Saintless Christianity

dutchmasterWhat would Christianity mean if there were no saints?

To rephrase the question: What would be the meaning of the Christian gospel if there were no wonderworkers, no people who had been transfigured with the Divine Light, no clairvoyant prophets, no healers, no people who had raised the dead, no ascetics living alone in the deserts for years on end, no beacons of radical, all-forgiving love? 

What would be the meaning of the Christian gospel if there were no wonderworking relics, no true Body and Blood of Christ, no true Baptism in the death and resurrection of Christ? What if there were no weeping icons?

First, it would mean that the two-storey version of Christianity was the correct version. What would remain if all those artifacts of the faith were removed would be the mere idea of Christianity accompanied by the moral efforts of those who admired it. Saints would simply mean “dead Christians.”

The Christian gospel, as recorded in the Scriptures and maintained in Classical Christianity, is replete with the artifacts of holiness – tangible, living examples of transfigured lives – not morally improved but something other. Human beings becoming gods (in the bold language of the early fathers).

There began, however, in the 16th century, a rebellion against the honoring of the saints, and the wholesale jettisoning of many aspects of the Classical faith. The 16th century, with the Reformation, saw the advent of the ordinary Christian as the normative Christian and the ordinary world as the normative world. 

All believers are saints! (they said)…

The preaching of a radicalized grace and the demonization of works brought about the democratization of heaven (many contemporary Christians still denounce practices such as fasting and vigils as “works righteousness”). The spiritual elitism of a special class of Christians was denounced as a fraud. In England (and other places as well), the bodies and bones of the saints were dismantled, desecrated and destroyed. The democratic republic of heaven wanted no going back.

The removal of any form of transformation to somewhere other than our present world was required by the exaltation of the ordinary. The possibility of present-tense transformation endangered the entire scheme of the ordinary. The presence of a single honored saint who was more than merely heroic represented an indictment of the entire Reformation project.

Thinking of the Reformation and contemporary Christianity in such terms almost sounds like the plot of a children’s novel. But that is the nature of a time that can only be seen as bizarre.

Moving forward in history, this same shift to the ordinary was met with resistance which continues to this day. The great “awakenings” (the “First” and the “Second”) should be seen as uprisings against the ordinary. Against the theory of idealized, postponed Christianity, popular revolts leapt forward towards experience. In England, the Methodists following John and Charles Wesley were accused of enthusiasm (a very serious matter among the British). People swooned, and even barked like dogs under the “sway of the Spirit” as John Wesley, George Whitefield and others preached. The established Church was ruptured.

The Second Great Awakening gave birth to the Second Birth, and theology itself was ruptured with the creation of evangelical experiential claims. Perhaps the most significant (and extreme) response to the ordinary-driven reforms were found in the various Pentecostal movements of the 20th century (and beyond). Evangelical demands for a born-again experience were pushed by demands for a Baptism in the Spirit (with signs following). 

The instinct of these reactionary movements should be seen in the context of ordinary Protestantism. The emptiness of a postponed spiritual reality gave birth to undisciplined, non-traditional forms of spiritual experience. The New Testament itself bore constant witness against the banal, empty futility of ordinary Protestantism. It promises so much more.

From a Classical Christian perspective these eruptions of experience-hungry movements should not be judged too harshly. They are often defective in doctrine and marked by delusional claims, but their instinct and hunger are correct. I think that current conversations between Orthodoxy and Pentecostalism (at least on the theological level) will be very fruitful – particularly for the Pentecostals. 

The Tradition teaches the reality of the spiritual life:

We have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly spirit, we have found the true faith, worshipping the undivided Trinity who has saved us!

The Tradition also places the reality of the experience into the disciplined life of the Church. Thus 2,000 years of experience produces saints rather than ephemeral movements. For in the end, the experience of Orthodox Christianity is about far more than popular demand: it is the promise and realization of union with God. 

Individual believers have a “taste” of this reality – but the fruit of the Orthodox life is found in the saints – those persons who have been so united with Christ that the very life of Christ Himself is tangibly visible in their works and teachings. Like the resurrection of Christ Himself, their reality validates the life and struggles of all believers.

The traditional ascesis of Orthodoxy is not a method. It is not a set of actions and thoughts that inherently produce the results of sanctity. Such a notion would reduce God to an impersonal force. They are, however, guards against delusion and the path by which we may normatively know the true and living God. But the “ordinariness” of general experience is not the “norm” for the Christian life. Christ Himself alone, and the stature of His fullness (Eph. 4:13) are the measure and standard of the Christian life.

The language of the Church quickly evolved in its use and definition of the term “saint.” Though St. Paul regularly addresses his readers as “saints,” in a manner that makes the term seem synonymous with the word “believers,” it sometimes has a stronger meaning.

To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom 1:7)

and

To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1Co 1:2-3)

In time, the Church came to restrict the use of the title, “saint,” for those whose manner of life truly conformed to the life of the gospel. They were not merely significant “historical” figures, but people whose lives were indeed filled with the Spirit. Figures who remain controversial in this designation (such as Constantine the Great) are controversial precisely because some question whether they rightly meet this standard. Their inclusion does not change the meaning – the questioning confirms it.

I have elsewhere described this normative, Classical understanding of truly experiential Christianity as “Christianity in a One-Storey Universe.” The bifurcation of the Christian life is ultimately a denial of the truth of the faith and an exaltation of a bland, mundane substitute whose emptiness can only suffocate true believing.

The Church of the saints is the only complete proclamation of the Christian faith. 

All articles are written by Fr. Stephen Freeman, Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, TN, unless otherwise noted. 

54 comments:

  1. Thank you Fr. Stephen -This topic is always first as I meet my Protestant friends and share that I attend “St Tikons”

  2. Fr. Stephen,

    I am a long-time reader and admirer of your blog, though I’ve never felt informed enough to comment. I am (at least at present) non-Orthodox, but your blog is one of the most constant inspirations for me to read the Church Fathers and pursue “Classical Christianity.”

    Coincidentally, but perhaps not coincidentally, yesterday I ended up in a pertinent email exchange–lengthy for us–with my father. He is a very pragmatic man and a retired national guardsman, devout in his own way but extremely independent, of a conservative Baptist background. Ordinarily I do not dare to discuss theology with him; he gets it in bits and pieces from various places, and ever since a trip to Israel he has been drawn toward the “Hebrew Roots” movement–not uncritically, I think; but it has made his theological views increasingly eccentric and definitely anti-institutional.

