It’s been a while since I’ve written. I’ve gone through a few things (nothing life threatening) and keeping up with this blog was simply not a priority. I’m going to start writing a few things here and there. Firstly, I needed to post this response from a friend …

Jim,
I know that I have not participated in these debates for sometime, and that I risk missing the point due to the fact that I have not kept up on the ongoing debate. However, out of my love for you and my desire to see you progress spiritually I wanted to offer the following. Please accept it as a genuine offering of my love for you Jim. I think about you, and I pray for you. I believe, and I hope I am not wrong in this, that you genuinely and sincerely desire to know and encounter the truth; that is why I spent the time that I did in constructing this post. I believe that inwardly you are humble enough to truly communicate and interact, and so I believe this, my offering to you, will not be fruitless.

Jim, you wrote: Again, simplistically, the emphasis in the West is being right with God while the emphasis in the East is union with God.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. Galatians 5:1-4

Paul is clearly not concerned with being right with God if by this we mean imprisoning ourselves to some kind of legal transaction (even if that transaction is based on some legalistic idea of faith or covenant). One Elder puts it beautifully: What is holy and beautiful and what gladdens the heart and frees the soul from every evil is the effort to unite yourself to Christ, to love Christ, to crave for Christ and to live in Christ, just as St. Paul said, Is is no longer I who live; Christ lives in me. This should be your aim. Let all other efforts be secret and hidden. What must dominate is love for Christ. Let this be in your head, your thought, your imagination, your heart and your will. Your most intense effort should be how you will encounter Christ, how you will be united to Him and how you will keep Him in your heart. (Elder Porphyrios, Wounded by Love. ppg. 136-37) This of course entails the spiritual ascesis (exercise) of the Orthodox Church, where through self denial, humility and painful self-emptying we are crucified with Christ. The constant repetition of the prayer and the invocation of Gods holy name: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Man does not seek to be merely justified before God, He seeks to live with God, to feel God near Him, to suffer in love with God and to know that God is co-suffering with him in his pain. This is what restores your humanity and makes you feel truly alive, and being alive has nothing to do with legal categories. Faith must always mean personal trust and encounter; otherwise it is nothing more than another legalistic pharisaic system, a mere code of conduct, that creates a barrier and a wall between the human person and God, or between us and the other person.

Our neighbor is not simply an indispensable companion on the way of life. He is an integral part of our spiritual existence. Only in losing himself for God and for his fellow man, his brother, can man find the true dimension of his own life. He who loses finds. Only thus can the true glory of the human person be restored to him, a glory at once divine and human, without limits The other one is no longer the frontier which determines our individuality, which closes off our own living space, or simply flatters our complacency. He is not the shroud which envelopes our deadly isolation. He is not hell. The other is the true place of our life, he is my most dear and irreplaceable self who gives me here and now, through my gift of myself to him, the meaning and reality of eternal life, an eternal life which has already begun. (Archimandrite Vasileios, Hymn of Entry. pg. 125)

Jim, you wrote: So the main question is, and the point of my quotes was, does this ancient literary form create more support for the Reformed notion of covenant or an ontological understanding of union? To me the answer is obvious simply in the broad notion of covenant as the definition of union itself, contrary to an ontological interpretation.

It seems that there is a preoccupation with moving backward, from the reality, back to the type, and even back to the shadow. The fact that the Jews had, historically, a particular idea of covenant has little bearing on how we now encounter the fullness of Gods revelation in the absolute person of Jesus Christ. Whether or not their view of God supports a legalistic framework or not is irrelevant; their entire system was centered around the coming of the Messiah, the person Jesus Christ, and His coming has radically altered anything prior to it. This is what St. Paul means when he speaks in language of a new creation. This is precisely why John begins his gospel with the verses I pointed out to you some years back: And from his FULLNESS (pliromatos) we all received, grace upon grace. For the law WAS GIVEN (edothe) through Moses; grace and truth CAME (egeneto, lit. came to be) through Jesus Christ. (John 1:16-17) Notice the emphasis here, think about the meaning.

This is the crux of the whole argument, whether or not the Jews were ontologically minded (your terminology not mine) is irrelevant, the fact remains that Christ is that truth and that reality which the Jews awaited. The truth of Christ breaks down all barriers, shatters all catagories since having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:14 Orthodox theology isnt ontological, if by ontological you have some neo-Platonic schema concocted in your head, it is absolutely and only Christo-centric. Our continuity is with the Old Testament not the Republic of Plato, our saints are David, Moses, Isaiah, Elijah, etc., not Heraclitus, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, etc.; nevertheless, Jesus Christ is the focus of our life, not the law.

Lastly, I was reading something just today that touches on the conversation. In their essence Christs commandments are the Self-revelation of God. Though expressed in seemingly relative terms, whoever would rightly obey them finds himself on the frontier between the relative and the absolute, the finite and the infinite, the determined and the arbitrary. (Sophrony, We Shall See Him as He is. pg. 72) In my own opinion, this is because love values the person above all else, the command to love God and neighbor mysteriously warps the universal into a non-universal. Each individual person has infinite value, Christ died for the collective, but also for the individual. Each person is absolutely free in love: Gods great gift of love, our uncategorized freedom. All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up, (1 Corinthians 10:23) and again, For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Galatians 5:14) Why, then, do you imprison yourself once again to a system of predetermined justification and legal codes and covenants? O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (I Corinthians 15:56-7)

Lastly, remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself: The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath; so the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27-28)

Your servant in Christ – Christopher

Thank you Christopher. And God bless.