The Bible and the Spirit of Democracy

peasantsMy first introduction to ancient writings was in my Classical Greek classes my freshman year of college. Most of those were tortuous exercises filled with the rules of a foreign grammar. My friends laughed at how hard and long I labored in those studies. With time, however, the work began to yield pleasure as the language became a familiar friend. The same experience followed in my sophomore year as I added Latin to my studies. For most of my college years I thought that my future was a doctorate in Classics and a life as an academic. Those academic thoughts followed me to seminary where I continued to read in the Fathers. Every serious attempt at mastery opened new worlds to me. Tracking down a single problematic passage and making sense of it would easily entail an afternoon in the library and a likely trail through a number of books. It was hard.

What I gained from all of that was some cursory knowledge of a few topics – but a much deeper feel and respect for the true labor of scholarship and the actual price of knowledge and mastery.

Parallel to these studies was my beginning work in Holy Scripture. But an obvious conclusion marked that undertaking. Old books are old books. It doesn’t matter what their content may be, they have that much in common. It made no sense to me to treat the Scriptures in a manner that was essentially different than I treated Plato or Thucydides. I did not dismiss the inspiration of the Scriptures, but they remained “old books,” no matter what.

As such, it seemed obvious to me that reading them in their original languages was essential to their understanding. I added Hebrew to my languages while in seminary. Latin and Greek belong to the same great family of languages as English, German, Russian, etc. – the family known as Indo-European. These languages have their own feel and many things that distinguish them, but they share a great deal in common. This is not true of Hebrew. Hebrew is a Semitic language and is nothing like anything in the Indo-European family. It has its own feel – one that cannot be had in translation – and even more impossible if that translation is into a language that belongs to a completely different family.

This same set of learnings applies to the reading of the Fathers. St. Isaac of Syria, for example, belongs to a culture that was Semitic, though influenced by the Hellenistic culture of the Byzantine Greeks. And I could begin here to add layers of complexity. In short order any reasonable person would throw up their hands and say, “Then who can understand?” The honest answer would be, “Few.”

And it is here that our modern world comes crashing to a halt. For there is no more deeply held assumption within our modern mythology than the equality of all. It is the bedrock foundation of the Spirit of Democracy that defines the modern period.

Democracy (and Modernity) can be said to have started with the Protestant Reformation. The principle of Sola Scriptura was essentially a revolution in the concept of spiritual authority. If the Bible is the only authority, and every man can read his Bible, then every man is his own authority. None of the original Reformers intended such a radical revision of the Church, but its internal logic was irrepressible. And it spread from the Church to the culture at large. In Germany it sparked the Peasants’ Revolt, forcing Martin Luther to reluctantly support the bloody repression that was among the darkest moments of the period (100,000 peasants were slaughtered).

The revolutions that are synonymous with the modern period are all rooted in the same instincts. Some, like the Puritan-led Civil War in England, were specifically religious. Others, like America and France were more specifically political. But all had their roots in the spiritual democracy of the Reformation (and Sola Scriptura).

There is clearly something true about spiritual equality. No one is superior to another before God. But this equality before God (as He loves the evil as well as the good) does not extend to the whole of our lives. We have different gifts and varying abilities. These same inequalities ascend even to the throne of God: “To whom much is given, much will be required.”

The Scriptures may be read by all, but they will not be understood by all. The arrogance of the democratic spirit, however, leads many astray and makes them prey to the manifold charlatans who make them think that they do understand. This also has its supporting democratic fallacy that our lives (and salvation) are the product of a rational response to the universally available information of the Scriptures. The Bible states the facts – I understand them – I do them. Ergo salvation. Today, the children of Sola Scriptura have largely reduced the Bible to a set of slogans: John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8, etc. They are quoted like the popularized scraps of the Constitution that litter the minds of the American public.

The same spirit of democracy is alive and well within modern Orthodoxy, it should be noted. “The Fathers say,” is found as often on the lips of many Orthodox as frequently as “the Bible says” on the lips of Protestants. And it is equally absurd on the lips of almost all.

The Second Epistle of Peter says this of the writings of St. Paul:

… [in all his epistles, Paul speaks] of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. (2Pe 3:16)

But in our modern, democratic world, everyone who reads this passage thinks it is speaking about someone other than them!

The Scriptures are difficult to understand, simply on the most straightforward level. What often passes for understanding is nothing of the sort. To actually hear the Scriptures without the filters of cultural abuse and twisting they have endured over the centuries (and especially in the modern period) is a great spiritual feat, a miracle.

This feat is even greater when it comes to reading the Fathers – for there the layers become even denser, the required contextual knowledge yet more complex.

The scholarly reading of Scripture and the Fathers is inherently non-egalitarian. All are not equal. All will not have equal understanding. But neither is it truly and solely intellectual. For spiritual meaning is also spiritually discerned. And it is here that many make shipwreck of their understanding. For the arrogance of our times convinces many that “at least with themselves” the ability to spiritually discern will be present. Or, more commonly, they will champion this reader or that and choose sides like the crowds of a football match. Theological debate often resembles the conversation of sports clubs.

At the end of all of this it is easy to wonder how anyone can read and interpret anything.

The answer again is truly “very few” can. What makes such a statement so disturbing in our present world is the assumption borne of the modern, democratic spirit that only by reading and interpreting can we be truly saved. This, of course, is necessitated by the spiritual/political faith of modernity.

And it is not true. Most people cannot rightly read and interpret and they have never been able to. They are as much prey to spiritual demagogues as they are to political ones. In today’s world, those demagogues are the masters of consumerism. We “consume” the “message” of Scripture, just as we consume the nostrums of our political leaders. And the spiritual world is today at least as dysfunctional as the political (and for the same reasons).

But our salvation does not depend on our intellect nor on a book rightly read. There have probably been large stretches of time in which virtually no one living had the scholarly ability to treat texts correctly, to say little of the spiritual maturity required. God has not left us bereft.

The necessity of Tradition is revealed in the very heart of this. Salvation is not found in the pursuit of understanding – it is found in the pursuit of God. That journey is the life lived within the practices of the Church. The Church itself is the interpretation of Scripture – it is what theology looks like. It is why everything within the New Testament is pointed towards the forming and shaping of the Church – not the forming and shaping of a theological argument. Salvation is lived.

The continuity of the Church’s life is Holy Tradition. It is the living remembrance promised by Christ:

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” (Joh 14:26)

It is why the “remembrance” of the sacrifice of Christ is a meal that is eaten rather than an idea that is entertained.

The Church has been sustained through the centuries – particularly through the most difficult centuries – by this unbroken continuity of life – particularly as found in the liturgies and practices of the faithful. Interestingly, less harm has been suffered when the intellectual life of the Church was suppressed (as under the Soviets) than when the liturgical life of the Church was suppressed or overthrown (as in the modern Reformation and Post-Reformation period).

The saying, “Lex orandi, lex credendi,” (the law of praying is the law of believing) has always been true. How the Church prays will always (always!) shape what the Church believes. Those who pray like consumers will believe like consumers. Those who pray in the arrogance of their democratic mythology will believe in the same manner.

The day of my ordination to the Orthodox priesthood, I was being driven across town by a group of priests. I was full of thoughts and questions, nervously chatting away. A gruff hierodeacon (from Byelorus) in the car rebuked me sternly, “You don’t need to think! You need to pray!”

It’s still true more often than not.


  1. Thank you Father Stephen for this elaboration of that thought in the exchange of comments in the other article – “The Church itself is the interpretation of Scripture – it is what theology looks life.”

    It is hard to swallow, as it means that the our faith is “real and gritty” – not the stuff of mere abstract and mental propositional truths.

  2. Thank you Fr. for yet another masterpiece. For me, I found this paragraph to be pure gold:
    “The necessity of Tradition is revealed in the very heart of this. Salvation is not found in the pursuit of understanding – it is found in the pursuit of God. That journey is the life lived within the practices of the Church. The Church itself is the interpretation of Scripture – it is what theology looks like. It is why everything within the New Testament is pointed towards the forming and shaping of the Church – not the forming and shaping of a theological argument. Salvation is lived.”

    Fr., I would like to ask you about this line: “Those who pray like consumers will believe like consumers. Those who pray in the arrogance of their democratic mythology will believe in the same manner.”
    How do I NOT pray like a consumer? How do I NOT pray in arrogance and in my democratic mythology? Sadly, I know that this is what I’ve done my entire life and I desperately desire to not do so, but I’m at a bit of a loss. If you could please comment on this, or refer me to a previous post of yours, I would greatly appreciate it.

  3. Teriffic!

    “You don’t need to think! You need to pray!”

    Keeping in mind that in Orthodox ‘language’, the discursive reasoning faculty of the intellect is termed ‘dianoia’ (διάνοια) -and has a subordinate role- whereas the more intuitive intellection called ‘Nous’ (νούς) describes our apperceptive ‘attention’ – which is crucial to spiritual life. It is this last one that needs to become established in the heart. When it does, a person comes to know that the old dictum «I think therefore I am» is quite erroneous – it should rather be rendered: «I pray (in the heart) therefore I am».

    “You don’t need to think! You need to pray!”

    to be

  4. Alan
    First and foremost, we pray with and within the Church. All that we “need” is God Himself, and we don’t need to “get” God, we need to be gotten of God. Of we can and do ask for things, but God knows what we have need of. He will give our needs to us whether we pray or not. He is “kind to the evil and the ungrateful” (Luke 6:35). So we don’t have to pray as the gentiles do.

    The point of true prayer is communion with God – that He may be in us and we in Him. I sometimes think of this as simply wasting time in the presence of God. A great deal of Orthodox life in the Church is just such “wasting of time.” In monastic services, long stretches of psalms (the “Kathismata,” are chanted. In my parish this is greatly shortened. For example, a daily vespers will have 3 kathismata (which is a huge chunk of the psalms). We’re not trying to accomplish anything, certainly not trying to entertain a consumer mind. We’re just killing time, waiting for God, and reading Psalms to help the time pass by in an edifying manner. Nothing more, nothing less.

    I work at this practice in other places during the day as well. If I’m in a waiting line in a store, I try not to look around to see how to do things faster nor do I let my mind think about how long it is taking. “You just pray!” I say the Jesus Prayer in my heart and mind and enjoy the few minutes that I’m not required to do anything else. Sometimes I will offer an intention for those around me, particularly if I’ve seen any needs.

    The Fathers sometimes talk of the “mindfulness of death.” There is much to be said about it – but part of it is just getting over the fact that someday you’re going to die, and to just go ahead and do it already. What I mean is that if you dropped dead standing in that line, pretty much everything you’re worried about wouldn’t matter. Why not let it not matter already? This is the true “death to the world,” that some young hipsters like to post pictures about.