    Forgive this lengthy introduction. Recently I ordered him Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future Faith, which is not my favorite book on the subject, but I thought it much more likely to interest him than most of the books I read on the subject, as it is practical and fairly easy (he has dyslexia and difficulty reading at length) and must appeal in some ways to his interests. He has not read it yet, but he did send me an email thanking me for the book, and that got us into an exchange yesterday that is probably not yet over.

    I discovered yesterday the current extent of his disgruntlement with the organized church. He mentioned his unfamiliarity with the concept of “classical Christianity,” and I explained and also explained why it appealed to me. His reply was unexpected; I would have thought he would, as when I grew up, advocate the traditional Evangelical narrative of Scripture and the canon and perspicuity. Instead, he agreed with me that our Bible and our theology were to a large extent determined by the Early Church; he also said that he had been looking into the Church Fathers lately in an effort to better understand the roots of his faith, and he was not at all happy with what he saw. He commented that their writings were “obviously far from inspired,” and briefly mentioned antisemitism, a hierarchical view of the church, ego issues, and frequent disagreements. He affirmed that he wanted a better foundation than the “traditions of men,” and right now, “with [his] age and experience,” he’s not sure he can trust the Fathers’ definition of orthodoxy. He was even a bit ambiguous about whether he thought he could trust the canon of Scripture.

    Due to the nature of our relationship, I doubt we will be able to hold an extended discussion about these matters. A point-by-point debate on the merits of each of the Fathers, even if we managed to sustain it, would probably not improve our relationship any. I’d be better off sending him another book. So I’m kind of at a loss at how to respond most effectively and concisely to his vague objections, since he seems at this point so close and yet so far from where I am.

    Still, I remember when I wondered the same thing, because on the surface of it, especially for someone unfamiliar with Christian tradition, there appears a lot to dislike about the seeming irascibility of many of the most influential Fathers. I don’t expect to be able to convince him anytime soon that they were “saints” in the strong sense; but I wish I could find some words to convey to him the importance of listening to them humbly before dismissing them, and the continuity I have come to believe they had with the Apostles. I worry at times that he is stumbling deeper and deeper into heresy in his earnest but increasingly idiosyncratic search, and he is not likely to look kindly on anything phrased explicitly as advice. From what I can tell now, he could end up anywhere.

    Fr. Stephen, with your experience, and in light of this very apposite post, do you have any counsel to give? My father and I get along well in small doses, but have never really understood one another. I’d like to be able to help him here if possible, and move toward a stronger relationship (though we live miles apart). I’ve drafted an email response mostly talking about the Church and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but after reading this post I thought I’d hold off a bit before sending it. I will pray for my father, and my mother, who typically follows his lead on these things.

  3. Fr. Stephen, amen, to this wonderful monograph. I came to Orthodoxy out of the charismatic wing of Pentecostalism, but found it most comfortably in high church settings where there was some theological balance, in episcopal and catholic groups. And I must say that it was the reality of the Lord that I experienced there which was the foundation that led to my being Orthodox. It was the inner communion I already had with the Lord that I wished to preserve and enhance in Orthodoxy, it was the battle with the demons that I had already been involved in that I sought to prosecute more successfully in Orthodoxy, and it was the richness of the Stillness I had already that I sought to deepen with Hesychasm. I know a few other former charismatic Orthodox. My priest once spoke in tongues as a signs-and-wonders preacher in Montana and led a Mormon lady out of that into Trinitarian Christianity because his tongues had been in Portuguese, a language he had not learned. I know another one who prayed in tongues for a roommate who was a secular Jew, when the Jew was sick, and it came out in Hebrew, and it was Jesus speaking to the Jew, who was subsquently converted to Jesus because of it and was baptized. The conversion also involved a mini-vision and a charismatic style prophesy. His jumping up and down saying ‘it’s real; it’s real; it’s real- was just amazing to note. So there is amongst some a kernel of truth that might ‘enhance’ our understanding of what Orthodoxy is, as I heard Bishop Kallistos say once, especially as the lower- case tradition we have with us has come to us from a time when Orthodoxy was established and everybody was a Christian and there appeared no need to let one’s light to shine so brightly before a darkened world, and the free expressions of the Spirit to which Scripture alludes in worship were pastorally excluded, with the anaphora, for example, becoming completely scripted unlike earlier ages when it was more free-form, as the ordinary folks in the pews were there because the church was established and not necesarily because of deep belief and piety. In the mean time, I shall stick with the Jesus prayer, and “Illumine my darkness’, as every day is a mystery of seeking to be raised from the dead, and live the life of the cross. When worship is total Liturgy and scripted, and it is the icon and sacrament of life, then the free, non-Scripted moves of the Spirit that often serve to advance the Kingdom, do not as easily become a part of ordinary, in the pews Christian life. The Spirit-led, random acts of charity and kindness, the giving of a cup of water in Jesus’ name; the praying for the dead so that they will be raised, the healings of those with Lupus, or those bound with intestinal disorders for fourteen years and so forth. Lord have mercy.

  4. I came into Orthodoxy with an entire congregation of the Foursquare Pentecostal Church in 1996. Our journey was an amazing time and being part of the Pentecostal movement was a significant part of it. Thank you for you encouraging and informative writings.

  5. Might we say, “each baptized member of the Church is a saint in the sense of being set apart for God and called to sainthood, but a true saint is someone who follows and knows Christ intimately”? Sort of the same way that every day is holy, but one doesn’t develop a true appreciation of every day as holy without the recognition of specific days as holy? The particulars point to the reality of the whole?

  6. Corvus,
    I will be writing an article on this topic (or its central point) soon. But I’ll give the brief version here.

    My parents became Orthodox at age 79. All things are possible.

    When Protestants and Catholics began to argue in the 16th century, the debate often turned to questions of authority. Rome had already exalted authority issues in previous times. But the argument about authority is a red herring – it leads us astray from true thought.

    In Orthodoxy, it is not so much authority as a matter of authenticity. Your father seems to have typical protestant authority questions. How do I trust something…including the canon, etc. He’s asking questions that were never meant to be asked in that manner nor answered as they have been.

    Orthodoxy simply is the Church. It is not the Church in comparison to others – it’s just the Church. It wasn’t designed for comparison. The Church only comes in One’s. So we can never answer those questions satisfactorily.

