Written by Vladimir Moss



     Metropolitan Ephraim of Boston has returned to one of his favourite themes: the bloodthirsty Anselmian doctrine of redemption and its supposed dependence on a belief in blind necessity. Since I have never met a person who believes in either of these theories, I fail to see the relevance of his obsession. However, a little reflection reveals the real reason for the metropolitan’s constant carping on these themes: as a faithful disciple of the Romanidean-Kalomiran “revolution in theology”, which is boldly seeking to liberate Orthodox theology from “the shackles of the Latin captivity”, he wishes to tar all those Orthodox who do not accept this revolution, and adhere to traditional beliefs and modes of expression with regard to our salvation in Christ, as crypto-scholastics and even pagans.


     It won’t wash. As other Orthodox commentators have pointed out, the Romanidean-Kalomirans are here setting up a straw man.[1]Whatever the Roman Catholic medieval scholastics believed (and I very much doubt that their beliefs were as crude as the metropolitan makes out), this whole approach is completely irrelevant as regards those Orthodox so-called “scholastics” (and they include some very distinguished names, and many Holy Fathers and saints!) whom the metropolitan and his fellow revolutionaries wish to purge from the Orthodox pantheon.




     Let us begin with Necessity. “The Scholastic ‘God’,” writes Metropolitan Ephraim, “is… just, and he cannot be unjust, because he is what he is and he cannot be otherwise (for you see, the Super-Goddess Necessity is hanging over his head like a domineering and nagging wife, and he must do her bidding).” The metropolitan seems to think that the notion of justice inevitably entails that of blind necessity, that the word “must” cannot be used of God without implying that God is not free, but is ruled by Necessity.


     But this is nonsense. The word “must” when applied to the Divine Economy means neither physical necessity (for how can the immaterial God be bound by anything physical?) nor moral necessity (for God is the author of morality, and the Giver of the law is not bound by the law). God is Absolute Freedom, so He is not bound by any kind of necessity in these senses. At the same time, God does not act arbitrarily, or inconsistently. In other words, He is true to His nature. So when we say that God “must” act in accordance with love or justice, we are simply asserting that God is God, that He always acts in accordance with His Divine nature, which is loving and just.


     Justice is not a kind of cold, abstract principle imposed upon God from without, as it were. As Vladimir Lossky writes: “We should not depict God either as a constitutional monarch subject to a justice that goes beyond Him, or as a tyrant whose whim would create a law without order or objectivity. Justice is not an abstract reality superior to God but an expression of His nature. Just as He freely creates yet manifests Himself in the order and beauty of creation, so He manifests Himself in His justice: Christ Who is Himself justice, affirms in His fullness God’s justice… God’s justice is that man should no longer be separated from God. It is the restoration of humanity in Christ, the true Adam.”[2]


     In this connection Lossky’s colleague Fr. Georges Florovsky writes illuminatingly: “[Christ] not only prophesied the coming Passion and death, but plainly stated that He must, that He had to, suffer and be killed. He plainly said that ‘must’, not simply ‘was about to’. ‘And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, and the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again’ [Mark 8.31; also Matthew 16.21; Luke 9.22, 24.26]. ‘Must’ [dei] not just according to the law of this world, in which good and truth is persecuted and rejected, not just according to the law of hatred and evil. The death of our Lord was in full freedom. No one took His life away. He Himself offers His soul by His own supreme will and authority. ‘I have authority’ – exousian echo [John 10.18]. He suffered and died, ‘not because He could not escape suffering, but because He chose to suffer,’ as it is stated in the Russian Catechism. Chose, not merely in the sense of voluntary endurance or non-resistance, not merely in the sense that He permitted the rage of sin and unrighteousness to be vented on Himself. He not only permitted but willed it. He ‘must have died according to the law of truth and love. In no way was the Crucifixion a passive suicide or simply murder. It was a Sacrifice and an oblation. He had to die. This was not the necessity of this world. This was the necessity of Divine Love…”[3]


     “The necessity of Divine Love”… And the necessity of Divine Justice… There is no other necessity involved…




     Let us turn now to the idea of blood sacrifice. That Christ offered up Himself as a Sacrifice to the Father (indeed, to the whole of the Holy Trinity) as a propitiation for the sins of men is, with the dogma of the Holy Trinity, the central teaching of the Christian Faith, sealed by the Holy Scriptures, confirmed by the Holy Fathers and proclaimed at the Holy Councils of the Orthodox Church (specifically, the Councils of Constantinople in 1156 and 1157). To cast doubt on it, to infer that its language is in some sense scholastic or heretical, is an extraordinarily serious step; it amounts to nothing less than an attempt to rip the heart out of Christianity.


