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What is faith?

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#1 Monk Herman

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Posted 09 July 2013 - 11:10 PM

Dear Fathers, Brothers and Sisters in Christ

 

I've come across at least three atheists who all define faith as "a belief held in the absence of evidence." The fact that they all put it in just the same words suggests to me that they're parroting one another without giving it much thought. Now perhaps an atheist can't be expected to have a very sophisticated understanding of something that is, of course, a religious concept. But then, why talk about it at all?

 

Still, if they'd really wanted a definition of faith, a good place to begin would have been a dictionary. That at least gives you a starting place; and you can develop your thinking from there. But "a belief held in the absence of evidence" is just utterly inadequate. The definition as given probably has little to do with any religious faith, and it's obviously irrelevant to an evidence-based religion like Christianity.

 

In fact "a belief held in the absence of evidence" sounds as if it should define something -- but I'm not sure what. It sounds closer to credulity. What's the word we need here?

 

In any case, what I'm really after is the answer to the title question: What is faith? I'm not really looking for a definition of faith, but something more like a description. So what I want to ask is: What characteristics of faith are missing here? How would you describe your experience of faith?

 

Thanks,

Herman monk

 

 

 



#2 Alice

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Posted 10 July 2013 - 01:12 AM

Faith: To believe in something which your heart (not your mind) tells you is true.



#3 Rdr Daniel (R.)

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Posted 10 July 2013 - 11:21 AM

'Faith is the substance of things hoped for, a proof of things not seen.' 



#4 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 10 July 2013 - 12:21 PM

Faith is another word for trust. Or perhaps they feed each other. I trust the Apostolic Witness provided by the Church which establishes my faith in God. Of course, standing in the awesome presence of the Living God also tends to reinforce this as well. Once you have met someone, it is difficult to deny they exist. Prayers answered, miracles seen, God experienced, all these things have made it easier for me to have faith in a Loving God and to trust in His Love. For those who have not experienced such things, I pray that they get the opportunity, I don't know where I'd be if I hadn't.

#5 Owen Jones

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Posted 10 July 2013 - 12:57 PM

First and foremost, faith is a virtue.  One of the Theological Virtues.  That means that it is actually an action, a way of life, not something that happens in the head.  To live by faith is to not be anxious in the world.  It means living every day as if life has meaning and purpose because God has created us for a purpose.  It means that we do not know in any absolute sense what that purpose is, but rather something we have to work at and work out.  It implies that life is a mystery, and not just a fact.  That God is a mystery and cannot be known.  It is the capacity to live life joyfully not requiring certitude. 



#6 Lakis Papas

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Posted 10 July 2013 - 07:52 PM

I believe in one God, Father Almighty ... And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God,... And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Creator of life, Who proceeds from the Father,...

 

This belief is based on personal relation as it is formed through realization that evidence is absolutely unnecessary. What is necessary is repentance, then faith follows - most of the times. 

 

Matthew 12:38-45

 

Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”
 
He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.
 
“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

 


Edited by Lakis Papas, 10 July 2013 - 07:54 PM.


#7 Owen Jones

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Posted 11 July 2013 - 01:22 AM

Yes, although faith and belief are not the same.  I like to think of faith as the active principle of belief.  It's what incarnates belief. 



#8 Effie Ganatsios

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Posted 11 July 2013 - 05:55 AM

Hebrews 11:1
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts”
― Albert Einstein

To me faith is hope and trust. There are so many things that cannot be measured or analyzed or seen.


http://orthodoxwayof...-and-heart.html

#9 Monk Herman

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Posted 12 July 2013 - 07:41 PM

I seem to be hearing hope and trust more than anything. Herman mentions trust in the love of God, which implies the primacy of our relationship with Christ God. But love, hope and trust all imply relationship. (Although St Paul names faith, hope and love individually.) So based on your responses I suppose I would make the relationship of persons central to faith -- our relationship with the Living God.

 

But I'm afraid I have a slight disagreement with Lakis, despite his quote from St Matthew. I think your stress on repentance is right, but you also wrote that "evidence is absolutely unnecessary." It seems to me that the use of reason is essential to the logiki poimni -- the rational flock of God the Logos. I like to distinguish between "blind" faith, if you will, and an informed faith.

 

How much sense does this make to anyone?