    Prayer is very easy when you’re dead. There’s not much else to do.

  5. Sometime ago now, I had scripture reading “ruined” for me when I finally heard the words during Pentecost, “He has taught wisdom to the illiterate. He has shown forth the fishermen as theologians.” In my daily life, I’m paid to think, and I’m quite arrogant about this, and this struck me rather deeply. It wasn’t the learned who were shown as theologians, but the fishermen. Yes, there is something democratic here, anyone COULD be a theologian. But that’s not the case. Not everyone IS a theologian. It’s the fisherman, and NOT the learned. I realized that I didn’t lead a life of prayer that would allow me to read the scriptures by myself, and so I’ve became content with hearing more wisdom like this that the church has provided us through our many services. I’ve become OK with silencing my own head so that I can hear what the illiterate fisherman have to teach.

  6. I saw a Reformed response to this article on Facebook. The writer argued that I had misrepresented Protestantism because it frequently recognizes more authorities than just the Bible. But he completely missed my point. All of the authorities (Catechisms, Confessions, etc.) are still documents. As such, they still exalt reading as the definitive technique for the Christian life. And it still champions a deeply mistaken interpretation of the “priesthood of all believers.” “Authority” itself is a Reformation issue because it wanted to justify its replacement of the Roman Church. Orthodoxy would probably think more in the line of “authenticity” than “authority” if it was truly being reflective. And that authenticity is found by living in true communion with the authentic life of the Orthodox Church. Not “thinking” like an Orthodox Christian, but “living” like one. It really doesn’t matter how many “paper Popes” Protestants stack together – the fundamental understanding of authority is itself to blame. You can never get the right answer if you’re asking the wrong questions.

  7. How are we to determine with assurance who the few are especially in these days of increasing apostasy?

  8. I always find a strong inward identification with your writes along this line. They are at odds with my formation as a modern person but in a growth sense. It’s like finding myself with more leg room after being in a cramped space for a long time. I wish there were more people around me that I could relate to about it.

  9. Michael,
    They will generally say the same thing that has always been said. Beware of anyone saying anything new. It’s generally helpful if there is a “St.” in front of their name. For example, no one should take my word for anything. I’m not dead yet. But if what I’m saying sounds a lot like what the dead guys (with St. in front of their name), then you might give it a hearing.

    If it keeps pointing you towards God and back to the Church and your prayers…even better.

    But as for scholars (whom I find very useful), I always take them seriously, but lightly. If it’s really, really important, it’s already been said.

  10. Provided that someone is living the life of the Church (i.e. attending Her liturgies and receiving Her sacraments), to what extent can private attendance to Holy Scripture lead to communion with God?

    Is such private reading recommended at all?

    In light of 2 Peter 3:16, are certain of the Holy Scriptures “safer” to read than others when reading alone in one’s room?

  11. Fr., thank you for your response to my question. It was, of course, most helpful.
    Many thanks!!

  12. I am gladdened to read the words on “time wasting”[…] (the authentic spiritual way) in your comment of October 17, 2014 at 1:25 pm Father, – as well as brought to a most necessary judgment as to ‘time wasting’ (the common, non-spiritual way).
    How necessary this counsel of stillness is!
    We fret over various problems and questions, yet we only arrive at the solution by tightening, making more intimate our unity to Christ -(the way this occurs in stillness.)
    It is sometimes the hardest thing of all, but when Saint Gregory the Theologian extols communion with God in stillness by exclaiming such strong words as: “for myself the greatest action is inaction [!]” (Epistle 49), we might at least suspect that something needs to be done in that department.
    I think that what is missing more than anything is this.
    Of course stillness without compunctionate repentance is so much harder… (And that leads to another topic perhaps.) St Isaac the Syrian (who makes such strong statements on the value of “time wasting” {the good time wasting} more often than most), makes the reciprocal connection with repentance by also reminding us that “Repentance joined with conversations is a shattered vessel.”
    The elder Aimilianos used to say that even though we can somewhat perceive God within our daily activities, ( as protecting us, rushing to us, helping, sustaining etc.); we can only perceive God revealing Himself to us in the total stillness of the night. And it is understandable perhaps by all that such a ‘night-time’ commitment rings of a permanent consecration, a spiritual marriage to heaven.
    And in a very consoling passage he even mentions that those who demonstrate their intent for such stillness, vigilance and even night-time sacrifice of their sleep for, ….”time wasting” under the gaze of the Lord, and yet, due to living in the world fail to manage to do this (for various reasons), will one day be given recompense for their unfulfilled intent.

  13. My intellectual side is tempted to look down on “revivalism,” but then I meet someone whose life has been transformed by it and is a holy person seeking to share God’s love. Dispensationalism drives me crazy, but it was dispensationalists who were really there for me during some tough times.

    Dying before you die is right on.

  14. Father it is the professional scholars about whom I am the most suspicious precisely because of the pressure to come up with “something new” and the anti-traditional ideology of the modern academic community.

    So how are we to appropriately address the prophets of newness in the Church?

  15. Ed,
    I think that reading alone can be just like praying in stillness, especially when done in the exact same way, i.e. not ‘studying analytically with the intellect’ (which has its times too) but standing under the gaze of the Lord ‘sucked into one’s heart’. It is tears -they say- that become the signifier of being on the path to communion.

  16. ….especially when the newness is cloaked in the scholarly appeal to “the Fathers”.

  17. I’ve always thought of “praying/reading with the Church” as not literally praying/reading in the corporate context, but always praying and reading (even when in private) using her interpretive lens and her prayers as our guides. As Father says, those with the St. in front of their names, are our best guides to what it is the Church is teaching and praying.

    Father, this is a bit of trivia question, but your comment above reminded me I’ve noticed that the Orthodox use the term “intentions” roughly in the way that Evangelicals use the term “prayer requests.” Can you tell me more specifically the meaning and origin of the use of this term?

  18. The temporal Church has a job. Saints and Prophets have a job.
    Angels have a job. The Word is broadband, and not all that is here is directed to humans. That is the Living Truth. In times of War, that is a need to know basis.

    OK to reason, and think. Better to be a friend of the Mystery, and go out in the boat, and sing praises. Now that will not get any killed, in the long run. But then, one would not really be from here in the first place, in the real world. The dead just pray? Those that do not die pray back.

  19. Father, bless.
    And allow me to bow and kiss your right hand and thank you so much for this:

    “The point of true prayer is communion with God – that He may be in us and we in Him. I sometimes think of this as simply wasting time in the presence of God. A great deal of Orthodox life in the Church is just such “wasting of time.” In monastic services, long stretches of psalms (the “Kathismata,” are chanted. In my parish this is greatly shortened. For example, a daily vespers will have 3 kathismata (which is a huge chunk of the psalms). We’re not trying to accomplish anything, certainly not trying to entertain a consumer mind. We’re just killing time, waiting for God, and reading Psalms to help the time pass by in an edifying manner. Nothing more, nothing less.”

    Also for the paragraph that followed as well, but this one in particular.

  20. Ed,
    Reading Scripture is a primary means of communion with God. I think that reading devotionally is a very different thing than searching for doctrine or systematizing, etc. St. Seraphim read a gospel a day, for example.

    Nothing is better than reading the gospels regularly and the Psalms, ideally, should be committed to memory (I know we won’t pull that off).

  21. Michael,
    I know very few such characters in Orthodoxy (if any). Even Schmemann whom some unwisely attack as an “innovator” was nothing of the sort. He was not exactly a scholar, either. He was a poet, primarily (in my opinion) which makes him closer to a prophet.

    As for scholars, I am deeply partial to Fr. John Behr, one of the least innovating men I know. As for non-Orthodox scholars, I read them through several lenses and sometimes with a 10 foot pole. Whom do you have in mind?

    BTW, several of the most renovationist modern Orthodox writers have the reputation of being extreme traditionalists, but their tradition is a Latinized Orthodoxy of only a century or two ago.

  22. I would just add that the Civil War in England was every bit political as it was religious (also just comment that the Parliamentarians weren’t Puritan lead at the outset, and some of the instincts at play that sparked the conflict go back to ancient English ideas of conciliar kingship reaching back to the days of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, and had been slow burning since the Tudors) and that the French and American revolutions were as every bit religious as they were political (both wished to establish the Epicurean belief of the Enlightenment, and have the state define the person, France tried to abolish all rival religions completely, and that tendency to drive anything that challenges secular dominion of the state is still a deeply embedded instinct within France, while the young Americans restricted themselves to banishing Christianity and other religious views from public and social life to something done ‘in private’. If someone wished to get in contact with God or gods, they could do so on their own away from the life of the people and state, they would do so under the Enlightenment view that strongly divided the spiritual off from the world, and didn’t intrude or do anything in life here, so people could get in touch with God or the gods, if they existed, which were ‘out there’ on their own time, but weren’t to bring this into the public and social life of the community. And so the concept of the church and state division, after all the very idea that religion and politics are separate and should or even can be separated is a central tenant of secularism, one that doesn’t appear before or other cultures, and is itself a deception intended or not, since the Enlightenment aim was to displace all other religious/philosophical world-views but it’s own from dominating, one in which it and the mythic idea of the state and progress (and whatever serves it) is god, all other religions which continue must continue on it’s terms, within it’s worldview (and so beyond the use of names and terms deny their own worldview and beliefs). It was and is intensely religious, and has asserted itself quite well into each area of life and after generations we are shaped to think along the lines it has set in place (including it’s strong dualisms) and it takes sustained effort now to actually bring ourselves out of that way of life and thinking.

    This also makes statements that there only now a turning away from Christianity in the West quite tragically ironic, because in a very vital way this happened generations ago at least as societies, and only the terms were kept, but redefined, even the current culture wars that Christians often get involved in are fully engaged in this same worldview, and use the same methods and ideals and what they aim is to fully uphold it.

    At least this has been where my journey has taken me so far on these issues.

  23. Grant,
    The notion that “political” and “religious” are two different things is, by the way, itself a product of the modern world. Anything that asks loyalty and exercises power over our lives is certainly religious in the most immediate sense. The myth of “secular” was created to enable people with competing religious loyalties to share allegiance to the same state. As Stanley Hauerwas notes, one of the greatest achievements of the modern State was to help us get beyond Catholics killing Protestants and vice versa. In the modern State, we can now get Catholics to kill other Catholics and Protestants to kill other Protestants. And this can only be done in the name of a higher loyalty. That makes it the true religion of modern man.