    But we are authentic. We are the original. The original was never perfect…hence the letters of the New Testament. The fathers aren’t perfect – but they write of the authentic faith.

    Those who search for perfection and perfect authorities are doomed never to come to rest (or only come to a false rest full of arguments). If you are able to shift the conversation to authenticity rather than authority, you might relieve your father of a great burden.

    This is the Church of the saints, the martyrs, the miracles. It is messy and full of peculiar personalities (as were the 12). It is not theory – it is authentic reality. As a messy, peculiar personality, I find it to be a wonderful home – my authentic home.

  7. Yes, if only Christians of democratic nations had higher standards of sainthood, perhaps we would be more willing to submit to the Spirit. It has irked me to be called a good man or saint, because I in my heart I know the bar cannot be so low.

  8. What would remain if all those artifacts of the faith were removed would be the mere idea of Christianity accompanied by the moral efforts of those who admired it. Saints would simply mean “dead Christians.”

    This is an excellent article, Fr. Stephen.

    If we could not see the transformative nature of Christianity in a single life among us, we would have quite a dilemma. Indeed, I think that this is a dilemma that many people, including Christians, fall victim to. We see Christians and they appear to be rather ordinary people, most having the same faults and failings as non-Christians.

    If this is so – if Christianity does not change anyone substantially – why should anyone become a Christian or seek to unite his/her life to Christ?

    However, when I read the biography, “Elder Paisios of Mt. Athos” by Hieromonk Isaac, I cannot help but believe that Christianity must be true. Not only that, I want my life to be so transformed. And I long to do the work that will make room for God’s grace to be at work in me, in whatever way He sees fit.

    I know that I myself, of course, am nowhere near the level of holiness seen in Elder Paisios. But I am encouraged that God’s love and grace has been demonstrated so abundantly – not just 2000 years ago – but in someone who lived during my own lifetime.

    Christianity without saints, without healers, without the Body and Blood, would just be another idea. Praised be to God for His endless gifts of love, seen alive in His people.

    (As an aside, it is unfortunate that this book is out of print – it provides an exceptional insight into the life of this holy man. Also, is there any word when Elder Paisios will be canonized? It seems accepted that he will be.)

  9. Thank you Father Stephen for articulating a profound difference between Protestantism and Orthodoxy when it comes to saints.
    I did not understand how this came to be until I read Charles Taylor’s “A Secular Age” wonderfully written and with copious footnotes of his research.
    The contempt of the Reformers for anything smacking of ‘holiness’ is astonishing. Oliver Cromwell stabled animals and kept prisoners in the great and holy Durham Cathedral, where both Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede are buried. The statues in the choir screen disappeared ,either destroyed or hidden to this day.
    When I see the Islamists gleefully destroying Orthodox churches, I think of the effect of Puritanism on so much beauty and holiness, and all in the name of God. Lord have mercy .
    Kallistos Ware gave an interesting talk available on Ancient faith Radio called ‘What Orthodox and Protestants can teach each other’ and we do have something to learn from devout Protestants, but not saint bashing and the elimination of sanctity .

  10. This is the Church of the saints, the martyrs, the miracles. It is messy and full of peculiar personalities (as were the 12). It is not theory – it is authentic reality. As a messy, peculiar personality, I find it to be a wonderful home – my authentic home.

    Yes, and those who can’t handle messiness often miss the authenticity.

  11. Corvus,

    You mention that when your father read the Church Fathers, he “commented that their writings were “obviously far from inspired,” and briefly mentioned antisemitism, a hierarchical view of the church, ego issues, and frequent disagreements…”

    With regards to point 1 (antisemitism), remember that during the first three centuries, Jews had considered Christians to be a heretical sect, and frequently persecuted them (this is apparent even in the New Testament), as well as collaborating with the Roman authorities in doing so. If some of the Church Fathers seem to have a particular resentment towards Jewish people, that is why. It would be a mistake to tar them as anti-Semites in the modern sense of the term. Many of them were, after all, converts from Judaism themselves.

    With regards to point 2, the New Testament-era church was hierarchical, at least in the sense that certain men (the apostles, and the bishops who succeeded them), had authority. Egalitarianism itself is nowhere to be found in the New Testament, and to the extent that it is found among some Protestants, it is largely a result of Enlightenment attitudes, not Scriptural ones.

    Ego issues and frequent disagreements are simply a part of human nature. Even the Apostles bickered with each other over various issues, and there were tensions between some of them over who would be exalted highest in heaven (Matthew 20). If these kinds of things disqualify the Fathers, they disqualify the Apostles too.

  12. Authenticity: The Orthodox funeral service. We celebrated a funeral for a friend of mine last night. It is always a sobering, cathartic and uplifting experience. Non-Orthodox who attend are routinely blown away by the experience. Not a few of them stay because of the experience.

    Part of the reason it is so impactful is that it is experiential and not theoretical. The service embraces the entire human experience at a point where we all gather–at the side of a loved one’s coffin.

    My friend was a blessed man, he knew five years ago that his time in his body was limited. He did not waste the time. He prepared, he evangelized, he worshipped. Two of his pallbearers where God sons.

    The service connects the death of a Christian to the forgiveness of sins and the Resurrection.

    May his memory be eternal!

  13. Fr. Michael Pleikon has several wonderful books devoted to saints in the modern era: Living Icons being my favorite. More recently, he’s dealing with the warts after Dorothy Day’s call to flesh out the hagiography and make our saints more approachable. Both Catholics and Orthodox have been too narrow in allowing something like 80% of our saints to be clergy since the 10th century, and almost as rarely as the non-clergy, women (less than 10%). This doesn’t negate the process… only points to the need to look harder to see the unrecognized, the hallowed but forgotten saints, and to recover the wealth of holy people overlooked simply because they lived outside literate communities. We’ll get there… but Dorothy Day was very much after my heart on this: The feet of clay aren’t a problem (or shouldn’t be) but in fact acknowledging the clay builds up their triumph and victory as a life devoted to Christ…. not because it was easy, but because they persevered in love despite all the trials, doubts, and the rest.

  14. I think I might disagree with Fr. Michael, though the book you cite is delightful. I certainly prefer hagiography that includes the warts. It’s helpful. But I think it’s also true that there are many people in whom we experience the holy, that might not rightly be described as saints. My own concern is our modern tendency to democratize everything – both by bringing the high down low, and making more of the low than is warranted.