 

Also, can anyone suggest where I might find some comments on faith in Orthodox writers? I know, for example, that Fr Michael Pomazhansky has a page or two on faith in his book Orthodox Dogmatic Theology. Any others? Holy Fathers, perhaps?

 

H

 

 



#10 Lakis Papas

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Posted 12 July 2013 - 09:29 PM

But I'm afraid I have a slight disagreement with Lakis, despite his quote from St Matthew. I think your stress on repentance is right, but you also wrote that "evidence is absolutely unnecessary." It seems to me that the use of reason is essential to the logiki poimni -- the rational flock of God the Logos. I like to distinguish between "blind" faith, if you will, and an informed faith.

 

How much sense does this make to anyone?

 

Let me answer with a personal tone: I tried hard to find a rational argument to love my enemy. I found none. Ι would appreciate it, ιf anyone can provide one. (I say this because part of repentance is to love my enemy).

 

As for blind faith, st Gregory of Nyssa in his work "The Life of Moses" clarifies that as Moses approached God, his self awareness of the ignorance of divine things grew more and more and as St Gregory points (Exodus 20:21): "The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was". This "thick darkness" is a mystery that removes all evidence. We approach God and find God in the thick darkness. So the spiritual path proves to be a path of repentance to the most radical sense: repentance (metanoia) in Greek literally means "change of mind".



#11 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 12 July 2013 - 10:01 PM

Evidence at some level is necessary (at least for me) and I agree with Monk Herman that it is the relationship that is key. Christ Himself provided a lot of evidence in His miracles and His teachings. I probably wouldn't be a believer if not for the evidence. I believe God exists because I can no longer believe that He doesn't exist. Once you have met someone and develop a relationship with that person, you have to accept that they do, in fact, exist.

 

Therefore, evidence makes me believe that God exists. My relationship with God feeds my trust/faith in that relationship and that is why I know I must love my enemy. Not because evidence tells me it is something I should do but because the God I trust says I should.

 

Herman



#12 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 13 July 2013 - 09:39 AM

I think we can also trust the testimony of reliable persons, saints, God-bearing elders, and spiritual fathers and mothers.  Among the great writers such as St Gregory the New Theologian, St Gregory Palamas and Elder Sophrony, we find experiential theology, true theology which is based on just the sort of relationship to which Herman adverts though at a deeper level than most of us will ever know.  There is also the testimony of those who suffered for the faith, from the persecutions of ancient Rome to the camps of the Soviet Union.



#13 Lakis Papas

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Posted 13 July 2013 - 09:39 PM

First, I have no appetite for dispute. 
 
Informed faith - as I understand the term - can provide a reasonable basis upon which faith can be justified. But, I see that the Church has based its liturgical practice in purity of heart. The purity of the heart through repentance and the sacraments of the Church gives access to the view of God. What happened at Mount Tabor is a very important event - the view of the Light of the Glory of God. This Taborian light that surrounds the faithful certainly does not allow to define faith as "blind", because it is Light that enlightens believers to see the Mystery of God's Glory.
 
There is no "evidence" that we acquire from our illumination from the Taborian light. I think, what Monk Herman, Herman Blaydoe, and Andreas Moran present, highlighting them as evidence, are those gifts that are offered to believers by the Taborian light. The Patristic terminology for this offerings is "information" (πληροφορια in Greek).  
 
So, our faith is an "informed faith", based on information. This information is not evidence. When someone receives this information first is moved to repentance, and then being purified is illuminated and then being illuminated sees the Glory of God - three stages: purification, illumination, glorification.
 
For example, when a person has a clear "message" from God, this is not considered as "evidence" but as "information". Message can be an experience, a vision, a revelation, an event. I think, Herman Blaydoe wrote about such messages from God more clearly. Also, I think, Andreas wrote about these messages in the form of experiential theology and testimony from martyrs.
 
Now, since this messages are absolutely personal, they are not evidence. They are information supplied by the Spirit acting on the soul and on the body, sometimes to clean, other times to illuminate, other times to glorify. This information aims at revealing the truth, undo the lie, eliminating the haze of the soul, giving joy, courage and hope and primarily leads to repentance and spiritual humility. Repentance and true humility is the ground where faith make roots and grows.