  24. “… [in all his epistles, Paul speaks] of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. (2Pe 3:16)”

    I sometimes wonder if St. Peter did not have 2Gal 11>16 in the back of his mind when he wrote this 😉

  25. Father, many of them appear to be wives of priests with theological degrees who want to up grade the status of women in the Church. Although I can’t imagine a higher status than Theotokos, they seem to think deaconess or priest would be.

    As always however such desires are inevitably coupled with the normalization of homosexuality.

    The only one I can directly point to personally is Fr. Andrew Louth. He made public statements in my presence that deeply trouble me concerning reinterpreting the Fathers in light of modern knowledge. The only possible way to interpret his statement was to drastically change the meaning of Tradition to accommodate modernity. I was so surprised I could offer no challenge and the vast disparity in credentials would have made anything I said seem ridiculous.

    There are people I know and trust who, despite your faith in Fr. Behr lead them to feel the same about him.

    Now it is easy to get paranoid about these things but frankly I think there are far more wolves in sheep’s clothing than you do. The “Orthodox Theologian” who regularly writes articles on Huff Post critical of Orthodox Tradition is certainly one.

    I tend to trust those who are in genuine pastoral service such as you even when we do not agree in all things. Your words have the ring of truth about them. Forgive me but I don’t find the same in Fr. Louth, Fr. Weber or Fr. Behr. Reading or listening to them always makes warning bells go off.

    Even the writings of those with St. In front of their name can be problematic. St. Maria of France comes to mind.

    That is a tenuous position. I am a deeply ignorant man but one virtue I have is a profound desire to know the truth about myself and about God. It has served me well in my life and protected me from great spiritual damage in the past. It would be nice to be able to relax a bit, but that does not seem likely.

    Forgive me, a sinner.

  26. Michael,
    I sympathize with what you are saying. I am not sure of the details you have in mind and this is probably not the place for any such details…
    As the elder Sophrony used to say, “all suffer from a measure of delusion, only the Church as a whole is 100% error free…”
    Perhaps the answer is that one must often collaterally ‘damage’ a door, a wall etc. in the process of repairing a hallway, but in the end it will all be made good?
    What I am trying to convey is that, some of the suspect things we hear nowadays from some who have otherwise proved their worth, might serve some intermediate pastoral ‘lure’ (and therefore demonstrate an almost secular-style ‘openness’ and ‘understanding’) to outsiders attracted to the Tradition. I could be wrong.
    I remember that Elder Aimilianos was once criticized for being very open (far more than one would think is permitted) and forthcoming with Fr. Placide Deseille, a catholic with his companions in Athos, only to later turn the whole lot and many more into Orthodox and start even more monasteries (in France etc.).
    I really do not know for sure though. Although the elder’s soul was as far from infirm as I have ever encountered, as a result of adhering to St Isaac’s saying, “The man who corrects his companions while his soul is infirm is like a blind man who shows others the way”, he demonstrated a shocking liberty and magnanimousness at times, which did however translate into the concrete fruit of ‘correction’…

  27. Father Freeman,

    You are right of course, and I don’t want to imply either in my post that earlier times were better (a easy and romantic error to fall into) or more truly Christian in a truer sense, though I believe they apprehended the basic practice of religious worldview in a better and more holistic way (though often not I admit in a healthy, loving or non-destructive manner, often quite the opposite such as the many Protestant and Catholic wars you mentioned).

    The irony for me though is people replaced one set of religious wars for another, because the conflicts beginning with the French and American revolutions (and the effective world war that were the Napoleonic wars, which included the 1812 war involving America and Canada, I understand Americans and Canadians tend to see it as a event on it’s own, but it was larger conflict, and the British and American/French different ideologies and views of the Enlightenment project), increasingly through the 19th century to the last century being nothing but global conflicts between competing religious views and groups within the secularism religion (Communism, Fascism, Capitalism consumerism free market – with or without liberal democracy, the division of people in groupings of right and left, liberal and conservative and so on). The last century into this one has been one of the most religiously driven conflict in history with the most blood and human degradation and misery caused in the name of this current religion, but because it has avoided through changing as you say the meaning and context of terms you miss it.

    Even the current Middle East conflict is driven by this secularism religion on both sides, the West keeps trying to bomb out the ‘bad guys’ and imposing through numerous means both persuasive and coercive it’s view of reality believing it will cause free market liberal democracies to spring up, and always acting astonished when this doesn’t work, and the Islamic extremists owe more to the ideas French revolution rethought around Islam with thinkers in Pakistan (where instead of the persons’ existence dependant and subject to the state, the extremist view of Islam and the Islamic state is substituted).

    Anyway, I apologise if I’m going to off-topic or hope I don’t come of argumentative (as I really appreciate this blog and agree with here as well as learning much) and if I have I apologise for that to and hope people can forgive me for blundering.

    So I just want to say I really enjoy your blog and have learned allot by reading it, some pieces have been a big influence on me, so thank for time, effort and work here Father Freeman.

  28. Michael,
    There are some few – and they are indeed few – among us who have drunk deeply at the well of modernity (and yet they are Orthodox) and advocate for things such as women’s priesthood, homosexuality, etc. I do not see their numbers increasing – though I have sometimes been troubled that there are not stronger institutional rebukes. I generally give it no thought.

    As to other things – such as Fr. Andrew and Fr. John, both of whom I hold in high regard, I think there is a problem in actually hearing them. Most people do not have an experience of the larger academic world of their specialties – or even the academic world of Orthodoxy. I think both men know way to much to have a simplistic understanding of Tradition, for example. And I think most Orthodox have a somewhat simplistic view of Tradition – though it’s workable.

    Fr. John is as solid a man as I know. It doesn’t mean that he’s perfect. A few years back I kept hearing stories that made him sound like an Arian (he’s not). But it was a combination of him perhaps pushing a point too far with his students, and some of his students not understanding the point. But he is a solid Orthodox believer.

    There are some who would abandon genuine scholarship in favor of a kind of “fideistic” approach. In this approach “faith” trumps reason in a manner that restricts reason from asking obvious questions and arriving at obvious answers. This is often the case with “the Fathers say.” And even “the Tradition says.”

    The habits of Sola Scriptura are deeply at work in this. It wants some kind of authoritative thing to guarantee a result. With the tides of Modernity lapping at the shores, it’s understandable. But it turns us into functioning fundamentalists (who are certainly present within Orthodoxy). Something very important is lost in this – and the result is simply becoming one of the various Modernist incarnations (fundamentalism is deeply Modern).

    My own torturous path is to try to walk an authentic Orthodox life, neither succumbing to utter rationalism (though not abandoning it) nor lapsing into fundamentalism – (which crushes the heart, I think).

    I could write another book on this topic alone. But above all, I think it’s important not to worry. Things are going to be what they’re going to be. Speak the truth and love God.

  29. Ha ha. The Belarus deacon wins the day.

    Fr. Stephen, your next book should be about Sola Scriptura.

    It hit me during this article that one of the reasons evangelicals so viscerally oppose the idea of not everyone “reading the bible for themselves” is because that leaves ordinary Christians with nothing to do. Orthodox believers have services to attend and pray in, icons to venerate, eucharist to eat, fellow Christians to love at the services, etc. Modern protestants have their own interaction with the bible. Take that away, and there really is a problem of democracy. There’s nothing to do as a Christian!

  30. Father Stephen…
    Something you said in the comments section very much spoke to me. You mentioned that so much in an Orthodox service is just “wasting of time”, that we don’t have to accomplish anything as we just stand or sit there in His presence. Thank you for the encouragement. As we worship at a Greek monastery, and because I don’t speak Greek, I sometimes have felt that I am wasting time. Oh God, teach me to wait and pray.

  31. Father, it is the lack of a clear episcopal response that leaves people floundering and prone to both of the errors you point out.

    There is a lack of episcopal response, in part, because they seem to be in their own muddle.

    That is why I asked my original question.

    Had Father Louth said that modern knowledge needs to be evaluated from the wisdom of patristic thought, I would have had no problem with that.

    We need to continue what the Church had always done: test the new in the fire of the Holy Spirit and see what remains. That is always messy. But I wonder if we are up to the task.

    In any case it still seems to come down to whether a particular person prefers truth or untruth. Unfortunately that to is often mixed.

    It is really not for me that I worry. I will make mistakes but I have been through too much theological garbage and I live in a strong parish with strong leadership.

    The question of whom to trust is more difficult to answer for those who are in parishes with weaker foundations.

    I have friends in such situations who share their deep concerns with me. It sits on my heart that they could fall prey to one side or the other of the false dichotomy you identify. Another gift to modernity from the Protestant mind reduced to secular nihlisim.

    I know: “Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”

  32. Dean,
    I can recall the thought from within Evangelicalism that there isn’t anything to do. Once you’re “saved,” there is only “saving others.” So it becomes a sort of Amway thing.

    This conundrum is itself quite revealing – it should give people pause to say, “What’s wrong with this picture?” Because it is profoundly wrong, having reduced the gospel to a single decision. Jesus went to a lot of bother for almost nothing!

    Of course, there can be the much larger thing – go to seminary and become a professional arguer about what other people should think.

    The end of all this, of course, is that life becomes what people actually do. And since their reductionist faith has very little to actually say about life, they get on with a secularized version, making money, having kids, consuming lots of stuff, and hoping that your alma mater can get out of the doghouse and return to the top 10. (That last is at present the primary occupation of Evangelicals in East Tennessee). I should note as well, that “Tradition” is a good word if it refers to winning ways in a football program.

    Do you really think there’s enough interesting to say about Sola Scriptura for a book?

  33. “Father, many of them appear to be wives of priests with theological degrees who want to up grade the status of women in the Church”

    Not coincidentally I think, the only time I have had reason to to think of Bishop Timothy Ware since the other thread where we discussed him was reading some blurb on an “Orthodox news site” where he was speaking to just such a group, and affirming we need to “look into” the possibility of what others describe as “ecclesiastical archaeology”, that is “reviving” the female diaconate.

    “ some of the suspect things we hear nowadays from some who have otherwise proved their worth, might serve some intermediate pastoral ‘lure’ (and therefore demonstrate an almost secular-style ‘openness’ and ‘understanding’) to outsiders attracted to the Tradition. I could be wrong. “

    Unfortunately I think there is much truth in what you say Dino. I say unfortunately because in the end I believe it to be fundamentally deceptive and dishonest. On my journey to Orthodoxy 20+ years ago I was very sensitive to this type of “lure” and my heart was greatly strengthened by the fact that Orthodoxy was almost free of this and instead was very “open” and “honest” about what it was and what it believed. I say “almost free” because I was troubled by certain “ecumenical” statements/positions coming from the EC, but in the end concluded that Orthodoxy was the Church.