    I think Fr. Alexander Schmemann was a good priest and a good scholar. I like him a lot. But, for example, I don’t think he’s a saint. He’s even important – but the criterion of sainthood is something else. Somethings in a person’s life are problematic. For example, he cites Mthr. Maria Skobtsova, who is certainly a saint. But had she not been martyred for her heroic work on behalf of the Jews, she would not have been canonized. Archbishop Kyril of Pittsburgh, as a priest in Bulgaria, lay in front of a train to prevent Jews from being taken away. He was not martyred. He was a great man, but he’ll not be canonized.

    But Mthr. Maria also had many aspects of her life that were problematic (marriages, smoking, etc.). things you would not normally expect in a saint – her sanctity is not because of those things, but in spite of them. But there is a tendency on the part of some to love this “human” side of a saint – it certainly makes people like me feel closer to them. But multiple marriages and smoking are “human.” They’re just sins – the stuff we all have. Being “only human” is not about being flawed. Christ is the only truly human. The rest of us fail to be truly human, not “only human.”
    It is the stunning manifestation of God in our humanity that marks the saint. At least that is how the Church marks these things. St. Maria’s courage and risk was a stunning manifestation of God. And it took place within a very complex life. I hope I’m making sense in these thoughts.

  15. Fr. Stephen, this was a very helpful article. The call to theosis is astonishing, but the necessary corollary of a full view of the Incarnation. Thank you! Might I point out, however, that the verses you cite from the beginning of Romans and 1 Corinthians do not, unfortunately, support your point–though others may. The “to be” is an English addition (found in the KJV and other traditional English translations) that is NOT present in the Greek, which just says “to those called saints.” (past participle in the dative plural joined to the noun hagiois, the dative plural).

  16. With all due respect, I want to hold out for the authentic use of the word “ordinary” in our Christian lexicon when it comes to sainthood. It is in the midst of ordinary (read everyday and unspectacular) life- school, job, taking out the trash and having a conversation with your neighbor on the curb, doing the shopping, etc. – not just on Mt. Athos, that men and women become authentically deified. I believe there is truth in the indictment of the kind of clericalism and elusivism that gets equated with sainthood to the detriment of the sainthood of all believers who seek to realize (consummate) their sainthood without having to journey to Mt. Athos.

  17. Fr. Stephen: Thank you. Yes… you are making sense. This is one area I’m focused on these days and so curious to see Fr. Michael’s contributions… but I find myself drawn in another direction than I guess he is. Maybe it’s a similar initiative, but a different direction: I’m more curious to discover the afterlife of saints – what they’ve meant to and in the lives of others, what they’ve done and how they’ve inspired those around us, how people feel drawn and how they respond… all without seeming (to others) like I’ve gone off the deep end just for asking. Yet I think this would tell much of the appeal of holy lives.

  18. Edith,
    Yes, but the word “called” does not mean called in the sense of “named.” It means “called” in the sense of vocation. Thus, adding the “to be” is necessary in English in order to get the right meaning. Thus the verb is “called to be”. Sometimes dynamic equivalence is necessary in order to be accurate.

  19. Lazarus,
    We certainly have to live where we are called. But the glorification of the mundane (banal) is not an answer to the reality given to us in Christ. There are indeed plenty of “ordinary” saints, though their stories are frequently shocking and even disturbing in their extremes. The same is true even of the saints on Mt. Athos. Compared to them, the average monk leads a mundane, even banal existence. By all means become a saint right where you are. Only it won’t happen by being a consumerist Christian with no prayer life. Holiness is radically non-democratic. It is exceedingly particular.

  20. James,
    I shared some thoughts on that topic last Saturday evening at Vespers, when thinking about St. Elijah. He’s very popular, though he wrote nothing. He’s popular because of what he does, and not what he did. That’s generally true of all “popular” saints.

  21. By all means become a saint right where you are. Only it won’t happen by being a consumerist Christian with no prayer life.

    Ouch! Yes. All I can say about the Christianity that keeps (well-meaningly, but ultimately falsely) offering Resurrection without the ascesis of the Cross–it’s like eating cotton candy all day and spiritually starving to death.

    It has often struck me of the great diversity of the Saints. The Mother of God and St. Mary of Egypt represent two extremes of Sainthood–those who are kept by God’s grace from sin from an early age and those who are delivered from great sin by that same grace. Each manifests, in quite different ways, the grace and power of God. It goes without saying that it is far better to be kept from sin throughout one’s life, but most of us have long since lost that opportunity, so the prominence of St. Mary of Egypt in the Church calendar during Lent is a great encouragement to remind us no sin is too great and that there is no life so depraved that it cannot be utterly transfigured by the grace of God through repentance.

  22. In reflecting on the funeral for my friend and the connection of the death of a Christian to the Resurrection some questions come to mind:

    1. Is not the long defeat, the defeat of our own personal will?

    2. Is this not a kind of death?

    3. Is not our physical death a part of that, if we allow it to be?

    4. Does not a saint cooperate with the death of their own will, even the death of their own body? Lord, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, thy will, not mine be done?

    5. Is not one of the major the challenges of the modern world the fact that the free exercise of our personal diseased will is held up as the ultimate in being human when the opposite is the case?

    6. Is the Resurrection possible without death? Not the death of corruption but the death to corruption?

    I was reading the life of St. Luke of Simferopol during Lent. One of the marks of his life was his instant obedience to the call of the Church and the Scriptures. Example: He had never given a thought to being a priest, he was a doctor, an excellent doctor. One day he was giving a presentation to a diocesan gathering. At the end of the presentation, the bishop approached him and said, “You ought to be a priest.” St. Luke said, “OK, if you think so.” Two weeks later he was ordained, clandestinely because of the Soviets in a borrowed cassock. His elevation to the episcopate was even more clandestine because by that time the Soviet’s were after him.

    There were many other instances in his life where that obedience was demonstrated as in his refusal to operate on a Communist Party leader without the icon of the Theotokos in his operating room. An action that could have been one of pride and power but was rather an acknowledgement of the source of his healing skills.

    His life was a continual slaying of personal will.

  23. Corvus Marinus,

    I’m responding to your comment because I have a father very much like yours. We are also miles apart – geographically and relationally. It seems to me that there are many topics and areas we simply cannot share because one or the other of us are broken in some way. I get no response if I send him an article smelling of Orthodoxy.

