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“Knowing God by the Holy Spirit”

The last few hundred years have witnessed remarkable and far-reaching advances in science and technology. The very fact that I am writing - typing, that is - these words on a device that can hold millions of bytes of information and that they will reach you through a process involving dissemination via the internet are just two aspects of this growth. We’ve come a long way, baby!

Of course, nothing comes without a price. And one of the changes that has come about as a result of this technological advance is the way that we, as human beings, think about knowledge. More and more, as we advance in our scientific understanding of the world and of ourselves, we associate knowledge with the results of scientific investigation. Through observation, investigation, hypothesizing, and theorizing we have learned things about our world and ourselves that people just a few hundred years ago couldn’t even imagine. So what’s the problem?

Well, the problem - or, at least, one big problem - is that associating knowledge with science can lead us to limit knowledge to science. That is, we can easily and even unconsciously begin to limit the sphere of our knowledge to information learned via science. As a result of this we begin to believe that the only way to know anything at all is if it can be scientifically verified.

Now we should be very clear about something here: this move from associating knowledge with science to limiting knowledge to science is not itself scientific, that is, it has not - nor can it be - scientifically verified. It is, rather, a belief, a philosophical position, that has been dubbed scientism by some and that is premised on a prior belief that the material world is all that exists, a view known as materialism.

One of the negative side-effects of our technological and scientific advances, then, is this tendency for people to slide, often uncritically, into materialism with its clear rejection of God and the spiritual aspects of human nature and the “invisible” world. Unfortunately, the flip side of this is that often religious people, feeling threatened by scientism and materialism, reject science itself, which they perceive to be the problem, and retreat into misguided and mistaken notions of faith, resulting in fundamentalism. For the Orthodox Christian, both of these side-effects - materialism and fundamentalism - are dead ends.

That God is and that He can be known by human persons because we are spiritual beings made in His image, this is fundamental (but not fundamentalism). But because God is not one created thing or being alongside other created things in the cosmos we cannot know him through the scientific method, i.e. the way we know about molecules, thermodynamics, etc. St Silouan affirms clearly and simply the Church’s approach to knowledge of God when he writes:

We can, as St Silouan affirms, have real knowledge of God, not via science, but “by the Holy Spirit.” The way to this knowledge? Living “according to His commandments.” This basic, fundamental teaching is realized in the experience of every one of the saints, confirmed by the entire Orthodox Tradition, and based on nothing less than our Lord’s own teaching: “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him. (John 14.21)”

With love in Christ,

Fr John

“Give me a word!”

The Holy Scriptures lead us to God and open the path to the knowledge of God.

-St John Chrysostom

Just as the thought of fire does not warm the body, so faith without love does not actualize the light of spiritual knowledge in the soul.

-St Maximos the Confessor

Whoever will not love his enemies cannot know the Lord and the sweetness of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit teaches us to love our enemies in such way that we pity their souls as if they were our own children.

-St Silouan the Athonite

God abides in each commandment by His gracious power…. God helps everyone who strives to keep His commandments. That God abides in us we know by the Spirit, which He has given us. This means that a Christian is never alone, but that he lives and works together with the Thrice-Holy God.

-St Justin Popovich

Repentance and knowledge of the living God permit the Christian…to direct his freedom toward the actual center and source of life, the Triune God. If one would live not anthropocentrically but theocentrically, he must center his life on Christ.

-Archimandrite George (Capsanis)

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