    “There are some who would abandon genuine scholarship in favor of a kind of “fideistic” approach….But it turns us into functioning fundamentalists (who are certainly present within Orthodoxy)…..”

    Which is exactly why I don’t generally discuss the “revival of the female diaconate” with such folks (most of whom seem to be led/influenced by those whose scholarship was done at Oxford), because this is what they accuse me of. It is a rhetorical tactic and defensive wall, because I don’t question their scholarship – simply because I am in no position to do so. I ask them “why now?”. In other words, I question the spirit behind their (often very emotional and strong) desire. This makes me a “fundamentalist”.

    One thing is fer sur, if and when this spirit prevails, I will seek the Spirit. This probably means I will be taking my “fundamentalism” and fleeing to the nearest “jurisdiction” that has not traveled down this road despite the problems inherent in such an action….

  34. On the female diaconate, I would, I think agree entirely. I would favor its restitution if we began to baptize adult women in the nude. Otherwise, I see no need for its return. It disappeared for a reason (as my late Archbishop often said). Many things have changed culturally that make its return unnecessary. And its return today, I think, would be for all of the wrong reasons.

    The Church’s Tradition on gender, marriage, sex, etc. is, I believe, profoundly wise. I also think that much of its wisdom is hidden and hard to understand. We often think it is saying something it is not, because we ask the wrong questions. But I am certain that our culture is deeply deluded about the nature of the three things mentioned and the proof is all around us.

    But I am largely persuaded that Orthodoxy will stay the course. It’s greatest difficulties are still ahead and parts of it may indeed stumble, as they have in the past. We shall see. Your jurisdictional comment is, strangely, one of the things that comforts me in Orthodoxy. Our present dysfunctional ecclesiology is quite likely allowed of God to preserve us through tough times. There is much to be said for ecclesiological inefficiency. Someone could approve of sweeping changes – but would have an impossible time putting them into effect!

  35. Fr. Stephen, yes a Sola Scriptura topic would make a great book! (btw, there are two Dean’s posting here, back to back, lol.)

    It doesn’t have to be extremely long. In fact, the best thing I’ve read to date is Fr. John Whiteford’s booklet (Conciliar) that is sadly now out of print. It’s almost better to present it in short form. More readers.

    This subject is indeed the touchstone of Prostestantism (and it’s achilles heel). A clear, direct, but helpful short book on the topic could possibly be a real difference maker.

    Here is Fr. John’s content in website form. I would envision something similar but perhaps with more of a historical survey, which you tend to do, and a little more pastoral. Would love to brainstorm with you on it.

  36. I went back to my friend and asked for details on what the concern was. Upon further research my friend found out one of Fr. Behr’s articles had been hijacked for support to the homosexual agenda the article did not actually support.

    The hijacking of Fr. Behr’s name and cherry picking some comments makes it even more important to practice a great deal of discernment.

  37. Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you, again. Add my vote for the book. 30 + years since Dallas Theological Seminary with a ThM degree. Only 5 + years as a convert to Orthodoxy. I have so much to unlearn and discovering daily more Evangelical trappings (i.e. ways of thinking and understanding) to keep discarding.

  38. A note on the ‘Sola Scriptura’ issue in relation to the above-mentioned “good time-wasting” in the presence of the Lord must be made concerning the translations themselves used by ‘Solascriptura-ists’, translations requiring even more of a “Tradition-based-safety-net” due to their numerous faults and mix-ups.
    Here’s an example out of many possible ones in the psalms of a what is meant here –concerning the topic of virtuous “time-wasting”:
    You read a translation (here’s Psalm 5 for instance) that, in English says: ‘In the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up’, when we read this in the ‘original’ Greek ( ‘original’ because in the sense that it’s the most ancient version available to us and the most inspired rendering –for those that might be wondering, the Masoretic text on which English translations are based was compiled around 700 A.D by Jews -not Christians. It is almost one thousand years newer than the Septuagint), it essentially says: ‘In the morning will thou listen to my voice; in the morning will I present myself to thee and thou will look upon me.’ ! It says something very different about how we pray! The key aspect of “good time-wasting” in the presence of the Lord is lost…
    So, even though it’s considered the best way to use our time, (as this “time-wasting” in the presence of God has the most benign repercussions in the eternal sphere -when we won’t be able to do much more than pray as Father said), it is nowhere to be found in some of the versions of scripture… Saint Gregory the Theologian’s words praising communion with God in stillness: “for myself the greatest action is inaction” (Epistle 49), or Saint Isaac’s many similar passages demonstrate this very powerfully.

  39. When I first started hanging out with Fr. Jonah and the brothers/fathers or the monastery, I walked head-long (pun intended) into what you are saying here:

    “The point of true prayer is communion with God – that He may be in us and we in Him. I sometimes think of this as simply wasting time in the presence of God. A great deal of Orthodox life in the Church is just such “wasting of time.” In monastic services, long stretches of psalms (the “Kathismata,” are chanted. In my parish this is greatly shortened. For example, a daily vespers will have 3 kathismata (which is a huge chunk of the psalms). We’re not trying to accomplish anything, certainly not trying to entertain a consumer mind. We’re just killing time, waiting for God, and reading Psalms to help the time pass by in an edifying manner. Nothing more, nothing less.”

    I brought my it is essential to “understand and keep track of everything that is being said/prayed” attitude with me. Either you focus on the words, and wring out all the meaning from them as you go OR you are not succeeding. The Monastery of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco is where I finally found that exhausting way of worshipping to no longer be tolerable or tenable. The monks were chanting way too fast for that anyway, thank goodness.

    Now, I do believe, (and I am open for correction), that understanding the words is important. It matters what we say and how we say it. I believe it is important to spend time doing entering into such rigorous study.

    AND it is also true, what we say, and how we say it, are the sacramental elements for communion. The words of the Jesus Prayer are edifying in and of themselves as Kallistos Ware and others take pages to explain. AND, dwelling in them and letting them be the means of communion is more important. (Which is not to say that devotional reflection on the words of the prayer is not important and edifying — not an “either/or”.)

    Once again, these are my ponderings based on what I am reading both in the original post and the comments.

    Am I on the right track or not? If not how so. I want to continue to deepen my union.

  40. Michael, thank you for that update on the “hearsay” you had from your friend about Fr. John (Behr). It so perfectly illustrates the Orthodox teaching regarding taking the utmost care to preserve the reputation of others where we may hear a bad report. This is especially true where we do not have direct experience, but it is also true even where we do, since what we have perceived may later be found to be misperception because we did not know the full context of the statement or action we witnessed). Even where we do know of a sin or error of another, it is incumbent on us not to unnecessarily expose our brother or sister, but rather leave room for repentance. I understand the situation with a public teacher (usually priest or bishop) in the Church, such as Fr. John, sometimes requires wrongdoing or false teaching be exposed to protect the flock, but we need to be very discerning, and this is often very difficult indeed in the current landscape. God bless you for your integrity in setting the record straight here. I always enjoy reading your thoughtful comments.

  41. Karen, it also came to mind in the light of this discussion that the Church will never be destroyed by heresy as long as we pray and give alms and worship. As St. Peter reminds us “love overcomes a multitude of sins”.

    We need to guard our own hearts against the heresies arising there.

    Still, when I see the Church that I love and the people that I love being attacked I have a tendency to want to “do something” and not “waste time in the presence of God” What a wonderful phrase. But the desire to “do something” is very Protestant is it not? And the hectic pace of modern life steals so much from us.

  42. I recall the silly internet flap about Fr. Behr’s talk viz. women. Those who attacked him, actually misunderstand what he was saying and had it completely backwards! It was a case of massive ignorance.

    The truth is that the “energy” surrounding women’s stuff was churning in the 70’s-80’s (lessening in the 90’s). It’s sort blown itself out from what I can see. The gay agenda has a strong wind behind it in the culture, but simply has no traction within Orthodoxy. That is not to say that there are not those who are swayed by cultural winds, but generally they are very unhappy Orthodox in the first place.

    There is a great stability in Orthodoxy that is often overlooked by various anxious reactions. We do not have the sort of megalithic structures that can slap things down so easily (such as a stray lecture here and there), but neither are there megalithic structures that can make changes from the top down.

    I watched (from the inside) the movement of the gay agenda within Anglicanism. I predicted as early as the beginning of the 90’s that they would carry the day. There was far more organization at work than some people might imagine. It was slow, methodical, and utterly dedicated to a final victory. The longer Orthodoxy endures in the present prevailing winds, the more likely we are to become hardened (I think). The problem (in Anglicanism for example) was never scholarship. The academy was simply an easy place to gain a foothold. But it was bad scholarship that was used (and is still being used). Scholarship is never the enemy – bad scholarship is the enemy. And various fundamentalisms play into the hand of bad scholarship, obscuring its failings.

  43. An excellent article, Fr. Stephen.

    The discussion has left me mulling over some more general questions about Orthodoxy.

    Perhaps the most primary question is regarding the Church’s attitude toward change. Certainly I have been able to pick up by now that it is frowned upon 🙂 and I think I understand why. However, I am wondering whether Orthodoxy ever entertains the possibility of change on any level – and what, if anything, would lead it to do so?

    I realize that stating it that way may sound provocative but I not intending it that way – I have actually re-written the inquiry a couple of times to try to make it sound less so. I am just considering that I have read much discussion over the last two years against changing various things but I do not think I have ever read any in favor.

    I am not just raising the question in light of subjects raised above (women’s roles, homosexuality). It was also brewing during the earlier discussion on ecumenism. I find that I learn from sharing with people of other faiths – not because it alters any of the fundamental truths of what I believe but it may deepen my understanding of humanity, holiness and God. I have been deeply inspired reading about a Sufi mystic. One of the holiest people I know is Protestant.

    The faith and stability of Orthodoxy is an inspiration in this chaotic world of ours. However, sometimes I get an uncomfortable feeling that Orthodoxy is closed to any possibility beyond what it currently lives. (Not that what it currently lives is not good and beautiful – but if God called it to even more, would it be open? Would it recognize God’s call?)

    Forgive me. I am, quite obviously, a sinner.