    I find the answer to be the same word that Fr. Stephen uses: authenticity. But I’m referring to how I respond to my father. I am authentic. If we come to a disagreement where I know my natural response will only end in alienation or worse, then I defer to silence or a non-offensive answer that will more quickly move us to another topic or angle. I don’t lie, but I also don’t pretend that entering this territory will get us anywhere.

    But in general I try to meet him where he’s at, share fully in what we do have in common, not trying unduly to push his boundaries. With the general air of friendship and communion that this practice establishes, I am then able to gently warn him when he approaches a certain topic that is going to cause a clash. And over time I think he is not unaware of these boundaries. It gives him the freedom to choose whether or not to approach them and to decide what he desires from our relationship.

    In the end it is not my job to “save” him. Prayer will do more than anything else in my power concerning his salvation. My job is to love him.

    hope this helps, drewster

  24. I loved this post. I just think it is important to not gloss over the “warts” of our saintliness when it comes to the “institutional expression” of the faith.

    First, please do not misunderstand. I am not an icon smasher or advocate of saintless Christianity or a two storey universe. But, I do believe the “institutional” expression of Eastern Orthodoxy as the authentic faith has some self-examining to do. Your articulation of “classical Christianity” is stunning. I cheer you on…. Please do not assume, Fr. Stephen, that I am lumping you into this category. I am not. I am a huge fan of how God is using you to articulate the authentic faith. I yearn for more.

    Nonetheless, there is, in my experience, a definite strand of inauthentic clericalism and elitism that is worth not only noting but addressing within the Eastern Orthodox Church (yes?) It seems to me that this brand of “ordained/tonsured saintliness” does not spur men and women on to faith and good works. Rather, it creates a caste system that is all about authority (power) not authenticity. That attitude leeches into the beautiful reality of the path of saintliness and makes it something ugly, competitive, and divisive. Ironic that the undivided expression of the Church is so subtly divided along such lines. The great treasure of the “authentic” faith can become a museum piece that can only the observed by us “ordinary folks” and only handled by the “extraordinary folks” or those who march according to the drumbeat of the hierarchy (be it Protestant or Eastern Orthodox).

    Ironic…

    The irony is even deeper by virtue of the fact that the Protestant – evangelical and charismatic – have their own version of the same dynamic in a saintless, iconless, two storey paradigm. They will deny it, of course.
    Once again, the need for power rears its ugly head at the expense of authentic authority and saintliness.

    Second, please clarify what you mean by the following: “…the glorification of the mundane (banal) is not an answer to the reality given to us in Christ.”

    Third, it seems to me there is a mysterious freedom as to how the Holy Spirit will manifest deification. For example, not every icon weeps. But, that is not an indictment of the authenticity of the non-weeping icons. Could we not say the same about you and me as saints?

    Fourth, I wholeheartedly agree with your statement, “Only it won’t happen by being a consumerist Christian with no prayer life. Holiness is radically non-democratic. It is exceedingly particular.” One expression of “consumerist Christianity” is our (certainly mine) to turn the deifying work of the Holy Spirit into a competition (morality driven). “Radically non-democratic” in its authentic expression (saintliness) is radically self-giving not self-protecting and power-protecting.

    The authentic path is relationally driven not programmatically driven. That is something only God can pull off. Thank God!

    Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.

    End of soapbox …

  25. Thank you for the advice and encouragement, Anastasios and Drewster.

    Really, I understand why my father is so suspicious of the organized church. He grew up in a fundamentalist/dispensational Reformed Baptist church, the kind that made sure boys did not wear their hair touching their ears, and saw his church split (if I remember correctly) about five or six times before he reached adulthood. He went to seminary hoping to be a missionary, but did not finish his degree and ended up making the Army National Guard his career. Since then he’s stuck to the sort of (non-Calvinist) Baptist churches where the preaching and worship are not quite to his satisfaction, but at least the people are friendly and the teaching in general is “Biblical.” Although he likes to teach Sunday School and do counseling, he absolutely declines to participate in church leadership, due to his distaste for church politics.

    I’m guessing when he reads about the Early Church, and the various schisms and disputes and excommunications, his mind goes right back to the bitter experience of church in his childhood. Hence he steers very much away from any church leadership that seems controlling or intrusive. I think he also steers away from any picture of God that seems to him overly controlling or intrusive.

    I know the history of the Church is messy. Yet this is the one catholic and apostolic Church, sealed with the Holy Spirit; I know that, even if I have not worked out what I ought to do in the face of the Christianity’s current fragmented state. I wish my father could deal with his past church experience in a healthier way. I wish he could recognize some of the beauty and holiness of the historical Church, rather than always having his guard up. But that is not up to me to change. While I travel toward the Cross, I hope I may at least embody meekly before him the transformative power I find, and let go of fear and resentment as far as he is concerned. And not cease to pray.

  26. Lazarus,
    There is no sin common to human beings that cannot be found within the Church, including its clergy. I even asked around today, among a lot of clergy (I’m at a conference) what they thought of “clericalism.” What is it? what does it mean? Where do you see it?

    I got an interesting range of answers. It was generally agreed that there are ways to abuse the priestly office that constitute clericalism. I also do not see much of it around me. So it might depend on setting, or culture.

    I belong to a poor group of Orthodox Christians (the OCA). And our clergy are mostly poor. Many of them hold other full or part-time jobs. They can even frequently not be very respected. Many of them, including my late Archbishop, make daily sacrifices of time and treasure that utterly gainsay the trends of our culture. They are heroes. So I’m not very big on clericalism as a problem. though it can be.

    But what I think is important is that the ascetical, monastic life, or the asceticism of the monastic life, is not seen as exceptional in Orthodoxy. All that is exceptional about monasticism is the level to which it practices asceticism. But there is only one Orthodox life, practiced along a continuum.

    What I see in the rise of modernity, is the creation of an alternative notion of what it means to be a Christian that is not ascetical but quickly becomes described as “normal.” And I worry about any elevation of a non-ascetical life to the level of emulation and praise. There are certainly married saints, and non-ordained saints. But we should not be terribly surprised that saints often excel in asceticism, and that such saints are often among monastics and the ordained. Do you fast and pray like your priest or a monk? Are you surprised that more prayer and fasting expel greater demons?

    I’m not surprised by these things. What I want is more of such people, and I want them praying for this sorry soul of mine and to drag me with them as they climb the walls of heaven.