     Of course, the language of sacrifice is metaphorical – all language describing spiritual realities is of necessity metaphorical. Of course, when contemplating this reality, we have to purge our minds of the image of fallen men passionately pursuing vengeance and murder. Most Orthodox have no trouble in doing this without being told. Evidently Metropolitan Ephraim and his fellow revolutionaries do have some trouble in this, and would prefer to use some more abstract, squeaky-clean terminology that doesn’t remind them of blood and gore. Alright, let us condescend to their aesthetic sensibilities; let them use some different terminology if they want – provided they mean the same thing as we, provided they don’t throw the dogmatic baby out with the terminological bathwater…


     So Metropolitan Ephraim would like to throw out words such as “satisfaction” and “atonement”. Well, we can accommodate him up to a point. Instead of speaking of the “atonement”, or “the satisfaction of God’s Justice”, we can speak of “the propitiation of God the Righteous Judge”, or something similar, which means precisely the same thing. After all, he can’t object to this: “propitiation” is a Biblical word used by none other than the Apostle of love, St. John the Theologian, himself (“God… sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4.10)). But it is clear that while the metropolitan does not express any objection to the word “propitiation”, he doesn’t like any reference to justice – hence his very long quotation from St. Isaac the Syrian which appears, to a superficial view, to be denying that God is just towards us. But of course St. Isaac is not denying God’s justice: he is simply emphasizing its paradoxicality, and its infinitely greater depth when compared with our earthly notions of justice.


     We cannot remove the notion of justice altogether from our understanding of the dogma of redemption without denying that dogma altogether. After all, as St. John Climacus writes, God is not only love: He is also justice.[4]And St. Gregory Palamas (surely the metropolitan doesn’t think he too is infected with scholasticism?!) is constantly speaking about God’s justice in the work of redemption. Consider how many times the word and its cognates appears in the following passage: “The pre-eternal, uncircumscribed and almighty Word and omnipotent Son of God could clearly have saved man from mortality and servitude to the devil without Himself becoming man. He upholds all things by the word of His power and everything is subject to His divine authority. According to Job, He can do everything and nothing is impossible for Him. The strength of a created being cannot withstand the power of the Creator, and nothing is more powerful than the Almighty. But the incarnation of the Word of God was the method of deliverance most in keeping with our nature and weakness, and most appropriate for Him Who carried it out, for this method had justice on its side, and God does not act without justice. As the Psalmist and Prophet says, ‘God is righteous and loveth righteousness’ (Psalm 11.7), ‘and there is no unrighteousness in Him’ (Psalm 92.15). Man was justly abandoned by God in the beginning as he had first abandoned God. He had voluntarily approached the originator of evil, obeyed him when he treacherously advised the opposite of what God had commanded, and was justly given over to him. In this way, through the evil one’s envy and the good Lord’s just consent, death came into the world. Because of the devil’s overwhelming evil, death became twofold, for he brought about not just physical but also eternal death.


     “As we had been justly handed over to the devil’s service and subjection to death, it was clearly necessary that the human race’s return to freedom and life should be accomplished by God in a just way. Not only had man been surrendered to the envious devil by divine righteousness, but the devil had rejected righteousness and become wrongly enamoured of authority, arbitrary power and, above all, tyranny. He took up arms against justice and used his might against mankind. It pleased God that the devil be overcome first by the justice against which he continuously fought, then afterwards by power, through the Resurrection and the future Judgement. Justice before power is the best order of events, and that force should come after justice is the work of a truly divine and good Lord, not of a tyrant….