  44. Mary,
    But what Orthodoxy ‘currently lives’ is concealed to anyone who has not got the eyes to see it – as is epitomized in the experience of someone as great as St Silouan, who did see “it”. That is the ‘good and beautiful’, nothing short of the experience of Pentecost in its fullness. Our western minds are at times so conditioned by the winds of secular/utopian progressivism and a religious-style evolutionism, that we struggle to accept that what happened there/then is the greatest and newest thing possible, that we need “to dig deep rather than soar high”. It is not so much a distrust of newness, it is a knowledge of the need to achieve the ‘eschatological’ reality (which cannot be improved upon as far as ‘newness’ goes…), to which those apostles (before us) also had access during the experience of Pentecost. We might, at times be a little like some far eastern cultures –which demonstrate an appreciation for the more ancient ‘roots’ instead of the new developments, who distrust ‘evolved’ techniques –sometimes demonstrating and almost entertaining fascination and fixation with this in their martial arts – trying to discover some primordial perfection. However, it is not the primordial, but the eschatological that is known in Orthodoxy. It is known, rather than needing to be discovered by anyone. The hidden pearl is not up in the unknown expanses of space, it is hidden in our field…
    If a person has not found this in the field yet (i.e.: a known place), why go looking elsewhere (i.e.: an unknown place/future)?
    Yes, we need to change, but this is a personal change into something that has been – summed up concisely in the second century Letter to Diognetus:

    “He was from the beginning, appeared new yet was found to be old, and is ever new being born in the hearts of the saints.”

  45. “Orthodoxy is closed to any possibility beyond what it currently lives. (Not that what it currently lives is not good and beautiful – but if God called it to even more, would it be open? Would it recognize God’s call?)”

    — what could be more?

  46. Dino, great response to Mary. What Orthodoxy already possesses and contains (like the pearl in the field) is literally the fullness of Christ Himself. There can be nothing “more.” Mary’s question is a bit incomprehensible to an Orthodox. Like the womb of the Virgin, the apostolic Church has already become “more spacious than the heavens.” This does not mean that each of us is not called to more fully realize this in his own heart. This also doesn’t mean that there aren’t all the normal seasonal and situational changes in the “field” (definitely weeds to be pulled, grass to be fertilized, and all that!), but matters such as the nature of the apostolic Priesthood and of marriage and sexuality belong to the pearl, not the field.

  47. Dino…liked your comment about our need to dig deep and not soar high. However, we can soar AFTER we ” dig deep.” Isaiah wrote…” but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles….” 40:31 . Is the Septuagint in agreement?

  48. Mary,
    I certainly cannot improve on an answer to your question. It’s a very good question.

    First, Orthodoxy is utterly and completely, even radically committed to change. But the change to which it is committed is the transformation of human persons into the image of Christ – thereby also becoming fully and truly human.

    None of that would be furthered by the sort of changes you are asking about. They would be distractions – or worse. Such changes in our culture imply that the social/cultural matrix is the true location of reality. That tweaking human justice and rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic of our civilization holds hope for humanity.

    A more to the point question (for Orthodoxy) would be whether there is anything that needs to be done to remain faithful to the deposit of faith given to us. And that kind of change, though often not noted by others, happens all the time and is ongoing. The Orthodox Church is at present engaging in a very great, internal and exceedingly difficult struggle (spiritually) to heal the fractures and threats to the Church caused both by the Communist revolutions and the unplanned rapid expanse of the Church in the West. It left us with the current problem of overlapping jurisdictions. This is not at all understood from the outside – where it is ridiculed, etc.

    But Orthodoxy has a unique vision, given by God, that marks our Church life. We honor cultures – not in the sycophantic ways of modernity – but in the truth of things. We believe God is the author of culture to a certain extent and that they are great gifts. Thus, that we are Russians, Greeks, Romanians, Jews, etc. is not a hindrance to the gospel, but the very means and defining forms that the gospel will take. This was revealed on the Day of Pentecost when the gift of languages was given to the Church. There was not a new, common language that all could understand. But the Holy Spirit gave us to speak in an inspired manner in all the cultures present in Jerusalem.

    Today, the Church is experiencing a New Pentecost (the same Pentecost) as it struggles to speak in the cultures of the many in the lands of the one. This is not a small matter, or just an administrative problem. It actually goes to the very heart of Orthodoxy and what it means to be truly and properly human. And so, it is a great spiritual struggle – the most important of our time. Getting it right will rival anything that has ever occurred in the life of the Church.

    The modern model’s approach to its social “problems” is simply tragic. It creates ideological solutions (“men and women are equal”), and then begins massive social and political programs to make it come true – whether it is true or not. This is the source of political correctness. Remember that it was born in the Marxist states above all. There the “truth” was whatever the State declared it to be, and ever possible lie was used to make it so. Our present attention to “speech” is not about feelings, etc. It’s about getting everybody to repeat the lie often enough that everyone will believe it’s true.

    It is much more difficult to find true justice and the proper form of equality than it is to invent one and then with the force of the State try to make it come true.

    It interests me that Solzhenitsyn, in one a famous collection of essays (From Under the Rubble) wrote to his fellow Soviet citizens (in bold letters) DO NOT LIE. REFUSE TO PARTICIPATE IN THE LIE.

    That is the vocation of Orthodoxy and why the Church does not “change.”

    Of course the Church changes. It is alive. But its changes, like those of the human body, are driven by its inner life, like the body’s DNA. If the human body changes in a manner different than its DNA, or its DNA changes, it’s called Cancer. The same would be true of the Church. The DNA of the Church is Holy Tradition, the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, given to it so that we could “remember” in the most profound possible sense, the very life of Christ.

    The world doesn’t need anything else.

  49. Mary, I want to email you about something and don’t know how to get your address unless but Fr. Stephen forwards it to me. Would that be OK with you?

  50. In such a profoundly secular, uninterested society as many of us find ourselves living in, where we must necessarily wrestle to discerningly ‘keep mouths shut’, (often in opposition to a burning desire to inappropriately, incessantly start “preaching sessions” at every assumed opportunity), if no real opportunity for “words” truly surfaces (often in the company of people who have no ears to hear, overwhelmingly addicted to distraction), if we must stifle what is springing up from our heart for the sake of not becoming tiresome to others (including our families), what do people find the most effectual (and suitable) ‘enticements’ to the Faith? If such a question can be posed, how can Christians synergistically have an amplifying effect on these enticements? (I suppose the instinctual answer would be “by becoming a saint”)

  51. It is pretty clear that, in a general sense, Saint Seraphim of Sarov has succinctly answered this with his famous: “Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved”. But I have also found that many a (subjectively) painful situation is often effected one’s readiness to be interested in those who have acquired the peaceful Spirit.

  52. MichaelPatrick,

    You (or anyone else with good intent) is welcome to e-mail me – just identify yourself as from the blog in the message line so that I know that you are not spam.

    My email address is my name as it appears on the blog but without the space, in all lower case

    I appreciate all of the other responses to my question. I’ll respond later when I have had time to read and reflect upon them more. (Work is beckoning me now…)

  53. I should clarify that I have seen this “enticing” power in great strength, but only in ‘men and women of the cloth’. In other words, they can afford to never say a “preachy” word until requested, since their clothes preach anyway… Visibly dedicated persons simply entice with their love, joy, peace, their incredible solutions to your problems when asked, etc (I particularly have witnessed the power of their arresting ‘accessibility’ to all who come to them).
    I am rather asking about the lay field here…

  54. Dino:
    This question has troubled me as well. My wife is an Evangelical. I was an Evangelical myself for a number of years before reverting to the Church. When that happened, my wife felt betrayed which together with my clumsy zeal at the time, as well as a period during which I felt angry at my former denomination, have resulted in our being unable to discuss “religion”. I eventually gave up trying to talk to her, and concentrated on being a devoted and loving husband. This seems to have helped her much.
    The problem is we also have children: Leaving aside my pain as seeing them unbaptized and missing out on a foundational early exposure to the Faith, our eldest son is entering the “age of reason” and asking questions that require more than the simplistic answers we have been able to agree on for the kids. Already there has been friction again, after I took our son to a service and he returned home with a vial of ἁγιασμὸς, which she was very upset about – the next Sunday he returned from her church with his own copy of the “Good News Bible”.
    (Interestingly, she doesn’t even really subscribe to sola scriptura at face value – when I spoke to her against it a few year ago, she ridiculed the idea! For her, we do not interpret the Bible for ourselves; we listen the the pastor, who was appointed by God for us.)
    I do not know what to do.

  55. Yannis, pray for her and for the children, this is the best you can do.
    .. this and having orthodox literature in the house, free for the other members of the family to reach and read for themselves when the mood strikes them.

    My mother turned to the Church in her 50’s, at a time when I was in my early 20s and my brother in his late teens – each of us having been raised very freely and having done/doing exactly what you’d expect us to do at that age – and worse. And carrying about religion exactly as little (next to nothing) as you’d expect. Not to mention bashing my mom from both directions because we thought she was being weird with the whole church thing and what’s with all the bearded guys etc. We were being downright awful to her and she was nothing short of a martyr, considering my parents were also going through horrible relationship issues and a nasty divorce. The connection with her sister and mother were also bad at that time, as the two had nothing to do with the church whatsoever either. At all.

    I am sorry for the TMI but it is important.

    FFWD 10 years: because of my mother’s prayers over the years, despite countless crises in our dismantled family and weeks/months of some of us not talking to each other and we we did, saying the most hurtful and spiteful things..

    … these days my mother goes to every Sunday Liturgy (and sometimes even more often) in the company of her daughter (le moi), her son, her son-in-law and her two twin grandchildren — and with God’s grace and for His mercy — they all receive the Holy Communion. At Christmas, Easter and Dormition of the Theotokos, her sister joins as well. Her mother (my grandmother), after not having cared much for religion her entire life, passed away at 78, having been confessed and having received the Holy Communion as well. Her ex-husband (and his new wife), who’d never cared for religion his entire life, sometimes goes to church as well, sometimes confesses, sometimes receives the Holy Communion.

    Yannis — I apologize for writing all these things which are of no interest to anyone, but please believe me it was ONE person who has made the first step and who has prayed ceaselessly over the years until this point was reached. She really took one for the team but never gave up. I am a new mother as well now and I don’t know and don’t want to know what she went through when she prayed all alone for all of us who were against her.

    But God listened, He really did. And He will listen to you too.

    (again, sorry).

