Category: Synergy in Christ


by Andrea Elizabeth

“Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.” (Romans 5:18) All of humanity is vindicated or justified at the level of nature in the incarnation which is then carried through to the crucifixion and resurrection. By his death and resurrection Christ defeats death since death cannot contain him. It is not just that it does not have any rights over him, it is that death as annihilation is overpowered and conquered. Death itself is taken captive by God. The weapon of the devil is rendered useless since it does not bring about annihilation of creation. “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil– and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15) This is what it means to say with Paul that Christ is raised for our justification. (Romans 4) Justification is not primarily an individual affair. It is not per seabout some nominalistic notion of “covenant” drawn from the Scotists. It is about vindicating God and rescuing his creation, both on a natural and personal level. The justification of human nature is then extended to human persons when they freely align their wills to God’s, as Christ freely wills to suffer for the redemption of creation.” (from Anglicans in Exile, on Energetic Procession)

Mr. Robinson gives an explanation for justification that answers my question on how an Orthodox reads the verses mostly written by St. Paul on the subject. I grew up thinking justification meant a legal and in my case, an unconvincing, magical pardon for sin, “just as if I’d never sinned”. I saw my sins as real, and did not believe that God didn’t. I felt though that perhaps my problem was caused by a depressing lack of faith, another real, burdensome sin. Oy vey.

But he explains it with the other definition, alignment. Such as when we right or left justify the text on a page. Christ lined up our human nature with His. When we are united with Him personally and synergistically through grace and our free will, we learn habits of virtue that make us Christ-like, justified. This makes me much happier and makes me feel better that I don’t have to ignore those verses, or my sins.

Gnomic and Natural Will, and Individuality

by Andrea Elizabeth

My son Ben attended Divine Liturgy Friday, which was the final service of the Diocesan Assembly, and informed me that Abbot Jonah Paffhausen gave the homily on obedience and the gnomic and natural will. Without knowing more about what he said, I’d like to reflect on this a bit.

Retaining individuality and a sense of identity is what is on my mind. If our natural will, which is united to Christ’s human will, is good, then our true selves can be freely manifested if we operate from it. If I understand correctly, where we get into trouble is with our gnomic will which will choose differently from our natural will and give into sin. But the odd thing to me is that to live by the natural will is to sort of give up our will, “not my will but Thine be done”. This seems contradictory to maintaining individuality. Perhaps I misunderstand what it means to be an individual. Maybe it is a societal misunderstanding. I tend to think that we are defined by our choices, or preferences. ‘I’m Victorian Romantic’, ‘I’m New Age Spiritualist’, ‘I’m an Academic’, ‘I’m an Engineer’, etc. In college we make these identities more concrete, though they are somewhat influenced by natural bent. “Natural” may be the wrong word as it seems to mix contexts of DNA, nurture and choice. Still, our society is geared to catering to people’s choices by offering a variety of options for purchase, including in education. There is even variety in chosen vices. The article below talks about Alcoholics, but I listed other addictions of choice in a previous post.

from Visibilium’s post on Archimandrite Meletios on AA.

It is fundamental to the understanding of Alcoholics Anonymous and how things work, that the alcoholics hand their will back to the care of God. That is a crucial part of their recovery. I have to say, at its heart, alcoholism has very little to do with the drinking of alcohol. It is a condition which has been described variously. One way is to say that it is self-will run riot. Another way of looking at it (and this takes some research on the part of people who aren’t used to using these words), is that since alcoholism responds to spiritual recovery, then perhaps the essence of alcoholism lies in it being a spiritual malady.

It seems that individuals vary according to their choices, some choices seeming valid, and others sinful, but the Christian’s choice is obedience to God’s will, which I am assuming is to live according to our own natural will, however much that varies from person to person. I guess that is my question. If Orthodoxy is the One True Church, and the Church is the Body of Christ with His Mind (nous?), then everyone would naturally, not gnomically, choose to be Orthodox. Yet there are two most famously stark, at least on a surface level, options in Orthodoxy – Russian or Greek. Most converts in the west, where The Church isn’t as indigenous, tend to choose between these two based on individual preference. But so far the Church has said it doesn’t matter because Jurisdictions are fundamentally the same, cultural differences do not change this. So authentic Orthodoxy, thus our authentic natural will, accommodates some variety of individual style.