     “A sacrifice was needed to reconcile the Father on High with us and to sanctify us, since we had been soiled by fellowship with the evil one. There had to be a sacrifice which both cleansed and was clean, and a purified, sinless priest… It was clearly necessary for Christ to descend to Hades, but all these things were done with justice, without which God does not act.”[5]


     This quotation shows clearly that not only is the language of justice inseparable from our understanding of redemption, but also that of sacrifice. Now Metropolitan Ephraim does not go quite as far as to reject the whole idea of sacrifice (although he does not develop the idea at all): his objection seems to be against the notion of a blood sacrifice. And yet Christ did shed His Blood in the Sacrifice on Golgotha – not only His life, in the sense that His soul was separated from His Body, but precisely His Blood. Moreover, we literally and not merely symbolically receive that same Blood in the Sacrifice of the Divine Liturgy, which is called “bloodless”, not because the Blood of Christ is not literally offered and drunk, but because He is not killed again each time the Liturgy is celebrated.


     Since this is a vital point, let us quote from the Holy Fathers. First, St. Irenaeus of Lyons: “If this flesh is not saved, then the Lord has not redeemed us by His Blood, and the bread which we break is not a sharing in His Body. For there is no blood except from veins, and from flesh, and from the rest of the substance of human nature which the Word of God came to be, and redeemed by His Blood, as His Apostles also says: ‘In Him we have redemption through His Blood, and the forgiveness of sins’ (Colossians 1.14).”[6]And then St. Gregory the Theologian: “Do not hesitate to pray for me, to be my ambassador, when by your word you draw down the Word, when with a stroke that draws no blood you sever the Body and Blood of the Lord, using your voice as a sword.”[7]


     Since St. Gregory the Theologian is such a great authority for Metropolitan Ephraim (as for us), it is worth pointing out those passages where he quite unashamedly uses “scholastic” words such as “sacrifice”, “ransom”, etc. Thus: “He is God, High Priest and Victim.”[8]“He was Victim, but also High Priest; Priest, but also God; He offered as a gift to God [His own] blood, but [by It] He cleansed the whole world; He was raised onto the Cross, but to the Cross was nailed the sin of all mankind.”[9]“He redeems the world by His own blood.”[10] “Christ Himself offers Himself to God [the Father], so that He Himself might snatch us from him who possessed us, and so that the Anointed One should be received instead of the one who had fallen, because the Anointer cannot be caught”.[11]And again: “He is called ‘Redemption’ because He set us free from the bonds of sin and gives Himself in exchange for us as a ransom sufficient to cleanse the world.”[12]


     Another favourite of Metropolitan Ephraim is St. Cyril of Alexandria. So let us see what he says… On Golgotha, says the holy Father, Emmanuel “offered Himself as a sacrifice to the Father not for Himself, according to the irreproachable teaching, but for us who were under the yoke and guilt of sin”.[13]“He offered Himself as a holy sacrifice to God and the Father, having bought by His own blood the salvation of all.”[14]“For our sakes he was subjected to death, and we were redeemed from our former sins by reason of the slaughter which He suffered for us.”[15]“In Him we have been justified, freed from a great accusation and condemnation, our lawlessness has been taken from us: for such was the aim of the oeconomy towards us of Him Who because of us, for our sakes and in our place was subject to death.”[16]


     We could go on – with St. John Chrysostom and many other Holy Fathers. But the point, I think, is made. The idea that Christ offered Himself in sacrifice – precisely a blood sacrifice – to God the Father is proclaimed frequently by the Holy Fathers without any apologies. It goes without saying that this idea does not imply that the Father lusted for His Son’s Blood according to pagan ideas of vengeance. He accepted the propitiatory Sacrifice, not out of a fallen human lust for vengeance, but out of love for us, in order that justice be restored between God and man: perfect love in pursuit of perfect justice.…


     Metropolitan Ephraim would like to purge the Gospel of all references to the Divine Justice, and reduce it entirely to the Divine Love. But he can’t do it. Love and Justice, though equally attributes of the Divine Nature, do not mean the same thing. It is not true that “all we need is love”: we also need truth and justice. And Love without Justice, like Love without Truth, is just sentimentality.