  56. Yaniis,
    O like Lex’s answer a lot… While awaiting Father’s answer, my instinctive sentiments are that, in your case, it must be remembered that your children are God’s ‘concern’ – they’re His affair first and foremost. Our trustful prayer (i.e.: prayer conscious, informed of the above ‘concern’) is no small power. And it goes without saying that, when the children have a choice of two dissimilar examples and faiths from their two parents, it is often our meekness, our magnanimousness, our joy, our zeal, our fasting (a very Orthodox practice), our forgiveness, our accessibility and “coolness” even (as Orthodox believers – if I can risk using such a word) that does the loudest talking and that needs to surpass our spouse’s. But it is a challenging situation – how to show ‘your Orthodoxy’ while walking such a tight rope.

  57. As an evangelical pastor (I hold that word Evangelical lightly) I am so grateful for your posts. They are clarifying so many of my thoughts on how we read Scripture, wherein lies the authority, and the role of the church.

    Your concluding words remind of a story one of my seminary professors who attended Duke Seminary himself told. When he was in a particular dark night of the soul, he asked Hauerwaus for counsel. He was told by Hauerwaus, “Go to church.” I will never forget that; thank you for your reminder of the church’s esteemed role in Christian faith.

  58. Lex, thank you so much for the “TMI”!!! Forgive me, but I found it to be “JTRI” (just the right information). Your “FF 10 years” (which meaning is all the more evident in light of what preceded it) gives me chills and brings tears of joy to my eyes. Isn’t our God amazing?!

    Yannis, I am a little over seven years into my conversion from Evangelicalism to Orthodoxy. My husband (of nearly 20 years) and I met at my former church where he is still a member. My road to Orthodoxy was surely bumpy like yours. It triggered a lot of insecurities for us both, but, indeed, prayer and focus on one’s own repentance is key. God is so very faithful. He is often teaching my husband such Orthodox things via the sources he listens to (a daily Bible reading podcast, the material he uses in the men’s small group he has facilitated for a few years at church). I’m very blessed that he is supportive of my faith and my attendance at my parish, though I’m sure he wishes we still belonged to the same church. We are very blessed to also have a large, diverse and thriving Orthodox parish right in town where he feels welcome and as at home as he could be in an Orthodox parish–our Rector is amazing in the tone that he sets for the parish in this regard. After a bit of trial and error (our kids were 10 and 6 when I converted), we settled on attending church as a family for the most part–usually alternating Sundays between his/their and my church. It’s still a day-by-day faith walk.

    We were in a Baptist sort of tradition and at an impasse after my conversion about what to teach the children (about baptism), so our kids (though believers) are not baptized yet either. My son is finding his way and making his Christian faith his own at a high school friend’s smaller Baptist church very near our home, where he has become involved in the weekly church prayer meeting and Sunday evening youth group (as well as social and service activities). He still attends church with us on Sunday mornings, but has never felt a part of the high school group at the church in which he grew up (accident of geography–it is in the next town, and there are no kids there who attend his high school. Yet all of those who have become his closest friends at school over the years have families who are regular attenders at various Evangelical churches in our area). I’m very proud of the kind of young man he is becoming–it humbles me greatly. I’m very conscious how much this is attributable to my husband’s commitment to Christian faith and church involvement–young men so identify with their dads. My daughter is mildly learning disabled (on the autism spectrum) and has said earlier this year she would like to be baptized at my parish (for reasons having nothing to do with a preference for Orthodoxy per se, so we shall see). If her desire persists, I will be feeling my way forward with my Priest and husband on this.

    I do see the Tradition at work not just in me, but even in my husband and kids, so I just keep praying and returning to working on my own repentance. We can’t do any better than trusting God’s faithfulness, and it is up to Him to guide our spouse and children.

  59. Lex, thank you for TMI. I identify a bit with your mother’s situation and this post of yours has renewed my commitment to continual prayer. Glory to God for all things.

  60. Lex, Please, please do NOT apologize. Thank you so very much for sharing your story! It meant a lot to me. I find myself in (almost) the same position as Yannis. So again, thank you very much!!

  61. ‘lex,
    Bless you for the story! I long ago prayed for the salvation of my children – especially as we entered the Church. They were 18, 15, 10 and 6. It felt very risky. It still feels risky, for now they are adults and their lives are very adult lives. Sometimes we argue. It’s got to be hard to have such a public father!

    But I stand by my prayer (and trust far more in the prayers of my wife). I have come to realize that the salvation of our children and grandchildren is not something we get to see in this life, for salvation is a whole life lived. But we are truly all in this together. My parents eventually entered the Church at age 79. My wife has two brothers who have become Orthodox over the years, along with their families. And on it goes. I pray for my parents, and I trust in their prayers for me and my children.

    No prayer is as powerful as the offering of the Holy Eucharist – so say the Fathers. So, though my own prayers are very feeble, as a priest I have the privilege to remember my family at the altar every time I serve. And I would not be there except through their prayers for me!

    “No one is saved alone,” it is said. May God bless your mother as He has clearly heard her prayers. May He strengthen all of us to pray as she did. And may He give us the grace to trust for even the things we may never see in this life.

  62. Dino, is this:

    “He was from the beginning, appeared new yet was found to be old, and is ever new being born in the hearts of the saints.”

    your own rendering in english from the greek?

  63. I realize that the discussion has moved on but I want to make a couple of comments and clarifications regarding my earlier question about change (10/11 at 11:25 PM).

    I deeply appreciate the care and thought offered by those who responded. I want to clarify a bit of my meaning in asking the question – which was admittedly not included in the initial comment. I was having difficulty putting a sorrow into words.

    My question was born out of a sorrow that we (Orthodoxy and Roman Catholic) are not in communion with one another. I understand what you mean, Karen, when you say that Orthodoxy possesses “the fullness of Christ Himself. There can be nothing “more.” ” – because Catholicism possesses the fullness of Christ as well. (Not because we are without flaw but because Christ gives Himself fully – never partially – to us sinners.)

    While most certainly, as an “outsider” there are many things I do not understand about Orthodoxy, as outsiders, there are things that the Orthodox do not understand about Catholicism. This is a sad and inevitable truth.

    Yesterday, in my Sunday liturgy, I proclaimed Scripture readings to the congregation. I have been doing this for more than 40 years. The longer I do it, the more humbled I am by the task that some would just see as “reading”. I pray to the Holy Spirit before I begin because I know I must do more than read – I am proclaiming the words to be True, not just in how I say them but, hopefully, in how I am living my life.

    Many of you have come to know me to an extent – and at one time imagined me to be some sort of feminist. Not so at all. I began proclaiming Scripture at a rather young age not because I needed to make some statement about the “equality” of women. No – it was because I was in love with God and I was following in the footsteps of my father who also proclaimed it.

    There are many other things I could share to try to help you understand the “inside” of my life as a Catholic, as I’m sure there are many more things that can and will be shared to give me glimpses of the inside of Orthodoxy. However, Orthodoxy’s rejection of “ecumenism” (and with it the dialogue that could help us understand each other) suggests to me that we will move no closer to being in communion with one another. And that makes me sad.

    Why really are Orthodoxy and Catholicism apart? (Please refrain from citing our differences or history.) We are the Body of Christ and it feels to me as though this separation is a spear thrust into His side. We are separated because of sin much more than we are separated by doctrinal differences. Neither you nor I initiated the sin that caused the rift – but we all maintain it, if only by not actively repenting of it with deep humility.

    Many may think that it is only the RCC that needs to repent. Surely we do need to repent – profoundly. But I do not believe that the path to wholeness would be for all Catholics to become Orthodox. There is a richness and a holiness in both East and West…

    I am not sure why this is weighing on me so heavily right now or why I feel compelled to write of it here. But I suspect that it was to the healing of this wound in the Body that I referred when I wrote “if God called it (Orthodoxy) to even more”. I am certainly not claiming to be God’s spokeperson – but if…

    Again, forgive me, it has taken me some time to put this into words and I have probably done so poorly.

  64. Christopher,
    it is the ‘official’ rendering of:

    Οὗτος ὁ ἀπ᾽ἁρχῆς, ὁ καινὸς φανεὶς καὶ παλαιὸς εὑρεθεὶς καὶ πάντοτε νέος ἐν ἁγίων καρδίας γεννώμενος.

    (Epistle to Diognetus, 11.4)

  65. Mary,
    I sympathise deeply. I think that, as Fr. Alexander Schmemann once exclaimed, “the history of the world’s redemption, for which we are responsible, takes place in our hearts.” There is little else that can be done “outside” of our hearts.
    As he continues, he re-enforces this notion: “the great belief of the 20th century that discussion always leads somewhere should rather be that it always leads nowhere”…
    Of course those are strong words, but I think that all good that we see in Catholicism, (or even Budhism, or Sufism for that matter) is, somehow, ‘Orthodoxy’. I sincerely witness this again and again. There is nothing I have seen that would make me exclaim, “ah! there’s something that needs to be added to Orthodoxy”, nothing at all. I only wish that others knew what is the real depth of that Tradition one can find in, say, Valaam, (at the borders of Russia and Finland) or Katounakia (the desert of the Holy Mount Athos), or Ormylia (the largest female monastery in Greece). Of course it is not that easy to meet Fr. Seraphim in Valaam, or Fr Ephraim in Katounakia, or Elder Aimilianos and Abbes Nicodemy in Ormylia, (it is often great pain – as i said in an above comment- that makes people seek them out) but in the heart of such persons the history of the world’s redemption (including the wish that we may all be one) takes place.

  66. Dear Mary — before Fr. Stephen and the others offer you a kind, warm and educated answer (like Dino), please allow for mine: talking to my/our spiritual father recently about the distant possibility of my parents ever coming back together after 10 years, a hope that has always lingered in the recesses of my soul, he said (they both slash we all have confessed to him in the past year) that “it is highly unlikely, because the [separate] experiences of these 10 years have imprinted both their spirits too much”.
    A few evenings after this, when we talked about the possibility of a union between Orthodox and Catholics (since he, himself, has Catholic clerics in his family), he said something along the same lines, only now it wasn’t 10 years, it was one thousand years.

    A few years ago while going to a remote mountain village where my grand-grandparents lived and exploring the 200 year old house, I found an Orthodox prayer book that belonged to my otherwise unlearned grand-grandfather. It was sometime in the 1920’s that he took what might have been an epic trip at that time to the city, bought it and wrote a note on its first page together with a list of names of the dead and living in our family. I read through it a little and was surprised (imagine how a 24 year old who thinks she invented the wheel can be surprised when she realizes the wheel had long existed) to realize that it was –identical– to *my* prayer book. It filled me with a warm, fuzzy feeling of love and communion with my grand-grandparents, whom I’d never known, as it dawned on me that wow.. a century apart and yet our souls pray using the exact same prayers. It was also the first time I understood, in a way, that time might not be what we generally think it is. The connection I felt with my grand-grandfather Gheorghe was timeless.