    There is no affirmative action program for sanctity. It is what it is.

  27. We certainly have to live where we are called. But the glorification of the mundane (banal) is not an answer to the reality given to us in Christ. There are indeed plenty of “ordinary” saints, though their stories are frequently shocking and even disturbing in their extremes. The same is true even of the saints on Mt. Athos. Compared to them, the average monk leads a mundane, even banal existence. By all means become a saint right where you are. Only it won’t happen by being a consumerist Christian with no prayer life.

    Fr. Stephen,

    I’ve been reflecting on this particular comment of yours and what it means to be a saint.

    I am assuming you are meaning “saint” as those who are canonized – and assuming appropriate canonization, those whose lives on earth (and beyond) are “beacons” of divine love, revealing the extraordinary power and glory of Christ in His gifts to His people.

    Many people may lead extraordinarily holy lives but never be known beyond the few people they encounter in private life. Others may live holy lives but of a more “ordinary” sort of holiness, demonstrated in ordinary gifts that do not draw attention. These people will not be canonized but may be saints in another sense – certainly beloved of God, sources of strength and inspiration for a few, but not going down in history.

    It seems to me (but I am asking this as a question because I do not know how the Church regards it) that no one becomes a saint unless God makes him/her one. Certainly that is true of salvation in general. But when I read of the great saints, in my own RC tradition as well as those in Orthodoxy, it seems that first type of sainthood (canonized) is the work and call of God.

    Certainly, saints like Elders Porphyrios and Paisios dedicated themselves to God with extraordinary fervor and humility – but they did not ACHIEVE sainthood or the spiritual gifts they were given. Would it be correct to say that God chose them for this special vocation – and that this, together with the “yes” of their prayer, asceticism, etc. is what made them the great saints that they are?

    Or is the vocation to that level of sanctity truly the call of all of us, regardless of our state in life?

    As I write the question, I am realizing that perhaps it makes no sense to ask. Each of us is called to give a total and complete “yes” – but it is up to God how that will look to the world around us, e.g. in terms of spiritual gifts, etc. (God might choose to make one such saint a “clairvoyant prophet” and another a quiet wife and mother.)

    I would appreciate your comment, Fr. Stephen, if you can make any sense of this convoluted question.

  28. We certainly have to live where we are called. But the glorification of the mundane (banal) is not an answer to the reality given to us in Christ. There are indeed plenty of “ordinary” saints, though their stories are frequently shocking and even disturbing in their extremes. The same is true even of the saints on Mt. Athos. Compared to them, the average monk leads a mundane, even banal existence. By all means become a saint right where you are. Only it won’t happen by being a consumerist Christian with no prayer life.

    Fr. Stephen,

    I’ve been reflecting on this particular comment of yours and what it means to be a saint.

    I am assuming you are meaning “saint” as those who are canonized – and assuming appropriate canonization, those whose lives on earth (and beyond) are “beacons” of divine love, revealing the extraordinary power and glory of Christ in His gifts to His people.

    Many people may lead extraordinarily holy lives but never be known beyond the few people they encounter in private life. Others may live holy lives but of a more “ordinary” sort of holiness, demonstrated in ordinary gifts that do not draw attention. These people will not be canonized but may be saints in another sense – certainly beloved of God, sources of strength and inspiration for a few, but not going down in history.

    It seems to me (but I am asking this as a question because I do not know how the Church regards it) that no one becomes a saint unless God makes him/her one. Certainly that is true of salvation in general. But when I read of the great saints, in my own RC tradition as well as those in Orthodoxy, it seems that first type of sainthood (canonized) is the work and call of God.

    Certainly, saints like Elders Porphyrios and Paisios dedicated themselves to God with extraordinary fervor and humility – but they did not ACHIEVE sainthood or the spiritual gifts they were given. Would it be correct to say that God chose them for this special vocation – and that this, together with the “yes” of their prayer, asceticism, etc. is what made them the great saints that they are?

    Or is the vocation to that level of sanctity truly the call of all of us, regardless of our state in life?

    As I write the question, I am realizing that perhaps it makes no sense to ask. Each of us is called to give a total and complete “yes” – but it is up to God how that will look to the world around us, e.g. in terms of spiritual gifts, etc. (God might choose to make one such saint a “clairvoyant prophet” and another a quiet wife and mother.)

    I would appreciate your comment, Fr. Stephen, if you can make any sense of this convoluted question.

  29. Fr. Stephen,

    Let me attempt to make my point one more time.

    Just as modernity is inauthentic in its “saintless” paradigm, there is another extreme that is just as destructive that denies the continuum of saintliness. This other extreme erects for the purpose of power and its use an elitist view of saintliness that does not serve to spur us on to the legitimate ascetical life. Rather, it deters folks from it.

    You seem perfectly willing to blow the trumpet of alarm regarding one, which I admire. However, you do not seem as alarmed by the danger of the other extreme — “i’m not very big on clericalism as a problem.” Well, my fellow pilgrim, it is a problem. Just as big a problem as the “modern project.”

    I guess I do not understand your consistent posts about one and not about the other.

    But then, I have not read all of your posts. So perhaps you have signaled your alarm about elitism elsewhere.

  30. Lazarus, I can say that my experience in the Orthodox Church has not been along the lines you described. What I get are frequent admonitions to behave in a saintlier way–and the more I stay, the more I find myself able to practice some small elements of that way. Can you give more concrete examples of where you’ve experienced “an elitist view of saintliness that does not serve to spur us on to the legitimate ascetical life. Rather, it deters folks from it”?

  31. Lazarus, I have the same question as Meg. I think I know what you are talking about but it has not been my experience in the Church and, evidently, neither has it been the experience of Fr. Stephen.

    I’ll admit, we both have had the blessing of being under extraordinary bishops, but I have a lot of friends throughout the Church in many different jurisdictions and have visited in quite a few parishes and even where the bishops have behaved badly, I haven’t seen what you have.

  32. Lazarus,
    “Just as big a problem as the modern project.” That is simply an absurd suggestion. But, you clearly have an issue about what you describe as clericalism. You haven’t actually done much other than to throw a term around and state that there is an elitist view of saintliness (whose primary display seems to be a less than egalitarian use of canonization). Whereas, in the modern project, something that pervades and describes an entire culture, I have analyzed and presented a cogent explanation, etc.