Perhaps individuality comes to play in form rather than content. Content has a deeper, more universal resonance, while form is more up for grabs, to some extent. Our individual sins take on different forms, but are universally, in content, distractions from God. Thus giving up our will to sin isn’t necessarily giving up our natural will that is part of our personhood, which is united to Christ. It will probably remain mysterious how we become “little Christs” and remain ourselves. Studying Essence and Energy brings this out for me more than Absolute Divine Simplicity, in my current understanding. I suppose our individual valid preferences will be participated in with a certain accompanying invisible peace, love, and joy as sinful choices are overcome.

But the giving up of sinful choices feels like death to individuality. What I want is so ingrained in who I think I am as a person, that giving it up feels like the end of life, and that I will become a dead sort of robot. Self-indulgence and getting what I want feels like the only way to be fulfilled as a person. Choosing what someone else wants or needs feels like they win and I lose. It seems that they get the joy and I get the pain, though perhaps I will get some joy too after my body finally dies excruciatingly long after my will and my soul have already done so.

Perhaps a focus on soul would be helpful. I think Orthodoxy teaches that our souls are infused in every part of our life – mind, will, heart, and body. Maybe Watchman Nee is still messing me up – to him “soul” is mind, will and emotions (I think). This latter definition of soul sounds like it is indeed killed when choosing with your mind to surrender your will, which very negatively impacts your emotions. Sadness and loss of what we want are emotions connected with death.

I think I need to let that sink in and see if I can readjust.

Ever Moving Rest

by Andrea Elizabeth

The many rational principles are one by being providentially attached, led, and offered up, to the One Rational Principle of the many, as to a source which possesses universal sovereignty, or as to a point which predetermines and unites all the radii [emanating] straight out of it and that gather them altogether…One zealously traverses one’s course toward the beginning and source without deviation by means of one’s good will and choice. And through this course one becomes God, being made God by God. To the inherent goodness of the image is added the likeness acquired by the practice of virtue and the exercise of the will…He moves in God according to the logos of his well-being that pre-existed in God when he lives virtuously. [Finally, one] lives in God in accordance with the rational principle of [one’s] Ever-Being, [which also pre-exists] in God. In the future age when graced with divinization, he will affectionately love and cleave to the logoi already mentioned that pre-exist in God, or rather, he will love God himself, in whom the logoi of beautiful things are securely grounded.62 – from St. Maximus’ Ambigua

Distinct but undivided

without confusion

the many offered up and contained by the One

in “ever moving rest”.64

“We must learn to join the dance” – Through Heaven’s Eyes from the Prince of Egypt Soundtrack

“the energies are in no way separate from each other—being wholly connected to God’s essence—but neither are they to be confused with each other either. Simplicity operates for Maximus as a way to safeguard God’s utter transcendence on one hand (‘Beyond Being’71), and that God is fully manifested in each of His operations on the other.8 These divine energies are the ‘objects of willing’ for Christ and His Saints, and they are all of equally moral value which constitutes a genuine free choice for agents without the possibility of sinning…

Those that have their hypostasis united with the logoi by constantly recapitulating these virtues in this life (by prayer, asceticism, and sacramentally in the Church), God’s glories are “ever-well being.” Likewise, those that choose not to practice these virtues, God’s glories are “ever-ill being.” Because the damned have not integrated or brought back into harmony their hypostasis with their natural virtue, it is God’s presence [as opposed to his absence] that is their misery.” Daniel Jones, “Synergy in Christ”

Christ’s choice in Gethsemane

by Andrea Elizabeth

From “Synergy in Christ”