    A few days ago, my husband’s father (my in laws aren’t religious, they have some books in their home but not really ever open to read from the Scriptures or pray; I think they have them on the shelves out of the superstitious notion that “it’s good” to have such books lying about in one’s house, like some protective talisman) brought me a New Testament in English, a Bible in German and a “prayer book from 1973” (he thought this was valuable, being 40 years old; the book is in my native language, Romanian). I read through the prayer book only to see it is Catholic 🙂 and it contains the Liturgy and some other prayers.
    Now my father-in-law cannot tell the difference and all prayer books are the same to him because I doubt he ever opens them at all (I don’t mean to say he never prays).

    But for me it was striking to see how much our languages (Catholic vs Orthodox) differs. I can’t explain the odd feeling I had when reading about “plenary indulgence”, “devotions”, “the cult of the sacred heart of Jesus Christ”, rosaries, purgatory, the 13 Tuesdays of st. Anton of Padova and other things that left me confused and in a very odd place. And some of the things here are obviously in disagreement with the Orthodox teaching but let me state again that the prayer book is written in Romanian and the language differences are very pervasive even at the level of minor things and way of expression, because of the heavy Latin background.

    If there were to be a union, and if only the issues of Creed and papal primate would be addressed while the rest would linger, I think there would be no real, heartfelt communion between us. Not as long as we pray differently and not as long as we entertain different ideas about the afterlife, Theotokos and sin and not as long we fast differently. One could say yes, yes, but we’d have unity in diversity, but.. I don’t think this is what diversity is supposed to be, because if we accept these diversities, why not accept all the others as well, including Prostestant and Neoprotestant and every other diversity out there, as long as it still bends the knee to the Name of Jesus Christ?

    I don’t know. I am obviously a sinner, and too young and proud to be wise, obviously not a theologian, obviously not that well read but I just wanted to mention these little everyday things that we do differently in our traditions, because a union wouldn’t and shouldn’t be only something abstract, formally declared.

    As for the hardcore realities of heresy, the fact that many Orthodox priests do not even recognize any action of the Holy Spirit in the Catholic sacraments, much less any remote notion of “fullness”, the fact that there is much talk regarding the ecumenism being a paneresy of the worst sort, because it makes everything relative, the fact that, despite being the only Patriarchy observing the new calendar, many of us would gladly return to the old calendar to be closer to our Russian, Serbian, Greek, Bulgarian etc brothers even if it would mean turning our back on communion with the larger civil masses and even if it would deepen the gap between us and Catholics (this thing with the calendar is, I think, very painful for many Orthodox)..

    .. I’ll let someone else get into that.

  67. Lex,
    I whole-heartedly agree with your comment on all the little details that alienate, thank you for sharing that experience with your great GrandFather’s prayer book too!

  68. Thank you, Dino: )
    One more thing, because I’ve also read Fr. Stephen’s new article and a comment written by Paula Hughes, describing the issues her 2 Catholic friends have with us being hardened, stubborn and schismatic because we don’t want to unite with them.
    It is my impression that, despite preaching (and many Orthodox even genuinely practicing) humility and loving the neighbor, in every conversation regarding unions of any sorts, the Orthodox will come out as the “bad guys”, the arrogant, the proud, the stubborn, the unkind. The human culture is so rich and so diverse that it almost screams madness to have the nerve to say that, among all these possible paths, seemingly good paths also (if we only look at the moral condition of those who walk on them), only ONE is the correct one and all the others lead nowhere.

    In western Europe, where I’ve lived in the past 2 years, Catholics and Evangelicals offer us worship places in their churches, often free of charge. Recently an entire church (building) was given to us for 1 symbolic Euro, for 100 years, to worship in it and adorn it to our heart’s desire — needless to say, adorned it will be and already is 🙂
    Would we do the same? Would we offer the Catholic and Protestant our altars so that they could worship and would we allow them to bring their statues and stained glass?
    Don’t think so.

    So looking from the outside, they are the good guys, the loving lot, those who care for their neighbor, the understanding, the compassionate, those open for communion and union and common praying. There was a scandal some years back when a Metropolitan of ours assisted at a Greek-Catholic Liturgy and did the unthinkable by going up to receive communion from the chalice. Of course he was rebuked for it. But it took two persons to make that event happen – it was him and it was the Greek-Catholic priest who offered communion. But the reverse, an Orthodox priest offering communion to anyone non-Orthodox — extremely unlikely (not to say never).

    Imho this is in part because the Catholics go through an identity crisis and are not exactly sure of who they really are in the 20-21st century. As for the whole endless talk about union, why now? We’ve had 1ooo years already. In many lands (countries), there have been villages with mixed population and at least 2 different churches, one Orthodox and one Catholic. There has always been proximity (and sometimes animosity) so it’s not really the fact that now we’re together all over the place so we might as well hug.
    Don’t know, but I really doubt there’s any “higher” understanding in these times, or that we live in a “more illuminated era”, or that the church has to adapt and respond to the challenges of an ever changing, ever evolving society etc, or that we comprehend and love more than our forefathers did, or that we should do what to the narrower minds of the past was unthinkable. Personally I don’t believe in such concepts and I am very skeptical of anything that extends a benevolent tentacle in the New Age.

    Indeed it is only Christ Who fills all things and makes them perfect but the ultimate reconciliation might very well not be necessarily on earth and not as we imagine it.

  69. I find it helpful to recognize (and to stipulate for the sake of honest discussion) that God will save as He pleases; His Breath/Spirit goes where it will. We are simply unable to judge another’s salvation unless given some charism of insight, like a priest or elder, to heal souls which is a rare and often temporary gift. So in this sense God seems equally present in all “churches” and persons who seek him earnestly. Why wouldn’t He be? He knows all hearts and loves mankind!

    But God, too, has always come in low ways, in particular and peculiar ways that are approachable only to the most lowly. He’s not a showy generalist. He’s personal. His bride, the church, is also personal and peculiar as any. Ironically, she is also the pillar and ground of the truth, the new mankind of Christ standing our midst. As much as we don’t think she could be all that, she is just that by grace yet only because He called her into being and never fails her.

    That such a church exists scandalizes. But imagine a world without her. This kind of exclusivity is not surprising to those who know God’s ways and it is certainly no barrier to communion. In fact, it ironically makes communion, participation with God and each other possible. Without her there is no church. The church would not a human invention sustained by fickle human energies.

    I have to humble myself to accept many particular and peculiar things through which God comes my way. After decades of complaint I am no longer offended, probably because I’m slowing down and don’t have as much fight left in me. In any case, His church, like everything His, is fitting and right.

  70. Correction:
    I said “The church would not a human invention”
    I meant to say “would be a human invention”

  71. I accuse the Orthodox of nothing – or at least of nothing that I do not first accuse myself of ten-fold. I love you folks.

    We HAVE come to speak very different languages. Do any of you understand what is meant by a plenary indulgence or devotion to Sacred Heart? As an “outsider”, I doubt very much that you could. (Many “insiders” do not understand the former either and therefore do not regard them in practice. But, as mini-aside, it has nothing to do with earning “time off” from purgatory. It is related to the idea that, through prayer, fasting and good works we still have work to do here on earth, despite Christ having saved us completely. Note that Elder Paisios, of whom I have joyfully read, commented in his asceticism that he was “working off sin”. What did he mean? Why did he need to work off sin that was already forgiven? …pardon my digression but perhaps the concepts are not so far apart as we think if we understand them.)

    Much of your language I have not understood, though I am learning to speak it (with a heavy Catholic accent).

    But do we no longer believe in the Holy Spirit who, at Pentecost, enabled people of greatly differing languages to understand one another? Do we remember what the holy Apostles did in bringing together Jews and Greeks (and other non-Jews) to make one Church, by the power of the Spirit? Are our differences too great for God, for whom all things are possible?

    Or do we find the idea of this work too difficult (or perhaps too distasteful) that we convince ourselves that God could not want it to be done?

    I know these words are very challenging. I am sinner. Forgive me.

  72. Mary,
    Of course mutual understanding, or certainly greater understanding is possible. And no doubt it is desirable. It was certainly the case that Orthodox existed in a Western form for a thousand years – and spoke with something of an “Augustinian accent” for a lot of that time. And though there were occasional difficulties, they were not problematic. St. Maximus the Confessor, perhaps the most Eastern of the East, found refuge and support in Rome when the Emperor was trying to force Monothelitism on him. And though language represents many things, it does not necessarily represent a completely different mind.

    In the schism with the non-Chalcedonians (Coptics, et al), it is interesting that due to their historical circumstances, they have changed very little since that schism. Talking with them is like having a conversation with the 5th or 6th century – and is much easier. Rome has continued much development and change since the schism. Most of what is “spoken” today is not the “West” so much as it is both Scholasticism and now modernity. Both of those expressions are problematic in and of themselves within Orthodoxy.

    I really don’t want to sound uncharitable in any of this – but the hurdles are really great. I try to speak honestly about these things. It’s also my task to explain and clarify the Orthodox faith.

    Personally, there are many things within the Catholic Church that I like a lot – including some of her modern saints (the Little Flower, for example). And I think that there are great depths of shared life. But conversations that hold that as their primary content are quickly either misunderstood or changed into something else. Modernity has an ecumenical agenda that is ultimately foreign to the Church – and it easily hijacks our work together. It is that particularly form and understanding of ecumenism that is opposed in Orthodoxy as inimical to the faith. All of which makes certain conversations very difficult.

    I fully understand the pain – and I think the pain is important because it represents a recognition of something that is real (the pain of schism). It is a pain to take into prayer and offer up to God. It’s what I do with it.

  73. Another great post Father! During my short stint in Protestantism, I was bothered by the idea that to be a “good Christian” I had to sit in “quiet time” and read my Bible everyday. I often though, how were people successful Christians in the past when most were illiterate and/or didn’t have Bibles?!? Obviously Orthodoxy has answered this question for me as you have described here in this post. Thanks be to God for the Church! And thank God I don’t have to be a scholar to be a Christian!

  74. “Why really are Orthodoxy and Catholicism apart? …We are separated because of sin much more than we are separated by doctrinal differences. Neither you nor I initiated the sin that caused the rift – but we all maintain it, if only by not actively repenting of it with deep humility.”