    Truth told, I pretty much have no idea what you’re talking about. I am certainly aware of power abuse (it is found everywhere there is power). I’m also aware of radical attempts to attack “clericalism” (a favorite term in the French Revolution). Rome’s experiments and the democratization of liturgy, etc., are abject failures. They haven’t produced saints. It’s not even producing faithful Catholics. And the abuse of power isn’t removed. Indeed liturgical committees can be just as tyrannical as any priest ever was.

    The Classical Christian faith is hierarchical because reality is hierarchical. God is hierarchical. But the hierarchy of God is self-emptying and therefore utterly ironic.

    I largely write to a lay readership, thus I don’t tend to focus on fixing priests, other than the guy who writes this stuff.

    I have certainly written about the self-emptying life of the Cross consistently. Draw whatever conclusions you will. But “clericalism” on the lips of many over the course of my lifetime has not been an alarm used for good. It’s most often been a red herring.

    But I do not know what your experience is. I live in the Southeast, where the Orthodox experience is distinctly different than many other places. I sometimes have a very different perception than some priests in other parts of the country. You clearly have big issues with what you call clericalism. I’m not sure why you think it should be a major focus of my writing. I write about what I know. Perhaps if somebody’s experience differs from yours – you should examine your experience. It might be more productive than trying to fix mine.

  33. Actually the process for canonization in the Orthodox Church that I have observed is quite open. My home parish was an integral participant in the canonization of St. Raphael of Brooklyn. He was canonized jointly by the OCA and the Antiochian Archdiocese of North and South America.

    We had a proto-icon of St. Raphael on the back wall of our sanctuary early on. Our associate pastor at the time Fr. Paul Hodge was tasked with writing the official Vita and a number of the testimonies of St. Raphael’s continuing sanctity came from members of my parish.

    There was a devotion to him that pre-dated the official recognition. The same can be said for the as yet uncanonized Matushka Olga of Alaska. Many people I know have proto-icons of her in their homes and we even have one in the Adult Sunday School room at my parish.

    St. John Maxomovitch was declared a saint by almost everyone with whom he came in contact and the official recognition was a response to that general affirmation.

    These people are recognized for the holiness and the sacrifice of their lives and their continued presence with us after their repose. They are not imposed on us.

    Matuska Olga live an ‘ordinary’ life in an extraordinary way in self-forgetting service to her family and her community.

  34. While my comment may not merit further comment, I wanted to mention that I was writing it before Lazarus’ remarks and Fr. Stephen’s responses appeared on my screen. (I often write slowly.)

    I mention this only because I have no opinion regarding clericalism in the Orthodox church, knowing nothing about such things. However, I do have an interest in understanding the saintliness that each of us is called to.

    I cannot live like a monk on Mt. Athos (at least not in many key ways) because that is not who I am. Yet I want to learn from the holiness of their lives to live my own life in a more fully Christian manner. My question was asked in this spirit and I welcome guidance in this regard.

  35. It’s funny Lazarus, this “clerical elitism” was one of the major factors that drove me away from my Calvinist, Protestant, non-denominational “church.” In that place, if you drank the kool-aide, then you were in the in group. If you ever even asked questions, you were deemed “non-compliant” and thus were in the “out” group. Sadly, the “church” had this elitism, but it offered no help to people towards salvation. Oh sure, they said they did, but they really didn’t. As Fr. Stephen has rightly stated, all that “church” offered was cheap grace, easy salvation. No struggle, no giving anything up. They offered the prayerless “Christianity” that Fr. Stephen aluded to.

    Lastly, I agree with Fr. Stephen’s assertion that is’s absurd to claim that elitism is just as big a problem as the modern project. It’s not even close.

  36. Father, thank you so very much for this post and for your comments. I feel like a broken record as just about every time I read your blog, I think to myself, this is his best post yet! Then, I read the next post and think the same thought. With that disclaimer, I truly think this post is in a league of its own. I so needed to read this, along with your comments. Thank you very, very much!!

  37. This clarifies a lot of history for me – not only American religious history, about which I used to be seriously exercised and about which I have remained in some confusion since my conversion – but also my own religious history. My conversion to the gentle, untroubled stillness of Orthodox spirituality and practice was preceded by a deep interest in and even devotion to the “experimental religion” of Jonathan Edwards. It’s been difficult to know exactly why one led to the other for me, when they seemed so opposite in some respects, and I’ve wanted to know that I didn’t abandon what was good in that which seemed a true direction for me at the time.

    This “uprising against the ordinary” is precisely what I was castigated for by other Protestants during that whole turbulent period. In fact, I remember being called on the carpet for it by Joni Erikson Tada, on a blog once. Apparently she thought I was a seminarian who was denying God’s immanence in ordinary things. Actually, I just didn’t know what it was I yearned for, so how could I explain it to anyone else?

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen!

  38. Actually, I just didn’t know what it was I yearned for, so how could I explain it to anyone else?

    That is a good explanation of what frequently happens when people first encounter the Church. Longings for communion with God, perceptions of the spiritual reality that are foggy and confused that are all bound up in a veil suddenly are seen clearly and in order and as blessed.

    As St. Paul points out in Romans 1, we all know these things, but they are darkened by the world, our own sins and carnal desires.

  39. @maryb
    IMHO, Orthodoxy teaches the path to holiness is the same for monastic and layperson alike, location and era not the critical criteria, but the heart. Reading the lives of the saints is most instructive, one fave is St Mary of Egypt.

    24. It was revealed to Abba Anthony in his desert that there was one who was his equal in the city. He was a doctor by profession and whatever he had beyond his needs he gave to the poor, and every day he sang the Sanctus with the angels.

  40. Fontina,

    I appreciate your comment. It is indeed the heart, not the location or era, that leads us to holiness.

    What I am struggling to understand better are the nature and extent prayer and asceticism in my life. As a person in the world, it doesn’t seem that it would be spiritually wise or appropriate for me to expect the same things of myself as if I were living a monastic life.

    I’m not saying that I would be an outstanding saint if I were a monastic – I would probably fail miserably. Yet to do an all night vigil, for example, or fast completely from food for a couple of days, would very likely impair my functioning in my role as a servant of the suffering in the world.

    I realize that I likely need a spiritual father/mother to give me more personal guidance in such matters but have not yet found one.

    I also struggle some to understand the extreme asceticism of some of the saints that is destructive of their bodies. I cannot help but admire their holiness but I feel confused by this practice when it is extreme.