For Maximus… The will as the ‘faculty of will’ which is the rational principle of the nature (logos) is distinguished from the ‘mode of willing’ or hypostatic use of that faculty (tropos):‘The will and the mode of willing, just as the power of sight and the mode of perception are not the same…For the rational nature hath the natural ability and rational appetite [proper to it]. This is called the “faculty of will” of the rational soul. It is according to this [faculty] that we consider when willing, and in considering, we choose the things which we would…and these are not subject to compulsion.47’

my paraphrase: We use our natural will which is universally free. It is created directed toward the good, perhaps irresistibly, though the person may be deluded about what is “good”. The thief wants a good thing. He uses his natural desire for good in a darkened way through his individual choice of willing rooted in his identity as a person. Willing is natural to all, choices are distinct to a person. The gnomic reality of hesitancy, doubt, anxiety, and deliberation is sinking in. Mr. Jones goes on to explain that in the eschaton the Saints will not experience these crippling properties of our mode of willing, but will retain an active free will with numerous good options because the willer will have a habit of virtuous choice.

“Virtues for Maximus are the rational principles and agencies of the Person of the Logos,5 i.e. the uncreated logoi of God,6 and they are not in human nature accidentally and subsequently to creation “

I think he’s saying “accidentally”, like Catholics mean in their explanation of the accidens of Transubstantiation. That instead the virtues are inherent in our nature. We are virtuous, but are so deluded as to act otherwise.

Maximus: “Asceticism, and the toils that go with it, was devised simply in order to ward off
deception, which established itself through sensory perception. It is not [as if] the virtues have
been newly introduced from outside, for they inhere in us from creation, as hath already been
said. Therefore, when deception is completely expelled, the soul immediately exhibits the
splendor of its natural virtue.52”

Since the gnomic will ceases when a created hypostasis is integrated in the natural virtue, we can say that it [gnomie] is accidental to human nature and not essential. Christ lacks this personal ‘mode of willing’ since he is the divine uncreated Logos. Christ’s faculties of will are “fixed” with his hypostatic use of the will by his super-essential mode of existence being the Word

I’m wondering if Christ’s choice in Gethsemane was not between sacrifice or self preservation, but about not being acquainted with sin because it is so opposite to His nature and His personal mode of willing. He had to choose to bear irrational darkness, not that He was afraid, but that it required Him to experience absense of virtue. He had to try on the consequence of our deluded gnomic will, which was contrary to His habitually virtuous one. Not that He was unwilling, but had to overcome His natural aversion to sin. But He bore the darkness of our dysfunction and retained His faculty as God in that He healed the soldier’s ear, and bore the torture with grace. Though He needed help carrying the cross. Not that any part of Him was unwilling to save us, but that the way required was unnatural to Him – to experience the darkness of our sin. But He was perfected by this because it did not destroy Him. He bore it and destroyed it! He ended up trampling down sin and death instead. It’s also ironic to me that He ended up voluntarily subjecting Himself to humans who wanted Him dead – He let their will be done. God the Father’s will was to save us through human free will to kill Him.

What is the nature of Christ’s suffering?

by Andrea Elizabeth

Mr. Jones states,

However because of the principle of “distinction is opposition,” this leads Pyrrhus to confess:

‘It is impossible for two wills to exist in one person without opposition.1’

It was the motivating factor of non-contradiction to maintain the integrity of Christ’s hypostasis, and subsequently, to safeguard from any overture of opposing wills in him.2 This concept even appears in none greater a Father than St. Gregory [Nazianzus] the Theologian that was appealed to by the Monenergists:

‘…The words there (“not what I will – let your will prevail”) mean not that the Son has, but that he has not, a will over against the Father’s. This would give the sense: “’Not to do my own will,’ for what is mine is not distinct from what is yours but belongs to both you and me, who have one will as we have one Godhead.”36 37

This indicates that Christ is stating He chooses, as an act of will rooted in His Hypostasis (Person) to depend on His Father, unlike Adam and Eve who chose to become independent from their Father. His words also reveal the uniqueness and distinction of His Person in the Godhead. What does this say about His nature? I believe this is revealed more in His suffering. Does divinity suffer? Was becoming vulnerable to suffering part of His Incarnation? He chose as a unique Person to subject His nature as God and man to suffering, but the suffering itself was natural, once He gave Himself over to be tortured. Did He hesitate, and was it because He did not want to suffer?