    Mary, I don’t know if you intended it or not, but this is as good of restatement (or at least can be read this way) of the “two lungs” ecclesiology of Rome and the Ecumenical Patriarch as I have seen in three sentences or less. Of course, I don’t believe in “two lungs” (and neither do the vast majority of Orthodox). It is my sincere belief (and fervent hope and prayer) that the Rome will one day repent of it also because not only does it run roughshod over what does truly separate us, it actually is a step backwards in that it also erases something very very (very very very) important that we do hold in common; namely, the establishment of and continuation of the Church (by the Holy Spirit) “in time”! We both confess “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church” and this ecclesiology erodes that.

    Those of us who have observed “ecumenism” (and remember it is an invention of the last 100 years) for any length of time are not in the least surprised by the above because that is it’s normal fruit. For every step forward (perhaps the rapprochement between the “Oriental Orthodox” and Orthodox can be cited here) it is a dozen or more backwards, side-wards, and even down into the fiery depths.

    As far as sin vs. doctrinal differences, I wonder. Are doctrinal differences reducible to sin? By saying “it’s not the doctrinal differences that keep us apart but sin” are we really adding anything to “we have doctrinal differences”? I don’t ask to be confrontational/rhetorical. To answer my own question (rightly or wrongly), I see the point about sin but then you have to circle back and ask “ok, now that I have sinned, how is this expressed in my incorrect doctrine (and what saints/Church can help me identify this)?” To say that if only we were all truly saints there would be no division is a sort of tautology as far as I can tell. I want to answer “doh”, and then go on to say “but I am not a saint”, and then go on to “so where is the Church so that I may have some hope of my salvation”…

    Lex, I want to reprint your paragraph that starts with “If there were to be a union, and if only the issues of Creed and papal primate…” and say this, this!

  75. Dino,

    Unfortunately I don’t read/speak/translate greek. I liked it and found it more meaningful than the english translations I looked up. Thanks!

  76. Thanks, Fr. Stephen, for your comment.

    I do realize that, on a practical level, the hurdles are great. I find it interesting that you so frequently refer to Catholicism as “Rome”. I realize that that is probably where someone outside (my) Church is likely to look to try to understand it – but I do not think that is where the deepest understanding is to be found.

    Although I am sure that there are many Catholics who might not appreciate my saying so (and many who might), I sometimes fear that the Catholic Church is teetering under the weight of some terrible sin and corruption – while at the same time being home to many, many beautiful, generous and faithful believers.

    I believe that Orthodoxy has much to offer us – if we properly repent of our wrongs (or can even agree on what they are). My fear is that, if Orthodoxy says (in effect), “I will not talk to you because of your sin”, then more believers may be lost. Many stop going to church at all and join the ranks of I’m-spiritual-but-not-religious every day.

    It is, of course, possible that the hierarchy of Catholicism would remain deaf to the messages of Orthodoxy and the work would remain at the level of individuals. But I am not certain that this is the case, given our current “Bishop of Rome”, known for his humility and discussion of decentralization.

    But you are right. Praying and bringing the pain to God is the only thing I, as an individual, can do. I thank you for acknowledging the pain.

  77. Forgive me if someone had pointed this out, I did not have time read all the comments. The verse in 2 Timothy 3:16 that always gets trotted out misses one major point, context. This is not a general epistle, e.g. St Paul’s letter to Corinth or Rome, but the letter of an Apostle to a Bishop (you know, that pesky επισκοπησ [darn phone wouldn’t give me a final sigma]). It needs be read in that context, being written to one beholden to “rightly divide the word of truth” for the Church. Not all have been called to preach or teach, St Paul makes that clear as well.

  78. Mary Benton,

    Perhaps it would be helpful to stop for a moment and consider what would be accomplished by union. Though it boggles the mind of many, let’s imagine for once that it did happen. The only result I can see is reflected by Lex’s description: administrative and “in name” unity while continuing to be very different from each other. But we already have that – between different Orthodox jurisdictions, for example.

    We would be better served by having the different groups serving the orphans & widows side by side: cleaning neighborhood streets, doing missions, helping those in need in their area – with no talk of a common table. If we don’t first share each other’s hearts, we will never share our houses.

  79. Thanks Fr. Stephen. Your comments about prayer and dying and wasting time were all pertinent to one who struggles with prayer and wants more than just to set aside a time to pray (as a Protestant). I have been wanting something deeper, but I find that I actually want to hide from God lately. I used to spend quite a lot of time praying. And so much of my life is about prayer requests (intentions). I long for a prayer life that looks like the Lord’s Prayer – where the priorities of that prayer are reflected in my prayers. This seems to be present in the Orthodox prayers. I am reading a book called The Origins of Christian Morality by Meeks, and though I’m not sure about his analysis of early Christian ideas of morality, he makes an emphasis that Protestants don’t typically make – that morality and faith were formed in community. This is a strength that I see in Orthodoxy (theoretically, though often in actuality in Protestantism as well). Please pray for me.

  80. I was thankful to read the paragraph below and wish it was in the main part of your blog -as without it, it is not something I can share with my protestant friends as we talk over reading Scripture. Reading your blog without it my heart broke because I have seen people I love get ‘stuck’ on we cannot understand the Scriptures, or even translate them. It really seemed you were saying we cannot read Scripture and understand it or be spoken to. If that is so why should I have a quiet time. But I do know God meets me in it. My husband and I are Bible Translators -translating with a group of people who had an unwritten language and no Scriptures in their own language…Since people are hearing the Word and not only attending church as a liturgy whose language they did not understand, their lives really are changing…The spirits that bothered them out on the jungle/gardens are now spoken of in the Scriptures…I have seen great joy characterize their lives when poor village people begin to hear the Word in their language. My feeling is that language is amazing -and the more translations we have the more we will understand the richness of God’s Word…There are times I wish Americans could know the Tabaru language because the way they expressed passages I’ve read thru my life -brought understanding of the passage and a deeper richness at times, than in my own language. We surely can learn from a church deep in the jungle who has no idea of Orthodox or Protestant or Catholic debates on theology…..? Would the Orthodox, Protestand or Catholic be able to learn from them? and how…? The Word itself is powerful, God-breathed. I’m glad you spoke of it as a primary way of communion with God cuz I felt like oh no -I can’t understand the Word at all without the church? Thanks for clarifying… I guess up til I saw this paragraph to be honest,tho I was trying to be open to your blog as those I love follow it, but it felt the same arrogance, and intellectual superiority you spoke of others having, as it sounded like only you in the Orthodox tradition and an elite group within that could even begin to understand the Scriptures so the “fisherman” need not even try…just keep connecting with God without it…probably cuz this is the only blog I’ve read so didn’t have context -i’ll be following 🙂 –I really appreciate your thought-filled sharing and the discussions below your blog and can let myself relax in it, knowing you believe this:

    Reading Scripture is a primary means of communion with God. I think that reading devotionally is a very different thing than searching for doctrine or systematizing, etc. St. Seraphim read a gospel a day, for example.

    Nothing is better than reading the gospels regularly and the Psalms, ideally, should be committed to memory (I know we won’t pull that off).

  81. Something of this seems true to me too? Henri Nouwen Society:

    Being in the Church, Not of It

    Often we hear the remark that we have to live in the world without being of the world. But it may be more difficult to be in the Church without being of the Church. Being of the Church means being so preoccupied by and involved in the many ecclesial affairs and clerical “ins and outs” that we are no longer focused on Jesus. The Church then blinds us from what we came to see and deafens us to what we came to hear. Still, it is in the Church that Christ dwells, invites us to his table, and speaks to us words of eternal love.

    Being in the Church without being of it is a great spiritual challenge.

    *Hmmmm … never thought of that.

  82. Janet,
    Thank you for the note. May God bless and make holy the work of Bible translating! Orthodoxy historically has been the vanguard of Biblical translation. Some of this was particularly carried forward due to their insistence on the Scriptures and services in the language of the people. Early on, there were great controversies between the Eastern Church and the West over the West’s insistence on Latin as the primary Church-language. Many of the great languages of the world were first blessed with the Scriptures and words of worship, alphabet, etc., through the work of Orthodox missionaries (Slavonic, etc.). And more than just a translation work, was the work of preserving cultures as well. The work of the great saints of Alaska such as St. Innocent, St. Iakov Netsvetov, etc. are a wonderful example of this. You would doubtless love the book Orthodox Alaska.

    What a marvelous way to study the Word of God – putting into new words for the first time!

  83. Fr. Stephan,
    I was once invited by a friend to attend a women’s meeting concerning leadership. She is part of a “non-denominational Christian community.” Actually, her husband is one of the elders of that community, who teaches and sings. Out of curiosity and in an effort to see, how this church (campus, as they call it) is growing vastly, I accompanied her. I thought, why aren’t we as Orthodox growing at this rate? Are we doing something wrong? How can we attract more people to the truth?

    When, I left that meeting I cried. The women there were able to say prayers so easily, effortlessly. I felt so uncomfortable, I could not pray that way, I was having a hard time even reciting the Lords Prayer at that point, I felt emotional, so I remained silent.

    As I processed the event, I discovered, that they were so good at spontaneous prayer, because well, they practiced a lot. I did wonder, however, are these women closer to God than I am?

    This meeting was a couple of years age, and these are questions I have answered over a period of time. (Father, your blog has blessed me over and over in many ways.) Knowing that “I don’t need to get God, but I need to be gotten by Him.” To be in his presence for He knows what we need, has clarified things even further for me. I have felt this, but wasn’t sure that it was enough. I thought I should be praying, accomplishing etc. “wasting time in Gods presence” as you so put it has lifted a burden that I have unconsciously been carrying.

  84. Panayiota,
    I know that for some Orthodox it is customary to explain such prayerfulness in a rather ‘belittling’ manner, calling it demonic or emotional delusion; but the opposite might on occasion be true: God bestows extra grace to those who are further away from the safe haven of His Church in order to attract people towards Him. It is common to see profound experiences outside the Church, the frequency and intensity of which diminishes when those people who had them eventually enter Her: a period of ‘testing’ one’s loyalty is then at hand… There are no hard and fast rules to where the Spirit blows of course.

  85. Dino,
    I know what you mean by accusations. There were no demons that I could see at this meeting. The women who prayed, prayed with a humble spirit. That was the reason I felt conflicted. I will however say that the Lords Prayer would not have been uttered by any of these women. I believe it conjured up feelings of “traditional worship” that was in fact contrary to what these believers had in mind.

    The prayers were eloquent and heartfelt. After that encounter, it made me search. I now read the psalms , or chant a katavasia with a renewed mind. Those words are words that bring me back to Christ over and over again. If I were left on my own, I would have lost my anchor. My thoughts would perhaps take me outside the faith to my own world and image of God.

    I just meant to say, that I gained a profound appreciation for the liturgical life of the Church.

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