     There is no conflict between justice and love. To say that God should be loving but not just is like saying that the sun should give light but not heat: it is simply not in His nature. It is not in His nature, and it is not in the nature of any created being. For the simple reason that justice is the order of created beings, it is the state of being as it was originally created. For, as St. Dionysius the Areopagite writes: “God is named Justice because He satisfies the needs of all things, dispensing due proportion, beauty and order, and defines the bounds of all orders and places each thing under its appropriate laws and orders according to that rule which is most truly just, and because he is the Cause of the independent activity of each. For the Divine Justice orders and assigns limits to all things and keeps all things distinct from and unmixed with one another and gives to all beings that which belongs to each according to the dignity of each. And, to speak truly, all who censure the Divine Justice unknowingly confess themselves to be manifestly unjust. For they say that immortality should be in mortal creatures and perfection in the imperfect and self-motivation in the alter-motivated and sameness in the changeable and perfect power in the weak, and that the temporal should be eternal, things which naturally move immutable, temporal pleasures eternal, and to sum up, they assign the properties of one thing to another. They should know, however, that the Divine justice is essentially true Justice in that it gives to all things that which befits the particular dignity of each and preserves the nature of each in its own proper order and power.”[17]


     When people say that God is loving but not just, or that His justice demonstrates a lack of love, they do not know what they are saying. For His love is aimed precisely towards the restoration of justice, the restoration of “the nature of each in its own proper order and power”, in which alone lies its blessedness. And if the restoration of justice involves suffering, this is not the fault of God, but of His creatures, who freely go against their nature as God created it and thereby create injustice, which can only be abolished through suffering and sacrifice.


     Love and justice may be seen as the positive and negative poles respectively of God’s Providence in relation to the created universe. Love is the natural, that is, just relationship between God and man. Sin has destroyed love and created injustice. Divine Providence therefore acts to destroy injustice and restore love. We would not need to speak of justice if sin had not destroyed it. But with the entrance of sin, justice is the first necessity – love demands it.


August 18/31, 2009.

[1] See, for example, Ephrem Hugh Bensusan’s blog,

[2]Lossky, “Christological Dogma”, in Orthodox Theology, Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1989, pp. 114-115. My italics (V.M.).

[3]Florovsky, “Redemption”, in Collected Works, volume 3, Belmont, Mass.: Nordland, 1976, pp. 99-100.

[4]St. John of the Ladder, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, 24.23.

[5] St. Gregory Palamas, Homily 16, 1,2,21.

[6] St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V, 2, 3.

[7] St. Gregory the Theologian, Letter 171.

[8]St. Gregory the Theologian, Word 3, Works, Russian edition, vol. I, pp. 58-59 or vol. I (St. Petersburg), p. 58; Word 20, vol. II, p. 235 or vol. I (St. Petersburg), p. 299; Verses on himself, vol. IV, p. 247 or vol. II (St. Petersburg), p. 66.

[9]St. Gregory the Theologian, Verses on himself, vol. IV, p. 245 or vol. II (St. Petersburg), p. 22.

[10]St. Gregory the Theologian, Word 29, Works, Russian edition, vol. III, p. 61 or vol. I (St. Petersburg), p. 427.

[11]St. Gregory the Theologian, Works, Russian edition, vol. V, p. 42. Cf. Homily 20 (PG 35.1068d).

[12] St. Gregory the Theologian, Sermon 30, 20.

[13]St. Cyril of Alexandria, On worship and service in spirit and in truth, part I.

[14]St. Cyril of Alexandria, Interpretation of the Gospel of John; Works of the Holy Fathers, Sergiev Posad, 1901, vol. 66, pp. 175-176 (in Russian)..

[15]St. Cyril of Alexandria, On worship and service in spirit and in truth, part II.

[16]St. Cyril of Alexandria, On worship and service in spirit and in truth, part II.

[17]St. Dionysius the Areopagite, On the Divine Names, VIII.

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