  41. Hi Mary,

    In the absence of a spiritual father, many times there are writings that can help. St. Mark the Ascetic I believe affirms that excessive asceticism to the detriment of the body is not proper. He was known as a great ascetic and according to his bio lived to the age of 120 (belying the fact that rigorous asceticism properly engaged in obedience to God is necessarily bad for the body). On and off, I have been reading The Arena by St. Ignaty (Brianchaninov) which is helpful because it gives a glimpse of what a spiritual father was advising Russian monks in the 19th century (which was not extreme at all). The second part of the book involves applications within the monastic setting, but the first part gives principles that can apply to all. Very extreme practices are the exception, not the rule. Very few Saints attain the level of grace where such extreme asceticism is enabled or asked. St. Isaac the Syrian early in his ascetic life hurt his body through excessive fasting and advised his spiritual children not to make the same mistake.

    Following advice I’ve read, I would suggest to you that lengthy fasts (or complete fasts) are only advisable under supervision and when you can retreat and take a complete break from your normal activities (such as a retreat in a monastery). The regular fasts of the Orthodox Church are partial (i.e., vegetarian or vegan) and do not deprive the body of necessary nutrition or energy for daily activities. When it comes to fasting and prayer, do what you can regularly and reasonably do, not what you can’t, is the advice that I have read (and been given in various ways by my own priests).

  42. Mary,
    Orthodoxy indeed holds that there is but one path taken by monastic and lay (there is only one set of canons for us all). But it teaches small steps for one and greater steps for another, and many gradations. I never think it is useful to contrast one life as greater than another – though I am deeply aware (as we should all be) of how many others are greater than ourselves. Every impulse to envy or to “make us all equal” should ultimately be a matter of repentance. For the excellence of someone else should be the cause of my rejoicing, just as my own failure should be the cause of his compassion and mercy. The torture created by the false ideas of modernity (that we’re all equal, that everything should be fair, just, etc.) particularly when they are individually internalized are less than useless to us. I should rejoice at someone else’s excellence as easily as I rejoice at the beauty of a sunset and not envy the sky!
    A good, reasonable practice of asceticism, with measured self-denial is always to be part of a normal Christian life. It’s interesting for me this week in England. Though England belongs to the same consumer culture as the US, it is a little less poignant here. They simply have less and live more cheaply. They make decisions that have an inherent layer of self-denial often absent in America. Everything’s smaller here! It has simply made me aware of how luxuriously I/we live (without thinking about it). We don’t travel back until Friday, but I’m praying for everyone. I have received a great deal of encouragement here about my work with the blog and my writing. May God keep you all!

  43. “Everything’s smaller here! It has simply made me aware of how luxuriously I/we live (without thinking about it).”

    The Antiochian Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America of which I am a part has a sister diocese in Syria, the diocese of Hauran. Many of the founders of our parish came from there and there are current parish members who have relatives there. It is one of the oldest diocese’ in the Christian world begun by the Apostle Timon, one of the 70. It has long been poor. It is now in ruins. The parishes there before the insanity had all sorts of programs for helping the people of the area: food, medical clinic, etc. They helped everybody regardless of faith. The Diocese was flourishing once again. Now, Bishop Sava could find only one safe and intact parish (most of the rest have been desecrated) to celebrate the Divine Liturgy last Sunday and the poor that are being fed are the members of the diocese. Each week they receive a jug of oil some rice and wheat. That is it. We were hearing all of this as we sat before a meal of chicken shwarma, hummus, and fatoush salad in liberal amounts: fat, warm, safe and happy. I am sure that several thousand dollars was collected to help, but still….

    They are having fasting forced upon them, their parishes are being desecrated, icons destroyed, their earthly lives threatened.

    I have long felt that ascetism is prescribed by the Church to prepare us for times like our brothers and sisters in Syria are facing right now. It is the equivalent of Joseph building up the stores of Egypt for seven years to get through the seven years of famine.

    If we believe that such troubles will never come to us, we need to examine the validity of that belief. In any case, I know that I need to build my treasure in heaven rather than here. Will I do that? Only by God’s grace.

    Real ascetism is not about our will really, it is about obedience and submission to God’s love, mercy and healing. Wanting nothing more than what He gives us, knowing it will be sufficient and thanking Him for it and offering everything back to Him so that He can give the increase.

    Lord have mercy on us all.

  44. In my time in England at the Conference, I was with many Christians from Egypt (Copts). Their stories of martyrdom and the profound Christian witness of no retaliation to the burning of churches (not even a single, isolated incident), should be recorded in the annals of Christian heroics. I was deeply moved and pleased to have made such friends. The greatest trial that Christians are undergoing at present is the temptation to abandon the gospel in the face of evil. I am deeply encouraged by the brave witness – to the gospel (!) of so many Christians across the world. We must join them in that witness. First by prayer. And then by generous alms. Then more prayer. And more alms.

  45. Father Stephen,
    I just got done reading your book on Kindle. Thank you for being a great witness to the Church as well. Your thoughts on how progressive ideas have changed the average person’s concept of God are truly thought provoking. God Bless, do you recommend any books?
    Cheers,

  46. Father Stephen,

    As I am coming to this late, I am not sure if you will see this comment. I will also post this comment on your latest article because I would value any answer immensely.

    One year ago I heard the call of Christ and have been following Him ever since and am now part of a non-denominational church of Pentecostal leanings. I do not feel as though I chose this church but have been led into it. There are also not a great deal of options where I live.

    I recently found your blog and this again feels providential, your writings are opening me up and revealing many things to me. I thank you and bless you.

    You say:

    “I think that current conversations between Orthodoxy and Pentecostalism (at least on the theological level) will be very fruitful – particularly for the Pentecostals.”

    Could you point me in the direction of these conversations? I long to be fruitful! Or offer me any other of your writings related to this issue? I would be very grateful.

    Yours in Christ,
    Stephen

    P.S. On an unrelated note, have you written anything on the Orthodox doctrine of Synergy? I know it runs a thread through all Orthodox thought but any explicit writings to bring clarity would be appreciated.

  47. Stephen,

    I might recommend the book Beyond Salvation: Eastern Orthodoxy and Classical Pentecostalism on Becoming Like Christ by Edmund J. Rybarczyk.

    As an Orthodox Christian I did not love the book…but it is useful for your search.

    God bless,

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