It has been suggested that if Adam and Eve had not sinned that Christ would still have been Incarnated to complete the union between God and man, to deify our nature. Then no one would have had to suffer. Suffering is bad and was intended to be avoided. But it is also said that Christ was perfected through His suffering. Love is proven by how much we are willing to sacrifice and suffer for something. No pain, no gain. So was the Crucifixion plan A or plan B? Was His being slain before the foundation of the world because of foreknowledge that we would sin, or was it planned to happen that way?

I think of the choice to have kids. We know that labor and delivery is going to be excruciating, but out of love we endure it. There is no other way. But the pain in childbearing is the result of the fall, it was not supposed to be that way. I think God would have deified Adam without the fall. I believe Mr. Robinson has articulated in his blog, Energetic Procession in a post called, A Good Question, an alternate universe allowance, which I need to reread.

Back to Christ’s hesitation. If the Bible is to be understood through the lens of Tradition, then we take what Tradition teaches us about Christ and understand His words in that context. The Son was perfectly submitted to the Father. He was tempted, but prevailed. I would say He prevailed immediately, without hesitation, because I don’t think He entertained the notion of disobedience. He obeyed perfectly in every trial. Like when He was tempted in the desert, He didn’t have this “on one hand” discussion with Himself. “I am hungry, maybe if I just made the rock smell like bread, it wouldn’t hurt anything.” He never even deliberated. But His nature suffered hunger and so the decision to not make bread for Himself was painful. Maybe He was having to make a series of decisions in the Garden, and that’s why it was a drawn out painful submission and realignment of the history of man’s wrong decisions and their consequences, past, present, and future. He had to consider every aspect of the suffering. It is probably more detailed than just the choice to give Himself over to physical torture.

How do we know God?

by Andrea Elizabeth

I take great comfort in learning that God’s essence and energies are not opposed to each other. That God is fully present and one with His energies/ His acts, to oversimplify. Mr. Jones quotes St. Gregory of Nyssa,

“He makes Himself known that He is “by the greatness and beauty of His creatures proportionately” to the things that are known, vouchsafing to us the gift of faith by the operations of His hands, but not the comprehension of what He is.29”

God is not playing hard to get. He reveals Himself to us as much as we can handle. Since He is Holy Fire, if He fully revealed Himself to us we would be destroyed, so He protects us out of love. He remains other and distinct from, not opposed to, we creatures.

His being present in, and not opposed to creation, by His energies, also guards us from what I perceive as Gnosticism – falsely attributing evil to creation, and believing that only “spiritual” things are eternal. When I read Origen’s Principiis last year, I got gnostic vibes. Denying God’s eternal energies active in creation makes Communion with the Sacraments in the Church to no effect in my mind.

Free will is not necessarily about choosing between dialectically opposed things.

by Andrea Elizabeth

Mr. Jones then distinguishes between the Origenist Divine Simplicity’s rooting the will in nature, and not in person as leading to the Monothelite heresy denouncing free will, which I understand and appreciate better now after reading Dr. Farrell’s introduction to “The Disputation with Pyrrhus from our Father among the Saints, Maximus the Confessor”.

“This ‘definitional simplicity’ leads free-will to be defined as between objects dialectically opposed.17”

Because if willing and the act of creating are rooted in nature instead of person, then the choice to not create becomes against nature and therefore, “wrong”. I guess that would make the Sabbath day, and God rested, wrong. Pah!

More on “Synergy in Christ” by Daniel (Photios) Jones

by Andrea Elizabeth


How I’m processing this paper, “Synergy in Christ”

Christ’s human and divine natures are “unconfused” and “undivided”. This “plays a similar (if not the same) role in Maximus’ understanding of the divine logoi or energies with respect to each other and the divine essence.”

To overcome an oversimplistic view of Divine essence put forth by Plotinus and Origen, one must understand that God is One and Many. Essence and Energies. My previous misconception about this doctrine placed God’s essence and energies as dialectically opposed to each other. It left me feeling abandoned by God and that He was playing, as Rich Mullins put it in The Jesus Record, “Hard to Get”, that we weren’t able to have an intimate relationship with Christ’s Real Person.