#14 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 13 July 2013 - 10:11 PM

I wonder if I might respectfully suggest that rather than using the word 'information', the word 'communion' is preferable?  It is commonly said that we 'commune' with God rather than that we receive 'information' from Him, 'communion' being  a two-way process.  Communion with God, at whatever level, is by the grace of the Holy Spirit.



#15 Lakis Papas

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Posted 14 July 2013 - 12:23 AM

I wonder if I might respectfully suggest that rather than using the word 'information', the word 'communion' is preferable?  It is commonly said that we 'commune' with God rather than that we receive 'information' from Him, 'communion' being  a two-way process.  Communion with God, at whatever level, is by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

 

I think the translation is poor on my account. The literal translation of Greek word πληροφορια is information.

 

But, the patristic meaning of the word πληροφορια is "information that provides an inner spiritual assurance". As you rightly suggest the proper phrasing is "commune with God". Neptic Fathers point that every "communion with God" consists of 1) spiritual perception and 2)  inner spiritual assurance of heart.    



#16 Effie Ganatsios

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Posted 14 July 2013 - 04:31 AM

1 Peter 1:5-9

who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

#17 Effie Ganatsios

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Posted 14 July 2013 - 04:36 AM


Hebrews 11:1



11 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.


Romans 10:17

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

#18 Monk Herman

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Posted 19 September 2013 - 10:33 PM

There are lots of interesting comments here.

 

Since the last posts were posted, I've come across
this, from the book Path to Sanity by
Dee Pennock (pages 23-26).

 

The strongest heart-empowered conviction our mind is
capable of having is faith. What is faith? And how do we acquire it? the saints
teach that it comes as a result of gathering knowledge. He who does not know the truth cannot have true faith; for in the
nature of things, knowledge comes before faith
(Saint Hesychios). Saint
Isaac of Syria says, Natural knowledge,
which precedes faith, is the way to faith and to God.

 

Then she says:

 

Jesus called on
people to believe in Him on the basis of [as she puts it] scientific
demonstration. He told the messengers of John the Baptist: Go your way, and tell John what things you have seen and hears; how the
blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are
raised
(Saint Luke 7:22).

 

At the bottom of page 24 she says something that
sounds like Lakis’s insistence on repentance &c:

 

You get knowledge of
God, and knowledge of yourself, by turning your soul into a laboratory and
experimenting in it. the tools you experiment with are the counsels of the
saints in the mainstream of Christian tradition—the ones who have all agreed
with the apostles and with one another because, as Scripture says, they have
become holy enough to be all taught of
God
(Saint John 6:45). You thoroughly test the prayers they prescribe, and
examine the results in yourself. You use all the counsels they present, and
throw nothing away without testing it—tasting it, as David says: O taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed are those who trust in Him
(Psalm 34:8).


If you are willing to
follow the evidence (and not everyone is), your testing and tasting will bring
you into more and more knowledge about yourself and God. … first you come to
know something, then you acquire faith in what you know.

 

And she quotes Saint Basil the Great, who wrote that Faith is a settling of the mind concerning
the things that are.

 

This isn’t really what I had in mind by way of
evidence, and I'd be surprised to find even one atheist willing to follow such
a program. But the idea that "natural knowledge,
which precedes faith
" certainly is what I was thinking.

 

What do you all think of this?


H



#19 Deacon John Martin

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Posted 20 September 2013 - 12:16 PM

There is a good podcast by Dr. David Bradshaw called "What Is Faith? Plato, Nietzche and Christ" that I think you will find enlightening.

 

According to Fr. John Romanides in his Patristic Theology, "faith" can have two meanings. First, there is an intellectual faith, which everyone has to some extent. We all believe something. But, he says, this faith is not enough. Why? Because it is a product of our own mind, and we cannot save ourselves. The second kind of faith is what he calls "inner faith," and this is a gift of God. It's not something that we can just turn on like a light switch; it's something we must ask for. Just like the man who entreated the Lord, "I believe, help my unbelief." He believed in one way, but not in the other. The ultimate expression of "inner faith" is noetic prayer.

 

I don't have this kind of faith. But I believe it exists.


Edited by John Martin, 20 September 2013 - 12:16 PM.


#20 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 20 September 2013 - 04:32 PM

The difference, perhaps, between belief of the mind and belief of the heart.  As Bishop Irenaeos said, 'God is in your heart, not your mind'.


Edited by Andreas Moran, 20 September 2013 - 04:33 PM.






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