of nature” and manifestation of the glory of God. This “change of nature”, perfected in the Lord’s own body at His Incarnation (that of the unification of human nature with the Divine Nature), is what the Saints are promised in the Resurrection. As St Chromatius tells us in his commentary on Matthew, “He took from us what is ours in order to give generously what is his.”