You who live in heaven
Hear the prayers of those of us who live on earth
Who are afraid of being left by those we love
And who get hardened by the hurt
Do you remember when You lived down here where we all scrape
To find the faith to ask for daily bread
Did You forget about us after You had flown away
Well I memorized every word You said
Still I’m so scared, I’m holding my breath
While You’re up there just playing hard to get

You who live in radiance
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in skin
We have a love that’s not as patient as Yours was
Still we do love now and then
Did You ever know loneliness
Did You ever know need
Do You remember just how long a night can get?
When You were barely holding on
And Your friends fall asleep
And don’t see the blood that’s running in Your sweat
Will those who mourn be left uncomforted
While You’re up there just playing hard to get?

And I know you bore our sorrows
And I know you feel our pain
And I know it would not hurt any less
Even if it could be explained
And I know that I am only lashing out
At the One who loves me most
And after I figured this, somehow All I really need to know

Is if You who live in eternity
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in time
We can’t see what’s ahead
And we can not get free of what we’ve left behind
I’m reeling from these voices that keep screaming in my ears
All the words of shame and doubt, blame and regret

I can’t see how You’re leading me unless
You’ve led me here
Where I’m lost enough to let myself be led
And so You’ve been here all along I guess
It’s just Your ways and You are just plain hard to get.


Btw, The Jesus Record was my lifeline that year (June 1998 – June 1999) while I drove the school bus and went through my divorce. It expressed where I was and my hope that “My Deliverer is Coming”.

Synergy in Christ

by Andrea Elizabeth

Daniel (Photios) Jones made available his impressive paper on Synergy In Christ during this discussion. Though I had to read it slowly, I posted the following response however appropriate, Lord have mercy.


I am finding your paper on Synergy in Christ very interesting. To digest as I go, you are saying that Saint Athanasius distinguishes between what issues from God’s nature – His essence through conception of the Son – and His will being that of counsel in creation. This reminds me of “let us make man…” We are a product of the counsel of His will, yet to be made into sons of God through through conception and our willed participation in His energies – deification.

On to St. Maximus on Christ’s two wills/natures. I am understanding that Christ is beyond us in that His will was established in a habit of virtue before His Incarnation, and ours is gnomic – virtue is natural but not yet habitual. This ties into what I’ve learned about the necessity of Christ to redeem every stage of humanity – to perfect/redeem in a habit of virtue human infancy through adulthood. He realigned our fallen nature by His divine nature.

So is virtue the same as God’s essence and thus eternally conceived in Christ and by energy in us? Or is God’s virtue more inherent in His will – His habit? The Divine will doesn’t choose virtue, it is virtuous. Our will has to be conformed to His by choosing to establish His habit, through conception via life in Christ – to be eternally born again.

On choices between good alternatives – if Christ’s alternatives in Gethsemane were both good and virtuous – save Himself or save humanity, then love for humanity over His own life was the overriding motivator. So is loving others a higher virtue than loving onesself? “Love your neighbor as yourself”. That statement makes it equal, but in other places we are told to consider others before ourselves. Still, could God have still been God if He had not created us or saved us – which are both the same thing because if He hadn’t saved us we would have ceased to exist when we died. We are immortal because He died and rose again. So creating and sustaining life are similarly motivated actions. Is choosing the other a necessary part of being God, or Godlike? I think of monastics who are working on their own salvation and wonder if their seeming self justifying defense of praying and interceding for the world at the same time is necessary, though this intercession does seem inevitable on the path to Theosis. Perhaps virtue helps others by osmosis as well as by willed action. If a monastic hermit is saving himself alone – becoming like God – then maybe an organic, natural domino recapitulation cascades into creation around him without his putting himself out, so to speak, for others. The presence of holiness increases in the world and thus clarifies the universal muddy waters a skoche. Or like in the conversation about Sodom and Gomorrah,’’if I find 10 righteous people, I wont destroy the whole city.’ Then their intrinsic righteousness saved the many.

In the comments, I thought Jack was inspiring in his reaction to God being fully present in His creation.”